Reunion of the Fellowship
Posted on June 23, 2015
I love Finland. I don’t really have a good reason for loving Finland other than when I woke up in the morning the sun was shining. After weeks of rain in Scandinavia, a cloudless sky was a welcome reprieve. I broke my camp, loaded up the bike, and started burning south, headed for warmer climes.
I finally reached Helsinki where I caught the ferry to Tallinn in Estonia. The ferry was completely full with folks returning from the weekend, but I managed to convince the girl at the counter that a svelte motorbike such as my own was barely more than hand luggage and she found me a corner to wedge the bike into. Somewhere across Finland, my girl turned 60. A bit long in the tooth, but the old girl still has plenty of kick left in her.
The old town of Tallinn in Estonia is renowned for its beauty and I found plenty of tourists hopping about the place taking pictures. Personally, I had seen enough cobbled streets, churches, castles, and forts to last me a lifetime. I spent my time in this beautiful tourist destination holed up in the McDonalds. Sad, I know, but they had a good wifi connection and I was trying to coordinate a reunion. At least the McDonalds was housed in a beautifully well-preserved centuries old building. I honestly just didn’t care what I was missing outside, beyond the golden arches. I was tired of being a tourist and was now just riding to get somewhere. I blew through Estonia, Latvia, and Lithuania with hardly a glance at a castle or fort. Jamie would be waiting for me in Romania and I couldn’t really get there soon enough. I rode, ate, slept in the woods, got up and did it all again.
Sirens called from the roadside, but I stayed the course.
In Poland I met a young guy who spoke English (in a McDonalds) and asked what I shouldn’t miss in Poland. His looked sort of perplexed for a moment and then responded that there wasn’t much to see. Rather than take his opinion as youthful ignorance, I treated it as expert advice and burned straight through Poland as well.
I finally slowed the pace to have a look around Budapest, which was well worth the trouble. It’s a gorgeous city rich in history. After so much riding it felt great to park the bike for a day and have a wander along the banks of the Danube.
In Budapest I met a guy called Mihai from Romania riding around in a Ural with his wife and son stuffed into the sidecar. A long trip on a Ural is a radical move. Riding around in a Ural with a family in tow takes the prize for bravest moto adventurer I’ve yet to meet. Mihai has done lots of big rides on his own and is rather well known in Romania for his exploits along with writing and photography. I love meeting folks like Mihai who make the effort to keep adventure in their lives even when things like having a family changes the game dramatically. Rock on brother!
After a day in the city, I was refreshed and ready to get back on the road and into the woods.
I was riding to Jamie in a town called Cluj Napoca, in the Transylvania region of Romania. The character of Count Dracula in Bram Stoker’s story is reportedly based on a 15th century ruler in this region, Vlad the III, Prince of Wallachia. He was posthumously dubbed ‘Vlad the Impaler’ for his reputation for cruelty and impaling his enemies on spikes. I arrived in Cluj about dark and as I descended the hills into saw the most blood red moon that I’ve ever laid eyes upon rising above the town. Then a bat buzzed me. It was already feeling distinctly Transylvanian.
Jamie arrived with a new haircut, a new dress and was accessorized with a lovely new DR650 clutch. I think it went very well with the dress. As she’s done several times before, she’d severed her braids for donation to the Locks of Love organization. The new hairdo is helmet friendly.
After a night cracking ourselves up walking around talking like cartoon Count Draculas, it was time to motor on to Bucharest, where our friend Mike from California was waiting for us. That’s right, he’s back. Once again off for the summer, Mike somehow managed to find a 1989 Tenere for sale in Bulgaria for $650 and thought it would be a good idea to try to ride it to Mongolia. So now that’s happening.
Mike’s old Tenere was probably in better shape than mine. My fork seals had blown out again, the fork bushings were done, the head stock bearings were shot, the carb needle nearly worn through, I was leaking oil from gaskets and o-rings, the brake pads were toast, and most disturbingly my engine noise that I previously dismissed as a rattling clutch basket had worsened, so I’d have to get into the engine case again. Mihai had hooked us up with a suspension guru in Bucharest called Cesar who runs the Grant Racing Garage. Cesar ordered parts for both myself and Mike and was going to help us out with the bikes. I had the idea that Mike and I would be busting knuckles all day in the shop, but Cesar and the guys spent the entire day on the bikes. Mike just needed new sprockets, chain, tire, and brake pads. But my fork seals and head stock bearings were substantial jobs. After all of this work, Cesar didn’t even charge us a thing for all the time that he and his guys spent on the bikes. How’s that for Romanian hospitality!
We left Cesar’s shop with both of the bikes feeling much healthier and the next day it was time for me to get my hands greasy doing the rest of the work. I’d met a Romanian motorcycling couple called Jon and Anna via ADVrider who’d invited us to stop in Bucharest on our way east. Jon and I had been messaging back and forth for months, but it wasn’t until I was standing in their living room looking at photos on the wall that I realized I already knew who they were. Years ago I’d seen photos of their adventures across Africa, which actually helped inspire me to get moving myself. They’ve got a fantastic blog with some epic photography called IntotheWorld. Some of you have probably already seen their story. Funny enough, just as I write this I realized that they were featured on the cover of the issue of Overland Magazine in which I published a story just a few months ago. Recognize these guys?
They have a cozy shop where Jon’s KTM 690 and Anna’s Suzuki DRZ400 live and Dyna Rae was invited to spend some time. Jon is great mechanic and has about any tool I could need, so it was the ideal place to work on the bike. In fact, it was probably the best place I’ve had to work on the bike the entire trip.
While in Bucharest Jon and Anna actually left us in their apartment on our own while they stayed with friends. They really know how it is to being on the road for an extended time and it was quite a luxury for Jamie and I to have our own space for awhile. The Romanian hospitality never ends. Thanks loads guys!
After getting the easy stuff finished, I tore into the bike to try to figure out what was wrong inside the engine. In addition to the entire clutch assembly, Jamie has also brought with her a new clutch cover gasket, so that we could get her sealed up tight again. What I found wasn’t actually a problem with the clutch at all, but with the primary drive gear, which sits right next to it. The nut that holds it on was spinning free and the gear was sliding back and forth on the spindle. Jon has a nice big torque wrench, that we used to tighten the gear back on.
In the process, that gear had been contacting the aluminum clutch basket and taking out some nice gauges. The result was a nice slurry of aluminum paste in the gearbox. Not exactly what you’d like to have sloshing around down there. The clutch plates and thrust washers were still fine, but I replaced the whole clutch with the newer one just for good measure. My re-usable stainless steel oil filter was filled with the aluminum and seemed impossible to get properly clean, so I chucked that out and bought some paper filters. After running the bike a hundred miles I did an oil change to flush out the remaining aluminum. Our girl now sounds better than ever.
We have a new addition to the expedition this time around. A year ago in Africa, we’d met a girl named Rebecca who was running around the entire length of Lake Malawi. Twenty-six miles a day! Remember this chick?
As it turns out, she was still rambling around the world and we invited her to come along for the adventure to Mongolia. We stopped at the bike shop on the way out of Bucharest to get Rebecca some riding gear, she and Mike bungeed everything to the bike, and were ready to roll.
The Tenere all packed up with their gear was truly a sight to behold. Have you ever seen a more adventure ready machine?
So here we are, four moto hobos ready to ride across Asia on two clapped-out bikes. I can’t believe we’re doing this again.