Siberia, Russia 1 – 11/2014

November 28, 2014

For those of you who are wondering where we are at the moment, when you find out, please send us an email so we know too. In the meantime, here is Russia in the blink of an eye. Yes, we will get to the gory details when we catch up with our blogs.

You may refer to the last blog on Monika’s birthday and recall the stick poking through the camel’s nose with the rope tied to it. Since we left the beautiful country of Turkey and headed east on the Silk Road, we too have had a “stick” in our nose, a stick called “VISAS”, and the rope has been the incredible bureaucracies of the countries we have driven through. We did not spit at them, but there were many times when we wish we could have.

Monika's BD Mongolia 027

After wading thorough the Mongolian border exit paperwork, (four hours), and a relatively quick crossing into Russia, we headed for a safe haven in the city of Rubtsovsk where we had many friends awaiting us with open arms. There was a serious “clunk” in the front end of The Turtle V, and as we suspected, it was our wheel bearings getting loose, the result of thousands of miles of the worst imaginable roads possible; 6-inch washboard, deep sand, mud, toilet bowl-size pot-holes, hundreds of lock-to-lock mountain hairpin corners, temperatures from below 0°F to over 120°F, and a few thousand miles more of normal high-speed highways. We do carry replacement bearings, races and seals, but the quick fix for our Dynatrac Free-Spin hubs was simply to have a local mechanic adjust the outer bearings. Had we not had used the Dynatrac Free-Spin hubs with their rebuildable and adjustable Spicer bearings, the problem would have been a catastrophic total failure of the Ford factory “unibearings”.

With that problem solved, we were able to spend a few days with our friends that we had met when we crossed Siberia in 1996. They helped us buy a SIM card for our phone, took us on shopping trips to the local open markets and arranged all needed paperwork for Monika’s Russian visa extension. Being Swiss, she had only been able to get a 10-day “transit visa”, hardly enough time to drive the 4,521 miles, (7,115 km), from Olgii, Mongolia to Vladivostok on the far eastern Pacific Coast of Russia where we would take the ferry to South Korea.

A few wonderful dinners and a super “banya”, (Russian sauna), with the traditional birch branch beating gave us a rest from the “visa stick” in our nose that was being constantly yanked. We had safe parking in Lyosha’s driveway with water and power if we needed it. Lyosha’s wife, Nina, insisted on cooking up some of our Russian favorites while someone was filling our glasses with vodka. Vitaly was our constant guide, chauffeur and interpreter while his wife, Svetlana, filled out the documents in Russian for Monika’s visa extension.

After a final goodbye, we hit the icy roads of Siberia with memories of our crossing in 1996. Many good changes had taken place but it also included much more traffic. Now instead of frozen dirt and gravel roads, they were mostly paved, covered with treacherous ice and hard-packed snow. The plows were busy but they could hardly keep up with the storm we drove though. Passing semi-trucks would create near whiteout conditions in the dry powder.

Daylight hours were getting shorter as we headed north around the hump of China, demanding that if we were to make any real progress, we needed to drive some at night. Uncapping our PIAA 510 ATP XTreme White Driving Halogen Lamps and aiming them low gave us an idea of the centerline and sides of the narrow two-lane highway, sometimes in blizzard conditions. The 580 Driving XTreme White Plus Halogen Lamps were pointed about 60 yards down the road, giving us ample time to see potholes or other unannounced obstacles. Oncoming traffic was quick to let us know if we were slow in turning off the incredibly bright 580’s.

Our Michelin XZL tires had been a concern even back in Turkey. With already some 18,000 miles on them then, would they last on the bad roads through the Stans and then all the way across China? Much to our relief and amazement, even after the horrendous crossing of the Altai Gobi Desert in Mongolia, we had no flats. Even running at reduced pressures, (40psi front 50psi rear), for three months when paved roads were so rough and potholed that they were worse than the dirt washboard of Mongolia, the XZL’s had not lost a single pound of air during the entire trip. Now at nearly 40,000 miles, the treads still had plenty of bite in the snow and slop. Nothing will stop on ice and packed snow. We did have Pewag Mud & Snow chains for all four wheels, but that would have reduced our speed to 35 mph. Without chains or studs, it made for some white-knuckle driving on the corners and passing slow big rigs.

As temperatures dropped to -23°F we reflected that driving up the frozen Lena River from Yakutsk to Lensk for 680 miles and then another 700 miles on winter roads through the Taiga forest in 1996 was infinitely easier and more exciting in a different way.

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