As I watch from the view point of the Katu-Yarik pass, I ask Anton, standing next to meet smoking, which way we go from there. He points to what looks like a very steep bad goat track down the edge of the mountain into the valley.
“Jesus! Christ!” my jaw drops to the floor. That’s a road? Anton laugh and tries to reassure me by saying : “It’s actually not as steep as it looks”. What he failed to tell me was that cars that are not 4 wheel drive have to be pulled up by a tractor; that sort of track!
But let’s start from the beginning! If you followed my adventures last year, you would know that just before we crossed into Mongolia, in a campsite, we met with Russian bikers. The guys were Vladimir and Anton. Vladimir is a professional motocross racer, and one of the best in Siberia, Anton is a computer programmer from Tomsk, and was helping with translation. My Russian is very basic!
The guys were so nice and interesting, I thought it would be nice to discover the stunning Altai with them. Vladimir was starting a guided tour company: Altai Moto ( see www.altai-moto.com and www.altai-moto.ru for details).
So in the last few months I sorted the visas and plane tickets, and on Sunday 28th of June, at 8am, we landed in Gorno-Altaysk, the capital city of the Altai Republic, Russia.
Anton was there to pick us up. After losing 5 hours night with time change, we were dropped to a chalet in Manzherok, for a rest.
After a snooze, Anton came to pick us up again, on a 4x4 driven by Boris. Boris is part of the 4x4 club and a good friend of Vladimir.
We went to the moto-house, which is still under construction, to meet with the rest of the gang. Vladimir welcomed us and we were also introduced to Andrey, who would also join us in the tour. Andrey appeared quiet and observant. He is from northern Siberia and wanted to visit the region. He had never been off-road so would match our level of riding, or so I thought! But we would find out soon that this was "Andrey the Fearless"!
Vladimir was his usual friendly, smiling and exuberant self. Standing next to him I felt like a hobbit. He is tall!
We also had the 1st meeting with our bikes. Anton brought his own Honda XR650L, while the rest of us would be on Suzuki Djebel 250 (and 200cc for me as I am too short for the 250!). Vladimir got the 200cc Djebel few months ago for me, as the 250s where too tall.
We then went to visit the Altai Museum, as this would show us all about the culture and ancients site we would be visiting during our trip. It was a very interesting visit and well worth it to start understand the traditions and way of life in the Altai.
It also had a good selection of local fauna, among them bears, wolves an big cats!
The weather was splendid with not a cloud in the sky.
Then it was time to get back to the moto-house for a very traditional Russian BBQ!
We got talking with Boris who showed us pictures of his “4x4 club” expedition to Mongolia last year. 3 of their cars got so stuck in the mountains that they had to be pulled out by helicopter! Very expensive!
The following morning we got to the moto-house, and after loading our bags to our bikes, we first rode to Gorno-Altaysk, to check if our border permits were available. Unfortunately it was not meant to be. Maybe next time! It was time to hit the road.
Our riding formation was to be the same for the entire trip. Vladimir first, then me, then Alistair, Andrey and Anton as sweeper.
On this first day we rode north West, leaving the republic of Altai to get into the Altai Krai. It was an easy day with mainly asphalt or good gravel roads, getting to know our little bikes.
Our stop for the night was a cheese farm down a little track! Yes, this was heaven for me! The farm had few cabins for guests. The weather was incredibly hot and we were happy to remove all our motorcycle gear and change into shorts.
We put on our swimwear and had a walk to the river for a swim. After that we came back for a shower and dinner.
I got out the French saucisson I brought with me for an aperitif. We exchanged some of it for some home made cheese.
Dinner included a variety of cheeses made at the farm. It was glorious!
Vladimir took the opportunity, that evening, to show us how to stand up correctly in the foot pegs and how to ride off-road. It was a very useful lesson. Many years ago we did a BMW off-road weekend session in Wales, but I don’t remember being told all what Vladimir said. From then on he was going to keep a very watchful eye on me!
It was our first day on the road, the weather was superb, the company brilliant, the motorbikes perfect, what else could I wish for?