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Discussion Starter #41
December 03-05, 2008: Hovd - Gobi - Altay

Along the desert towards the hydroelectric power plant

Matthias already awoke with the feeling that the vehicles had to be checked after 200 kilometers of humpy earth road. Intuitional driving: The feeling was correct! Both exhaust systems had to be fastened and numerous screws had to be retightened. At dusk – after the inauguration of F1 and F2 by Nasaa’s mother and after saying good-bye to his very kind family – we set out for the Mongolian city Altay which was 450 kilometers away.

Again, we had to drive on humpy earth roads made of stone and sand. Unfortunately it was dark once again, so that we did not see much – if anything at all – of the mountains and lakes which were located only few kilometers outside of Hovd. This definitely had to change! Today’s section leads us through the Gobi Desert. We all wanted to get the impression of it. Accordingly, we were driving to exhaustion before we stopped for some sleep in the cars. We awoke with the sunrise over the desert. The break was well worth it – the view was breathtaking! Despite minus 27 degrees outside temperature, we all jumped out of the cars with our cameras in our hands. Unfortunately, besides the touristic highlight “Gobi Desert by sunrise”, we also had to refuel the vehicles (including a tank-to-tank fuel transfer). Now even the last member of the team got an idea of the expected temperatures ahead of us.

The landscape of the desert was very impressing – the pictures that our photographer took are self-explanatory. Not only the landscape but also the encounters we had, were very special. A goatherd came up to us – after spending the night outside between his animals – to ask for a drink. A caravan of camels crossed our path. We also met truck drivers at a nomad family who did not have enough fuel to continue their journey. However, our tanks were empty as well – and the bio ethanol which we could have donated to them from our big tank would not have done any good to the Russian truck. After these experiences in the desert we were all very surprised to find the 12,000-inhabitant city Altay only kilometres away. The contrast could not have been any bigger!

The main message of our expedition is the usage of renewable energies. This topic is also of crucial importance in Mongolia. Already, every second Mongolian uses renewable energies for his supply. The country offers all necessary resources for the use of wind, water and sun to generate energy. Starting in Altay, we headed towards Mongolia’s biggest hydroelectric power plant - The power plant Taishir: The dam with a height of 45 meters will restrain 930 million cubic meters of water once it is completely filled in five to eight years. Nature is taken care of, even while restraining the water: Only additional floodwaters of the Zavkhan River are restrained – the other water follows its natural course. An engineer explained the dam’s sphere of action to us and guided us through a tunnel underneath the impressing city wall. With this construction, the Mongolians are on the right track to ecological energy generation.










 

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Discussion Starter #43
December 06-08, 2008: Gobi Altay - Arvaiheer - Harhorin - Nationalpark Hustai

On our track from Gobi Altay to Bayanhongor we were faced with every imaginable surface like: a hard humpy earth road, difficult-to-drive sand tracks with heavy potholes, snow tracks, up- and downhill on brown grass as well as a nearly endless high plateau with a well drivable road combined with comfortable new and perfectly even asphalt on the last 10 kilometres before we reached our goal. That was not Bayanhongor anymore, but Arvaiheer. The reason for this spontaneous change of our stage goal: All of a sudden the price of the heated garage for the vehicles was 20 times higher than agreed in the beginning.

Due to the fact that we passed the friendly Mongolian border check so quickly and that we came along so well driving a lot at night even though we had to stop twice to work on our trailers, we are ahead of our schedule. We enlarged our lead to the plan with our journey to Arvaiheer. Accordingly we have some more relaxed days as usual before us, which is a good feeling for a change.

Because we altered our stage goal from Bayanhongor to Arvaiheer we had to cross a stream course by night. We were not sure, if it was frozen or not. Right before the river we made a refuelling stop. The routine visual check of Jeeps and trailers was negative: A number of things were loose due to the shaking and a tension belt of one of the pontoons was ripped off. With a storm of sand and snow combined with temperatures of minus 25 degrees Celsius, even simple repairs like those turned into a big action for the entire team. To fasten the belt, we had to remove the fender from the trailer beforehand. Luckily there was a yurt colony at the stream course where we have been able to warm up and eat some fresh made noodles directly after we had our two hours of work. Therefore we were strengthened to drive through the night.

Later at another repair action we had a strange encounter: We passed through a giant valley – 30 kilometres to the left, to the right, behind and ahead of us – just this huge valley but not any single person or boundaries. After a ground hit in a big pot hole, Matthias decided to change the front shock absorber of F1. Right when we jacked up the vehicle on a stone pile, a car rushed by, stopped and parked right next to us. Four Mongolians got out of the car and asked about the expedition and the repairs. We immediately got invited to horsemeat and vodka. They made an improvised picnic with all their supplies and in the end we received another bottle of vodka as a present. As it turned out later, one of them was the owner of a big Mongolian company. Finally it felt stranger than ever, when they gave us a music CD each and Evgeny as well as Matthias two DVDs where the business man acted as Chinggis Khaan.

The next stage after Arvaiheer was Harhorin, where the entire team had to check the jeeps and the trailers again for shaking damages and afterwards could rest in a comfortable hotel. In the old city of Chinggis Khaan which is now an UNESCO cultural heritage, we got an anglophone guided tour through the museum and the buddhistical temples. From this place, an overnight stay in a yurt was supposed to be organized – not an easy task. Matthias already slept in a beautiful camp at the foot of the impressive dune Elsen-Tasarhai during his scout tour through Mongolia. Unfortunately we had no chance as that camp like many others have been closed for the upcoming really cold winter and no more accommodation was possible. Consequently, this stage lead us 250 kilometres further in direction of Ulan Bataar into the yurt-camp of the national park of Hustai.










 

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Discussion Starter #44
13.-15.12.2008: Ulan Ude – departure to Jakutsk

With the Amazons to the lama-school

A really hard decision had to be made today. Due to a contact of the German Embassy in Moscow – who we would like to thank again for his dedication – we met Slava Bulatow in Ulan Ude. He had different things prepared for us. Unfortunately these things did not work out because of the previous border-crossing which caused our timing to shift. It was absolutely necessary, though, to visit one of Russia’s most important Buddhist temples. Our reasoning: This sanctuary needs to be seen if you are visiting Buritania. The miracle of this Buddhist temple – which, in Buritania, is called “Datsan” – is a sitting lama which has not aged for the last 70 years. Furthermore we were welcomed so heartily when we reached Ulan Ude that we just could not refuse this request.

The concerns which made it so difficult for us to accept this proposal spontaneously were complex: The next section to Jakutsk – with a distance of 2,560 kilometers – was ahead of us. We wanted to accomplish this part without stopovers – this alone was already a big challenge for the entire team. The weather forecast for the route to Jakutsk said there would be fog, a lot of snow and temperatures down to -50 degrees Celsius – not very good conditions for a fast accomplishment of the route. The team wanted to start early and have the whole day for driving. We were afraid that by agreeing to the suggested trip, we would loose half of the time that we are ahead of the schedule right now. All in all, the conditions to reach Magadan by December 26 are difficult enough as it is.



In the end the trip to the Buddhist monastery “Gandan Dashi Choinkhoryg” proved to be one of the best decisions that we have made so far! We did not just get an insight into the most important Buritanian Buddhist center, but also found new friends in the Baikal-Amazons as well as Slava and his son Roman who were also on board. While some Amazons were happy to drive the 30 kilometers to the monastery in the Jeeps with Matthias and Evgeny, we enjoyed the walk in the rising sun through the area around the monastery. Each and everyone of the expedition team probably used some of the numerous praying drums on this trip to ask for the success of the expedition, an accident-free drive or similar helpful aspects. Furthermore we were informed about the history of the monastery and the lama-school. This early Sunday morning trip was definitely worth it!

Back at the hotel, Swetlana, head of the Baikal-Amazons, had arranged a TV-team. Because of the interviews of Matthias and Evgeny, we almost made up for the cancelled press conference the day before. Afterwards we all had lunch together. We told our friends from Ulan Ude what we experienced the day before at the border – which we have spent without a warm meal. Therefore they wanted to send us on the way to Jakutsk well-prepared. Of course all this hospitality, the interesting program, the presents (the day before we were given Buritanian balm which is some kind of herbal liqueur) and the happy tri-lingual conversations over the last 20 hours were more than enough. But additionally, when we were ready to leave, they provided us with a contact for an accommodation in Jakutsk.



This encounter especially delighted us. We hope that one day we will be able to pay them back for their hospitality. We will definitely keep in contact with the dedicated and interesting off-road drivers of the Baikal-Amazons and follow their activities. We would like to especially thank Karl Bauer from Moscow and Slava from Ulan Ude for the preparation of our stay and their perfect support in Ulan Ude.

After this great encounter and the successful visit of the temple, we were well-prepared for the long way to Jakutsk. Our first landmark on the route was the city Chinta which was about 800 kilometers away. We reached Chita about 24 hours after leaving Ulan Ude – unfortunately we also used these 800 kilometers to get completely lost. After getting stuck in a courtyard, the local police was a big help for a change: By the help of some very friendly policemen, we were freed from the dead end and escorted to the outskirts of the city. There, we continued on our journey but due to difficult and very rugged tracks, the driving was tough. We are curious to see how long the drive to Jakutsk will finally take. One thing is for sure: The news about the -68° Celsius temperatures in Jakutsk seems to be true. The outside temperatures are getting colder and colder. Long ago we reached the minimum value of -39° of our digital thermometer – for now, our makeshift outside sensing devices show a temperature of -46°. Brrr…









 

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Discussion Starter #45
December 15-21, 2008: Chita - Jakutsk

XXL-section with obstacles

Shortly after our departure from Ulan Ude, the outside conditions became even more difficult than in Mongolia: Temperatures of down to -52° Celsius were extremely straining for people, machinery and material. Furthermore, we were on our 2,650-kilometers section from Ulan Ude to Yakutsk, which we wanted to cover non-stop. This burden became clearly noticeable very soon. Within about 200 kilometers, totally unexpected damages occurred on the special rear-axle-differentials (from the free accessories market) – the original differentials have been replaced during the vehicle modifications – of both cars. This made a direct continuation of our journey impossible.

The problem about these momentous breakdowns: First there was an unmistakable damage on F2. After a hara-kiri rescue-procedure in less than -50° Celsius and action which could fit in the program “daredevils without nerves”, we had a transport to a garage in the next village (about 120 kilometers away) with the name Aldan. There, they were able to diagnose the damage and order spare parts from Germany. Starting at the industrial plant about 24 hours later, the journey to Jakutsk continued for the F2 and its team via truck and trailer skip. Unfortunately, only 100 kilometers after continuing the journey, an identical damage occurred at the leading F1. This time the consequences were even more dramatic and unpredictable. Matthias decided that the already broken down F2, as well as the trailer and all team members should continue to Jakutsk, where the necessary spare parts were supposed to arrive 24 hours later. He himself spent the night at the damaged F1 and was towed – in a ten hours long procedure – back to the garage in Aldan, to gain clarity about the damages as fast as possible. The organisation of further urgently needed spare parts, which were supposed to be brought along from Germany, happened under most extreme time pressure.

Meanwhile, the team, which by now was on the road for three days and nights, continued its journey towards Jakutsk. A sudden new obstacle occurred here as well: Before entering the city Jakutsk, you have to cross the Lena. The unbelievable: Not a single bridge exists for this big city! Not even before or behind the city. You do not have another choice but to cross the river. In summer time there are ferries, in winter it freezes. But at the moment the crossing of the frozen river was only permitted for a specific load which we had more than exceeded. Therefore our trailer and the Jeep had to be reloaded onto a smaller truck. Once again a lot of organizing via telephone: Who is doing what? Where does the crane come from? How much is the truck? Can Jeep and trailer be reloaded? What happens when Matthias arrives piggyback with the F1 at this exact same spot the next day? What does all this mean for our time schedule? The catalogue of questions seemed to be unlimited!

At this point we would like to thank all helpers for their effort during this very difficult five-day section! It is unbelievable how many people from Ulan Ude, Jakutsk, Aldan and Germany have made an effort of tremendous intensity to find solutions for this section – which has been characterized by unpredictable difficulties – and helpful participate.

Altogether the entire team was working nonstop for five days with hardly any sleep. Matthias reached the city only a few hours after our own arrival in Jakutsk via a special minivan. With a hotel in the city center as head quarters for the next two days, we were able to manage many things: The receipt of the spare parts which were organized by Extrem Events, the upcoming repairs at F2, photo- and film-shootings of the city for the book by the Ullmann publishing house and the documentary of the expedition, travel preparations for all team members and preparations for the continuation of the expedition to the Bering Strait in January with the next team. Due to the current situation and the excellent infrastructure in Jakutsk – a great garage with a professional and extremely helpful boss Serafim, an international airport, the possibility to purchase missing things in the city, extensive film- and photo-possibilities, as well as authorities which can issue the necessary permissions for the drive through Chukotka – Matthias decided that both vehicles will be prepared for the drive through Chukotka and the crossing of the Bering Strait in Jakutsk, and not (like previously planned) in Magadan. Furthermore, the team change will be relocated from Magadan to Jakutsk, too. After making sure that all team members have a return flight to Germany, Matthias drove back to Aldan tonight via the special minivan to repair F1. As soon as the Jeep and trailer will arrive in Jakutsk on its own wheels and by its own accord, Matthias will have provided a good, secure and warm location for the Jeeps by rescheduling the necessary work and all organizational concerns from Magadan to Jakutsk. An excellent basis has been created for the continuation of the expedition in January.
 

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Discussion Starter #46
December 21-27, 2008: Jakutsk - Magadan

How to build a rear axle differential on Christmas due to boredom

I was still in Aldan on the 24st to repair the expedition vehicle F1 and drive it together with the trailer MJ46 to Jakutsk - which finally was successful (arrival 25st 1.00 a.m.). The reparation as such was extremely difficult and together with my Russian companion Dima, I needed two days and nights for it, due to a wrong delivery of the rack & pinion set of the spare parts distributor. As in Russia everything is possible, we manage to build the differential out of 2 wrong differential sets together with the support of some helpers from Aldan.

How? Take a too thick ring gear, destroy it for testing purposes and turn it to fit with an axle turning machine of a gigantic size. Therefore one has to modify those machines, which means a lot of ours of work, after stopping the production of industry parts with the help of an understanding manager. To use those huge machines, one has to produce a suitable clamp tool out of a chain set of a crawler which is not in use any more (instructions on demand :)). Same procedure for the bevel gear shaft, after determining the necessary measures in uncountable installations and demounting in advance without any measuring tools. Furthermore, ideally some old screws with special thread measured in inches are needed. These have to be modified to screw thread carving tools with the help of a rasp. This effort similar difficult as a puzzle is necessary to carve new screw threads in the ring gear.
Later on, let an exceptionally gifted, old Russian mechanic whet three 0,2mm space discs by hand and them with other discs of the wrong modification sets. From then on there are only some more hours of patient setting test, the manual construction of a gear clamp as well as a special lifting tool and self-made thick washers (on the above mentioned huge axle turning machine). There you are, a differential (otherwise only available in the USA for a lot of money) build out of nothing.

To make it perfect it is recommended, to accept the hospitality of helpers when the tiredness and the cold in the big halls are overpowering, to pay hundreds of telephone Euro, and not to feel annoyed with it - of course. Reaching Jaktusk on 24st December together with Dima who kept me somehow away to be able to drive, I flew to Magadan 3 hours later (at the crack of dawn) for discussion and other remaining topics. Evgeny also flew there via Habarowsk.

The remaining team which accompanied me to this point were already flown out on the 24st with the last plane and has sooner or later reached Germany.

At this point again many thanks to the excellent team which accompanied me and Evegeny since Moskau:
Astrid, Joachim, Marco, Hendrik you did a great job. I had much fun travelling with you. Thanks for all the support and the mutual, basically never-ending, laughter.

The new team will arrive in Jakutsk on January 15, 2009 to start the journey through Chukotka towards the Bering Strait.

Finally, thank you to all for the supported first part of the expedition with approximate 22,000km from Paris to Jakutsk and I wish you all Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.
 

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Discussion Starter #47
Second part of the expedition

Right now the expedition team is still in Germany. The designated departure date is Friday, January 23, 2009. Due to the preparations of the return to Russia and the upcoming most difficult part of the entire project, the team needed some extra time in Germany and thus will depart to Jakutsk by today.

The time was also used to create two more short movies - find them here: http://pny2009.com/cms/front_content.php?idcat=659&lang=4

The movie clips now cover the entire driven track. Considering that the communication possibilities will become less, the team now has a satellite messenger which will show the current location online. Therefore it is now possible to follow the driven route via this card:

http://pny2009.com/cms/front_content.php?idcat=707&lang=4.
 

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Discussion Starter #48
January 23-25, 2009: Back on track

It was a troublesome start - hopefully now everything bad is covered right from the beginning.

First of all we had to pay almost 1500 € for our excess luggage at Frankfurt Airport, which should not be the case. Furthermore we became problems with the Russian administration for the first time since the expedition started – apart from that they always exemplary supported us – because they confiscated my signal pistol and ammo right at the Domodedovo Airport with the reason that an important document is missing.

Right before our connecting flight was leaving, they let me go – unfortunately without my signal pistol and ammo. Together with Marco, 240kg luggage, 2 luggage carts, 3 employees of the – in my opinion - most impolite airline ever – S7- and 2 police officers, we ran through the corridors, hallways, security checks and over a special entrance to the luggage compartment where additional four helpers were waiting to load our stuff in the last seconds before take off. Afterwards Marco and I stepped inside of the airplane, the doors directly closed and we started.

In Novosibirsk the fight with another employee of the S7 airline continued after 16 hours waiting at the airport, because they charged us another 1000 € and acted like they where displaying. Again, we barely reached our flight and this time with a special bus for me and Marco. It really suc*** to travel with the S7.

42 hours after leaving Germany it got nicer when in Yakutsk. Serafim perfectly prepared our arrival. We were picked up and already at 6:00 am they opened up their garages for us to store our equipment. Now quickly to the hotel so we can start early enough with the modification and preparation of the vehicles for the hardest track at all. I planned 4-5 days for this.

Ulrich, our photographer is going to be here January 28th, Konstantin from Moscow at the 29th and Kasper from Zurich at the 30th. We are going to meet Evgeny in Ustnera which is about 1000 kilometres away, where he will directly travel to from Magadan…
 

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Discussion Starter #49
January 26, 2009: Modification/preparation of the vehicles

Our job right now is the maximum weight reduction and the preparation as well as modification for one of the most challenging off road tracks in the world with parts which have never been managed before.

We checked everything, really everything for usefulness. If we do not actually need it anymore, we sell it or give it to poor people. Not only clothing but also equipment. We just take what is absolutely necessary.

As planned right from the beginning, we dismounted our roof-boxes in order to send them to Fairbanks where we are going to mount them again. That is necessary because our emergency exit on the Bering Straight will be through the removable front roof halves of the PNY Jeeps. The front tanks will be given to the local people of Uelen.

Furthermore, we exchanged one of the two subsurface tanks that we accidentally ripped a hole in. We established the satellite communication system and navigation system (laptop, fax, GPS, compass, emergency signal, emergency radio communication etc.), reactivated a closer contact to the University of Alaska, turned on our new tracking device, started to release one of our trailers from the frost numbness, fixed the electric of F2 and exchanged the oil seal of F1.
 

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January 27, 2009: Strip my trailer

„Does everything has to upset me?“ That were my thoughts when the „Sesaria” hotel (written in German as I understand it in Russian) all of a sudden wanted to charge us with a doubled price. I hate stuff like that. Before our departure, we stayed in the Polar Star Hotel and everything was ok. Now we decided to stay in a simpler hotel.

For an according price you can easily ignore dirty rooms, a smelly bathroom, drain pipes passed on plaster, leaky bathtubs, lukewarm water, no roomcleaning service at all, no towels, greasy walls, broken closets, no blankets, insulting employees, falling sheathing, self-floating bathrooms due to the leakages etc. However, if the price doubles while excluding breakfast at the same time, then Matze really gets angry.

Ok, so far, a little bit of frustration - now back to the modification activities. Four mechanics, Marco and I are parallel working at the two PNY Jeeps and the trailers. Today we worked on my trailer. “Strip my trailer” was the slogan after the special trailers survived the toughness since the expedition started without any problems – They did a great job.

Then we started to demount, grind, weld etc. everything that is not essentially necessary. The unbundling of the specially designed trailers started. A total mess when the last melted ice out of the smallest corners, makes you wet after flowing down the dirt of the trailers – everything because you have to work lying on the floor underneath because a car hoist does not exist. Little by little we will dismount the trailers until nothing is left but the frame. By then we should have been arrived in Uelen. The before/after pictures will be published in about two days. Furthermore we started with the installation of the auxiliary heating system from Webasto, exchanged the second fuel tank, replaced the previous trailer couplings with the current and new special “nato” trailer coupling from Rockinger for extreme off road driving and mounted the third winch at the vehicles.

Totally exhausted we hit the sacks at around midnight. Already at 5:00 am we have to get up again to pick up Ulrich (our photographer) at the airport.
 

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Amazing Journey!!!! Keep the reports coming!!!!

I wonder if the damage to the rear differential was related to the extreme cold and the viscosity of the differential oil... were you able to determine the cause of the damage?
 

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Discussion Starter #53
January 28-February 01, 2009:

During the last three days there was a lot of work and organization as well as arrivals/absence of team members going on.

On the 28th early in the morning, I picked up Ulrich Kaifer - our photographer - from the airport. He arrived in Jakutsk without complications. Now we were three people and completely addressed ourselves to the mentioned modification of the vehicles.

It was great that we were also able to meet some old friends in Jakutsk:
Thomas Beil and Uwe Lay. Thomas, to whom I sold a motorcycle some time ago, travelled with his friend to Oimjakon with. Both supported us organizationally and brought material to Jakutsk and back home. We sincerely thank both of them for their help.

Konstantin Savva arrived on the 29th. Our second Russian team member came from Moscow and took care of the special permits right away. We were four.

Kaspar Mettler arrived - after some delays and flight changes - on the 30th.
After a 48 hours long flight he was directly involved in the garage work for another twelve hours. He perfectly faced that exhaustive task and did a great job. We were five.

Now we were simply waiting for a message from Evgeny who was supposed to let us know when he would arrive in Ustnera (1000 kilometers away from where we are right now). That's where we wanted to meet him in order to jointly continue our trip. Unfortunately, it didn't develop as planned. Two days ago Evgeny let us know that - due to urgent business affairs - he had to stay in Magadan for another 10-14 days. That's not what we had in mind. Now we were missing a driver and had to change the teams. Marco in F2 with Kaspar who is now driving the F2 on his own responsibility. Konstantin, Ulrich, and myself in F1.

As of today, February 01, 2009, after receiving great help by Serafim and his team - Artyom, Valarie, Dima, Micha, Sonja and Dima - we are heading towards Belibina.





 

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Discussion Starter #54
February 01-03, 2009:

Sometimes I am wondering if certain incidents can be called normal or coincidental, for example Kaspar Mettler. Only a few days before my departure, Kaspar called and let us know that he wanted to take part in the most challenging parts of the expedition. We made it possible and integrated him in the team. Only 2-3 days later I received the news that Evgeny will not – or maybe a lot later – be able to join us. Eventually we will meet him in Pevek. Not only that we are now missing an experienced off road-driver but also the driver of the second expedition vehicle. Neither Marco nor Konstantin – possibly limited Ulrich – can drive the Jeeps through thousands of kilometers of tough terrain. Kaspar can do it. Already after a few days we know: Kaspar ideally fits in our team. He is an experienced, reasonable and reliable driver and team player. He is a perfect match. We are very grateful for this. Altogether we have a great team at the moment. Uli, Marco, Konstantin – all of them professionals in regards of teamwork, fairness and cooperation. Uli and his great humor, Marco and his Bavarian easy-going nature and Konstantin and his Russian calmness.

Since yesterday 4 P.M. we are on the road again and it seems that Yakutia presents us the same challenges as in December when we arrived. The region and its down to -52° Celsius is the reason, that everything is very difficult.

Today, for the first time we saw a phenomenon which is dreaded by each and every driver around here: Nalid Ice.
What it is, how it occurs, and what kinds of risk it implies:
Generally it occurs when a river totally freezes all the way to the ground due to coldest temperatures. The oncoming water cannot flow underneath the ice anymore. Therefore it squeezes through or over the ice. At some points water bubbles up to a height of several meters appear. The overflowing water does not freeze right away and is not stable enough to cross it. Vehicles that drive over it will break into the ice and freeze up – if they are not recovered fast enough. Some vehicles/trucks wait for weeks or even months to be recovered. At the river Setorym we experienced Nalid Ice. Fortunately it only broke open for about 10/15 cm. We were able to cross it.

Meanwhile we arrived in Ustnera. After almost exactly 42 hours of non-stop driving. All of us are awake for about 53 hours (if you disregard the three 1-hour sleep stops in the loneliness of Jakutia). Today’s task is still ahead of us: We have to prepare the vehicles for the next section which will lead us along the Kolyma river to Syrianka.

The people in Ustnera have warned us that due to the low temperatures, there will be a lot of Nalid Ice. Furthermore there has been a storm two days ago which has covered everything in snow – damn!







 

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February 04, 2009:

We had to rearrange our plans and decided to spent the day in Ustnera. After all, five hours of sleep is not enough to make up for the 60 hours that we have been awake, to face the dangerous 400 kilometers to Syrianka. Everybody advises us to be careful. At the same time they also help us to make some tricky adjustments to the cars and organize special icebreaker bars, etc. We will set off tomorrow morning again.

In the evening, our friend Vitalie from Ustnera invited us to his mother's birthday party. We were served with the best specialties from Jakutsk, like intestines of young horses and other treats. We spent four hours amid his family. Dancing and singing are a tradition, therefore also we performed a German song and - after some shots of vodka - danced with women in the age of our mothers. It was a great celebration. In other words, it was a very nice farewell from civilization to the hardship of the Kolymar area.

 

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February 05, 2009: Start of the winter roads

After having loaded about 850 liters of fuel and produced the correct bio-ethanol mix ratio, we left Ustnera at around 10 a.m. Temporarily we felt like captains of a ship: With initial 1.2 bar air pressure (lateron we reduced to 0.7 bar due to heavy snow drifts) and a precautionary measure which was going to pay off - we removed the stabilizers - the vehicles were rocking like in rough seas. The reason: Without the stabilizers, the lacing bond is improved. Furthermore, the electric disconnectors - which will freeze when breaking into water - cannot threat us with removed stabilizers.

After driving about 90 kilometers on a winter road towards Magadan, we reached the small, unimpressive junction to Szyrianka. This point marks the beginning of Chukotka's tough winter roads. From here (about 600 m above sea level), we followed our first winter road section towards Sasyr. The 60 kilometers long track lead us over the rivers Burustach and Andigitschan. During this 15 hours long drive, altogether we covered a distance of about 220 kilometers, crossed three mountain passes of up to 1,300 meters above sea level, helped two truck drivers whose truck broke down with an engine damage by making an emergency call to their head office via satellite telephone, drove through the aquarium* and winched my Jeep and trailer several times out of deep snow after getting stuck while breaking through the snowy surface. The winches definitely proved their value with the Jeeps and trailers (weight about eight tons) as well as the special trailer coupling system from Rockinger. These systems ensure the most extreme lacing bonds between vehicle and trailer - which we had often enough. The winter roads are tracks that were cleared by 6x6 or 8x8 trucks.

They lead cross-country, along or through/across rivers, woods, hillsides, plains, etc. Just where the trucks are able to get through. Often we were driving with 6 mph or less and passed through valleys or high plateaus and over passes which were of impressive beauty. On one of the plateaus there must have been a fierce storm not too long ago. It looked like an area after an earthquake. There were jags, ice and snow drifts of several meters everywhere. In the surreal light of the headlights they looked like broken earth.

En route we met truck drivers in their extreme Urals and Kamaz, which were keenly struggling through. They told us about several open rivers that are not freezing due to warm water. We should be cautious when crossing them. After arriving at the open river at 3 a.m. we stopped and prepared ourselves for the night. It was too dangerous to cross the river at night. By good coincidence, we saw a convoy of trucks coming towards us the next morning. The trucks only barely crossed the river. We saw how a Kamaz, that was not able to scale the meters high ice step, was recovered out of the river. Not far from where the trucks were crossing, Kaspar found an old, destroyed bridge. It won't carry the trucks, but we hope that it will bear our vehicles which would save us from a difficult winching action.

*The Aquarium: For truck drivers an infamous little lake close to the third mountain pass on which usually forms a lot of Nalid Ice. In the morning we met truck drivers that told us that it was 5 cm thick. In the afternoon it were already 30 cm and when we arrived we broke into the ice to above our axes. We had to drive through it because we would probably break even deeper in the ice the next morning and damage the vehicles at the wildly upwards pointing ice, broken by trucks. Consequently, we could not - as planned - stay the night at the third pass (temperatures at such altitudes are usually 10 degrees warmer than in the valley), but had to continue driving in order to prevent the wheels, breaks and axes from freezing after driving through the water.

Feeling group: After six hours of sleep and an extensive breakfast in a beautiful landscape at sunrise, the power was back. Before, the exertion was wearing us out.






 

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Discussion Starter #57
February 06, 2009: Sasyr

The little bridge resisted the weight of our Jeeps. Additionally we passed a large area of Nalid Ice without any problems because it was already frozen again. The day was saved. A difficult section was completed.

Along our further way we spotted a basecamp of reindeer shepherds between some trees. It was temporarily abandoned. Nevertheless we were impressed. 1.5 meters above the ground there were some planks of wood tied together. The sheperds usually sleep on them in furs. There is only a makeshift cover for protection. Already yesterday we saw traces of one or more shepherds with a large number of animals. We followed the traces - but without meeting them.

Around 5 p.m. we arrived at the native village Sasyr which is about 85 kilometers away from our resting place for the night. It is mostly inhabited by horse and reindeer shepherd families and has a long tradition. Here you can also find the only museum which shows the history of the Ewene tribe. Less than five minutes after our arrival we were surrounded by approx. 20 children. They were really happy when we bought them chocolate from the little store. Immediately one of the children invited us to his home. Upon arrival, the family served us tea and pastry.

Afterwards we drove around 70 kilometers on the worst humpy earth roads through woods to our current nightly resting place in deep snow at -48° Celsius.







 

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February 07, 2009:

I miscalculated narrowly.
Waking up in the morning was not due to the alarm clock ringing or because we were well-rested, but because of the engine shut down of F1. We did not want to refill the tanks at night and in icy temperatures. I calculated that the leftover fuel in the main tank should be just enough until the morning. It didn't last for the last half hour. It's out of question that a tank-to-tank fuel transfer directly after waking up and in the freezing cold is not really fun and that everybody is abruptly wide awake. The first beams of sunlight and a landscape that no painter could have imagined more beautiful made up for everything.

Our breakfast is always interesting. The crowded space conditions usually ask for acrobatic performances (this also applies to the picture editing that Uli accomplishes while driving, with a lot of dexterity and even more patience - in the front we hardly even hear his slight to medium cursing about another bruise on his head or similar anymore). Considering that breakfast is the only meal that we have in a state of rest - without driving - we try hard. As we are cooking in the vehicles, we have to turn the three sleeping places along with the interior equipment into a kitchen. Accordingly, some modification measures are necessary. :)
But afterwards it's cuddly. Out of question, that three men can comfortably sleep in the Jeep. :) This morning, for example, my bread - with a thick layer of jelly - which I had placed on top of my cup which was standing at the edge of the GPS which is mounted next to the radio equipment gave way to gravity. Before reaching its final position with the jelly on the bottom, on top of the hydraulic control, it grazed the radio cable, the steering wheel, then the laptop and finally it slid down along my pants and the seat fur.

By now we mostly drive in rivers or through river beds over driftwood. In one of these narrow river beds we met Vitali and Kirill. Both of them live in a 2.5 x 2.5 m tent. They are working on freeing a 6x6 Urla-truck that broke into Nalid Ice in mid December. The vehicle is one single, gigantic block of ice. The trick is to release the truck as one ice block from the river and to tow the 9 x 3 x 1.5 m block from the river onto land via an ice ramp and with two other supporting trucks.
An enormous task. It will take approximately two weeks. Afterwards it will take another week to get rid of the ice by using large Bunsen burners and get the truck rolling again. Another truck will tow the damaged vehicle 200 kilometers into the next village where the repair can start.

We hope to arrive in Syrianka in around seven hours.









 

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February 11, 2009 - Part One

We are crawling forward with 3 mph - actually too slow. The extremely intense, hard, and bumpy winter ways do not allow higher speeds. After approximately 3 days of non-stop driving behind Ustnera (we always slept only few hours in the taiga) we reached Syrianka yesterday afternoon. We immediately started the search for a warm garage and accommodation for the night. Thanks to some friendly helpers, we succeeded in both. The garage was big enough for the vehicles and the trailers and despite Sunday break, we have been allowed to start with the check and repair of cars and trailers. Meanwhile, a part of the team bought supplies for the upcoming 1500 km to Bilibina. Konstantin organized a room for us (5 men in 3,5m x 3,5m) where we finally were able to stretch out (see Ulis notes *). Irina, the friendly, elderly matron cooked for us and in the meantime we were able to wash some things.

Matthias Jeschke

*Ulrich Kaifer
Finally a hotel

We had a small, cute apartment with one room and a small kitchen. The bathroom gave an extremely good impression. I had the honor to use it first, which I thankfully accepted - after 3 days of abstinence. In contrast to all past showers, this one had a shower cubicle. This is very helpful, because otherwise the bathroom is always totally flooded. Directly when entering the cubicle I realized my mistake. Firstly, the cubicle was not attached to the shower tray, whereas it was skewed and secondly, it was not possible to close the door completely. Gosh! Flooding again. Much worse was the fact, that the temperature of the small jet of water was only adjustable between burning hot and freezing cold. Finally wet I had to realize, that my shampoo and lotion were frozen, as they have been stored behind the back seat during the last part of the track. While getting out of the shower, I carelessly grabbed the towel bar which broke out of the wall and dashed to pieces. Finally, I left the bathroom dry, clean, and happy.

Another small misfortune was happening to me a little later. We had the opportunity to clean our dirty clothes in a washing machine. Kaspar looked after it and was astonishing quickly finished with washed but wet laundry. The washing time could not have been more than 20 minutes. The heating was not - as usual in Russia - preset to sauna temperature. I intended to change that with a red rotary knob, keeping in mind that normally the heating in Russia are working on full power - the room temperature is only adjusted by opening the windows.

The existence of a red rotary knob should have made me hesitate, but as more or less greenhorn in this area I courageously turned it up. The opening of the fairly big air relief valve resulted in a reasonably amount of really brown mud on the relatively new painted wall. I was totally puzzled, that I closed the valve even after estimated 3 seconds. I was able to clean the wall and left the slop in the room corner as it was. The damage was kept to a limit.

Afterwards we had a quite nice evening in our little kitchen. The lady at the reception made a warm dinner for us with food that we bought for that occasion. Two beers and the warm meal later I was quickly so tired that it was hard for me not to fell asleep at the table. Kaspar and I (as oldest members) have been allowed to share the bed, the others were sleeping on the floor in their sleeping bags. Unfortunately, there was only one blanket for us both, what makes me decide to make my own blanket out of two bedcovers. At the beginning that worked perfectly well as I fell asleep right away, but in the middle of the night I woke up, because I was freezing. After a hard struggle against the well-known inner temptation, I put on my sweater, was continuously freezing at my legs, and had a barely good sleep.

All in all, I was happy to experience civilization again, and about the opportunity to have a shower and sleep in a bed.
 

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February 11, 2009: (2)

There was no time where we didn’t receive hospitality and helpfulness from the Russian population. It will be very difficult up to impossible without those friendly Russian helpers. You suddenly need a special tool, welding equipment, a lathe, a garage or whatsoever. At this point we want to say thank you again to everybody who we were glad to meet and who helped the expedition team directly or indirectly - we are really grateful.

The next evening we continued our journey with a 380 km long and stressful drive on the Kolymar River. This mogul piste covered with ice holes - a result of air blisters which have been crushed by passing trucks – was a challenge. Numerous times the tires broke through, into little razor-sharp ice caps and we drove through them, ran over stones and trunks etc. That we did not have any tire damages so far, neither with our PNY-Jeeps nor with the trailers, encourages my opinion that we definitely have the best off road tire in the world with us on that expedition - The Goodyear Wrangler MT/R.

It took us 16 hours for this nonstop driving in -50° C - where we crossed the arctic circle as well - until we finally and totally exhausted reached Schritnikolimsk, a little village in the middle of nowhere. Within minutes after our arrival we were welcomed by townsfolk and journalists. It is a really nice little village built out of wood on the bank of the Kolymar River. It is clean and the tiny little houses are mostly beautifully presented. That this tiny village – where they have winter nine month a year – even has town privileges results from the time of Katharina II as we heard.

Due to the extreme winter tracks that demands everything from us and the PNY-Jeeps we have to stop every couple 100 km for checks and repairs. Luckily we once more had a little garage with a temperature of around 0°C, where we were able to do the necessary work.

If anyone asks about the tracks we are driving, there is only one thing to say: Every ordinary off road vehicle would already have failed at the slope angle without e.g. a broken bumper etc. You can hardly explain how destructive those tracks are. Thousand of holes and bumps, high ripples, trunks and branches, steeply up and down rides in riverbeds and much more while we are additionally dragging the trailers behind us. Everybody knows, that this is not possible until the end without any damages. We just did not know when the first big problem would occur. Of course it was possible any time near under these conditions and then - tonight - it happened. It happened in a narrow pass around 50 km after Schritnikolimsk. High taluses with a height of up to 1m left and right, so narrow that only one PNY-Jeep at a time was able to drive through the way which was covered with high ripples and fractures. We tried to drag our trailers – driving in first gear with gear reduction - as I saw my trailer through the rear-view mirror with the front pointing to the sky. Firstly I thought the trailer coupling broke but that was not the case. It was the frame where a part was broken off. Now we had to improvise very quickly due to the coldness and Ural-trucks waiting behind and in front of us to drive through. We built a kludge out of tension belts and cleared the street within one hour dragging ourselves in the scarp 300 meters further.

After the Ural-trucks passed we had to make a difficult turn in order to drive back slowly towards a small village named Nalimsk which we passed 30 km before. We asked the mayor of that little village where only traditional people from Jakutia live in line with the nature, if he knows somebody who can provide us with welding equipment or maybe directly weld something for us. He told us, that there is only one possibility the next morning and invited us to stay overnight in his mayor room. Ulrich Kaifer, Kaspar Mettler, Marco Schwarzer und Konstantin Savva slept between chairs, flags and tables while I slept in the PNY-Jeep to make sure that the engines ran smoothly in the -50° C cold environment.

The next morning, we received the repair possibility as promised by the mayor. Ivan, an employee of the local coal-fired power plant took us to his place. He had a little transformer to run a welding machine. After he spread furs underneath the trailer and created a frame out of a steel door box he began to weld. It took him the whole day for the repair and the preventive measures – of course outdoor as they do not have any garages there. In the meantime he invited us to tea and cookies even to horsemeat afterwards. Due to the extensive amount on horse intestines in that meat it was not easy for some of our team members to finish the plate off, which the nice mother in law loaded brimful. At around 5 p.m. we were going to leave and when we slowly and carefully drove down the main street of the village more and more children, juveniles and adults showed up. They even waved out of their windows while they were watching us.
We had to stop several times to explain, take pictures or let them sign the PNY-Jeeps. They even baked bread for our 700 km long way to Tscherskie which we will have to drive in walking pace. It just started snowing when we finally left.







 
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