Monday, 13 July 2015

Katu-Yarik pass grand finale!

We had had more storms and rain overnight, which was not ideal for the sort of roads we were going to ride.

Vladimir had us up before 6am, as he wanted to leave the Yurt camp very early. 

By 7am, after a quick coffee,  we were packed and ready to go. It started easy on the M52 riding north for about 60 km until Aktash.

There, we stopped for fuel and then took a side road to Ust-Ulagan. The road started as decent gravel but soon turned into a narrow bumpy ride. At Ust-Ulagan we stopped again for more fuel, as we would not find any until crossing Lake Teleskoye.

We then took a road that got worse and worse up and up the mountains. 

We stopped at the Red Gates for pictures and also because Andrey’s bike was having some problems. The weather was rather bad, grey, cold and occasionally wet. 

After some investigation on the electrics, we continued, keeping up with Vladimir at a reasonable speed. I was glad we did the excursion in the mountains the day before, so I was quite comfortable with my bike and I knew it could fly and skip over big lose stones and rocks and was easy to control. I felt my position standing on the foot pegs was improving, giving more balance and control.

After a while we stopped again by a mountain pass.  We had a snack and tea in a little café and, after more investigations; Vladimir decided to swap the battery from Andrey’s bike to Alistair’s bike. Alistair’s bike was the only one with a kick-start and the battery was presumed dead.

So we continued, up and down the mountains until we got to the top of the Katu-Yarik pass. 

The views were superb over the valley and the river Chulyshman, despite the bad weather, but the descent was quite scary. Well, there was no choice; we had to go down, so down we would go!

I removed some layers as it was going to be hot, and we set off, Vladimir first, and the rest of us in our usual formation.

The descent was very steep, narrow, the track was covered with big lose stones and sand, and I had a big cliff on one side. There was no margin for errors! 

I am not comfortable with big cliffs, so I started sitting on my bike but it was very unstable over the big lose stones running under my wheels. I was not feeling the foot (rear) brake when standing up, so it was scary. With such a descent I had to use the foot brake or the bike would go faster and faster. Such little engines are not powerful enough to brake using only the engine brake.

So in the end I adopted the position described by Vladimir, standing up on the foot pegs, putting as much weight as possible at the back by leaning back so the front wheel would be light and skip easily over stones, keeping my shoulders and arms relaxed, looking far ahead and memorizing the obstacles.

I slowly found the foot brake and went down, avoiding incoming traffic (tractors and 4x4!) by millimeters on my left and with only centimeters to spare on my right between the side of my front wheel and the big precipice. The bike, as usual, was superb and I finally got down into the valley.

I pulled next to Vladimir, waiting for me, down in the valley. For him it was easy! 

He had been watching me. He gave me a thumb up, flashing his usual big smile, saying, with his thick Russian accent “ Very good!”.

His constant advice had finally got through in my little head, and I had overcome, or at least managed, my fears!

After a long while, the rest of the gang arrived. Alistair’s back brake had overheated and was not working during the descent. They had stopped and decided to continue the descent, slowly. 

We then got back on the trail. It looked more like a dry river bed to me, covered in big lose stones and with big potholes full of water. It was tough going and very tiring! By mid afternoon we stopped at a campsite by the river.

As we got changed and had some very late lunch, it started pouring down with rain and more storms.

We had planned to take a small boat across the river and hike for about a mile up the mountain to see the Stone mushrooms. They look like the fairy chimneys in Cappadocia. 

However, because of the storm, we decided give it a miss. Andrey, always keen to ride, decided to take off on his bike, to explore the valley.

After a light dinner, we opened a small bottle of vodka but it was not that tasty so we left it and went to get warm by a fire camp.  We then went to the Banya for a wash, Alistair and me first, then the rest of the gang.

The next day was, again, an early start. Vladimir wanted us on the road by 6am, as we had to get to the boat at 8am. We would have breakfast by the lake. So we had an early night.

The next morning, we left at 6 and rode again that terrible river bed/ mud/ pools as fast as we could, well, as I could! I was tired and instead of avoiding every single pothole full of water I was just going through, carelessly, like riding a tank!

As we stopped for a small rest, Vladimir turned to me laughing, mimicking swimming, asking if I wanted to transform my bike into a submarine!  

Damn, how does he do that? 

He is standing on his foot pegs, sometimes far away ahead; he can’t possibly see me … surely?!

He really must have an eye on his back! Or else he is some sort of Russian style James Bond and has super gadgets to see everywhere?

To be fair, some of those water potholes were huge and deep enough!  Luckily, my boots kept waterproof!

Eventually we made it to the south shore of the lake Teleskoye, the biggest and deepest in the Altai, and we stopped for a well-deserved breakfast: the usual pancakes, fried eggs, porridge, black Russian bread, all washed down with plenty of tea.

After that, we waited for the boat. Andrey, as usual, took off in his bike to explore the village while Anton and Vladimir were trying to trace our boat. I kept inside, with Alistair, having more tea.

The boat was finally found, about a mile down a very sandy track. 

We managed somehow to get all the bikes next to the boat and loaded them in, basically by lifting them into the boat!

Once all were secure, we set off.

Anton disappeared in the second cabin under the bridge, for a snooze while we were on the first cabin, fitted with 2 long sofas.  Andrey, joining us under the bridge, declared, with his dry sense of humour: “Vladimir is shitting in the ears of the Captain!” before lying down for a quick nap.

The crossing took about 5h30.

After a snooze and some tea, Andrey decided to give some more business advice to Vladimir, as there was nothing to explore in the tiny boat, while we watched the bikes getting more and more unstable with the bad weather and very rough water. 

Eventually Vladimir leapt into action and tightened the ropes. I really thought for a while that we would lose some bikes to the lake!

The other side had beautiful pastel houses and seemed very touristic. That side of the lake has asphalt roads and is easy to access, unlike the south side that is accessible by the Katu-Yarik pass or the lake.

Once we got the bikes off the boat, we rode to a little café for a late lunch. The weather was cold and grey and I put all my layers and waterproofs. As we set off, it started raining. We had 180km to ride, on tarmac, to Manzherok.

We arrived rather late at the Altai-Moto’s club house. We had a quick change of clothes, then went for some dinner in town. 

We piled into Vladimir’s truck and we stopped to buy beer and some dry fish and dry meat. After dinner, we went straight to the Banya. The guys had included me by keeping their underwear, while I wore my bikini!

Andrey kept pouring water over the hot stones, clearly trying to bake us, and we got out into the ‘lounge’ area occasionally, to drink the beer, eat the tasty dried fish and meat, and cool down.

We talked, laughed and had a great time. I felt sad too, as we would be saying goodbye too soon. I had been riding with great guys; they felt like best friends, like family, we got on all so well.

Soon, we left the banya, moved to our chalet and got ready to say goodbye to Vladimir and Andrey. Anton would stay with us in the chalet and would come with us to the airport in the morning, to help us for the check in.

This trip has been so intense, terrifying sometimes, feeling on top of the world next, it has been a roller coaster of emotions and pure joy. The background, the Altai Mountains, has been spectacular, the company, exceptional…

 I am going to miss the guys: wonderful "Action Man" Vladimir, Andrey the Fearless and Thoughtful Sweet Anton.

I am going to miss the mountains too. This trip has been so much more than what I expected. We will be back some day; there is still so much to explore …

I thought my heart was set on the stunning Andes of south America, but, somehow, the glorious mountains of the Altai have managed to steal a little bit of my heart too and will keep calling.

For now, our plans are still to go back to the Andes at the end of next year, to ride again across the mountains for few months, but it will be very hard to ignore for long the call of the Altai.

If you want to ride with Vladimir, you can contact him via his website: see and for details).

There is also a facebook account:

Don’t hesitate! You will have the best time of your life! I know I did!

Have you enjoyed this story? Do you have any thoughts? Leave a comment. Thank you! 

Sunday, 12 July 2015

Back to Tudtuyaruk yurt camp

In the morning, we left the hotel and made our way to Tudtuyaruk yurt camp. We had a good 250km to ride, mainly on alphalt. 

Back in June last year, we met Anton and Vladimir there and spent an evening drinking Kazakh cognac and talking bikes. It was quite a coincidence. 

Vladimir says there are no coincidences and that things happen for a reason. In any case, it was a strange feeling to be back there.

(see here for my entry last year:

It was a lot of riding, about 250km, with occasional stops to visit some ancient places like a ritual stones and carving dating back several thousands years.

We arrived at the yurt camp in the evening and were allocated a yurt for the whole gang.

Vladimir wanted to give me some tuition for riding off-road but it was a bit late that evening.

We had dinner in the kitchen / diner yurt. The place was like out of that famous bar in the Star Wars movie, the only thing missing was the alien band playing that crazy music! 

One guy with long hair was wearing a massive giant bright yellow shaggy coat, another had some sort of Iroquois air style, another looked like a mixed of Indiana Jones and Han Solo, without the lasso but hat included, another, still, looked like out of a 60s hippy movie while a baby on his chair was strangely quite and staring at people. And that is just for the people that looked ‘normal”!

The following day was excursion day. I knew what that meant: tough trails ahead, although Vladimir calls them baby school motocross trails! This time I was determined to do the entire ride.

The weather looked actually dry that morning after the rain of the previous day, we decided to ride after breakfast.

Vladimir took us through another exit from the campsite. It had a very steep muddy section. I made my way through best I could but not the right way, putting my right foot down. Vladimir told me off for that. He really wanted me to improve my riding skills and ensure I would keep my right foot (which controls the back brake) on the peg.  

- “I don’t want you to go on your travels around the world not riding properly” he told me some time before. I feared I was becoming some sort of "project" for him, make me into a descent off-road rider. When I told him, with his usual broad smile, he denied... I had my suspicions though!

The excursion up the mountain was stunning. It was hard going for me, to start with, but we kept in formation. I was right behind Vladimir, who, despite riding standing up on his foot pegs, continued to have that supernatural power of seeing behind him what I was doing at any time! How does he do that!?  

At first, I started slowly but soon got bored of slow and managed to go faster and faster.

The bike performed so well on lose gravel, stones or anything, that I grew more and more confident. We managed to get to the 1st step up the mountain through narrow treacherous mountains tracks.

The last climb involved a very (very!) steep trail that would be hard to achieve, due to the lack of oxygen. Anton told me he managed once with Vladimir but they had to take the air filters out.

Vladimir, Andrey and Alistair attempted the climb, but their bikes died half way through and they had to turn back.

We then descended back into the valley. We visited a few other places of interest, like the "Mars landscape". I felt comfortable with the way my bike behaved on any sort of terrain and performed reasonably well, although, I know that Vladimir was looking for the easiest ways off-road to get through. There were still lots of mud around. 

Later on, Vladimir told me, with his usual broad smile, that I had done very well that day. That was a big compliment coming from “Action man" himself! 

Back to the yurt camp, the guys decided to go out with the bikes  and find a shop to get some beers, to celebrate. It was Saturday evening after all! They took a detour by the hills and I heard that Andrey had a spectacular fall in the mud. Sadly no one took a picture of it! That did not seem to deter him, as he kept taking off at the speed of light with complete disregard for the sort of track he was riding. He was certainly keen.

We went to the banya for a wash and then back to the colourful kitchen / diner for a meal. It had been an action packed day.

After that, Vladimir disappeared to the camp’s “Star Wars Tavern” / Kitchen / diner to play guitar and socialize with the strange fauna that inhabited that place, obviously feeling in his element!

Andrey decided to follow to provide him with some business advice, while we stayed in the yurt with Anton to talk and relax.

Little did I know what was waiting for us the next day!

when the going get tough...

The following morning we got up relatively early and had a big breakfast. It had been raining heavily.

Irbis was going to guide us, in his 4 wheel drive van,  into the mountains,  with his brother-in-law and his uncle.

Vladimir decided that I should go on the truck as the tracks would be extremely muddy and treacherous for my skills. Alistair was also confined to the truck but then at the last minute was included in the ride. 

Anton, once again, had to babysit me. And once again I told him he should ride, I did not mind to be on the van with Irbis and his family, but Anton didn’t seem to mind, taking his “babysitting” role seriously and being his usual sweet and thoughtful self.

The rest of the gang got ready on the bikes, while Irbis loaded an electric chain saw, food, water and a lot of stuff, at the back of the van. 

I queried about the chain saw and found out that this would be used to cut fallen trees that may block our way to the mountains. This was going to be an interesting expedition! 

We had a radio on the van and each of the other riders a radio in case of problem.

So we set off. The drive in the van was “interesting”. On several occasions, holding to a handle and screaming,  I really thought either the van was going to end up upside down or lying on its side.

The tracks and whatever it is we followed, were very muddy from the overnight storms and tough going.

After a while, in a very deep muddy track, the van got sucked and stuck in the deep gravel and water. We could not get it out on our own and radioed the bikers for help. 

Vladimir and Alistair soon joined us. 

Andrey, as usual, had thrown himself into this adventure with great enthusiasm, at top speed, and vanished somewhere into the forest. We just hoped the many wolves and bears that lived in the woods would not find and eat him!

 After a lot of pulling and pushing and shovelling (we also had a shovel in the truck!) we managed to get the van out of its predicament.

We resumed our drive and Irbis took us to various viewpoints and spots of interest. “Andrey the Fearless” reappeared from nowhere, still alive and visibly happy and pleased with himself, not having found any bear to wrestle with, and totally unfazed by his various crashes in the mud. 

Irbis took us to a deep vertical cave of about 200 or 300 meters deep. We even saw the carcass of a small deer inside. If you don’t know where those caves are, it would be easy to fall inside. There are few of those vertical caves in those hills!

At one of our frequent stops, Anton asked me: 

- “Vladimir vs Chuck Norris, what 'you think? “ We stared at Vladimir lifting one of the bikes as if it were a plastic toy, as the side stand was sinking into the mud. … 

- “ Vladimir would eat Chuck Norris for breakfast and use his bones as toothpicks! “ I said. 
- “Come on! We need to find something more interesting… like Vladimir vs Predator, now, that would be worth watching? “ 

As we started laughing and watching “Action Man” Vladimir, we explained to him… “Why? Why?” he asked laughing. I think he was a little bit puzzled.

We continued climbing  until the top of a mountain. We had an amazing view from there. We were told we were the first foreigners to come there.

On the way, we found the carcass of a cow that had been recently killed and eaten by wolves, according to Irbis.

Back in the move again, by early afternoon, we reached a spot in the forest where we could not possibly drive or ride any further into the forest without serious use of the chainsaw! So we stopped for lunch.

Irbis and his family produced food, foldable chairs, cooking pot and started a fire for cooking our lunch. 

While they cooked, we walked to the top of the hill with Anton and Alistair, while Andrey, tired of disappearing into the woods with his bike, decided, instead, to give some business advice to Vladimir. 

After lunch, Andrey once again took off at the speed of light and disappeared into the forest, Vladimir rode fast behind us and Alistair tried to follow him. They soon disappeared in the forest. 

By radio they managed to find each other and their way to the van, thanks to Irbis’ instructions. Navigation in those hills was very difficult, all seems the same and it is very easy to get lost.

At some point Alistair’s bike got stuck so deep into the mud that all the guys in the van had to help to lift the bike. 

By about 4 or 5pm we were back to the farm. The "small" excursion had taken most of the day!

We had an early dinner at Irbis’ house and it was then time to make our goodbye. His family had been very welcoming and it had been amazing to spend time with them and learn a bit more about the Altai culture. 

We then loaded the bikes with our luggage and made our way back to the main gravel road. Luckily, that day, we had not much mileage to do. 

Joining the M52, we stopped in a hotel by the side of the road. 
Our communal shower there was… interesting. As soon as I stepped inside the cubicle, the whole shower nearly fell off. It was not bolted to the wall! I managed to shower quickly in the very precarious cubicle and warned the guys about this.

We then had few beers on the terrace and it was time to go to bed.