6th of October, 2015
It just blows my mind thinking we made our journey from London to Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia in two and a bit months, now we have eight days to get our vehicles across Russia and back into Europe before our visas expire. An incredible undertaking for any vehicle, 6000km of Putins super highway. With the unknown ahead, again we take it as it comes. On a road trip of this scale, the trick is to live for the moment, absorb where you are and make the most of every situation. If you looked at the big picture or the what ifs, at this stage I believe it would add another element, taking away the enjoyment of adventure. As the only constant is change. In saying that our only option is to get across Russia, there are no alternatives, don't break down, don't have body issues, don't crash from crazy Russian drivers or sleep deprivation. A plan was set in motion, the first time we had a do or die deadline. To drive, drive, drive..... busting out as much as we could chew.
The first 35 hours we didn't stop, the drivers Sonny, Nix and Camo did shifts, as much as you can with three drivers. Being the copilot I promised myself I wouldn't sleep and entertain. Written on the side of our car we had a slogan "Bringing awareness to the World 16,000km London to Ulaan Ude" Well Ulaan Ude is in Russia on the shores of Lake Baikal the oldest, deepest lake on the planet. We rocked past Ulaan Ude at four in the morning, with over 20,000km on the clock. With a crazy sleep deprived cheer of accomplishment, without a photo of proof we pushed on into the darkness, a mutual understanding we had set out and triumphed, no need for a medal. Our reward the sunrise over Lake Baikal and the glow of the Ural Mountains ahead, the sunrise behind the beasts, the sign of our return.
The sun has followed our journey like our shadow, today was no different than any other, however we were now in Siberia, the third coldest climate on the planet. The crisp air brought in an element to this environment as did the villages surrounding Putins Highway. An airy feeling of the mist mixed with ancient pagan style villages, wooden cottages bent and twisted from the elements, smouldering morning fires and weathered locals hardened from their past struggle to survive under communist rule. Horse and cart lifestyle remains as the future of personal wealth beckons the ownership of a family Lada
Eastern Russia is a lost forgotten world, living in the past, struggling to build a future. Putin has promised Russia a boost of infrastructure a price of over one trillion Russian Ruble, as the breakdown of communism 20 years prior has left the East behind. As we make our way west we hit the famous Putin highway, Vladimir has begun as part of the new Russian infrastructure project, a super highway connecting the west to the east. Still in the process of building this incredible project, our epic task of making the deadline frustratingly is slowed. As the landscape extends from the Ural Mountains the fir trees change to Russia's famous birch forests, second to the Amazon as earths lungs. Villages appear in the clearings but surprisingly individual country houses are non existent, another past signature of community and communism. It's a long distance west before the first small Russian cities make their appearance. I feel like Putin is ten years to late on his Russian Revamp, as the stereotypical concrete block buildings, abandoned brick industrial factories, bellowing chimney stacks, nuclear power stations and broken roads greet these wary travellers.
To keep on keeping on due to time restrictions and temperature we hit up the roadside Motels. This is a unique experience, missing our camp, whilst benefiting the ease of basic luxury. We also donated all the camping equipment (except tents) to a local that thought all his Christmases had come at once. This cut down on the equipment we carried and packing time, we can now put all the bags from one vehicle inside. The little Yaris beasts love the lighter load and new aerodynamics.
Villagers set up their basic market on the roadside, a bucket of potatoes to freshly picked mushrooms, we finally park up for a pee break next to a mushroom dealer, a local village boy who is whittling a piece of wood, keeping warm by his bush tv (fire). Hoping to make his quota, two buckets of freshly picked mushrooms, living day to day, surviving from the land. No education little opportunity, is this a disability? Here I am a C5 tetraplegic, discovering this ancient country and his culture, an unknown or impossible task for this young man or his peers.
As we head west a diversion off the Putin highway brings us northward (kindly recommend from a Russian biker) A quieter less used highway exists. Still nestled in the birch lung, little change in the landscape. However the further west we travel villages grow, towns appear wealthier and the infrastructure improves. Avoiding Moscow we head for the Latvian boarder. A photo of the beasts in front of the Kremlin would have been magic, but time is ticking. So our seventh day again we hit up an all nighter, not like partying in the younger days, but covering Russian soil to hit the boarder before they hit us. We can smell victory.
A few police flag ins and flag outs. Cheap, dirty Yaris's and tired, cheap, non Russian speaking mongrels, not even worth bagging a bribe. We survived the millions of trucks, driving fast and taking chances, spotted four over turned, like it was part of the job.
6000km in seven and a half days we hit the boarder with Latvia, without a hitch. After travelling 26,000km, two and a half months we made the deadline with Russia, with one and a half days spare. Absolutely mind blowing.
One last boarder crossing stands in our way to freedom..........