Friday 13.7.2018 290km Total: 290km
I'm finally on my way!
I'm really not in any great hurry to leave as the ferry doesn't sail until 4.45PM but since I'm shockingly enough already done packing there isn't much of a reason sticking around at home so I head of at around 10AM.
The stops are more frequent than usual as the temperature is relentless even though I'm riding at highway speed with all ventilations open on both the gear and the helmet.
I contemplate stopping and completely removing the visor but I settle for riding with it half open.
This trip has forced me to do a lot more preparation than usual because it's the first time I'm travelling overland to a country that needs a Visa, so I've had to book all hotels in advance for Russia and Belarus as the accommodations (route) needed to be specified in the Visa application.
Since it seemed exceedingly difficult to get a visa for Belarus I've used a visa-agent.
I'd most likely managed the Russian visa on my own but as he already had the passport I had the agent do that one as well.
I really don't know for sure if it's true but the agent said my medical insurance policy would have been declined because the Belarusian authorities demands that the amount of €10 000 be specified in numbers.
I'm no rocket scientist myself but it really doesn't take a degree in maths to know that unlimited is a lot more than 10 000 but he was sure the application would be declined if I didn't get another one, it also needed to be stamped and signed by the insurance company agent.
I thus had to "falsify" the policy document my insurance company sent and then send it back to them to get it stamped and signed.
I'm actually pretty impressed by the company (Motormännen insurance brokers) that didn't think this strange at all and I got it back within a few days.
The bike handled good as usual despite the recent change of panniers (to Touratech Zega Pro) and front tire (to Michelin Anakee Wild).
I'm very happy with the change of panniers as it allowed me to mount all the fluids needed for the bike on the outside of the panniers and the tools I hereto had to store inside with all the rest of the gear are now distributed between two bags (actually IKEAS "Förfina" toilet bag) and attached to the inside of the pannier lids with luggage straps.
The tire tools I previously had in rather ugly home made tool tube are also in the bags apart from the bead breakers which I've cut out space for in a foam matt in the bottom of the largest pannier so now all the tools are out of the way and stored permanently on the bike separate from the rest of the gear.
It's going the make loading and unloading a lot easier at the hotels.
For the third trip in a row I'm also hauling a ridiculous amount of Readymeals (soft cans), it's so unbelievably practical being able to stop anywhere along the way and eat that it's worth the extra weight.
As I've opted for fairly long daily mileage on some stints on the trip and instead opted to stay several nights before moving on I have no doubt I'll be grateful for not having to look for lunch restaurant and hassle with the menu in Cyrillic.
Especially as I'm by now pretty much allergic to anything except air and water¹.
The ride to Stockholm is as trouble free as it is boring.
I strap down the bike as best I can on the ferry which wasn't easy as there really was only one fastening point but considering that the Finnish bikers beside me just left their bikes on the side stand without strapping them at all I guess I'll be fine.
Interactive map of the route in the Furkot planning tool.
Click here to open it in a new window/tile.
Saturday 14.7.2018 387km Total: 677km #2 3.5h
I have a bit of a hefty stint ahead of me of about 600kms but at least I start the day with a breakfast fit for a king, €13 for the buffet felt pretty cheap.
I roll off the ferry filled up on eggs, meatballs and bacon and plot a route for the border.
I really only stop to replenish fluids and stop just before the border (Vaalimma checkpoint) to fill up on petrol (at more than twice the cost as across the border so that was pretty stupid in retrospect).
The thought occurred to me to get some lunch as well but stupidly enough I didn't because I wasn't really hungry... right then.
Leaving Finland was just a formality, the Russian entry on the other hand was a protracted torture that would have made any old GRU-agent feeling like just an amateur.
The mercury started at 27ºC in the morning and I got a push notification on my cell from Finland's meteorological institute with a warning for "extremely high temperatures".
While at the checkpoint the temperature rose to 30ºC.
I already early on cursed my self for not bringing either the cooling vest or the hydration bladder.
I was to be 3.5 hours before I finally could ride into Russia.
At the checkpoint there were four lanes, one "fast lane" for Russian nationals and three for second-rate citizens.
These four lanes were serviced (and I use that word in the most liberal sense possible) by two customs officials.
They let 10 vehicles at time ride into the checkpoint per lane totalling initially about 40 vehicles with passengers to check (in reality there where countless Russians flying through while the rest of us waited).
There was per the usual disorder no intuitive way to understand what you were supposed to do as all the instructions were very clearly written on signs... in Russian.
I go to the first booth and hand over my papers and get my passport checked, I have no idea why as she then just points to the both across who does the exact same thing where after she starts to give me instructions.. in Russian.
She clearly didn't give a shit about me not understanding anything she said which would have been clear regardless but just to get the point across she repeated I don't understand in such a mocking tone the sarcasm was practically sipping through the cracks of the booth.
Needless to say I felt very welcome at this point.
At least she managed to get out a single helpful word in English and that was declaration.
And just like the other lady she then pointed at another booth across.
After standing around looking confused for a bit some sort of customs henchwoman (there where people in high-viz with very unclear responsibilities) with two customs declaration forms.
Thank god it was in English but to be honest it still didn't make much sense to me.
I filled out the form to the best of my abilities and stand at the end of an enormously long queue.
Behind door number three was a lady which hopefully is severely underpaid because she must have been the slowest working official I've ever come across.
I wasn't enough that every registration took 10-15 minutes, it was obviously such exhausting work that she needed a break for every other person.
Replacement? Hell no, then who would she talk to during her break?
When I finally get to the booth I've already been at the checkpoint for two hours when she starts correcting my paper with a red pencil like a grade school teacher (stupidly enough I only filled out the one paper, I shall never underestimate Russian bureaucracy again).
But it was just as well I didn't fill out the second form as I flunked out miserably on the first one.
At least she had the dedication to write and cross on the paper what I did wrong and handed it back with two new blank forms.
So I grabbed my pen and started filling out a double-sided form in duplicate... again.
As a Swede the sense of discipline and order are drummed into us at an early age so like the Swede I am I obviously went to the back of the line.
I had previously spoken to some Finns on an expedition on three Yamaha 660 Teneres and three brutal offroad jeeps who were riding to Magadan.
These people who had set out to do some of the gnarliest shit you can do on wheels on this continent though I was a brave man for doing what was a walk in the park compared to these guys just because I was going solo.
It actually made me feel pretty proud (to be honest I lived on that for a whole week after).
Anyhow, they'd managed to get through the bureaucracy on their first try and when they saw me get to the back of the line they practically carried me to the front.
Normally I probably would have been a bit more aggressive but by now I was really starting to suffer from heat, hunger and dehydration as I had not prepared my self for a lengthy torture session at all.
When I finally get to show my passport for the third time and she starts to input the data from the registration and customs declaration into the system which finally got the approval.
I'm pretty sure the bike got input as make Tiger 800 and model Tiger but I can't really see them making a fuzz about that when exiting the country but I guess I'll find out soon enough.
It's obvious Triumph doesn't have a great market share in the East.
So now I've finally managed to get as far to be checked by a customs official.
Unfortunately they seem used to bikes taking longer than usual so me and the Finns had been waved aside from the normal queue which we obediently had followed.
The first time I did when the papers where done was haul the bike it into the normal lane, the Finns where long gone by now and unless I made a hassle for someone I could no longer see any reason why the wouldn't keep me here all day (this tactic sped up our border crossing in Albania 2015 considerably).
But the orderly lanes didn't stop the customs official checking the vehicles seemingly in complete disorder.
If ten cars are lined up in a row I guess the reasonable thing to do is check the one in the middle first followed by the last one?
No, I don't think so either so it's fairly obvious they're stalling the passage just because they want to and can get away with it.
But at least I get some reward for my patience as I only need to open up one of the panniers for them to check.
So after 3.5 hours, exhausted from lack of food and drink and with a head that feels like it's about to explode any second I can ride across the border into Russia... about a 1000 metres.
So what do we find there if not a couple of officials who absolutely has to check my passport before I can leave the checkpoint, the same passport that has already been check by three different people and has been scanned into the system.
If the World Cup had been about bureaucracy and not soccer they would have won it hands down, it's obvious there still are strong communist remnant lingering around.
I ride a safe distance from the border before I pull over because had I stopped anywhere near the border I'm certain a guy in a uniform had jumped out of the nearest bush demanding to see my passport.
I don't even bother with a heater for my readymeal, it wasn't like it was particularly cold anyway.
After twenty years in a profession on call I've eaten far colder meals than a saddlewarm soft can.
I drink down the food with pretty much all the fluids I have left on the bike.
The Russian country road traffic immediately lives up to my absolute worst expectations.
The reason everyone drives around with dash-cams here as I understand it is because insurance companies refuse to pay out if you can't prove your version of events.
So with everyone filming everything all the time perhaps it's no wonder there are so many horrifying youtube videos?
That could be a reasonable explanation.
But it isn't, they really do drive like total assholes.
Respect for the speed limit is completely non existent, if the signs say 90km/h that means unrestricted for the native.
Dropping below 115km/h meant that you hindered almost all other traffic so riding anywhere near the speed limit was out the window from square one as it would be too dangerous, I'll just have to pay the "fines" as they come.
I'd rather be poor than dead.
Worst overtake of the day was when I got overtook on the inside on an exit lane because I had the audacity to drop down to 100km/h on a 90km/h road with multiple vehicles in front of me.
I eventually realized that if you leave a safety distance of more than 5mm to the vehicle ahead of you the Ruskies feel you lack commitment and become just another hindrance to be done away with at the earliest possible convenience.
One of the very few other bikes I say all afternoon didn't even have a licence plate so it's not just the speed limits they have a complete disregard for.
Considering the state I was in it's pretty much a miracle I got to the hotel unscathed but it did actually get a bit more disciplined when we got into a more urban traffic environment although all speed limits were still interpreted very liberally.
I ride a full circle around the block looking for the hotel, I sure as hell isn't easy when you're completely illiterate in their version of the alphabet soup and the sign is in Russian only.
I eventually park up in a courtyard and find a отель that turns out to be the right place.
Installed in the room I'm ready to just lay down and welcome deaths cold hand as the migraine is now completely off the chart but I realize that I need water in ridiculous amounts if I'm ever to get rid of it.
At least I don't have to go very far as there's a convenience store just 50m from the hotel.
I drink as much as I possibly can and hit the sack.
Every time I wake up about to piss myself I go to the bathroom whereafter I drink more water.
I go on like that until morning.
It could have been a better first day in Russia but I'm still alive and I've made it to Russia which I'm actually pretty proud of.
Sunday 15.7.2018 20.63km Total: 20.63km
My head is still pretty foggy but it's a bit unclear if the dehydration has now transitioned into a migraine or if I haven't manage to drink enough despite having drunk like a camel since I got here.
Anyhow, I didn't get to Russia to lie in a hotel with a migraine so I'm hoping I'm still just dehydrated as it's by far the easier to remedy of the two and will simply just have to drink a lot during the day.
I start off by heading to the closest of the obvious sights which is Smolny cathedral.
It wasn't exactly richly decorated but it was very blue and it was a nice view from the tower.
From here I walk to The Church of our savior on the spilled blood.
Now they've obviously had a larger expense account because now where talking grandeur.
After that I had my sights set on a museum of Soviet arcade machines but that was in cordoned off area for some kind of FIFA-festivities.
(There's some kind of ridiculous sport being played here that does not involve any kind of engines or fuel and is thus utterly uninteresting to me.)
The entrance was free but I had a multitool in my backpack that wouldn't make it through security and witch my complete lack of interest in the whole thing I probably would have stuck out like a sore thumb anyway.
I get a bite to eat at a steakhouse before moving on.
The detour past the cordoned off area was brutal but I make it to Saint Isaac's Cathedral and it was well worth the walk.
It was also money well spent to go up to "The colonnade walkway" but man my legs were killing me after more than 200 steps.
At the other side of the cathedral there's a park with a bronze statue called the Bronze horseman of Peter The Great on horseback.
Legend has it that as long as he stands there looking out across the river St. Petersburg will never fall.
During the siege of Leningrad the statue was protected by sandbags and wood during the 900 days of bombing and it got through it pretty much unscathed.
By now I'd already walked 15kms so I take a long break in the where I sum up yesterdays experience in the blog and after that I got a ticket for the hop on/off buses.
Even though the tour didn't do much for me I will be able to use it as a mode of transport tomorrow as it's a two-day ticket.
It was too late to ride with the bus back to the hotel so I had to leg it again but by the grace of god I stumble upon an Irish pub.
After a pint of Guinness which was surprisingly cheap at R400 the rest of the way was a lot easier.
It was obviously pretty stupid as the migraine still lingered but the Guinness didn't really feel like it did any more damage.
And to be honest doesn't a Guinness count more as a meal anyway?
Today's weirdest encounter: A Hare Krishna canal boat.
People actually pay to be brainwashed by a sect on their vacation.