We returned to Helsinki and collected the bikes and immediately headed for the border between Finland and Russia expecting a few problems, but the crossing went relatively smooth and after only 2 hours we were in Russia.
Our first shock was 30km before St. Petersburg when we were faced with a traffic-jam second to none, all 5 lanes simply stood still. We then realised it was a Friday afternoon and it was also a long weekend. Our Hotel was in the centre of the city and the traffic just got worst the closer we came. We then started following the local bikers by riding on the pavement and soon we got separated, all following their own GPS to the hotel. I knew we had problems when I arrived before the other 4 bikes, I was in the middle of the group when we got separated and was expecting Peens and Rocky to already be drinking a beer by the time I arrived.
As other bikers know, communication is not easy when on a bike, especially if you only use Text Messages as communication. As soon as I switched on my phone there were several messages from Peens informing us that Rockies bike has once again died but where it simply had cut-out in Romania, this time is jerked a little, then ran properly again for a minute or so before jerking and dying. A typical fuel-problem, but after being filled-up this continued. We decided to leave the bike at the fuel station and collect it once the traffic has subsided.
After meeting our new Back-up drivers (Marina the Russian Paraglider who I wrote about when we were in Moscow and her friend) we went for dinner and then only went to collect the Bike. But we had bigger problems than the blocked fuel filters on the KTM, for the past 2 days Pie had been displaying the complete opposite, he became “un-blocked” and has been riding from Toilet to bush ever since we left Helsinki as his stomach just refused to stop running and in spite of several stops at pharmacies along the way we could not get him blocked-up. So the Saturday morning was spent on getting Pie blocked at a clinic where he was poked and checked by the local doctor on duty and after a few drips and a suitcase full of tablets he was on the mend.
In the back of old Brutes we found the spares needed, and on U-Tube we found a video teaching us how to change the two fuel filters inside the petrol tank and the fuel-pump and soon Pie and Tex were in their element and swinging the spanners fixing the KTM.
The next morning we played tourist and explored the sites of St. Petersburg and later we rode to the Summer Palace and got our dose of culture.
The next morning we set off riding East. We quickly had to learn that Russia was different to any other country we had travelled through. The infra-structure was lacking, so the one main road between towns and cities were in good condition but very congested with trucks. We also learnt that the “towns” we were planning to sleep-over in was in fact huge massive cities that we just have not heard of, and the traffic-jam would start 20km before you enter the city.
So we changed the route and started to Zig-Zag through the country side using roads we found on the GPS but that were not on your maps we used for planning this Leg. This turned out to be the best decision as we found ourselves passing through endless little villages with their wooden houses with their wooden-carved frames, dodging the cows and dogs and eating next to the road at local woman who cook next to the side of the road.
Every night was spent exploring the small un-known towns we stumbled on, usually causing a commotion (locals had not seen 5 bikes touring through their town ever,) when riding around the town looking at the towns little Kremlin (fort or old church) and just experiencing life as a Russian in Rural Russia.
In one town, as we entered, we all got lost (as we entered from different little side roads) and while riding around trying to find the town centre (where we always meet each other,) we saw posters advertising a “Monster-Truck Stunt Show” that was in town that evening and we decided to go and have a look. We checked into a building they called a “Hotel” but I am still not sure this hotel was actually open for business on any other night apart form when the Show was in town as the distance between my bath and the wall tiles were an inch wide, allowing for the biggest cockroaches I have ever seen to play peeping-tom with me.)
The stunts in the show was not anything different to what Peens would do on an ordinary day, but the real entertainment came from watching the town-folk all arriving in their best clothing, with each kid bubbling with excitement, being squashed onto the local schools athletic pavilion while the “stuntmen” raced around on the gravel (which was all that was left from the astro-turf of 30 years ago,) crashing cars in the dust to the squealing delight of all who could afford the minimal admission fee (those that could not afford to enter were scrumming at the fence to try and see around the screen that they erected between two trucks.)
There were two senior policemen (they look more like soldiers) who were there for “crowd control” who had to make sure everyone remained seated. The kids and I slowly crawled towards the handrail of the pavilion to get a better view (and I wanted some photos) while the KGB looking police were looking at the show, but then some people would follow us only to be noticed by the police and then all breaks loose and we were shouted at and chased back to our seats again.
After the show when the wives and kids had finished taking Selfies of them sitting on the bikes, and Theuns had finished taking the good looking moms for rides, we went to the only “restaurant” in town which also doubles as pub in the one corner and later becomes the towns disco.
We started understanding the way to order from the local menu’s and how Vodka should be drunk (instead of wine) with the meals. Passing through small villages and towns puts you in-touch with the local people, you can smell the melons or the fish before you even turn the corner and see the local market, where one has to stop. I felt part of the local people on more than one occasion, but in one little village a funeral procession walked pass us with an open casket and I could see the tears running down the faces of the mourners and could almost feel their grief and share their loss.
But the wives were getting restless and we headed for Samara where we spent a day or two with local Paragliding friends from Samara doing some site seeing (went down into Stalin’s Bunker,) and walks along the Volga Rivier before finding a place to lock-up our vehicles and then we headed home again.