The Road of Bones: Vladivostok to Magadan, the Hard Way

Surviving Joe Stalin's Siberian Superhighway.

By Joe Gresh, Photography by Daniel Byrne, Fred Williams, Joe Gresh

The water recedes and we make it to the other side. The convoy has no trouble crossing. I'm sitting in the road pouring water out of my boots when Ed walks up and gives me a dry pair of socks. After 10 days on the Road of Bones I must look a sorry state, because he kindly doesn't tell me how four wheels are good and two wheels are bad.

A super-long line of cars and trucks are parked ahead of us. The road has washed away and heavy equipment is building a bypass. The crew uses the downtime well, repairing two holed Kizashi tires with spare V-Strom inner tubes.

I meet Valintin, a former Norton/Wasp sidecar motocross racer of the '90s. We speak the Universal Language of Motorcycle, so he invites me into his Kamaz produce hauler for dinner and an Extreme motocross video. We pass the time naming famous racers; he knows them all. The hour is getting late, I can't make much speed at night and our destination is a long way off. Once Valintin gets the drift of my situation, he wheels the Suzuki to the front of the line, yells something at the cop blocking traffic and we push the bike across the washout. Telling Jeff to watch for me in the ditches, I ride alone in the dark toward Magadan.

I don't know why I am so calm on the Road of Bones. Riding at night, on a dirt road shot through with slippery sections, would normally have me in a panic. I'm within 100 miles of town when my trance is broken by Ed's Kizashi passing at 75 mph. The rest of the convoy shows up shortly thereafter. I hate to admit it, but I'm kind of glad to see the cagers. A bit of fog ices the cake and we pull into our destination at midnight. Jeff pulls out all the stops, and we stay at the nicest hotel in town for our final evening together.

In Magadan there is a monument to those who died building the Road of Bones. Called the Mask of Sorrow, it's a huge, blocky face with tears consisting of many smaller faces flowing down its cheeks. The back side is recessed; within the hollow a statue of a woman prays beneath the contorted body of a road worker. Next to the woman people leave coins and flowers. Each of us offers alms to The Road without comment. Ed and Duane were going to shoot a video in front of the monument, but it's too powerful; they're uncomfortable commercializing the suffering of so many. They do their exit interview overlooking the city instead.

And just like that it's over. Thirty hours on a plane and I'm back in the Florida Keys. I can still hear that road from halfway around the world. Maybe I always will. The Koloyma Highway is being improved at breakneck pace. Before long this fabled motorway will be sealed, brand-new bridges spanning the washes. There's no need to rush, though: However thick they lay the asphalt, if you ride a motorcycle on the Road of Bones, you'll be hearing from all those people too

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