Endless Forests, Vast Skies

53 16′ 42″N 118 34′ 26″E (Russia), 01.10.2013

Today it is 5,5 months since the beginning of this journey, and it feels like seasons are wreaking havoc. Two weeks ago it was summer in Polynesia, a few days ago I left Vladivostok in autumn, and today winter started in the middle of nowhere in Siberia. I left Blagoveshchensk at 08:40 with 6 degrees, the highest temperature of the day. Before hitting the road I checked the riverside right in front of the hotel. On the other shore began China, but apart from some high rises there wasn’t much to see. Far more interesting were the tsarist buildings on the Russian side, incl. a statue of what I guessed was a military commander and explorer of this remote area. Seeing this man in his elegant uniform and moustache, I wondered how it must have been to discover this remote wilderness, thousands of km away from the civilisation of Moscow or St. Petersburg, with its adverse climate and vast spaces and without all the modern amenities and technology we have today.

Out of town, the first 200km led through small countryside roads. The thick clouds in the sky created a dark and cold atmosphere. Several military barracks passed, I fuelled up at a deserted gas station that just had truck diesel and accepted cash only. The first buildings of Swobodny I reached were sweet small wooden houses, many not standing perfectly upright and in various colors, mostly light blue, bright green, yellow. A few tsarist stone buildings still stood too, and the rest was the usual Soviet concrete craze. Swobodny was the last village I crossed for the entire day. Shortly afterwards I reached the main highway, 200km from Blagoveshchensk. From there on the road was significantly better and I could drive a lot faster, although every couple of km threw were bumps that forced everybody to slow down. It took me a while to understand they were all signalled, 70km/h limit for normal ones and a 50km/h limit for serious ones, that required an immediate slow down. I also learned how to spot them from a distance, the side rails and ground surface revealed them. The temperature started dropping, the clouds kept the sky dark for hours. I drove and drove, always straight ahead through the forests. At around 11:30 suddenly the clouds opened up, and what seemed like a dark winter landscape became bright and colored. There was less red then yesterday, more yellow and brown, and many trees had already lost their leaves completely.

I had feared that driving for days would be boring. After three days and 2.600km I must say that this is not the case, km go by quickly, roads are good and the landscape is beautiful, at least as long as the sun shines. That vastness of nature is hard to describe. I hope pictures and videos can give a better impression once I can upload them. But the mountains, forests and the enormous sky are amazing, even while the first traces of snow and frost started to appear. As the day came to an end and the sun disappeared on the horizon, I started to look for a place to stay for the night. I was ready to pitch my tent, although I kept thinking what was worse: the temperature below zero, an unexpected Russian visitor in my tent at night or a bear saluting me (I have no clue of there are bears around here, probably there aren’t any, but I keep thinking about them somehow!). As I fuelled up at one of the rare gas stations I asked the lady as the cashier if there was a hotel around there. She indicated the building at the other end of the parking space. I entered the wooden house, and a friendly woman made me pay 800 RUB for a room with no bath and shower plus 50 RUB for parking the car inside the compound. For another 150 RUB I got dinner, borsch plus a sort of empanada and a beer. I took my sleeping bag out of the car, and in no time I fell asleep.

Trip data

– Km driven: 1.107

– Hrs on the road: 11h

– Diesel l/100km: 11,8

– Daily high: 6 degrees Celsius

– Daily low: -2 degrees Celsius

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