On the winter road towards the polar sea

This post goes on where my last ended: At Sasyr at 8 pm, where I planned to go out to hitchhike further, because my hosts truck was still not ready. I was preparing to step out in the night. At this moment, I wasn’t yet completely ready, a friend of my host who had been visiting my host just before came back again: “There are two trucks driving through the village! Hurry up, maybe they drive to Syrjanka and can take you! Let’s ask them!”, he told me. I quickly packed everything and we were together searching the two trucks. We asked some locals if they saw were they drove to and after 10 min. walk at the other end of the village we found the trucks. They were pumping fuel from barrels in their tank. (They had their own depot of barrels in the village, there is no fuel station there).

 

Getting stuck in the ice, crashing the ice to free the truck

 

I asked the first driver, and he accepted to take me, not only to Syrjanka, but even to Srednekolymsk. 600 km on the ice road! On a road with just a few trucks a day, and I didn’t even have to wait a minute! However, for the free ride, I would have “to help”. But that’s absolutely fine of course, it was also a really interesting opportunity for me to work for some days on an ice road 😊 It started with rolling barrels to the truck for filling their tank.

 

What followed afterwards, was an almost never ending, 4 nights and 4 days long trip over the most difficult road I have ever seen before. A trip for sure out of my comfort zone, difficult, tiring, and really, really long with the lowest level of comfort. At day time a lot of work outside in freezing cold arctic temperatures. Getting stuck a dozen of time every day. While driving the truck was shaking up and down, not possible to sleep, even difficult to read anything on my phone. During nights sleeping sitting in a chair, while the air in the cabin was really bad! (no wonder, over a week on the road and just no shower on the way). For sure the most difficult and most exhausting trip I’ve ever done! It’s almost not understandable for me, how truck drivers and their assistants can do this for months in a raw during the time the winter roads are open. But humans get used to everything I guess…

 

The ice was allmost carrying us. And denn suddnely - bumm!

 

Hitchhiking on such winter roads is for sure hitchhiking extreme, it already starts with the trust you must have in your driver: When you get in the truck you have just seconds to decide if he is trustworthy or not. If something gets strange in another trip, you can normally just step out and leaf the car. But when you are in middle of the taiga, at -40° below zero, two nights and days in a raw without a single house in between, it for sure needs a lot of trust in strangers…

 

Already the first day was full of obstacles, but also very exciting for me: There were some rivers to cross, some of them not very well frozen. Once we were driving on blank ice. The truck was moving around on the slippery ground. But the ice was strong enough. And then suddenly – bumm – and we were 60 cm lower. The truck was stuck. So, we had to get out, crushing the ice first, and then taking it away with a shovel. We had to set the chains to the wheels. And then the truck fought his way through. And like this it was going on the whole next days: chain setting on the wheels, chins taking off. Getting stuck many times, shovelling the snow away, crashing the ice, taking the trailer off and helping the other truck. A lot of hard work outside the whole day. At down to -40°C!

 

Steep slopes up and down, getting stuck many times...

 

The first night was difficult to sleep. The only bed in my truck was already used by my driver, I had to sleep in the chair. I could clap him down quite a bit, but lying was just possible on the back, not on the side. And the worst was for sure the smell: The driver was already 4 days on the way, and me also over 3 days, and taking a shower was just not possible in this time! And for the night my driver turned the temperature up, much too high, and he was sleeping just in his underwear! What an awful smell! I guess I never before smelled such an awful, strong smell! However, I was probably also not smelling better 😊 But at least I wasn’t sleeping in underwear.

 

Despite -30°C outside, Volodia all the time topless. In the capin it's far to much heated!

 

The next day we crossed a huge pass! It was amazing how steep the truck can drive up! I never expected that this would be possible. And then the first slope down of the top was really steep! Too steep for the truck with the heavy trailer! So, we installed a very special brake below the trailer: A bed of nails sticking in the snow and braking down the speed of the truck! I didn’t even know that such a thing is existing!

 

Interesting system for breaking down speed on 4th picture, here crossing a pass.

 

It took us finally 4 nights and 4 days to reach Srednekolymsk! Me and the driver, Volodia, were occasionally talking, but not too much, he was not a very talkative guy. Both of the trucks were his trucks, the second driver and the assistant were just working for him! But Volodia had a really bad temperament! While he was often just sitting in his truck, he was just commanding around me and his two workers all the time. And not in a nice tone! He was mostly crying around all the time: “Why are you not already here! Faster, faster, faster! Help there! Do this!... “ And not just talking normal, literary crying in everyone’s faces! His character was actually really strange! While it was just a short trip for me and therefore I didn’t really care about it, I just can’t imagine how his workers can support him all the time!

 

We almost never meet anyone! And when we do so mostly a convoy of trucks. Each time we stopped and had a talk and tea - eighter in our cabin or in theirs. On the first pictures the road workers who try to hold the winterroad in good condition. On pic. nr 5 the only other trucks we met in oposide direction on day 3 and 4!

 

But to be fair, also by the very bad character he had, he still had a great heart: He drove me all the way to Srednekolymsk (not every driver would accept someone else in his cabin for 4 days I guess!), he gave me some food (I didn’t expect such a long drive), he invited me to dinner at his home and finally to banija (Russian Sauna) and when the hotel was already fully booked he let me sleep in his second apartment, which was however more a ruin then something else.

 

When we finally!!!!!! Arrived in Srednekolymsk I was really exhausted of the long drive. And the apartment Volodja was providing me (for free) was just a disaster. There was one of his workers living in, it was extremely dirty, years old, rotten apples, toilet and shower not working. A huge mess! And no bed! However, I had my sleeping bag and matrass and it was already late evening. So, I decided to stay for a night and search a solution the next day.

 

How my trip goes on, soon in my next blog...

 

How can anyone live in this condition? Bad appartment I could use for free in Srednekolymsk

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