The Long Way Round: Without a support vehicle & camera crew
THE BIKE BROKE PROPERLY FOR THE FIRST TIME IN MONGOLIA 300KM FROM THE NEAREST ANYTHING. THE ROAD FROM ULAANBAATAR TO TSETSERLEG ISN'T THE EASIEST PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE. AFTER A FEW DAYS, STRONSKY AND THE BIKE WERE PERCHED ON THE BACK OF A RICKETY LARDER, HEADING FOR CIVILISATION.
WHEN YOU ARE ONE OF THE FEW PEOPLE OUT ON THE STEPPE...
YOU JUST DON'T LEAVE OTHER PEOPLE BEHIND.
You’re probably already thinking of Charlie Boorman and Ewan McGregor’s 'The long way round’. Well, Stronsky's attempt to conquer the the largest landmass in the world on two wheels is essentially the same thing, with a few key differences:
He has no support truck
No planning team
No camera people
His bike wasn’t kitted out by a team of BMW engineers
And he is totally alone
Before setting off from Sydney to start his journey in Japan, Stronsky spent two years and over $10,000 dreaming, planning and assembling a motorcycle. Parts were hunted down, bit-by-bit, in spares shops and online. By the time the bike was finished Stronsky knew every nut, bolt, spoke and wire by heart.
The plan was to ship the bike off to Japan in mid 2016, to meet it there and then see where the road (one flight, some dodgy local trucks and a boat) would take him.
Whilst waiting in Japan for the bike to clear registration Stronsky found out the frame (to which all of those painstakingly curated parts were now attached) was unable leave Australia. The authorities discovered that the second hand frame had been reported stolen. A near critical blow to Stronsky's plan. The bike was impounded (and still is, Stronsky assumes/hopes) before it had the chance roll off Australian soil.
Should he delay the trip? Or, should he leave it in the hands of the Australian constabulary and get on his flight with an “I'll sort that out later man” attitude.
He went with the latter option.
Stronsky found his way sans-bike to Korea where he took the financial nut-punch and purchased, with the assistance of his family, a second bike which was shipped by express air freight from Australia. He put it together at the airport and a few days later he rolled it onto the next ferry bound for Vladivostok, Russia.
After a few nights in Vladivostok (now officially one of UNESCO's 'far-Eastern treasures') he set course North around the Chinese border on the 3,969km journey through Siberia to Irkutsk. After a few days rest, he then set off to tackle the vast plains and distant mountains of Mongolia.
Stronsky was 300km from anything that resembled civilisation when the bike gave up for the first time. Stronsky was stranded on the Mongolian Steppe with an unresponsive motorcycle, a tent and a growing fear that he may have to Bear-Grylls-it to stay hydrated.
THE ROAD FROM ULAANBAATAR TO TSETSERLEG ISN'T THE EASIEST PLACE TO MEET PEOPLE. AFTER A FEW DAYS, STRONSKY AND THE BIKE WERE PERCHED ON THE BACK OF A RICKETY LARDER, HEADING FOR CIVILISATION.WHEN YOU ARE ONE OF THE FEW PEOPLE OUT ON THE STEPPE...YOU JUST DON'T LEAVE OTHER PEOPLE BEHIND.
Things move pretty slowly in Mongolia. There was just one mechanic in town who would agree to work on his foreign (not Chinese) machine. During the delay, Stronsky killed time exploring the hillsides on horseback with some local nomads. Having never ridden a horse before in his life, he returned to Ulaanbaatar with both a new skill and a bruised ass. He went to enquire on the progress of his bike repairs, only to find that it was slim to none. Four weeks later, and still waiting to get his bike back, the boredom simmered into frustration.
In desperation, he offered to swap his somewhat broken mode of transport for one of the working 'local' bikes. That didn’t work. Stronsky paid the mechanic for work-thus-far, reclaimed his limping stallion and set off to the North, back to Russia.
Tediously he squeaked and spluttered the bike over the Russian border, to the first mechanic he could find. The further North he got drew him dangerously close to Siberian Winter. The any-day-now icy roads and blizzards sweeping towards him would seriously bugger riding conditions...
WINTER WAS COMING!
The Russian mechanic Stronsky found was a crafty fellow. An enthusiastic, McGuyver-esque effort saw him back on the road in just two days. He aimed the bike South again towards Central Asia, and pushed some fresh fuel through the lines.
As he rode, his fast developing jolly was thoroughly shat on.
He realised that he had less than two days to get to the Kazakhstan border before his Russian visa would expire. Getting stuck in Russia on a foreign passport without a visa was never a part of the plan.
Stronsky raced to the border for 30 hours through the freezing fog, on icy roads and without sleep.
When he arrived at the border, he discovered that the now-considering-picking-up-a-religion marathon dash was in vain.
It was too late.
He was stranded at the border until his visa could be extended.
This was when Stronsky fell in love with Russian hospitality. As he sat, disappointed and hypothermic on the Russian side of Kazakh/Russian border a couple of local biker-types tapped him on the shoulder. With a friendly grin they offered him a couch to stay on, a home-grown-vegetable feed and a fantastically clichéd amount of vodka. With the help of google translate to fill the gaps in Stronsky’s Russian, they got to know each other... and drank more vodka. In the morning, he thanked them and took their picture (below). Russia would be with him for a long time to come.
With the brutal winter still on his tail, Stronsky pushed on towards Kazakhstan. Most bikers had passed this famous route months earlier when the weather was fair. He was leaving it very late to be crossing the Pamir Mountains towards Afghanistan. The delays in Japan and Mongolia had cost him dearly.
"I WOKE UP AND IT WAS DARK... I WAS SO COLD AND THERE WERE BEADS OF WATER SEEPING INTO THE TENT"
One morning, Stronsky realised that he had been completely igloo'd into his tent. The coating of snow was blocking the sunlight that would normally wake him each morning.
Stronsky was a bit late getting to Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
He met a young Korean motorcyclist, likely the only other biker still foolish enough to be that far North. Bonding over their shared predicament, they set off together across the Pamir Mountains.
The 80 km Pamir Pass on Highway M41 is known commonly as 'The Heroin Highway'. An estimated 90 tonnes of Heroin are trafficked along it each year on the way to Europe, and beyond.
The road was covered in fresh snow concealing hard-packed ice and gravel. Over two wet, cold and frustrating days the bikes battled along. About half way, the Honda piloted by Stronky's Korean companion suffered a catastrophic suspension failure. Once again, Stronsky was alone, waving his friend goodbye after helping to dismantle the Honda and squeeze it onto a passing four-wheel-drive.
He had to travel the rest of the Heroin Highway alone.
The pictures below show rarely seen images of beautiful far North-Eastern Afghanistan.
The M41 took Stronsky along the Afghan border. He was unable to access a phone or internet connection and had no available electricity. He was completely off-grid, unable to contact home. In the his final stretch of the 5000km long M41, on the approach to Khorog, Tajikistan, the tank ran dry.
He was stranded, alone, on a road leading directly to Kabul.
It turns out that both the Stronskys (his parents) and DFAT had noticed his longer-than-expected stay in Afghanistan. Stronsky was reported missing. The Australian Government made contact with his parents, who agreed that it was time to send off the troops to find him.
Out of cash, and without an ATM in sight (or even within a few hours ride) Stronsky managed to beg a few litres of fuel from a generous local. He made it the rest of the way to Khorog.
When he crossed back over the Afghan border, the Australian authorities were alerted and his status dropped from ‘probably dead' back to 'loveable rogue'.
I caught up with Stronsky via Skype when he was in Bukhara, Uzbekistan. I typed like a madman to get as much detail as my words-per-minute score could grasp from his stories.
His travels aren’t over and will soon take him through Eastern Europe towards his final destination of Belgium.
To read more and see the photos that I have missed in this article...
- Show Stronsky some love -
Instagram is the quickest way to live vicariously on the bike with Stronsky, I've been keeping a close eye on it as it is updated, and it is simply spectacular.