51st Traverse – Michael Jacobson Just the ramblings of a NZ Bloke

12Jul/103

Superman?

I have delayed this for long enough.

I wouldn't say this is a confession, more a goodbye.

Since the last blog many things have happened.

We set out from Ulan Bataar early in the morning expecting to get a good distance on the bikes. Instead we spent most of the day at the local market. The markets in Mongolia are truly amazing, you can actually buy anything in them. Everything from new Motorbikes to Solar Panels. As you can imagine we were well impressed by the ability to do this, so we went looking for the most obscure things.

Then we hit the road, ended up riding in the wring direction for about 70 kilometers. Something did not seem right when we were heading towards the setting sun.

We did this for a few weeks, meeting such amazing people along the way. Benji, your the man. What an experience we had. I thoroughly recommend Mongolia to the intrepid traveler, it is everything you can dream of when traveling, the sights are amazing, the people are amazing, everything is great!

I guess I was getting drunk on all the sights and sounds, so much so that I forgot that I was on a  motorbike, traveling on roads that had not really been kept to the standard we are accustomed to in New Zealand.

When it happened I didn't think much of it, slowing down, soft sand, done this a million times now. This time was different however, this time my bike didn't like it, and decided it would lie down on its side. I really hate it when motorbikes do this, it gets quite tedious to get out from under the bike and put it back up on its two wheels, even harder when such bike is on the sand.

What makes it even harder is the loud 'popping' sound you hear when hitting the ground. Lucky you think, that its only the gear in your bag breaking. Unlucky when you cannot stand up, and your body get the whole 'uh-oh' feeling. I'm no stranger to broken legs and I get that sinking feeling again.

Well, better get back to the closest hospital to get it checked out. Brusing they say? Sheesh it hurts a lot more than brusing. I'm not one to complain, but I really think I should get an X-ray. The closest X-ray is two days drive away? Poop.

I wont comment on the rest as it involved many expletives, and words you should never utter round small children and grandparents. But it did involve two days on the worst roads imaginable trying to hold my broken leg still.

Turns out I'm not Superman.

Homeward bound,

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4Jun/102

Confessions continued…

So since the last blog post I have had a talk to the other boys. We have come to the conclusion that talking to yourself after long periods of isolation within your motorbike helmet is quite normal. If you didn't do it then you are just weird.

So, why did we nearly get turned around at the border of Mongolia? Apparently it is not good to offend the drunk Captain of the Mongolia Border Security. A certain member of the 51st Traverse even blurted out "That's my Passport you douche". Lucky he couldn't understand English, probably as much as we couldn't understand Mongolian.

The story goes, 51st Traverse are sitting in Customs for the best part of the day and decide they are rather hungry. There are no signs saying you cant eat, so we pull out some bread and scoff it back like hungry wolves. One of the problems here is firstly, we made quite a mess, secondly, while they don't have signs, eating is strictly forbidden. Even more so, when the Captain of the Security Guard sits down, do not try and feed him the scraps on the ground, he will take offense. One of the only words he knew was "out" while pointing to Russia. Lucky we were quick thinkers and mentioned we did not have Visas to get back into Russia, then proceeded to just stand still looking dumb. He eventually let us into Mongolia after some heated discussions.

I guess we have been getting up to more than just that. We are in Mongolia after all.

We left off last week applying for our Kazakhstan Visa, because we are all quite poor we opted for the cheaper, week long processing. This means that we had the best part of a week to kill time in. We decided we would ride about 50 kilometers and head out to the National Park just outside Ulan Bator. The Gorkhi Terelj National Park. This was amazing, camping beside a cold river, in 30 degree heat, for a week.

We had a great time just relaxing and making sure we were up to date with everything, including our washing.

It made me a little homesick, as it really reminded me of the camping and lifestyle in a New Zealand summer. We just sat back and enjoyed the sun and walked about aimlessly. Even went horse riding in Mongolia, how many people can say that.

Thats about it so far, we are off for a few weeks into the wilderness that is Mongolia. We will be riding our motorbikes into the Gobi desert, then make our way up to the North-West corner of Mongolia.

Peace.

Keen to hear how it is going for you guys too, feel like i'm just talking a lot here......

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29May/101

Confessions..

I have a confession to make. I might be going a little mad. If you have ever ridden a motorbike for an extended period of time you find yourself talking inside your helmet. In my case I just end up making random noises. It makes for an interesting ride, at the time seems perfectly normal, in hindsight I just laugh.

It does help with the cold however.

Don't know where I got up to with my last blog, but we are now in Mongolia. Ulan Bator to be specific. The last few days in Russia were some of the best and most memorable. RobG, Tom and myself left the other boys in Irkutsk to head on up to Lake Bikal for a few nights rest and relaxation. I honestly cannot do justice to the amazing place we stayed. I think the island was called Ostrov Island, something like that. I'll try and paint a picture with words.

Imagine a freshwater lake, so big you cannot see the sides, all you can see is snow capped mountains in the distance. This lake you can see is surrounded by green forests and grasslands, but is almost completely frozen over. The sun is shining down and is warm enough to be in shorts and a t-shirt, but still frozen over. The island is off to one side of this lake, and is very similar. It is protruding from the water to leave cliffs on most sides, with lots of little frozen bays of water all around. From one tip of the island to the other is around 35 kilometers, so quite big for an island in a lake. The island itself is covered in grasslands and a few forest covered mountains. The rocks were all quite spectacular, most of them white due to the high quartz content. We were camped on one of these cliffs, looking out over much of this landscape, enjoying the amazing sunsets and sunrises. I could spend months on that island.

Apart from the freezing cold nights and minor noise sessions inside my helmet it was one of the best experiences in my life. Unfortunately we had to leave on the third morning and head back to Irkutsk to get our Mongolian Visas. Bummer.

We did this okay, got the visas and headed back to Ulan Ude to head into Mongolia. We were helped again by our friend in Ulan Ude and were able to use his workshop to service our bikes until the early morning.

We nearly didn't make it into Mongolia, but that is a story for another day.

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22May/101

Victory!

So we spent Victory Day in Kharbarosk this year. Victory Day is a celebration of the day Russia and Germany signed a treaty to end the war. I'm told its more a show of power. Lets start from the beginning.

So we left our friend Vladimir's (Disco Disco Vladimir) house and had a 400 - 500 kilometer journey to Kharbarosk to meet up with some of the Baptist girls who volunteer at Living Hope. Upon leaving Vlad's (he let me use this as his nickname) place we spotted another motorbike rider in the distance...

He was riding a Ural and to be honest, looked like he was out of the 50's. He had a canvas jacket, goggles and a balaclava to keep his face warm. All of the 51st Traverse waved as we passed and pulled into the next petrol station.

He followed.

Turns out his name is Mike, and he has been working in South Korea for a while. Crazily he is taking the Ural from South Korea back to the United Kingdom. We had a good talk with him for a while, he was the first real motorbiker we had met along the road.

Naturally we invited him to come along with us and stay at the accommodation we had sorted.

Famously, RobG said the following when we were at the outskirts of Kharbarosk,

"Let's be honest, there cant be that many Baptist Churches in Kharbarosk"

For those who have traveled to Kharbarosk, we can all agree its not a small town. We honestly had no idea how big this place was and ended up getting quite lost as soon as we entered the town. Stupidly we also got separated. For quite some time. During which, RobG and myself were surrounded by drunken Russians. Not good.

So its about 9pm now, only a few degrees, we had no idea where the rest of the guys were and had no idea where we were staying for the night.

We finally roll up to the hostel with the help of some locals. Again, blown away by the hospitality of the Russians.

The next day we headed to the town square for the Victory Day celebrations with our new Russian friends. It was a grand display of the military strength of Russia. They had many different regiments on display, from all the different armed forces. We managed to get photos on top of a couple of tanks.

The one thought at this point was the destruction. They had tanks rolling through the main street at full power, asphalt flying everywhere. So just for this one parade they absolutely destroyed the local roads, but didn't bat an eyelid. It was interesting to note the differences, as New Zealand doesn't have tanks for a start, but the fact that this would not happen in New Zealand at all. Can you imagine the Pukekohe main street being ripped up by the V8 parade and not caring at all.

They followed this by an impressive fireworks display that even Dave Gilmour would be impressed by. It was a spectacular display that was mimicked all through Russia at the same time.

What a good day.

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19May/103

who said that..

When we first thought about the trip and what we wanted to use for transport we chose to travel by motorbike. One of the reasons we chose motorbikes was to immerse ourselves in the climate that we travel through. What I'm trying to say is we wanted to be cold when it was cold outside, hot when it was hot and smell the smells of the country.

What a silly thing to want. Especially when you are biking through Siberia. We had probably the coldest day on record yesterday while we were biking, I am cold-blooded usually but even I could not feel my hands.

It was not good.

I was unhappy.

But then today we had an amazing day, riding along the frozen shore of Lake Bikal in the shining sun. What a difference a few hours can make.

Seeing you haven't heard from me in the last few weeks I will try and sum up the different experiences we have had.

The first thing I would like to say is that Russians are some of the most hospitable and friendly people I have come across. Whenever we stop to do anything, a crowd forms and we all try and talk a similar language. It usually ends up with lots of hugs and many well wishes. It is in complete contrast to what we have been told, most people (even Russians) tell us we are crazy and will come to no good. Completely the opposite.

Second thing is that Siberia is really cold. We ride along in the blazing sun and the sides of the road are covered in ice and snow. It is crazy. The nights get very cold, so we are lucky to have such good sponsors that provided us with such good quality sleeping bags and mats, without those we would be frozen icicles by now.

We have had our ups and downs along the way.

We are trying to cover large distances on the motorbikes each day, the target at the moment is about 400 kilometers per day. We will drop this down to about 200 kilometers soon, which is a much easier target. This leaves us pretty much shattered at the end of the day, we usually get up at 7 am and ride for about 12 - 14 hours. This means we are usually trying to find a campsite at around PM each night, which isn't too bad as the sun is up until about fpm.

Doesn't sound too bad so far?

Try doing that in the pouring rain, when you are cold, hungry and tired. Add to that the fact that campsites are far and few between, you cant just camp in the forest like in New Zealand because of all the insects and other creepy crawlies.

That's when our patience starts to wear out.

Then you get up, the sun is shining and you end up finding an amazing camping spot the next day, all the troubles of the world are forgotten.

We have been blessed with the different people we have met along the way. On the second day we were riding we ended up not able to find a campsite by the time the sun went down. We were at a dead end, in a random town, when a drunk Russian male came up to us on his push bike.

"Where are you going to?"

"We are riding motorbikes from Vladivostok to London"

"This is not London"

We were quite aware that we were not in London, and this bloke was not helping. We couldn't really communicate with him in Russian or English. What a sup rise when we learnt he could speak German and so could Tom. Ha. We had accommodation for the night.

We had a few contacts from our time in Vladivostok so called them up the next night, and have had some varied experiences.

We stayed with an amazing family the next few nights. Vladimir had an amazing house and an amazing attitude towards us. He didn't know us at all. Not one bit. And yet he led us to his house, pushed us into the sauna, put together a banquet for us to eat, and given the keys to the house pretty much.

What an amazing family. He had a few catch phrases, "Let's Go, Let's Go" and "Disco Disco".

It was awkward when we were also given a personal security guard who was also available if we wanted him to get us anything from town. Awkward because he just kept following us around, and we didn't know he was assigned to us.

A few nights later we spent some time at the Baptist Church in Kharbarosk. Again, amazing people who welcomed us into everything. Made us feel like celebrities.

We spent Victory Day in Kharbarosk which was an experience in itself. One for a whole new blog post. We also stopped into Blagoveshenk and slept a night on the floor of a Ford Dealership in Ulan Ude, which I will talk about in a minute. But for now that is enough.

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2May/102

all good things must end

I guess its that time. We have been almost dreading this moment since we arrived in Vladivostok. The time has come for us to leave the relative comfort of our current surroundings and actually start this adventure. I cant say that we are not ready, we have been planning this moment for nearly two years. It is the fact we are having to give up so much. We live in these comfortable WARM surrounding both in NZ and Vladivostok so far, tomorrow we give that all up, pull out our tents and get into the wild.

There are a few things I'm going to miss:

  • Warmth
  • Showers
  • Electricity
  • Internet
  • Translators
  • A stove to cook proper meals
  • There are plenty more, which no doubt I will let you know about during this trip.

That's not to say that our time here in Russia has been bad, it has been amazing. What a different country, one that has to grow on you. When I arrived here in Vladivostok I didn't know what to think, the place is very bleak, the streets are full of pot holes and it looks like everything is run down.

Then you stop comparing it to a place like New Zealand, because everything here is different. As we all know 'different is not bad'. I think about the people we have met, and the hardships they have endured. Everyone in this country has endured some kind of hardship in their life, from unemployment to freezing winters. Most of which we are sheltered from in NZ and would have not real concept of. Then you meet the people, like the man I met at the Living Hope birthday party nicknamed 'Casanova', he lost both his hands due to malpractice at a local hospital and yet has the biggest smile and positive attitude I have ever met in a person. You could not help but get drawn to him (he beat me at Pool which I'm not happy about). Its only then that you start to see the real beauty in this country, and fall in love with it.

Some of the things we have been up to so far:

  • Attending local Rotary club meetings on Thursdays
  • Drinking wine with the New Zealand Ambassador to the region
  • Taking all our clothes off and losing all our dignity at the local traditional Russian baths
  • Numerous dining experiences with local people at their homes and out on the town in Vladivostok
  • Partaking in the annual bike ride with around 500 other bike riders from the region
  • Celebrating 11 years of Living Hope with Rachael
  • Getting horribly sick at Living Hope and making a mess of the place
  • Meeting countless volunteers who help out at Living Hope
  • Sitting in on the English class held by people at Living Hope

That is all coming to an end, so I will try and keep you all informed of the next phase of the 51st Traverse.

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2May/100

all good things must end

I guess its that time. We have been almost dreading this moment since we arrived in Vladivostok. The time has come for us to leave the relative comfort of our current surroundings and actually start this adventure. I cant say that we are not ready, we have been planning this moment for nearly two years. It is the fact we are having to give up so much. We live in these comfortable WARM surrounding both in NZ and Vladivostok so far, tomorrow we give that all up, pull out our tents and get into the wild.

There are a few things I'm going to miss:

  • Warmth
  • Showers
  • Electricity
  • Internet
  • Translators
  • A stove to cook proper meals
  • There are plenty more, which no doubt I will let you know about during this trip.

Thats not to say that our time here in Russia has been bad, it has been amazing. What a different country, one that has to grow on you. When I arrived here in Vladivostok I didn't know what to think, the place is very bleak, the streets are full of pot holes and it looks like everything is run down.

Then you stop comparing it to a place like New Zealand, because everything here is different. As we all know 'different is not bad'. I think about the people we have met, and the hardships they have endured. Everyone in this country has endured some kind of hardship in their life, from unemployment to freezing winters. Most of which we are sheltered from in NZ and would have not real concept of. Then you meet the people, like the man I met at the Living Hope birthday party nicknamed 'Cassinova', he lost both his hands due to malpractice at a local hospital and yet has the biggest smile and positive attitude I have ever met in a person. You could not help but get drawn to him (he beat me at Pool which I'm not happy about). Its only then that you start to see the real beauty in this country, and fall in love with it.

Some of the things we have been up to so far:

  • Attending local Rotary club meetings on Thursdays
  • Drinking wine with the New Zealand Ambassador to the region
  • Taking all our clothes off and losing all our dignity at the local traditional Russian baths
  • Numerous dining experiences with local people at their homes and out on the town in Vladivostok
  • Partaking in the annual bike ride with around 500 other bike riders from the region
  • Celebrating 11 years of Living Hope with Rachael
  • Getting horribly sick at Living Hope and making a mess of the place
  • Meeting countless volunteers who help out at Living Hope
  • Sitting in on the English class held by people at Living Hope

That is all coming to an end, so I will try and keep you all informed of the next phase of the 51st Traverse.

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30Apr/100

coming to an end.

Again, we have had a pretty amazing week. We spend all our days helping out at Living Hope doing just about anything. We spend all our evenings being entertained by Rachael and her Rotarians.

Monday night we spent at a Rotarians house in the suburbs of Vladivostok. We spent the evening going over his collection of DVD's and eating traditional Borsch (again). This was great as Mikhail had lots of experience traveling around Russia and the former USSR. He has been involved in the Mongolian rally and is quite up to speed on the latest GPS technology. This means we now have detailed track logs of the entire journey from Vladivostok to Ulan Bator in Mongolia.

Tuesday night was spent at the traditional Russian baths with a different group of Rotarians. They were less interested in talking about our motorbike trip, more interested in signing traditional songs whilst stark naked and having shots of Vodka. You can imagine how this looked and what the night ended up like. We had a jolly time there but did end up losing a few dignities.

Wednesday night Rachael took us out for some burgers and fries. You don't know how much we craved those foods. I have been eating (drinking) soup for the last two weeks, and there is only so much borsch you can eat before getting a little pissed off at soups. It was absolute artery blocking food heaven for a few sad looking New Zealanders.

Thursday we spent at the Rotary meeting again as their guests, and much fuss was made about us. We seem to fit right into their idea of charitable giving. They are going out of their way to make sure we are the happiest few blokes in all of Vladivostok. It is great.

Thursday night was a laugh, we went round to Mikhail's house again and had a look over his maps. I think its more a chance to have a few Vodka shots and eat some caviar with friends. This was also his chance to pull out a few guns and have some themed photo sessions with the New Zealanders who sat in awe. To top it off we were sent two cars by our mate who runs a security company in Vladivostok. He has over 2000 security guards in the area, but loves us and our Maori songs. It was funny getting picked  up and driven around by two cars, the guys making sure we were okay, even to the point of not letting us walk 5 meters without one of them walking with us.

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30Apr/100

coming to an end.

Again, we have had a pretty amazing week. We spend all our days helping out at Living Hope doing just about anything. We spend all our evenings being entertained by Rachael and her Rotarians.

Monday night we spent at a Rotarians house in the suburbs of Vladivostok. We spent the evening going over his collection of DVD's and eating traditional Borsch (again). This was great as Mikhail had lots of experience traveling around Russia and the former USSR. He has been involved in the Mongolian rally and is quite up to speed on the latest GPS technology. This means we now have detailed track logs of the entire journey from Vladivostok to Ulan Bator in Mongolia.

Tuesday night was spent at the traditional Russian baths with a different group of Rotarians. They were less interested in talking about our motorbike trip, more interested in signing traditional songs whilst stark naked and having shots of Vodka. You can imagine how this looked and what the night ended up like. We had a jolly time there but did end up losing a few dignities.

Wednesday night Rachael took us out for some burgers and fries. You don't know how much we craved those foods. I have been eating (drinking) soup for the last two weeks, and there is only so much borsch you can eat before getting a little pissed off at soups. It was absolute artery blocking food heaven for a few sad looking New Zealanders.

Thursday we spent at the Rotary meeting again as their guests, and much fuss was made about us. We seem to fit right into their idea of charitable giving. They are going out of their way to make sure we are the happiest few blokes in all of Vladivostok. It is great.

Thursday night was a laugh, we went round to Mikhail's house again and had a look over his maps. I think its more a chance to have a few Vodka shots and eat some caviar with friends. This was also his chance to pull out a few guns and have some themed photo sessions with the New Zealanders who sat in awe. To top it off we were sent two cars by our mate who runs a security company in Vladivostok. He has over 2000 security guards in the area, but loves us and our Maori songs. It was funny getting picked  up and driven around by two cars, the guys making sure we were okay, even to the point of not letting us walk 5 meters without one of them walking with us.

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26Apr/100

Sooo…

I have been getting a little flak for not updating these blog posts regularly enough. You guys do realize that in a few short days I will be largely uncontactable for the best part of a month right? I thought I was making up for that by updating this blog a few times in the past week.

I shouldn't really have an excuse. I've been pretty sick lately, I managed to get a bug from somewhere (probably Russia) which then decided to destroy my body. I spent a good few hours in the toilet spewing up anything that touched my mouth. When I thought I was okay, I hopped into the shower. Bad decision. I threw up in the shower. Again, thought I was okay so decided to hop into bed. However, based on previous experiences I took a bucket with me to bed. Lucky for me because I decided that throwing up in bed wasn't too bad. So I didn't get much sleep that night.

I guess its not too bad, as the rest of the boys were sick as well. So at least I had company.

Otherwise we have not been up to too much, Mish, Climo and myself managed to get out and have a ride around the coast for a bit. It was a good start to riding motorbikes in Russia (as you could imagine its not too easy riding on the wrong side of the road, with a completely different set of road rules). We also did the same tonight, we around to one of the Rotary Club members houses and watched DVD's and ate some more Borsch (love the stuff).

Again the Rotary Club managed to impress me. We spent all of Sunday having a Working Bee at Living Hope. So around 20 members came, washed windows and dug up gardens. They provided us lunch (included a BBQ) and made us feel very welcome as usual. Gosh what a nice bunch of people....

That's about it really, Rachel is sick as well today, so hopefully we can do some site seeing tomorrow when everyone is feeling a bit better.

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