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

Despite its horrific reputation, the Road of Bones is kind to me. We climb into the mountains and the scenery becomes more spectacular. The highway squeezes into one lane. There are no guard rails to stop us from plunging into the river far below. The Kizashis, normally averaging a flat or two per day, step up the pace and put in a six-flat performance. Two wheels good, four wheels bad!

We are truly in the country now, towns and hotels left far behind. Jeff finds a beautiful campsite on a river bank where we circle the wagons. The Chinese-made tents are up in minutes, but it takes the combined knowledge of Duane, Ed and me to figure out how to erect my Russian-made job. There are instructions, but they're printed in Russian, without diagrams. It's ridiculously difficult, so we give up. The tent sits askew. I'll sleep in the damn thing as is.

We break camp for another glorious day. The remoteness equals long hours on the road. For all the headlights on the V-Strom, it doesn't light up the Russian outback very well. I am reduced to 45 mph as we cruise the last 80 miles to our hotel. The crisp, cold night air drifts into my helmet. With my electric vest on high and the heated grips at medium, I am perfectly comfortable. Oncoming headlights drift past as my world scrolls by in a small oval 30 feet wide by 100 feet long. This damp dirt is slippery but not impassable. The 'Strom drifts gently, its rear tire painting broad, monochromatic rainbows in accordance with the amount of throttle applied.

The miles roll slowly by, the Suzuki barely ticking over, inaudible except for the clatter of suspension over bumps. An odd kind of mystical state settles over me and I am truly happy to be alive. I feel sorry for the car guys. The last 80 miles were a chore for them. Sealed inside their metal boxes, they can't feel The Road's welcoming embrace.

After another night of camping due to our planned hotel being a dump, the perfect weather is holding: sunny with sprits of rain to keep the dust down. A long line of cars and trucks forms at the first of many water crossings. Not very deep but full of boulders, the crossings threaten to get my boots wet so I sit by the river bank and pout until Jeff agrees to load the Suzuki into the Equator again. I ride across the raging torrent high and dry. This set-up works well for the next five crossings.

We unload the bike again; the guys are getting really fast at it. The Suzuki is doing a fine job on this hilly section when I hear a knocking sound. I look down at the dash and the red oil warning light is illuminated. Killing the engine, I coast to a stop. The lower part of the bike is covered in oil.

The skid plate has taken an incredible beating; some rocks have gone completely through the aluminum plate, leaving what looks like bullet holes behind. I'm sure the crankcase is broken, and resign myself to finishing the trip listening to Ed and Duane rant about how great cars are. Jeff and I look over the bike; we can't see any holes but there is so much oil it's hard to tell. Gavin pulls up in his Kizashi tire-flattener, and within seconds has found a loose oil line. He tightens the banjo fitting, dumps in a fresh load of oil and the V-Strom is on its way again.

I'm far ahead of the convoy, and here comes another water crossing. The wash running parallel to the road has broken through and a 200-yard rapid lies ahead. The water looks fairly shallow, so I plunge in. Man, this current is strong! The water piles up on the starboard side of the bike, pouring into my boots and pushing us downstream. I'm steering into the flow but the bike keeps drifting toward the ditch. All I can think is how I'm going to explain to Jeff that I sunk his motorcycle...

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