Siberian Camp23 Aug 2010, by Uncategorized in
The desert heat has given way to cold, windy Siberia. For the second night after crossing the Russian border, we are camping out in a field a few hundred meters off the main road with the cold wind nipping at the edges of our staked out tents, threatening to blow them away if we didn’t secure them properly.
The drive from Almaty to Semey, Kazaksthan was pretty breathtakingly beautiful with more rolling hills and gorgeous sunsets. The road was pretty breathtaking too… as it nearly knocked the wind out of us bouncing along the way. The Fiat’s have been performing beautifully to this point, but the rough Kazak roads took their toll on us big time. Car #206 took quite a beating the last few days as pot holes attempted to shake our bones loose. Our exhaust leak worsened considerably, making for not just a noisy ride, but a powerless and inefficient one. Then we noticed that the front right strut was providing almost no shock absorption. Tom took a look and noticed hydraulic fluid from the piston leaking everywhere, and the boot & bump stop shredding themselves. Every bump becomes a head rattling experience.
Half way to Semey we hooked up with teams Car Go Far Go and an ambulence team, Divorced Eggs. The ambulence was having brake problems and looking for a mechanic along the way (on a Sunday, without luck). And then just after joining their convoy our radiator fan motor blew out. I smelled the smoke first, and then made Tom pull over when I saw the temp guage climbing. We blasted the heat on full and drove in what felt like a Turkish sauna for 45 minutes while the engine cooled back down. We seemed to be ok as long as cooler air was coming and we didn’t slow down into low gears for higher torque driving… but these problems adding up is a little disconcerting. We can’t fall apart now! I also noticed my horn is completely out. When we tried to pop the hood on #201 to compare the horn fuses, we realized the hood release cable was broken and we couldn’t pop the hood! I was able to hack the mechanism with a pair of long pliers… but again, problems adding up, uggh.
These were supposedly the good roads too, as the last 150 klicks to Semey were supposedly completely riddled with pot holes. On the advice of a local at one stop along the way, we decided to avoid the direct road to Semey. Well, to put his hand gestures into words, “Road to Semey, not possible, machina [car] kaput” Instead, we drove out of the way, a longer distance, but on better roads, to Oskemen. In fact, these roads weren’t just better… they were fantastic! Freshly flattened out blacktop, like velvet, streched on for miles. We figure despite the distance we still made Semey in the same time, only with less damage to the cars.
I was hoping ever since leaving Almaty that I wouldn’t have to call in that favor from my Kazak security agency contact… but when our first stop for an imaginary offense occurred just oustide Semey, I was quickly contemplating it. These cops pulled us over at a roundabout for failing to signal, but we were just continuing along the round about in the same manner as everybody else (also not signaling), so Tom & I refused to pay the “ticket”. As the cops grew more serious, I actually did dial the number, but the crazy Kazak cell network wouldn’t actually connect the call.I argued with the cop in Russian for a few minutes, demanding he show us photo of the offense (all the cop cars have cameras). Between asking for the photo and appearing to call somebody, the cop got a little nervous and told us to carry on. So we did, almost straight on to the border, stopping only for a bite to eat.
The Russian border crossing, at 1am, was much less painful than I was expecting. In under 2 hours we cleared immigration and customs, had the cars searched, our visas “approved”, and were on our way to Siberian campsite number 1.
Getting to bed pretty late, we slept in a bit and made it as far as Rubtsovsk before we had to stop and get the cars looked at. We made for the bank to exchange our Tenge for Rubles, and found a garage that looked like it knew something about suspension. We barely exhanged info in Russian (they knew n0 English) and then they just started pulling the wheel off and working on the car. With a dozen old used shocks on a shelf we figured we might get one of those… but they were either spoken for or none would fit, because the mechanic set about *repairing* our broken strut. Yes, you read that right, repairing. He sent a friend to a shop to look for a new one, but they couldn’t be found. So instead, he drills a hole in the strut, injects some kind of hydraulic fluid in there, and welds up the hole! He was a little concerned that the strut mount was already slightly bent, but at this point, with no new one in site, we had little choice but to carry on. Tom and I crawled under the car while it was jacked up for them to get the strut off, and patched up our exhaust leak ourselves. Rubtsovsk is a surprisngly dusty town, and with wind whipping quickly through it, we both got blasted by sand as we worked on the car. I still seem to have dirt everywhere on my body (behind my ears!) and it felt like we were working on these cars in the middle of a sand storm. The exhaust coming out of the engine had completely separate from the silencer with about an 1 inch gap, meaning I basically had no muffler anymore. Tom slapped some quick steel on there, we hope holding the pipe together. I then wrapped it tight with Rescue Tape! Brilliant stuff. Self adhering silicone tape, withstands tons of pressure and 500 degree farenheit tempuratures. On top of all that we slapped an exhuast foil kit, and now #206 purrs like a kitten, and provides extra power on the freeway for overtaking big trucks. Hopefully now I can get back some of my lost mpg’s!
The fan motor couldn’t be replaced by these guys, but they did help us hack together a hood release solution, running a wire through the bumper so we can manually release it from the front. 3 out of 4 repairs isn’t bad, and we’re back on the road. All of that for 600 rubles, basically $20.
Getting a late start, we didn’t quite make it to Barnaul before stopping to set up camp tonight. We are staked out well in this cold wind, or the tents very well could blow away. I’m wrapping this up and heading to bed so we can get up early and start laying waste to the thousands of kilometers of amazingly awesome pavement between here and Mongolia. More velvety roads that we can’t wait to just tear through. If we make good time we may be reunited with Kim in UB by the end of the week! Then we should have plenty of time to drive around Mongolia, down to the Gobi and back up to UB, as a whole team once again. Can’t wait to see my wife! I miss her so much!