It was a journey of a lifetime for a group of BMW adventure motorcyclists from all over the world who took on a challenge that would see them ride 30,000 kilometres over 105 days from London all the way to Siberia in search of the infamous Road of Bones. Organised by official BMW Motorrad Travel Partner Compass Expeditions, tour leader and R 1200 GS rider Mick McDonald reflects on an expedition that covered a quarter of the earth’s surface across some of the most remote and exciting landscapes imaginable…After two years of planning we all first met up in Wales, at the world-renowned Off Road Skills school to participate in a course especially designed by Dakar legend Simon Pavey. Joining us for the 2014 Road of Bones Expedition were 13 riders (and one co-rider) from the USA, Canada and Australia. Ahead was a 105-day expedition that would take us from the UK, through France, Belgium, Germany, Austria, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan, Mongolia and Russia.With the Off Road Skills training complete our team’s next stop was at the Ace Café in London, from where we departed towards the Channel Tunnel and continental Europe. We made quick time across Europe, riding through the spectacular Rhine Valley and visiting the amazing Neuschwanstien castle created by the mad Bavarian King Ludwig, before we experienced one of the finest passes in Europe – the Grossglockner.The Hungarian capital of Budapest, the stunning Romanian countryside and the Black Sea resort island of Nessebar, Bulgaria, were visited before we reached the border with Turkey, where 30 Turkish bikers had ridden seven hours to escort the group into Istanbul.Riding towards Georgia in the Turkish far northeast was biking nirvana as we rode among tea plantations that clung tenaciously to steep hillsides and through vast canyon lands on empty roads that followed the course of lonely rivers. We rode the legendary Georgian Military Highway – a pass of staggering beauty that winds deep into the Caucasus, passing turquoise lakes and numerous monasteries in stunning locations. Switchback after switchback greeted the riders as we rode beyond the green fertile valleys into a stark beautiful landscape high above the snowline.At last we reached Russia but they were far from happy to see us and it took eight hours to cross the border, even with representatives from the local Rotary club waiting a staggering 12 hours on the other side to greet us! However, it wasn’t long before we were leaving Russia to cross the mighty Kazakh Steppe as we turned south toward Uzbekistan. Camping out on the immense steppe was an incredible experience as the riders were surrounded by a vastness and silence that was long thought to have disappeared in this world.We entered the storybook lands of the fabled Silk Road in Uzbekistan, skirting the Kyzyl Kum Desert as we rode into Samarkand. Some of the finest riding of the entire expedition was experienced in Kyrgyzstan as we rode the rarely visited and lofty Kazaman Pass, with three days of rough off-road riding among towering snow-capped peaks. Once again we crossed the vast empty Kazakh steppe, camping beside deep blue lakes and watching stunning sunsets. Wild dust storms blew in from the steppe at times, making the riders lean at an alarming angle into the wind, only to be stung by the sand as it blasted into us.The Russians seemed happier to see us as the next border crossing only took five hours! Eventually, we reached the spectacular Lake Baikal, referred to as the “jewel in the Siberian Crown”. This is a lake of superlatives, being the world’s oldest and deepest lake, holding 20 per cent of the world’s fresh water with 80 per cent of its flora and fauna found nowhere else on earth.Continuing on the Trans Siberian Highway we reached Mongolia, a country that offered the riders some of the most spectacular riding of the entire expedition, with a landscape of vast yawning valleys dotted with nomadic ger dwellers fattening their stock on the lush green pastures before the brutal winter arrived. The riding became tough as we faced numerous rivers, all with challenging muddy entries and exits and deep, slippery mud sections that extended well beyond the rivers. Mongolia exacted its toll on the participants, with one rider breaking his leg and another breaking three ribs in the numerous falls.Crossing back into Russia for the last time only took three hours before we rejoined the Trans Siberian Highway, heading due east into a remote empty landscape. We eventually reached the M56 – or Lena Highway – and hit the rough dirt. We rode directly north to Yakutsk, one of the world’s most isolated cities, where final bike preparations were carried out before the final push to Magadan.Under a vast blue sky we departed Yakutsk and with trepidation we began what we had all come for – the Road of Bones. This legendary route was entered into motorcycling folklore thanks to the exploits of Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman, who rode their BMW R 1150 GS Adventures along it on their Long Way Round world trip over a decade ago. Immediately the challenges were thrown up with hundreds of miles of deep gravel that a lot of riders found difficult.After crossing the mighty Aldan River in the extremely remote Kolyma Region, we ascended into the mountains and the Road of Bones became a 50mph track. The riding was magnificent and the stunning weather was holding but with the higher speeds we were experiencing frequent punctures. On one single day, we changed 11 flat tyres!The Kolyma Region is littered with abandoned settlements and a number of what once were huge cities. Entire cities stood utterly deserted and it was as if the residents had fled an imminent disaster. Riding here was both surreal and strangely eerie.Arriving is always the pinnacle of an expedition and as we neared Magadan I thought of all that we had experienced since leaving the Ace Café 106 days earlier. We finally rode in a day late, after having suffered 18 flat tyres in the previous five days. From the tragedies to the triumphs, it was a surprisingly emotional moment: we had made it to Magadan!
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