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…
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.
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.
What a cool trip! Hope you guys are safe & we are definitely looking forward to seeing you get to the States safely!
Originally Posted by smcutter
It's hard to give you good advice at this point. It's almost like you're saying, "I want to have sex, but don't want to get her pregnant. I can't afford condoms, so for now I just want to use Saran Wrap. What brand would you recommend?"
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 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:
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…
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.
„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.
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.
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!
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.