09-Mar-2005 -- This is a journey from Ulaanbaatar (UB) in Mongolia to Kirriemuir in Scotland, covering 110 degrees of longitude and visiting 15 CPs on the way. The story starts at 47°N 105°E. This is CP 11. The previous point is 56°N 71°E.
The road to Samara passes close to this point – as I had been alerted by Maxim Yegorov (previous attempt).
We stopped at the closest point on the road and observed the deep snow. I set off on skis and the others decided to stay and sleep. I should have taken skins for the skis as the uphill was very difficult without. I ended up walking part of the way. Also the bottom section of one pole fell off and I had to track back to the point where the change in snow markings showed me it must be buried. In any case the point lies in quiet wooded countryside about 3 km from the road. There is a summer road which could be used for easier access – it leaves the main road further west and can be seen on the satellite photo with track. Due to the trees the dance was prolonged and eventually the best accuracy was 11 metres. The point took longer than expected and we were always going to arrive later than hoped in Samara. With better conditions and more time it would have been simple to visit 54°N 52°E – just 5km south of the road. Another day.
The weather also deteriorated and there was heavy snow for the last 2 hours of the drive. Samara is a big city and has changed much since I lived there 4 years ago. It has become like “Las Vegas” with so many advertisements. The traffic has also become worse. We were made most welcome by Anna – a friend of a friend with a large apartment and managed to meet up with some old friends in the evening. Next day Yuri – my interpreter from my time there - and I went to visit Ludmilla Urmashaeva at the Seed Inspectorate and had a great chat – catching up with the news – just like old times. I was happy to learn that the work of that project has not been forgotten.
We left Samara to head for Kolumna (100km south of Moscow). When we arrived at Tolgiatti (home of Lada) we found we were not permitted to cross the Volga – only local traffic allowed on the dam. This forced us north to Dimitrovgrad and Ulianovsk on poor, snowy roads to the next crossing point. The day’s drive was probably the hardest due to snow and we eventually got into Kolumna at 3am. Here we were again shown great hospitality by family of Sergei on an army base. We let them meet up after 7 years and they gave us bed and food and did our washing – a fair swap!
From Kolumna the next stop was St Petersburg – where I planned to stay with another friend from the Samara project. We left after lunch – we almost had to drag Sergei from his family. Moscow ring road was quiet and we soon reached the St Pete turn off and started our journey to the north-west. Russian drivers do not respect laws – if they have a car capable of being driven at 150km then that is the speed they will drive it – regardless of conditions. We were passed by hundreds of such idiots on the road – snow and trucks in both directions were not a deterrent. Eventually the fast cars thinned out and we were left with a constant stream of container lorries. We were approaching point 58°N 33°E, the road passed within 3.1km of it BUT it was dark, snowing and we were late so we managed to leave it alone! Mapquest suggest that it is about 1km from the nearest minor road across a small river.
Andrey’s instructions to find his flat could not be simpler – up the Moscow Avenue and the at the second canal turn left and stop at the first house. Perfect for a sleepy driver at 5am! Andrey and his family again showed the warmth and generosity of Russian hospitality. We stayed 2 nights and had a tour of the city and a chance to recover.
On Sunday 13th Erka’s Schengen visa started so we headed for the border to “escape” from Russia and into the EU. We said good bye to Sergei at the Russian customs and after some questioning of Erka’s passport we were allowed out. Phew!
The story continues at 61°N 25°E.