To Russia with love

29th of September, 2015


Too Russia with love
It was hitting the witching hour as the lights grew in the distance, Russia was the unknown. Rumours had influenced my curiosity, it's hard not to prejudge with the western media and propaganda and stories of communism, cold war, nuclear weapons throughout my childhood.  I am intrigued to discover such a country. In reality I have no idea, my imagination; loads of Lada's, hard locals with a stern look, wearing a 80's tracksuits and beautiful mountains, lakes and wilderness. 
Time to find out as the boarder gates appeared out of the darkness. A little adrenaline shot always puts us in the boarder zone, we've made it all this distance 16,000km has already ticked over. Nothing can stop us now! Kazakhstan boarder is a mission, through lake of structure more than anything else. Departure stamp a relief, new horizons await us, Russia here we come. My imagination had run away, where are the solders in there big flat caps, dogs and artillery. Not a Kalashnikov in sight. The easiest boarder crossing to date, in less than 15minutes, the barriers lifted, Добро пожаловат  (welcome) to Russia.
Relieved, curious and a little broken, it is the early hours. We decide to hit up our first Russian hotel. After the chaotic Kazakh roads, here was a welcome relief. Just as well as 1000km over the Alti Mountains is Mongolia, with only two days to get their before our entry visa expires. 
Turning into the first boarder town, it all goes nuts. The roads become dirt tracks, lake sized pot holes that would eat the Yaris's, street lights let alone hotels, you would be dreaming. A lost forgotten town on the southern edge of Russia, what a spot. It looks like it's going to be one of those nights. So turning around, half an hour of dirt roads, a local escort and we finally make our way back to the Putins super road. Our first night sleeping in the cars. Three hours is enough as game on, pushing on towards the spectacular Alti Mountains, we have a epic on our hands once more. A break at a bus stop for my morning relief, in the rain. It's now second nature for me to make do. Bring on Russia. 
It is so refreshing to be on good roads, moist air and colder climate as we slowly climb into the Mountains, pine trees replace nothingness, rivers and mountains replace horizon lines. It is a changed world, spectacular. We followed a glacial river to the mountain valley, old log houses, river camps and crisp feeling puts a memory through my bones. The jade moraine filled river brings anticipation of big mountains and rolling glaciers. Our cabin for the evening, nestled on the rivers edge, fired oven and flowing water heightens our senses. Wine, warmth and rest, the doldrums of Kazakh a lifetime ago, Russia rejuvenates the soul.
As the road climbs towards the Mongolian boarder, reaching an altitude of 2600meters, again the landscape takes a drastic change, mountains of over 4000meters surround a moon like environment, yaks roam the barren lands and temperatures plummet. Our entry visa for Mongolia expire today!! It's late afternoon when we arrive at the boarder, a closed boarder!!
It's 4:30 in the afternoon, in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by snow in a climate only leather skinned Russians and Mongolians survive, is this the biggest disappointment of our epic. To backtrack from here is insane, are we insane?? As we settle in for the night, making the most of the local hospitality and our situation, warming ourselves by a yak shit fuelled fire, in a wooden cabin home, our hosts feed us on local delights and tea. Tomorrow is going to be interesting to say the least, how far does our luck go???
Russia have let us out, the 20km of no mans land to the Mongolia boarder feels like 50, will the Mongol Challenge finish here??
What is our destiny........