November 14-17, 2008: Moscow to Kazan
“We should not drive a fourth round if we do not want to seem suspicious“, is how we reproved ourself by the third turn around the Kremlin and the Basilica in the center of Moscow. So we exercised ourselves in unsuspicious driving and were enjoying Moscow’s highlights in the sun during our photo shoot. Even the long limousines which were cruising around the Basilica with a –for us Western Europeans – remarkably high density of wedding couples, have not been able to distract the pedestrians from our expedition vehicles and trailers.
The employees of the Department of Trade and Industry, the German Embassy and high ranking representatives of our partners Jeep and Goodyear prepared a really nice residence and a well attended press conference for us. The presentation of the expedition was especially interesting for all automobile journalists and offered a broad variety of information about the importance of the Jeep Rubicon in Russia and plenty other up-to-date news – first publications have already been online on divers Russian homepages. The two nights in the apartments of the embassy area were a special honour for us – a worldwide unique accommodation to stay overnight. I would like to thank all parties again for the great support and helpfulness in Moscow. Thanks.
Apart from that, the two days in the capital city of Russia have been dominated by changes within the team and current weather reports. Lena, our photographer of the first six expedition weeks has been replaced by Joachim Stretz the new photographer on board. Furthermore, Nastja Zilich and Juergen Graf headed home from Moscow on Saturday. Nastja supported the expedition with translations on the track between Warsaw and Moscow especially during the border crossings. Juergen was there to organize the press conference together with Chrysler and additional clarified some administrative stuff. Evgeny used the time off to visit his mom on her ninetieth birthday and to have a good night’s sleep. He came back yesterday - totally rested and fully motivated. Additional we will be accompanied by an intern of the German Embassy till we reach Novosibirsk. He speaks Russian and supports us with the numerous police controls on our way.
A continuous topic was the weather: While we have been told in almost every conversation we had in Moscow that the weather is way to warm for this season and that it is actually supposed to be all white and wintery cold by now, the first snow reports from the Altai Mountains arrived. There was so much snow fall on the Altai Mountains as it has not been for several years. This information – as well as all border and customs experiences - has already direct effect on our further planning: Matthias currently attempts to reschedule the appointment with our guide and to prepare the border crossings. Our goal is a time schedule keeping all general conditions in mind and which is even possible to stick to if we had extreme dense snow fall.
After we stored the luggage of all the old and new team members and the entire equipment, we started from Moscow towards Yekaterinburg on Sunday night. On the way to our first stopover, the ancient city Kazan, we were driving along Europe’s longest river, named Volga, with a length of approximately 3,700 km. The hilly Volga-Delta offered us the following special conclusion: The two trailers are brilliant! With floats and their attachments, respectively 1000 litres of bio ethanol in the tanks and further tightened materials like e.g. spare tires, each trailer weighs 4,5 tons. It is unbelievable how smoothly these trailers are running behind us by the conditions of the streets, which challenged us with extreme bumps, lane grooves, sudden droppings and unsecured roadsides as well as all kinds of roughness and unevenness. Our way from Kazan goes all the way over Perm to Yekaterinburg – I guess the streets will not get better.
November 17-19, 2008: Kazan – Ural
First continental border crossing
Unlike planned, we did not take the route via Perm but instead via the city Ufa to Yekaterinburg. We had to cross 1,200 kilometres in order to arrive in Yekaterinburg on time for the presentation of our project on Thursday morning. The aim was to drive the 1,200 kilometres in one go. Another look at the map and discussions with the journalists that Chrysler Russia had sent to accompany us in a Jeep Commander, made us change our plans for the route. The reason: The streets were supposed to be better than those that we would have taken on the route via Perm.
En-route there was a real highlight of Russia waiting for us: The crossing of the Ural Mountains. Although there were only the southern foothills of these up to 3,000 meters high mountains on our route, they were enough to make us crawling up the hills in second gear like snails. Luckily, the streets were still free of snow and ice and we managed most parts of the Ural Mountains during the night! The usual daily appearance of trucks combined with poor weather conditions, probably would have meant for us to cover the entire 800 kilometres distance of the mountains in first gear, surrounded by clouds of exhaust fumes. Thus, we were at least able to drive faster at the downhill track. In the morning we were rewarded for the slow night drive by a wonderful sunrise behind the mountains. The mountain scenery and the auburn, autumnal tundra offered our photographers good opportunities to take impressive pictures of the landscape.
Let me mention a few words regarding the better streets on the way from Kazan to Yekaterinburg: Luckily we do not know how the worse streets would have been. The street on which we were driving was littered with lane grooves, bumps and partly extreme pot holes. Especially nearby the bridges in the valleys we got shaken due to the roughness and unevenness of the streets. It was even more wondrous that one of us was always able to sleep along the way. Once we hit a giant pot hole with F1, but fortunately without any consequences for the vehicle. As we pulled over to check the situation we saw a Russian standing on the roadside, changing the left rear tire of his vehicle. Obviously he must have driven through this pot hole right before we did.
Actually, the highlight of the expedition is the continental border crossing at the Bering Strait. Currently we already practiced the continental bond right away: In the early morning we crossed the border between Europe and Asia – without ice, without water, without the mounted floats though but safe and riskless over a normal mountain road. A high stony monument with two direction signs “Europe” and “Asia” marked the line where the borderline goes.
After a quick coffee at a gas station during the refuel-action, we decided to keep on driving for a while and to eat breakfast a little bit later. At ten o’clock and after numerous photo shoots we had a good rest. The four drivers – Matthias and Astrid with the F1, and Evgeny and Jockel with the F2 – switched driving and sleeping through the whole night, so that everybody was looking forward to this breakfast. Unfortunately we forgot the time change in our plans. The expedition time plan and my cell phone with an automatic time zone localisation left no doubt: The morning was over - it was already noon. We quickly changed our breakfast plans towards a great lunch with shashlik, salad and borszcz.
We made it to Yekaterinburg, where we will present our expedition at the technical university on Thursday. On Friday morning, we continue our journey to Tyumen. The Jeep Commander and two journalists from Chrysler are accompanying us. Furthermore a new journalist took a place in the F1 at the invitation of our partner Goodyear.
From Kazan to Yekaterinburg