Friday May 30th.
Collected bike from Daniel, the mechanic who'd been working on it over the last few weeks, at 1.30 p.m., straight to Dublin and into the back of a trailer. Plenty of faffing around, adding last minute bits etc but eventually all 5 bikes were loaded and on their way to Riga, Latvia.
Day one. Friday 6th June
Arrrived in Riga, met Mark in the airport, took a taxi to hotel, dumped bags in the room and headed straight to the bar.
We took a taxi into town using the scenic route, while being entertained by the Eagles greatest hits. After a variety of beverages, we decided to head to a club, the card for which a promoter gave us earlier.
Somebody, not saying who (one eye, from Abbeyleix) decided we should have a rickshaw race.
Two drivers/riders/cyclists agreed and the race began. A ridiculous level of cheating ensued, including the pushing of rickshaws and dragging of rickshaws.
Kev, Mark and myself lost to the guy who was carrying only Gary, his fat leg and Ned. We had the last laugh. Our guy asked for an exorbitant €20. The long-way-round taxi earlier had only cost €7. The others had already paid their guy €50.
Given that the club looked like a ripoff, we went back to hotel for beers and pizza. Gary complained about his sore leg, the rickshaw having run over it. We ignored his pathetic whinging, until he showed us the bruising the next day.
Day two. It was a slow start. Three of us went down to meet the guy delivering the bikes at 9. Gary and Ned joined us at 10.30. A period of putting things together and packing brought us to 12.30. Then my side stand bent, Gary's was too long when fully loaded, Kev had an ignition problem, Ned and Mark had some other minor issues that I can’t remember. A chauffeur at the hotel, who was into bikes directed us to a KTM dealer and rang ahead.
My bike failed to start. Given that I’d just spent €2300 on it, mainly dealing with starting issues, this was slightly concerning. Anyway, I kick started it and there was no further problem.
The guys at the KTM shop couldn't have been more helpful, including going away and getting an angle-grinder for Gary's sidestand and, when leaving, leading us to where we could eat.
We eventually got on the road at 3.30. We kept going until we were some way into Estonia. The sat nav brought us on a variety of roads, including some unpaved sections, some of which were challenging to our worn road tyres. (We’re carrying new knobblies on the bikes, to save wearing them before the Bam Road) Mark’s number plate didn’t like his riding style and jumped ship somewhere along one of those sections.
We set up camp in a woods in Estonia and promptly retired to our salubrious accommodation at 10.30 (8.30 back home ). Shortly after we put our head down, there was shouting and a siren on the road, a few hundred meters away from us. We wondered if it was meant to draw us, apologetic, from our lair.
After 20 minutes or so, we won the battle of wills and it stopped. Maybe they were just letting us know, after our French experience (5 bikes stolen), that they were keeping an eye on our bikes.
Actually, it was probably just a car alarm but that’s less dramatic.
I awoke at 5.10 to hear two Leixmen chatting (Hmmm) and went back to sleep. They’re easy to ignore…..sometimes! An hour later, I was woken again by the roar of a bike, right next to my tent. Gary's watch said it was 8.10 and when you add two hours, that meant it was 10.10 and he thought we should be on the road and he'd gently rouse us from our slumber. Bastard.
The thing is, Estonia is two hours BEHIND Ireland. It was only 6.10. We got up and, as it happened, it was good that we hit the road early, given the delays ahead.
We loaded the bikes. Gary was concerned that his luggage was a little loose. Mark reassured him that we’d stop after about 15 mins to check.10 metres on, ALL Gary's luggage landed on the ground. Obviously, nobody laughed.
We stopped after a while for a fabulous local breakfast…..burgers in something like a pitta, with coleslaw. At least the coffee was good…ish.
Later, Mark’s concern about whether or not we should have stopped at the last petrol station proved justified when he freewheeled to a halt. We siphoned some petrol from my bike and got to the next petrol station.
The occasional drizzle from early morn turned into a thunderous cloudburst a while later.
We pulled into a petrol station to escape it. I had ascertained by now that what I was wearing was far from waterproof and my boots leaked.
At least I had a very fetching turquoise over suit to change into. The others complimented me on my choice of colours, repeatedly.
We eventually reached the Estonian / Russian border. There were so many stages to getting out of Estonia, it felt like applying for an Irish medical card. On the way, we made a temporary numberplate for Mark’s bike out of the base of a plastic basket and some insulating tape. Kev was obviously a keen Bluepeter fan as a child.
However, it did not impress the supervisor at the Estonian side of the border crossing.
It is illegal to ride with a home-made numberplate in Estonia.
We know…here’s what happened…it’s Sunday….we’ll replace it tomorrow.
It is illegal to ride with a home-made numberplate in Estonia.
We know but we’re leaving Estonia so it’ll be the Russians problem.
I cannot let you through to the Russians. It is illegal to…blah, blah, blah..
Well, what can Mark do now then?
Mark can ride his motorcycle back to the UK and get a legal numberplate.
But won’t he then be riding illegally in Estonia.
That is not my problem.
What do we have to do to get Marks bike through to Russia?
The only way I will let Mark’s motorcycle through is if it’s on a trailer. Then it is goods and I do not care but I do not think you will get anybody in town with a trailer who will do this for you.
At this stage, a guy in a van was seen approaching. After a little coaxing from Gary in recently learned Russian, he agreed to bring it through. The bike was unloaded 50 metres further on, in no-man’s-land, ridden to the Russian side and nobody there objected.
Yeehaw, we’re in Russia. The adventure has begun.
By now, it’s early afternoon, we get something to eat and head straight for St. Petersburg. The traffic was very heavy and slow-moving all afternoon. We spent more time on the other side, overtaking, than on our own side. We did come across a few of the famous YouTube crazy Russian drivers. We arrived about 8 in the evening and went to look for where the bikes were to be deposited the next morning for onward shipping. After two hours, we gave up and went in search of a hotel.
Seeing we were lost, a guy called Max, on a Yamaha Dragstar or similar pulled up and lead us to a hotel near his clubs clubhouse, where we could leave the bikes overnight. We checked in and brought the bikes to the clubhouse. In the garage was a skull and crossbones banner and a few guys in leather waistcoats and patches. Hmmm.
As it turned out, they were great guys. They invited us in to another room for tea / coffee. There was no coffee but a row of vodka shots was put up on the bar, followed by beers, followed by more shots and loads of bike chat.
Yurii (I think), the club VP met us the next morning to get the bikes out and lead us to where we needed to be and stayed around for about an hour and a half in case we needed his help. Thankfully, we didn’t. All went smoothly and we were in our taxi heading for the airport around 11 as planned. We flew St. Petersburg to Copenhagen and on to Dublin.
Job done. Back to normality for another 4 weeks.
This was the easy bit. The real story started when we returned a month later and every day became a story of it's own..