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Stage 42



Great Venture
Great Venture

I checked out in the morning and made my way to the Russian border via A322. As soon as I exited Semey, the road passed through pine forest reserve area. The road was not so good, bumpy at times but with very little traffic. The quietness around me made my mind wander as I rode. I heard quite a number of horrible stories about Russia. It’s depicted as a difficult country, with corrupt police, cold people, and no English is spoken. Honestly, I did feel worried, but I wanted to see and experience this country for real. How was my experience going to be? I had no idea.I reached the border after riding for 130kms. First, I stopped at a military check point. The officer gave me a slip. Then I rode to the customs building for the customs to check my bike. The officer was very friendly, perhaps he felt funny to hear me speaking Russian. He only took 5 seconds to look in my top box. Then I went to immigration to stamp my passport. The immigration officer spoke good English.Then I continued few hundred meters on no-mans-land to the Russian side. I was nervous yet excited. Finally, I saw the sign post. Yee-hoo! I was about to enter the world’s biggest country on day 324 of my GDR. Welcome to Russia.

At the Russian side, everything was being done at the same counter (for passport and bike registration). The lady officer couldn’t speak English. I couldn’t help myself and I laughed as she took 15 minutes to check my passport very thoroughly. She wasn’t amazed at all the stampings and visa stickers in my passport, she was just checking for any hidden objects in the passport pages, and in the middle part of the passport. She used a magnifying glass with lights to check every single page. Thank god, she was not the one inspecting GD, or else she was going to take forever to finish checking everything. Luckily for me, the customs checking was fast and simple. Before leaving the border, I purchased Russian insurance at a small shop for RUB751 (for one month). I also met a trio who rode all the way from the UK, heading to Ulan Batar, Mongolia. They amazed me with their old classic rusty bikes. Who said that only BMWs and KTMs can do long rides? It’s not the bike, brother…it’s the rider.

Surprisingly, the main road in Russia was good. A lot better than in Kazakhstan. However, there was no more roman alphabet signboards to be seen. All the signboards were written in Cyrillic alphabet. I had prepared myself for this situation, so I faced no problem navigating my way even though, for the umpteenth time, my GPS didn’t give me proper driving instructions. Unfortunately I took a wrong turn somewhere in Rubtsovsk town and ended up riding about 10kms on a secondary road which was pretty bad. I managed to get back to A322. As for the view, I had to agree with former travellers who had passed this road. It was so boring. Only a few sunflowers, wheat and white wild flower fields cheered me a bit. I reached Barnaul after riding 460kms in 10 hours. I was pretty tired. The M52 road to Novosibirsk, my next destination, was not as good as the previous day. There were lots of road works and the wind was quite strong even though I could see the presence of Taiga forest by the road side. The view on the long straight road was boring as yesterday, except for some lakes and locals selling mushrooms and potatoes by the road side. I reached Novosibirsk after riding 260kms.

Novosibirsk is the third largest city in Russia. It took me 30 minutes to enter the city, as traffic was pretty bad and went straight to Panavto, a Yamaha dealer here. It was already 6000+ kms after the last thorough checking on GD at Tehran and the last oil change in Osh, Kyrgyzstan. I met Mr Kiriu who spoke reasonable English. I was introduced to him by Mr Lee from Hong Leong Yamaha Motor who monitored my ride. GD was serviced (the odometer read 57k km), new battery replaced, new air filter installed and all the checking done to make sure that this final part of GDR would be smooth. I wish to thank Hong Leong Yamaha Motor (especially Mr Lee CW for taking all the troubles to get me everything I needed), YMC Japan, Yamaha Russia and Panavto manager (Mr Kiriu) for all the help and support. I would like to advise other adv riders to try and get support from your motorbike brand’s company during your ride, especially when the bike you are using for the ride is not commonly used for long rides such as RTW. Not only will this help you save some money, but it’s also a win-win situation for yourself and the bike’s brand.

My next destination was Kemerovo which was 280kms from Novosibirsk. It got cooler as I rode further north on M53 in the Siberia region. Sometimes I shivered when the wind was strong. All along my way, Taiga forest dominated the view. I used to teach Geography in school and natural plants of the world were among the topics that I taught. Now I was seeing these Siberian natural trees for real. The trees were not as tall as Malaysian Tropical Rain Forest but it was so compact and dark inside it. Ew…I wondered what was inside. It was interesting for me to recall the many things which I used to teach my students, since I was seeing them during my GDR. Steppes, savannah, pampas…not to mention the natural rock face caused by water, salt, heat or wind erosion. I saw lots and lots of them, especially in South America. The next day, I rode to Krasnoyarsk via M53. The distance was 576kms and I met some bikers along the way. They were heading to Baikal Lake Bike Festival. We managed to get some conversation going and they asked me to go to the festival which I was not so keen about. There were lots of road works going on, so only one lane was opened for vehicles. There were lots of lorries plying this route too. There were some beautiful golden wheat field views which helped me feeling less bored.

p>It took me eight hours to reach Krasnoyarsk which was quite a big city with more than 1 million population. I rode on the Kommunalnyi Bridge over Yenisey River to enter the city and went straight to my AirBnB host’s apartment. Unfortunately, she was not at home and I had no idea when she was going to be back. I was lucky to meet Vladimir, a nice guy who helped me even though he didn’t speak a word of English. With my limited Russian, and with the help of another girl, Paulina, who could speak little English, we managed to call my host. Yuria, my host, arrived 45 minutes later. Coincidently, Yuria’s husband was a biker and he was excited to meet me. Unfortunately he didn’t speak any English. He posted something about me in his FB bike group and asked if there was any biker who could speak English. A lady biker responded and she came to the apartment to meet us. Her name was Darya and she had just taken up riding that year. She rode a BMW CS650. Darya told me to park my bike at a paid parking nearby, as the apartment area was unsafe. The next morning, Darya came again with Misha, who rode ZZR1000, and they took me to a Givi dealer in Krasnoyarsk.

Since my top box rack was bent due to bad road in Turkmenistan, I couldn’t ride fast on uneven road anymore. I always had to go slow because I was worried about the rack. I only had a temporary solution with help from Swiss adv riders Michael and Sarah, whom I met in Bukhara. There were no Givi branch or dealer at all in Central Asia. Finally I made it to Krasnoyarsk and managed to get help from a Givi dealer, Konstantin. Konstantin was introduced to me by Givi’s overseas operational director, Mr Joseph Perucca. He repaired the rack and customized two metal pieces on both sides of the rack to raise the base plate. Now my top box was back to the actual level. Konstantin assured me that even if I flew with my bike and landed roughly on the ground, the rack was not going to bend again! HAHAHA…
Many thanks to Konstantin for the help, Givi Italy and Givi Asia for the awesome network and support.

While waiting for my top box rack to be repaired, Darya and Misha came with me to do a little sightseeing. We went for a ride for about 30kms outside Krasnoyarsk to a view point over Yenisey River. This view point is very famous with picnickers and weddings and the river is the natural habitat for the sturgeon fish. After that I was taken to Karaulnaya Gora (the watch hill) which is famous with Paraskeva Pyatnitsa Chapel which lies on top of the hill. The picture of this chapel is a symbol of the city depicted on the RUB10 bank note. I rode approx 1200kms in two days to reach Irkutsk. I was quite tired as it was a long ride. There were lots of road works which delayed me, as only one lane was opened for vehicles. There were quite a few stretches off road too. Ever since I entered Russia a week ago, the view along Moskovskyy Traktt (Moscow Way) had been the same. Taiga forests, golden wheat fields, long straight or slightly winding road and some rolling hills. Only today I saw beautiful pink wild flowers. But all in all, everything was okay.

Irkutsk is the 6th largest city in Siberia, due to its proximity to Lake Baikal. Angara River flows into the city and towards the famous lake. Irkutsk was founded in 1661 as a settlement for trading gold and furs. It was nicknamed the “Paris of Siberia” due to its wide streets, ornate and continental architecture, but travellers today will find little resemblance with Paris. I spent two nights there and managed to do a little city tour. I liked to see churches and the cathedral’s architecture, but the one that I loved most was the fountain and gardens at Kirov Square. It was so beautiful. I also had a nice stroll by the river and enjoyed a beautiful sunset.

I continued my journey east towards Ulan Ude via M53 and M55. The road was 90% good. I rode 500kms on nice twists and soon the view of Lake Baikal emerged. Taiga forests soon disappeared and were replaced by steppe view again. I saw people selling blueberries in pails and I also saw people selling smoked omlu fish by the road side. I was told to try this fish, as you can only find it in Lake Baikal. However, the price was too high for my wallet, so I had to give it a miss. I noticed that the further east I went, the pricier the fuel got, but the performance of the fuel dropped and full tank of GD could take me 350kms only. I reached Ulan Ude and easily found the guest house which I had booked earlier. I normally booked my accommodation in Russia via I was now only about 300kms from the Russian – Mongolian border. After resting 2 days in Ulan Ude, I continued my journey. However, I must say that this day was another challenging day for me in GDR. It had been raining continuously since the previous day. So when I exited Ulan Ude in the morning, everywhere was flooded. The temp was 10’C.

My destination was Chita, 700kms away. There were no towns in between these two towns, only few small villages, that was why I had to ride the huge distance. By right, the road was not so bad (I had seen worse), with certain parts similar to Kazakhstan, but the continuous rain really made the difference. There were lots of road works on and off for the first 500kms and I had to play with mud (due to the rain). The first 150kms took me 4.5hrs!! It was very hard and stressful. I only stopped for 20 minutes to rest once because GD needed gas, and that was after riding 7.5 hours straight. Only then I suddenly realized how tired, thirsty and hungry I was. It’s a bad habit of mine that, whenever the ride becomes stressful, I don’t want to stop. I generally keep pushing myself to the max, as my mind always says, “God knows what’s awaiting in front.” As the hours passed, I got more and more exhausted. I motivated myself by saying, “Hey, c’mon, you can do this. You have experienced far worse than this. This is easy peasy stuff.” But I couldn’t lie to myself. My mind knew that it was not peanuts.

The pics below (the only pics I took for this day) were taken at the beginning of my ride when exiting Ulan Ude. The worst condition, sorry, no pic. The mud was thick and I was freezing cold. How my teeth rattled!! Thank god, I didn’t drop the bike even though many times it was out of control already, and many times I almost fell when I couldn’t avoid pot holes filled with rain. I had no idea how deep they were. Finally, I reached Chita after almost 13 hours on the road riding 700kms. Fortunately, after all the challenges, I checked into a nice hostel and Dima, the receptionist, happened to be a biker, so he put me in an unoccupied room so that I could rest without disturbance. How kind of him. We chatted over dinner and Dima linked me to another biker in Mogocha, my destination for tomorrow. I felt relieved, as accommodation for my onwards journey was tough.

It was raining again when I checked out the next day. As early as in the morning, my patience was tested when my GPS directed me to a secondary road which was not only muddy but steep. I know that I was surely going to drop my bike had I taken that road so I decided to turn and tried to find the main road. I asked locals but communication breakdown had me going in circles for 1 hour and 30kms, until I finally managed to exit the town. The rain poured for 2.5 hours but this time I was prepared with my Givi rain coat so I stayed dry. The road from Chita to Khabarovsk (Amur Oblast Federal Road), is known for its remoteness. This stretch of 2100kms is tough for me. Why? Because the distance between small towns providing accommodation is huge. You need to ride approx 800kms per day if you want to stay in motels. With my small bike, this is not possible. Camping is not recommended, as this stretch is famed for its tigers and bears. Amur (in Russian) means tiger. There is no accommodation which you can pre-book over the internet except for Khabarovsk. So, where was I supposed to stay when riding along this stretch?

This somehow worried me, but for this day I had already managed to find a place in Mogocha. Many thanks to Dima. As for the following day and the day after’s accommodation, I was going to worry about it later. This day’s ride was not as stressful as the previous day and I enjoyed the rolling hills, green mountain view, steppes and pink flowers. There were some green and yellowish taigas which looked familiar like the trees I saw in Tierra Del Fuego. It was a very scenic ride. Unlike the previous, the road for this day was in a much better shape. There were three construction sites that I needed to ride on but it was not muddy, there was only gravel. After riding for 660kms on P297, I arrived to Mogocha and took the left turning to the village. Then I texted Alexei, who owned a bike post here. Alexei is the founder of Iron Angels Motorcycle Club. He couldn’t speak English at all so we had to communicate using hand signals and a the little Russian I knew. Alexei brought me to the bike post. It is actually a double storey house made of wood. The ground floor hosts a workshop where you can work on your bike and the upper floor is where the living room and sleeping places are. There are no indoor toilets, so you need to walk about 50 meters to use the public toilet outside. So, this was going to be the place where I would sleep for the night, which was way better than having to camp in the cold, fearing tigers or bears.

My journey for the next four days was tense. It rained every single day. All my things were wet. I didn’t have any more dry socks to wear. Imagine having to start a chilly morning with wet socks, wet boots, wet gloves, wet, wet, all wet. It really turns one’s mood down. Not only everything was wet, but I had to brave the cold, strong wind and some road works which delayed me. Some parts of the road were ok and some had lots of pot holes. To find a decent place to sleep for the night was tough too. I had to stay at a workers’ hostel for one night where I was the only female in a crowd of males who eyed me as if they wanted to eat me alive. I was so scared. Another night I had to camp in the wild, as there was no place to stay. Only for one night I was ‘lucky’ to sleep at a highway motel but the cheapest room meant a very tiny room with barely enough space to move and there was no door latch to lock myself from the inside. Twice, drunken men opened my door in the middle of the night and I had to shout to prevent them from entering my room. I had a very poor sleep due to this. Sigh…

p>Fuel was scarce and pricier as well. There were few times that GD almost ran out of fuel and I had to go really slow. The view was nothing special, perhaps some autumn colours here and there. However, the thing which really depressed me, was the lack of internet connection. It had been days since I had last managed to connect to the outside world. My family and close friends must have been worried as hell because they hadn’t heard from me in days. To be honest, I didn’t have the heart to do this last part to Vladivostok because I knew that it was going to be tough and I already knew that I couldn’t fly my bike to Bangkok as Vladivostok airport is small and only small aircrafts fly in and out from here. When I was in Ulan Ude, I was considering whether or not to ride all the way for 4000kms to Vladivostok, and later turn back for another 4000kms the same way back to Ulan Ude before going to Ulan Bataar, the place where I could finally fly GD to Bangkok. Ulan Ude to Ulan Bataar was only 600kms. But if I didn’t touch Vladivostok, my RTW ride had to be considered.

So I had to force myself to just finish what I had planned from the beginning. However, by doing that, I had to face all these challenges, when by right, I could choose to ride straight to Ulan Bataar (from Ulan Ude) and save myself from all this unpleasantness, time and waste of money. There were times when, riding along this road, I felt so scared as it was too quiet. I hardly met anyone for hours. The trees and tall bushes by the road side made the ride even more tense as my mind tried to imagine what would happen if, all of a sudden, a tiger or bear jumped out in front of me. What was I going to do then? There was no house or village in sight at all. I couldn’t even see locals selling their agricultural products anymore. This says a lot about how dangerous this stretch of road was, even the locals were afraid to hang around here.

I finally arrived Khabarovsk, feeling so exhausted after the long continuous ride without a break. The first thing I did after checking in at the hostel was to contact Alexander, a biker from Iron Tiger Motorcycle Club who could help me with GD’s loosening chain. Alexander sent Vladimir who was a member of the same club (Khabarovsk chapter) to help me. While waiting for Vlad to arrive, I read messages from concerned family and friends who had been worried for my days of silence. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to reply to their messages, nor to update my FB status as the electricity suddenly went out. I thought it would recover after a while, but it didn’t for the whole of my two days stay in this city. Can you imagine my frustration?

The following day, I rode 375kms via M60 to Dalnerechensk and camped at a village. Actually, there was a hotel there, but it was too pricey for me. I camped near a stream and accidentally dropped my phone in the water. The phone instantly died. Damn! How I cursed myself for my carelessness. The phone could be switched on, but I couldn’t see anything on the screen. I tried to dry it, but the lack of sunshine didn’t help much. I was now even more tense and all I wanted was to reach Vladivostok ASAP. Oh my god, this ride is surely driving me CRAZY!! As I exited Dalnerechensk the next morning, I met a local biker. His name was Gosha and he could speak English. He was a very nice guy and happened to be a member of Iron Tiger Motorcycle Club too. This club is the most famous motorcycle club in Russia. Gosha wanted to talk to me and offered to buy me breakfast. I told him about my phone problem and how I had not updated my whereabouts for what had been already 7 days.

Gosha let me use his phone to get connected. I was so thrilled to read concerned messages from my family, close friends and my followers…but the most touching was from Wissam Al-Jayoussi, adv rider from Dubai whom I had met only twice when he reached Malaysia during his RTW ride. To read his concern and intention to search for me put me to tears. I spent about 1.5 hours with Gosha and later moved on to Vladivostok via M60. The road was so-so and it rained a bit, so I couldn’t go faster. After riding for 400kms, I reached the bridge across Amur Bay which is also the gateway to Vladivostok. How I screamed with joy upon seeing this bridge as in a short while, I was going to reach the most eastern point of my GDR. I just couldn’t believe it. I cried my heart out and screamed while riding on the 4kms long bridge until I reached the signpost which read VLADIVOSTOK.

Finally, on day #342 of GDR, Friday 19th August 2017, 4.32pm local time, I made HISTORY. From Seattle (USA) to Alaska to Ushuaia to BsAs to London to Lisbon to Europe to Balkans to Central Asia to Russia… After 60000kms, I have now reached the most eastern point for GDR, Vladivostok. That means I have successfully circumnavigated the globe from west to east. It had been a long ride. A long, long ride. What had I been through? Only me and Allah knew. The pain, the struggle, the fight, the survival… I’m not an olympian. I didn’t win any Olympic medal. I didn’t win any race. I didn’t win any game… But I won a BATTLE which only few men in this world dared to fight… Let alone women… “FIRST MUSLIM WOMAN TO RIDE SOLO AROUND THE WORLD ON A MOTORBIKE”

I still had so much adrenaline when I left the sign post and continued riding to the city centre to my host’s house. To my horror, Vladivostok was just like Ankara, very hilly with narrow road and sharp inclines. I had to ride very carefully. Once in a while, I took a quick glance at the sea down below while riding along Golden Horn Bay. It was beautiful. To find my host’s house was quite a challenge. I had to go in circles few times before I managed to find the apartment building, but I was very lucky that Milana, my host, was already waiting for me downstairs. Milana couldn’t speak English at all but this petit beautiful lady was so friendly. It was funny how she tried to explain to me that I couldn’t park GD by the apartment as it was unsafe, but I should have parked the bike at a paid parking nearby. Milana and her husband, Sergei, were both bikers and they were also from Iron Tiger Motorcycle Club.

They were introduced to me by Darya, the lady biker whom I met in Krasnoyarsk. I stayed 4 days at their house to rest and recharge before returning via the same road back to Ulan Ude. This couple not only hosted me, but also had few more guests as they had spare rooms at their house. I also managed to meet Svetlana, a very tall Russian girl (1.98m) at the house. Svetlana spoke good English and we talked about Islam. She was very curious about it and I tried my very best to explain to her and to correct her wrong perspective. I was glad that, by the end, she had a better understanding of my religion. While in Vladivostok, Milana and Sergei took me and Svetlana to sightsee few attractions. We went to the view point to see the Golden Horn Bridge which is a famous landmark in Vladivostok. Then we took a funicular down and went for a stroll at the waterfront while watching people passing by. We also went to Spotivnaya Harbour to view the ships from all over the world which docked here.

And a visit to Vladivostok was not complete without visiting the Central Square. This was a good place to relax and watch the locals at leisure. A pair of massive statues served as the Memorial to the Fighters for the Soviet Power in the Far East, in honour of those who brought this remote corner of Russia under Bolshevik control. On the way to the bus stop to take a bus back home, we stopped by at Vladivostok Train Station which was old but beautiful. I said goodbye to my wonderful hosts and Svetlana, and took the same way back to Ulan Ude. For 5 days and 3500kms and without internet connection, it was boring as hell. Fortunately, the weather improved by lots and there was no rain at all. It made my journey much faster and I arrived at Ulan Ude without any issue. I checked in at the same guest house in Ulan Ude.

I was shocked to find out that my FB post where I stated I had reached Vladivostok few days before had went viral. Some congratulated me but some didn’t. In fact, ugly words were thrown at me by keyboard warriors. But it was ok. To be honest, I pity them actually. I understand that they were bored because they lead a very dull and boring life, hence they couldn’t hide their jealousy when seeing people who dared to step out of the comfort zone and live life to the fullest. Well, as the saying goes, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” which is very true in my case. I took some time to see Ulan Ude city which was also quite nice. The biggest Lenin’s head statue can be found there.

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