10 miles west of Verkhneural’sk, Ural Mountains via Troitsk, Russia to Qarabaliq, Kazakhstan
Distance: 206 miles
Time on bikes: 5 hours
What a night – the wind that was blustery when we turned in soon turned into a raging thunder storm with gale force winds. The tent took a real hammering and water came in through the top vent. Thankfully the inner sheet absorbed most of the water during one particular violent part of the storm and only a few drops came into the tent. We both sat there in the pitch dark wondering what we’d do if the storm didn’t subside.
The rain and wind lasted most of the night but this wasn’t enough to stop Bene getting a good nights sleep. Carl probably managed a few hours however these were only as the day was breaking and the storm blew itself out to reveal clear blue skies when we open the door to the tent. We have a bit of a slow start and take our time getting packed up. Thankfully the temperature of the air is again much cooler so we have no problems overheating and get on our way at about 10.30 am.
The first part of our journey through the Ural Mountains is to rejoin the track we’d been riding along the night before to get us to the nearest town, about eleven miles away. However, because of the amount of rain that had fallen overnight the track is flooded in places and we need to weave through the large pools of water. We get to a point where the track is completely waterlogged but there is a trail running parallel which is smoother but made of mud. We take this as it looks like a better option but the surface is incredibly slippery.
We ride for about a mile and both have a few ‘moments’ as the bikes slide around underneath us. We take a very careful approach but unfortunately Bene gets caught out when the rear wheel just slides from underneath her. She immediately tells Carl she’s ok over the intercom and we quickly get the bike back on two wheels. Although the bike has been over several times, the panniers have always been a saviour, avoiding any damage to the bike. This time however, as there was some forward motion involved the pannier bracket was pushed back and has snapped the mounting point for the rear side panel, which has in turn broken the lens of the rear indicator.
The main thing is that Bene is ok – the bike damage is just superficial and will be fine after a bit of cosmetic surgery. We decide to try and get back on the gravel track which means navigating a route through some scrub land, but this is easier than expected. We learn an important lesson and we’ll need to make sure we use whatever means to ensure safe passage on these kinds of roads. We’re a long way from home now and there’s no breakdown service to call if things go wrong.
Back on the gravel and we’re soon in the town where the tarmac road starts again. It was interesting to see that the rest of the traffic, consisting of trucks and a few cars, were favouring the mud track due to it being smoother and them not being too bothered by the slick surface.
The road conditions seem to be much better than most roads we’d been on so far and we’re soon motoring along and covering quite a bit of distance. Before we know it, we’re exiting the Ural Mountains and heading in a north easterly direction towards the town of Troitsk which is close to the Kazakhstan border. We stop for lunch in a roadside diner en route and arrive at our final destination in Russia at about 4 pm. We see a car parts place as we enter town and have a look inside to see if we can find cable ties to fix Bene’s fairing, a fuse to fix Carl’s heated jacket, and some straps in case we ever need to transport the bikes in the back of a truck.
Carl takes his bike apart outside the shop to get to the fuse so we know what to replace it with. This goes well, however a small crowd is soon attracted and they’re keen to know about the bikes and where we’re headed. Two guys take particular interest and are insistent on showing us the way to the road out of town heading to Kazakhstan. We’re a bit apprehensive but were pleased to see that their intentions were honest and they even gave us a cigarette lighter with a dollar sign on it (not working) and an Opel key ring which they bought in the shop for us. We had to show gratitude and returned the favour by giving them a Chelsea pen we’d brought with us from London. These were intended to be used as bargaining chips while passing through Russia, but our passage had not been at all troublesome.
We’re soon approaching the border and a bit of apprehension is setting in. This is first time we’ll be crossing a border where there is no turning back. We’re not sure what will happen if there are any problems with paperwork and we could literally be stuck in no man’s land if we can’t get into the next country.
We begin by joining the queue of cars about thirty long and park the bikes at 5 pm. It looks like it could take ages to get through the Russian side so we walk to the front and up to the office where a few people are dealing with their papers. Carl plays the stupid Brit and just walks up and offers his papers and these are processed and we’re told to come to the front of the queue. Result.
We get though the first gate and are then held at the second where we need to go through the passport control. We park up the bikes in the middle and wait around. And wait, and wait. All the cars we’d gone past in the queue are being checked and papers approved as we wait. Three buses also go through and these seem to have priority over everything else.
Two hours after our arrival at the border, the guys hand Carl his papers back and he’s free to leave the country. We both wait for Bene’s papers to be approved but are told there could be a delay, maybe two hours? We’re a bit confused and can only think this is because Bene has an older style French passport and we’re a bit concerned as it’s also caused a bit of delay when dealing with the Ukrainian border.
We wait for about ten minutes but can tell the border guards aren’t happy with Carl sticking around as he’s been signed out to leave Russia. We tell them a few times that Carl would prefer to wait but eventually they say that Carl must leave and Bene must stay. The weather had been stormy, with thundering downpours as we’d waited under the cover of the customs area, but now Carl had to leave on strict instructions.
We put the intercoms on and Carl rides off towards the Kazakhstan border about four hundred metres ahead. Thankfully we’re able to stay in touch if we keep a clear line of sight and must have looked amusing, or slightly dodgy, as we’re both chatting away with our helmets on.
There’s a stagnant queue on the Kazakh side and Carl just parks his bike at the end of the queue and walks to the front to find out what the score is with getting through. Nothing is happening at all and it’s not long before another cloud breaks and there’s a torrential downpour for ten minutes. Carl retreats into the entrance porch of a cafe until the rain subsides and he can again go and see if there’s any sign of life in the customs area. Again, nothing is happening and it’s not long before another cloud breaks. This could become very irritating.
Thankfully, about thirty minutes later Bene arrives and we’re both really glad to be together again. We seek shelter in the cafe porch as another cloud breaks and after about an hour wait there is some activity. We’d been told by some of the people in the queue to take the bikes to the front. Very generous we thought, but in hindsight they probably knew the hassle we were about to endure getting through.
As the barrier raises we’re excited to be getting through, however the guard just ignores us and is only letting vehicles through that have a small piece of white paper. Hmmm, where did they get that from? Only about fifteen cars go through before the barrier comes down again and we see people queuing at a booth to get the piece of white paper so they can go through in the next batch. We get the paper – about the size of four postage stamps and it turns out this is our ticket to a passage through customs.
About thirty minutes later we’re in the next batch of cars, having waited until about 8.30 pm in the queue. The first stage is passport control and after waiting behind all the others we’re told to go and see two chaps in an office. They have a computer and are trying to identify our passports against pdf examples on their database. Carl’s would have been quite straightforward however the chap controlling the mouse kept clicking the flag of Burundi and he’s trying to work out which version of the Burundi passport Carl has. We have to help identify the Union Flag and we’re then in business. Bene’s passport is again causing a bit of concern and it takes a phone call and close scrutiny before they’re happy to let us go back in the queue.
Thankfully we’re ushered to the front as people are starting to feel a bit sorry for us. Again, all the people we’d passed in the queue are being processed and released in front of us.
With a few more forms completed and at about 9.45 pm we then proceed to border control. Our little piece of paper has about its fourth stamp added and it looks like we’re getting through. They’re all in good spirits and keen to know where we’re going. Telling people that we’re heading for Australia seems to help ease the flow of paperwork as we stress that we’re taking passage through Kazakhstan and not looking to take up residency.
Just as we’re about to go, one of the border guards asks us for some kind of vehicle transfer document, which we don’t have. This is soon arranged, but the guard that helps us insists on being paid 30 dollars for dealing with the paperwork. If it meant we could get on our way, so be it.
With our last bit of paper we are free to go and ride a few hundred metres to then sort out our green card insurance certificate for £3 each. This is thankfully very easy and at 10.45 pm and with the sun in the final throws of setting, we’re riding in Kazakhstan.
The weather has been terrible all evening and we’re soon riding through torrential rain showers in the pitch black. We’ve no idea what’s coming up on the road; potholes, animals, we haven’t a clue. It’s too wet to pitch the tent and the mosquitoes look big enough to chew your arm off, so we continue to the first town to see if we’re in luck for a hotel.
We soon manage to find something and Carl goes in, soaking wet. Unfortunately he’s given a curt ‘niet’ and swift directions back out of the hotel. We’re not sure whether it’s our appearance or if the hotel is full, but we need to try the next place. As it’s Friday night, when Carl gets out it seems like Bene has attracted a small crowd of young revellers. It’s now about midnight so they’re all in very jovial spirits. We keep a positive friendly attitude and Carl is soon being ushered towards another hotel, although for a few moments it looks more like he’s being taken into the local nightclub.
Carl’s relieved that they do actually take him to a hotel, but again it looks like there are no rooms. On the way out, a young guy asks in clear English if he can help and he turns out to be an absolute star. He makes a phone call and we’re soon given the best room in the place for £10. He also says we can park the bikes in his secure garage just around the corner. After a quick shower and freshen up we then join him for a couple of beers in a local bar where we chat away until about 2 am.
This guy is Alex and he made our first impressions of Kazakhstan incredible positive and we’re so pleased to have met him. We take the opportunity of celebrating Bene’s birthday, which although is officially tomorrow, still makes it justifiable to have another beer.