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London to Magadan on the 'Road of Bones', Lemont Man Departs for Adventure of a Lifetime

by and on May 19, 2014 3:45 PM

This week, Robert Echard departed for London, England. That's where his motorcycling adventure of a lifetime will begin.

For the next 200 days, or so, the Lemont resident will travel more than 18,000 miles around the world, including several thousand miles along the Road of Bones in Russia.

The first leg of the trip, London to Magadan, a small town on the eastern coast of Russia, will cover some 15,000 miles and pass through 16 nations in Europe and Asia.

Along the route — including long stretches of dirt roads and treacherous bridges — Echard will take in some of the world's most scenic regions and geographic regions, places that few of us will ever experience.

"The greatest challenge will be the infamous 'Road of Bones,'" says Echard. "The road was built in the 1930's when Josef Stalin ordered its construction so that mining industry vehicles could have access to the region."

The name "Road of Bones" was earned by the horrible practice of burying dead prisoners in the road surface. The permafrost made normal burial impossible. When those inmates died from exhaustion and inhumane conditions in the wilderness, Stalin simply rounded up more political prisoners to exploit in labor camps.

"The prisoners were starved and worked to death, and their bodies thrown into the roadbed," Echard explains.

The condition of the road today makes for difficult travel at best. However, those difficulties make for a true motorcycle adventure.

For Echard, this is the realization of a long-standing dream to circumnavigate the globe. He is no neophyte when it comes to adventure motorcycling. He has ridden along the entire length of South America, and to Alaska from Centre County several times, among other trips.

The first leg of the current adventure takes a circuitous route through Turkey into Asia to avoid political hotspots.

The adventure was organized by Compass Expeditions of Australia. The company's two owners have made the trek to Magadan several times.

"Compass has made all of the reservations for the whole trip," explains Echard. "They've arranged for all the visas, 14 so far. There will also be a chase vehicle. Each rider will have three sets of tires on the chase vehicle. A motorcycle mechanic and a physician will be on board."

Echard would have preferred to take the trip on his own. "I wanted to travel with people I know and trust," he notes. No one was available and he didn't want to wait. "I knew I wasn't going to go it alone. I'm not good at other languages and at border crossings." Thus, he made the decision to hire Compass Expeditions.

The company is also responsible for shipping his motorcycle from State College to London and from Magadan to the United States.

The second leg of his journey will take him across the entire North American continent.

"For me, this is more than a cultural experience," Echard says. "I want to see geography and landscapes that few people get to see. My biggest concern is snow in Siberia in August. I'm sure there will be some."

As he made his way through Patagonia, Echard came to realize how little the world has changed in his lifetime. "We are still dealing with the same struggles that we've been dealing with for many years."

A retired engineer, senior auditor and substance abuse counselor in an eclectic career, Echard learned an important lesson from his mother.

"She always wanted to travel, but died too young," he says. "I'm 67. Now is the time to do this."

Echard's passion for motorcycle adventures began in his hometown of Osceola Mills when he was 16. "I started riding my dirt bike in the strip mines around the town," he says. "As a result, I have good dirt riding skills."

Skills that are likely to come in handy when he fords a river in Siberia.

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This story was produced by the staff at the Centre County Gazette. It was re-published with permission. The Centre County Gazette is a weekly publication, available at many locations around Centre County every Thursday morning.


Harry is a correspondent for the Gazette.
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