Video: Exploring Russia's Kola Peninsula

Nov 15, 2019
by zam  
Views: 4,771    Faves: 13    Comments: 3


Zam is the project of a Czech cyclist Richard “Gaspi” Gasperotti who travels exotic places around the world in search for biking communities. After Mongolia, Azerbaijan, Taiwan or New Mexico, this year, he set off for the Russian Kola peninsula, located high above the polar circle. Did he find what he was looking for?

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

It was obvious that Murmansk has its riders, according to one YouTube video. Gaspi tried to contact the author but no answer ever came back. Regardless, he called the team together and they set out on a journey.

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

Some things might seem long. Like travelling to Brno. Or to Poland. This time it was Poland, Lithuania, Latvia, Saint Petersburg, and then 1,300 kilometres more. All that with four people, one car, and two bicycles mounted on the roof. The E105 road is no highway but we still keep it flying over a hundred. Not much happening behind the windows. There are woods all around, only the thick taiga groves eventually shrink and thin out, giving way to tundra settled with moulted pines and decrepit birches. Above everything else, the mosquitoes are thriving here and they besiege us as soon as we stick a single leg out of the car. We buzz the same way they do because we only stop at petrol stations where, besides the fuel, we tank up the mighty Russian espresso. It’s everywhere and it’s superb. Dozing off at night poses no danger because of polar day summer. It just gets murky for a minute, then it’s light again.

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

From the main road, we take a turn towards Kirovsk where’s the access point to the Khibiny mountain range. The town was named after Sergei Mironovich Kirov whose murder triggered the Stalinist purges in Russia in 1934. The city appears to be in a bleak mood even today. Above the mountains – which are no mountains but piles of leftover debris from apatite mining – hang clouds that weep over the devastated land. Blocks of flats and industrial buildings loom over the Bolshoi Vudjavr lake. While the lake’s surface is being continuously rippled by a stream of dark fluid gushing from a huge pipe, we wonder who’s the “no swimming” sign supposed to discourage. Our determination to go up the mountains is also watered down by the fact that nuclear test explosions, aimed at making the apatite mining more effective, took place just outside the town between 1972 and 1984. The rain falling on our heads dilutes the last prospects of the journey to the heart of Khibiny. We turn the “Mercy” around and pick up speed for Murmansk.

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

While Paris features the Eiffel Tower, Notre-Dame or Sacré-Cœur in the guidebooks, Murmansk teases blocks of flats. There’s nothing else here. Murmansk is the largest city beyond the polar circle, housing more than 300,000 inhabitants. Since the Soviet Union collapsed, the benefits of planned economy ceased to exist and central heating suffered a breakdown, which resulted in a continually thinning population – and, honestly, it’s no wonder why. The average year-long temperature is just 0.1°C. Cold summers are followed by relatively mild winters with the average temperature of -9°C. The area is warmed up by the Gulf Stream thanks to which the port doesn’t freeze over. The port is being watched by the motionless eyes of Alyosha, a 35-metre tall soldier-monument erected in the memory of the city’s defenders during the Great Patriotic War. In the port, it’s possible to visit the nuclear icebreaker Lenin that, besides its admirable ice-breaking abilities, grew infamous through two accidents connected to leakages of radioactive elements. Our smartphone apps guide us between the housing estates all the way to the Northern Star hotel. After two nights in the car, we feel like being in a Hilton.

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal


 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

In the morning, we set out to track down the local bikers. Google Maps lead us to a bike shop where we strike an immediate success. A young serviceman Zhenya Mamonov is a downhiller. “Da, we ride here,” he says. He’s a bit shy but willing to show us the local trails the next day after work. Until then, we’re left with almost two full days, which decides our move to the next destination: Teriberka. The little fishing community located on the Barents Sea coast was made famous by the movie Leviathan, which got a Golden Globe and Oscar nomination. The concrete housing estates, rounded fjords, decaying boats stranded in the shallows, windowless houses, and the roaring of the sea make for a perfect filming location. But this is no filming backdrop. Once there were two functional Norwegian fish-processing plants. The Soviets built schools, a hospital, playgrounds, shops, and offices, and set up a breeding station for minks and reindeer. In its heyday, the area was settled by 5,000 people but then came the downfall. New efficient ships enabled ocean fishing, which meant the coastal fishing was no longer needed. We ask for coffee at the Normann bar but there is none because the power has been down for three days in a row. After an afternoon filled with photographing and shooting, we return to find refuge in a wooden hotel, owned by a local “kiter” Alex Glebov.

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal


We wake up to rain. We buy our supplies in a “magazin” smelling of fish. Everything has a fishy taste to it, including cookies. The shooting and picture taking continues in 4°C, crosswinds, and downpour. I’ve never before subjected my Canons to such foul weather in my life but they continue to work flawlessly – just as Gaspi the biker who, since losing his spleen and most of the cartilage in both knees, simply stopped complaining. Drenched to the bone after a full day of shooting, we return to Murmansk just in time to pick up Zhenya after work. To take off for the hills at 8:30 PM is nothing strange because the sun never sets. Accompanied by Zhenya’s friends Ilja, Sergei, and Nikita, we’re riding up and down the “Jews” trail until midnight. It’s drizzly and windy. However, it’s a bit farfetched from the romantic polar summer idea so I put on a ski cap, a knitted scarf, and a snowboard jacket. Gaspi rides in his winter clothes but the locals are pretty hardened so they gradually lose their outerwear and ride without gloves. They all have nice bikes by Western brands such as Specialized, Kona or GT, only the models are a little older with 26-inch wheels. Given the conditions and the fact that the season only lasts four months here, it’s surprising that they are not thinking of giving up. They’re enthusiastic and, at the same time, a little confused how could anyone come up with going all the way here just to ride bikes, despite Europe being warmer and having way fewer mosquitoes. Gratefully, they take the sponsor stickers and Red Bull cans from us. “Give me one more, pazhalsta, I’ll give it to my bro,” says Ilja. The next day, he and Sergei take us on the Ogni trail, which is the work of a biker and a builder Dimitri Kapitanchuk. It’s playful, a little difficult, and very well thought-out. If any of you would like to go here let us know, we’ll point you in the right direction.

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal


We run into better weather only when we move 200 km southward, in the Kandalaksha town on the White Sea coast. On the main square, there’s a T-43 tank on a pedestal, a municipality building, and the disintegrating Belomore hotel. The Murmansk boys tipped us off about the owner of the Nord Shop bike shop Alex Kolcov. It’s no hard task to contact him because the use of WhatsApp and FaceTime apps is pretty in fashion here. We plan the group biking in the Grinvich restaurant where there’s amazing beer on tap and great grilled fish. “All of them were fished out in the Murmansk area,” the waitress assures us. Even though we’re in Russia, there’s surprisingly no vodka and no casual boozing. Alex takes us into the mountains in the morning, with wonderful views of the gulf. The rounded rocks rise from the coniferous woods all the way up to the zone where only heather and dwarf pines grow. As far as the eye can see, the sea is speckled with thousand scenic tiny islands. The wind chases the mosquitoes away and we’re overwhelmed by a heart-warming feeling that this is the moment that absolutely outweighs those last few days of discomfort.

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

Rider: Richard Gaspi Gasperotti
Photo and story: Adam Marsal
Cameraman and edit: Marty Smolík
Holidayman: Lukas Jusko

 zam8 Kola Peninsula photo by Adam Marsal

Thanks to the sponsors and all the people around us!
Poster zam8 by kafes33



38 Comments

  • 46 1
 There are some weird comments here. I’m not sure which part of it is ‘insensitive’ or shows that ‘criminality is so high’; and moreover it never claims to be representative of Russia as a whole. That’s a bit like trying to characterise Europe as a whole. The country is unimaginably huge, and as varied as a continent. The area they’ve travelled to is incredibly remote, and savaged by the elements; It’s the arctic circle! It’s also been massively affected by political shifts, leading to large population fluctuations and dilapidation. Nonetheless they found fun and friendliness, determined riders and some good looking trails; if anything it shows just how far the tendrils of our sport have crept. I’ll never go there, but really enjoyed watching it; there’s lots of atmospheric shooting to set the scene and give a flavour of what life is like. Thanks for sharing it with us!
  • 9 0
 I've been there a lot. Very beautyful place. Mostly friendly people. There's one of the best russian winter resorts with all kinds of fun. Some unofficial bike stuff exists too.
  • 9 2
 That looked amazing, such a remote place and those trails look top world class, at least on the movie. I’d go there. I am much more inclined to spend “exotic” holidays there than in Nepal or Africa. At least I have a tiniest understanding of the culture.
  • 10 0
 Thanks to ,ZAM crew for good true story.
Almost repeated the route of my trip in July this year Smile
Far you have travelled, even by the standards of some riders from Russia itself ))
But for me as a local it was closer about 900km. I live in Karelia, near the Murmansk region. Every summer I try to visit in Kandalaksha to ride with Alex Koltsov together )

By the way more in Teriberkа, for a mile further from that rock with a оrthodox сross on the top, has a abandoned Soviet coastal gun battery since World War II that covered approaches to Murmansk and to the entrance to the White Sea
i.ibb.co/crTYwq9/IMG-20190720-143928.jpg
i.ibb.co/X7rtH0n/IMG-20190720-144808.jpg
  • 10 0
 Thanks guys - really enjoyed this. Always good to see road trips to random destinations
  • 3 0
 That was awesome writeup Adam, enjoyed it immensely! We've travelled enough to read between the lines and appreciate your humble descriptions of that long and rugged journey - it sounds pretty badass. Cheers. And,ignore the usual fools ruining the great mtb vibe with their unrequested and uninteresting political opinions.
  • 3 0
 Great spirit in this video! Whatever the weather, you show us that share riding with some guys is the best pleasure in the world. The spot is so nice too! Thank you, I enjoyed your job in this cold and rainy sunday night that get me boring...
  • 5 0
 Russia is not a country, it's a state of mind
  • 3 0
 Great shots and well written. I thoughtfully enjoyed it. Thanks. Russia is now on my list of MTB destinations, right after Belgian.
  • 11 0
 I look forward to one day ride in English
  • 2 0
 @mi-bike: Don’t forget to swap your brake levers Wink
  • 1 0
 Cool write up! But...”Given the conditions and the fact that the season only lasts four months here, it’s surprising that they are not thinking of giving up.”. So pretty much the riding season in Northern BC and Alberta. They aren’t giving up Wink
  • 4 0
 That's wright, we got 4 month of bike season and 6 month of ski/snowboarding, like in BC. But we got Polar Night in nowember-january. Isn't better time for backcountry. And Polar Day in may-juliy, when you can ride 24 hours, if the weather is well. By the way, "Ogni trail" is also called as "micro Fort Whilliam" and Kandalaksha as "Kanada" by locals.
  • 3 0
 @DmitriyKapitanchuk:
also "Fort Murmansk" and "Kanada-laksha" )
  • 3 0
 Thank you for that exotic trip; photos are excellent and it`s well written. Excellent discovery!!!
  • 2 0
 the trails here in Teriberka aren't that great, don't come here, don't bring your friends......
  • 1 0
 Always look forward to Gaspi’s bike trip edits! Hopefully we’ll meet someday and you can pass me one of those Zam stickers eh!
  • 2 0
 A slice of Russian places and culture that I have never seen untill now. Thank you! Video and write up are exelent .
  • 2 0
 Love it, finally something that feels familiar. Great contrast to typical "shredding A-line videos".
  • 2 4
 Can you trade Red Bull and bike parts for cheap AK's? kidding.Also, I believe that is a T34, not a T43. I liked the story, thanks for sharing. I wish people would grow a set of nuts and stop being so sensitive and bringing politics in to everything.
  • 4 0
 Of course it T-34-85, not Т-43. And one more mistake here in the report One of the trails in Murmansk is called "jaws", not "Jews" (Just saying, if someone here sees anisimitism suddenly)
  • 4 5
 @DmitriyKapitanchuk: I’d be fine with “Jews”. I would immediately assume that it would be a joke. I could easily imagine someone calling it Jaws but then half of locals giggling about the J-word version of the name. It is natural and doesn’t mean local population can’t wait to pick up pitchforks and torches to make Kola great again. Just because North Americans put a stick up their arses as soon as they hear anything related to the subject and engage in raging virtue signalling doesn’t mean they are right and you are wrong. Slavic coping mechanisms like “humor” are much better and allow for discharge of negative emotions. Instead of being told left and right what to do, how awful you are for thinking this and that, ending up depressed. We don’t have many comedians because we don’t need them as much as they do. We can tell jokes to each other, we don’t need a “hero” daring to say on stage what we don’t. Only to release this pressure by voting on an a*shole like Trump.

Whoever is offended eith connotations to Holocaust, could better do a bit of reading on gulags, but you cannot get your silly little, triggered head around all religions, all nationalities, all races, mainly white, being sent to Gulags and die horrific death in the name of emancipation of working class and equality of outcome, values you do eagerly support. Millions of dead people, but no racism! So it’s ok!
  • 3 1
 @WAKIdesigns: your assumption would be wrong. Just because our sense of humor is based more in irony than derision or hatred doesn’t mean theirs isn’t.

Trying to equate the Holocaust to gulags is rather perverse. One was about extermination, the other was an attempt at thought and resources control. One was fairly effective, the other wasn’t. If you think Russians aren’t racist, you really don’t get it.
  • 3 0
 @yzedf: derision and hatred, and who is assuming things here... thought and resources control, yep, typical Westie... you really don’t get it. It’s outrageous to say that to say the least. That is like saying Holocaust was a mean of population control. Perhaps because the cultures both things took place in are alien to you. Russians racists, yeah generalization, which Russians? Boys in the vid don’t look like carrying tiki torches to be met by vegan version of the same? Good luck with that. I listened to first JRE podcast with Jordan Peterson, he was talking about Solzenitsyn and Archipelago and I was like “ndaaaaa?!, every kid in Poland with Iq higher than 90 knows that! And then it came to me. It is highly possible 99.9999% of US and Canadian citizens never heard of that... it all makes sense now. I am Polish, used to live 1h drive from Auschwitz, just so you know. You will not educate me on neither of these two totalitarian, murderous nightmares, both with unmeasurably tragic outcomes, weighing which intention was more or less noble, just didn’t go as planned. Attempt at resource control... both were attempts at resource control. Hell is paved with good intentions, stands on finest of ideals and through flames you will hear finest poetry about the greater good. One Nation under God, translated: Gott mit uns

White people in countries with English as native language are all triggered about the use of word “Jew” instead of “Jewish people” unless they read Bible. All fine then Smile
  • 4 2
 @WAKIdesigns: I’ve noticed your wall of text gets longer the less you know about something. Considering how little you know about me, my family or their history, you’re just making an ass of yourself again. Please stop. It’s embarrassing for you.
  • 2 0
 Fun Video....love the Russian tunes! Smile
  • 1 0
 Amazing to see some rad different terrain! Loved the video, story and photos... thanks for sharing!
  • 2 0
 Great job! Keep it up.
  • 2 0
 those trails look great
  • 1 0
 Packing for a Roadtrip now...
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