Motorcycling through the Chernobyl Dead Zone
March 4, 2004 8:22 PM   Subscribe

Motorcycling through Pripyat and the Chernobyl Dead Zone: A Photojournal of Elena and her Kawasaki ZZR 1100 travelling in the desolate area around Chernobyl and Pripyat.
posted by pandaharma (45 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Found in the Ars Technica forums.

There's also a game coming soon, which takes place in this eerie landscape.
posted by pandaharma at 8:29 PM on March 4, 2004

*this is good*
posted by Keyser Soze at 8:40 PM on March 4, 2004

More Chernobyl photos [page is in russian]
posted by kickingtheground at 8:50 PM on March 4, 2004

Wow. Great link... friggin' creepy. I remember watching a documentary about Chernobyl in my high-school chem class and being boggled by the concrete building they put up around the reactor... the idea of silence in a city like that is amazing.
posted by logovisual at 9:07 PM on March 4, 2004

I think I see Charlton Heston in the background of a few of these.
posted by stevis at 9:12 PM on March 4, 2004

nice, kickingtheground.
posted by _sirmissalot_ at 9:45 PM on March 4, 2004

Creepy indeed. It's actually kind of hard to imagine that this is a real place, and not something out of some weird postapocalyptic SF novel or something. I mean, for the first couple of pages there, I was almost imagining Bruce Sterling or somebody writing about a bunch of techno-nomads living off the poisoned land, away from all authority, their most precious posessions being ex-Soviet army dosimeters. But really, it wouldn't need to be fictional, would it?

Wonder what genetic engineering's "Chernobyl" is gonna be...
posted by arto at 10:14 PM on March 4, 2004

This is both sad and amazing. Reminds me of my own Chernobyl stories.

Probably one of the best posts I've ever seen on Metafilter.
posted by fenriq at 10:17 PM on March 4, 2004

This is unbelievably good. Thank you! I love how her writing style translates.

"I don't know how sound the silence to those tourists that they can not stand it, but to me after hitting a red line on my bike tacho it sound like all those ghosts cursing 1100cc kawasaki engin."
posted by Voivod at 10:18 PM on March 4, 2004

stbalbach - I don't know about the deer and boar, but the horses in the picture are indeed wild - Prezwalski horses are an endangered breed that is native to Russia and Mongolia. They were around long before Chernobyl. Though they have been domesticated, they still exist in wild herds like the mustangs in the Western US and Chincoteague ponies off of Virginia.
posted by whatzit at 10:23 PM on March 4, 2004

The Chernobyl Sarcophagus Project ca. 1997 and Chernobyl Shelter Fund plan ca. 2003 [completion may be as late as 2010, depending on economic conditions in Ukraine; the original sarcophagus, with EBRD-financed repairs, will have to last until then].

As of last year, a UN-coordinated program exists for inhabitants of affected districts.

This is a great site, but I wouldn't change a word of her writing. The broken English lends it immediacy -- or perhaps I'm just channeling memories of Riddley Walker.

In this one case, I believe she meant "mixed" as in "began to live amongst" rather than "interbred". I assume you were kidding, though.
posted by dhartung at 10:37 PM on March 4, 2004

That is amazing.
posted by freebird at 11:22 PM on March 4, 2004

Elena is a member of a number of motorcycle forums... including, which I'm a member of. She just joined and has been posting over there.

Linky: Linky
posted by SpecialK at 11:35 PM on March 4, 2004

Wow, that's just astonishing. I love the idea of the silent city, and a lone motorcyclist razzing through and waking all the ghosts.
posted by chrid at 2:22 AM on March 5, 2004

Thanks for that link.

It is haunting to see pictures like that, of a city abandoned like that in our times.

I once saw a documentary on BBC World late one night, which was filmed inside Chernobyl - inside the sarcofagus, and even shots of the reactor core. Or as near as they could get. I wish I could find stuff about it online, or see it again.
posted by sycophant at 2:29 AM on March 5, 2004

...and then I find it, it's called "Suicide Mission To Chernobyl"

It was aired in the US on PBS as a Nova documentary, made by the BBC. I can't find any VHS or DVD copies of it, unfortunately.
posted by sycophant at 2:35 AM on March 5, 2004 [1 favorite]

If Sellafield should ever have a really serious failure and the wind is blowing the wrong way....most of Ireland would be left like Chernobyl, and probably worse.

Scary, scary shit.
posted by tomcosgrave at 2:36 AM on March 5, 2004

Fascinating: many thanks, pandaharma.
posted by misteraitch at 3:00 AM on March 5, 2004

Scary, scary shit.

"Have no fear for atomic energy
Cause none of them can stop the time."
--Bob Marley

This is one of the coolest posts ever.
I can't even imagine what deafening silence must be like - what if one discovers one has tinnitus?

I love the uniquely russian pragmatism of these sentences:
"marauders in radiation poluted area are not just a regular marauders, they don't steal stuff for themselves. There were cases of radiactive tv sets and other stuff being sold on city second hand markets and then police shot 7 or 8 of them and it helped"

Yeah, I'm sure that taught them a lesson.
posted by spazzm at 3:11 AM on March 5, 2004

Also, this would be a great basis for a book/film:
"Elena, fearless hellcat and daughter of a nuclear physicist, blasts full throttle trough the radioactive wasteland were mere mortals fear to thread."

Excuse me, I'll have to go take a cold shower now.
posted by spazzm at 3:27 AM on March 5, 2004

great stuff - interesting that the place has become haven for wildlife - think about it for a second - the moose, wild horses, etc can withstand the "deadly" radiation much better than they can handle normal human habitation. For wildlife, "civilization" is worse than a nuclear disaster...
posted by dinsdale at 3:28 AM on March 5, 2004

Excellent post pandaharma, thanks!
posted by madamjujujive at 4:51 AM on March 5, 2004

Desolate my ass. Ugly buildings crumbling, forest taking over. Hope to ghod this is an omen of the future (though alas we doubts it.)
posted by jfuller at 5:01 AM on March 5, 2004

Truly and literally, awesome. It grieves me to think of the all the people who lost so much in a land already stricken with poverty. The dead are dead, and they suffer no longer. For those that got out, the suffering just started.
posted by Goofyy at 5:16 AM on March 5, 2004

It's amusing to me that she was mocking the tourists who couldn't handle the silence - her response seems to indicate she can't handle the it any better. They run away, and she redlines her engine, trying to keep the silence at bay:

"I don't know how sound the silence to those tourists that they can not stand it, but to me after hitting a red line on my bike tacho it sound like all those ghosts cursing 1100cc kawasaki engin."

It's not just ghosts that curse loud bikes...
posted by Irontom at 5:27 AM on March 5, 2004

There is a book and a film and, as someone has already mentioned, a soon to be released video game.
posted by jiroczech at 5:43 AM on March 5, 2004

Wow, thanks for that link pandaharma. When I was at university in the early '90's (I was in the Theatre department for two years), we did a show called Sarcophagus by a science writer for Pravda turned playwright, Vladimir Gubaryev. He wrote from personal observation of the disaster. It made the disaster much more tangible for me.
posted by greengrl at 6:05 AM on March 5, 2004

jiroczech - While the game is set in Chernobyl, the book definitely wasn't. The book is about an alien visitation rather than any sort of man-made accident.
posted by bshort at 7:19 AM on March 5, 2004

The Kawasaki redlined in 6th gear would mean around 280 km/h - she may be scared of silence, but not much else.
posted by spazzm at 7:27 AM on March 5, 2004

I wonder what the decibel output on an engine like that pushing a bike along at an exhilarating 174 mph is?


I'm just being crochety today - I like silence, and I don't get as much of it as I would like. I'm sure it takes great confidence and skill to ride a bike at that speed. But, why do people so love to bring their mechanical noise with them?

The idea of somebody going to a place that is utterly quiet and piercing it with that kind of mechanical shriek just bugs me. Sort of like snowmobilers in Yellowstone.

[shuffles off mumbling about stupid kids and their loud toys]
posted by Irontom at 7:50 AM on March 5, 2004

Thanks for the additional link.
The eerie thing is what you don't notice straight away - that those abandoned machines are surrounded by lush forest, but the vegetation next to them is brown and stunted or nonexistent.
posted by spazzm at 7:53 AM on March 5, 2004

If it's any comfort to you, modern-day watercooled fourstroke bikes are very quiet.

Not that there's anyone there that would notice, of course.
(I'm presuming that the horsies and other animals live further away in the less radioactive areas - hence the silence.)
posted by spazzm at 7:58 AM on March 5, 2004

I don't know how sound the silence to those tourists that they can not stand it, but to me after hitting a red line on my bike tacho it sound like all those ghosts cursing 1100cc kawasaki engin.

IronTom -- if you were the only person out there, who'se silence would you be splitting? Your own, of course...

A wonderful post and an interesting first-person account. Somebody should mirror it before Angelfire decides she's gotten too much traffic.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 8:24 AM on March 5, 2004

I have seen that Nova documentary. Very interesting.

Excellent post.

I liked this line about the marauders. Fear of consequence kicking in?

then police shot 7 or 8 of them and it helped

Amazing how much hardware they had to abandon too. All the helicopters and ground vehicles. Never mind all the personal belongings left by the inhabitants.
posted by a3matrix at 8:40 AM on March 5, 2004

In case Angelfire takes it down, here's a mirror a user at SomethingAwful put up:
posted by Voivod at 8:46 AM on March 5, 2004

spazzm - how quiet? I'm not being shitty, I really don't know.
posted by Irontom at 9:14 AM on March 5, 2004

Think of a modern car engine - they're (mostly) watercooled fourstroke engines.

Not that most cars would be capable of 280 km/h, but still - you get the general idea.

IANAMM - I Am Not A Motorcycle Mechanic
posted by spazzm at 9:23 AM on March 5, 2004

Also note that most 4-cylinder car engines are in the 1.3-2.1 liter range, while the bike in question is only 1.1 liter.

I don't know why I bother wasting my time defending this woman, tho' - she's obviously much cooler then I am.
posted by spazzm at 9:27 AM on March 5, 2004

than, not then. Sorry.
posted by spazzm at 9:28 AM on March 5, 2004

I think some folks may be confusing the Kawasaki at redline with a Harley with the engine on. The two machines are vastly different and the Kawasaki, even at full throttle in 6th gear (which, by the way is an assumption, she says she redlines her bike but not which gear she's in) is nothing like a Harley and nowhere near as loud.

That said, I came for the biker chick and stayed for the desolation.
posted by fenriq at 10:44 AM on March 5, 2004

Elena has it arranged so that Angelfire doesn't take it down. It's gotten hammered ... it's posted all over the net right now. But Elena is updating it constantly, and would prefer that people NOT mirror the site.
posted by SpecialK at 11:46 AM on March 5, 2004

Do you fear this man's invention
That they call atomic power?
Are we all in great confusion
Do we know the time or hour?
When a terrible explosion
May rain down upon our land,
Leaving horrible destruction
Blotting out the works of man?

Are you, are you ready for that great atomic power?

--The Louvin Brothers via Uncle Tupelo
posted by keswick at 4:01 PM on March 5, 2004

That said, I came for the biker chick and stayed for the desolation.

The great thing about the internet is that desolation is now something which can be shared with millions of people.
posted by spazzm at 4:38 AM on March 8, 2004

If only the pictures were larger... it would be perfect. (well, the website anyway...)
posted by LoopSouth at 1:16 PM on March 8, 2004

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