We had quite a few errands to get done before we hit the road, which was unfortunate because only getting about 5 hours of sleep after consuming that much Russian vodka is not super pleasant. That being said, we’ve all experienced way worse hangovers (on this trip for sure) and I think this proves that when you drink quality distilled stuff like they have here it minimizes how terrible you feel later.
The two things Ryan and I really needed to do were 1) get tires 2) try and find walkie talkies. Barnaul isn’t that big and google managed to find something an auto shop a mile or so away so off we went. This was a pretty interesting process to go through. The big shop we walked into had separate little offices based on the type of car you had, kind of like going to a market but for car parts. We assumed no one would speak English – we were right – so we just walked over to someone who looked like they were in charge of tires and showed him the measurements we had written down for our wheels. Considering we were in theory ditching the car in a little over a week used wheels would have been amazing, but I guess we were lucky enough that they had new ones in stock. 2 new tires installed ran us about $100. Sweet. Ryan pulled the car up next to the little garage setup they had and we let them do their thing. Ryan ended up wandering away to see what stores were nearby, so I hung out by the car showing some locals all the damage it had sustained. They had no idea what I was saying but got a good kick out of it.
About 30 minutes or so in we got some bad news. Long story short one of our rims was pretty wobbly, so we had him put one of our emergency spares on that one and put our new tires in the front. Not a huge deal, it just meant it was gonna take a bit longer for the guy to switch everything around. In the mean time another guy had shown up to just hang out or get something done, no idea. He was able to speak a little bit of English, and asked if I wanted to come see his car. Sure why not? This isn’t it, but it is the type of car that he had. A 1974 Lada something or other. The main difference is that his wasn’t parked in front of a mansion and he bought it for $50.
Lada’s are kind of notoriously crappy cars, but it was still neat and in pretty good condition for something 40 years old. Then he asked if I wanted to go for a drive. Sure why not? I walked over to the passenger side and he yelled at me “NO NO NO, YOU DRIVE!” with a wry smile. This morning for very silly very fast. Fuck yeah I want to drive it! He had to pop the hood and prime the engine, then hop inside and prime it another way, then balance the choke right, but it did start! He pointed me towards the street and said take a right, which was a little harder than it looked since it didn’t have power steering. It took a lot of effort to yank that thing to the right, then laughed and said “No power steering, Russian tradition!” Awesome. I punched it and off we went. He was pretty shocked I was able to drive that thing as well as I could, but since it wasn’t really that hard I’m assuming that they just aren’t good at driving manual cars. Traffic was coming up fast so I hit the brakes, then again, and then furiously pumped them because the car was not slowing down very well. I did manage to stop in time, and told him you probably should have mentioned your brakes are terrible. His reply? “Bad breaks, Russian tradition!”
By the time we got back the car was done and Ryan had wandered back. He had gone off to find the walkie-talkies but had no luck. We asked our new friends if they knew where to get them but the words didn’t translate and pantomiming wasn’t quite working. All of a sudden the guy in the Lada understood and scurried off to his car. He came back with two 1km range walkie talkies. What a weird coincidence! We asked where we could buy them but he said we could just have them. No way, that’s not necessary. We told him we would give him money but he insisted it was just a gift. Once again the generosity of strangers is just astounding. We said our goodbye’s and headed back to the hotel. (The super awesome guy is the one on the right!)
The plan for today was to try and get halfway to the Mongolian border. There wasn’t really much in between so that night we planned on camping, which meant we needed food. We also had no idea what to expect once we entered Mongolia but we assumed we’d be camping most of the time, so a big trip to the grocery store was definitely in order. We all met down in the parking lot and then headed to the store. One of the things we were going to need for our meals was wine because wine not? Ryan and Mitch started collecting food and I went to find a good price on bulk wine. Aaaand this is where I met an insanely annoying Russian guy. He didn’t speak a word of English but I’m pretty sure he was recommending against the stuff I was buying – which was based on the price/quantity. He literally started taking stuff out of the basket and picking out new stuff. No thanks dude. He just wouldn’t go away, even after 10 minutes of going back and forth. Eventually Ryan came over to check on something so I pawned the guy off on him and ran to the other side of the store with the cart. Sorry Ryan! He managed to eventually escape and we went to check out. Except god damnit the guy showed back up and was right behind us in line. Somehow he had managed to put other stuff in our cart and was trying to put it on the counter. I honestly don’t know what his deal was. FINALLY we got out of the store and went to the car to get everything rearranged so we could pack the food. THE GUY WALKS AROUND THE CORNER AND SEES US, so he came over and tried to help again. He wasn’t a homeless guy so I have no idea why he was insisting to help us in such weird ways. Chalk it up to kindness of strangers I guess, but man that guy was weird. This is him.
On the way in to Barnaul we had passed a McDonald’s that sure sounded like a great pit-stop for lunch on the way out of town. Unfortunately we just couldn’t find it. Our GPS wasn’t working for some reason and every person we stopped to ask had no idea what we were talking about, most likely because we weren’t saying McDonald’s in Russian. Sigh… Strangely enough about 30 minutes out of town we came across a gas station/McDonald’s combo, hallelujah! Unfortunately it was under construction so apparently the universe was just fucking with us.
I had a camping spot marked in my phone that a previous rallier had stayed at before which was right on the river. It would be about half way to the border at 4-5 hours away, which meant the next day would be pretty easy in theory. The drive through the mountains was beautiful, albeit a little slow at parts due to the elevation changes and windy roads.
Right around 6 we decided we should start looking for a place to camp while the sun was still up. It was going to be a solid hour before we hit the original destination and we didn’t want to risk driving in the dark. We came across a summer camp looking cabin community right on the river, so we pulled over to see if they would let us camp there. I think we ended up offering the guy $10 per car and he was totally on board. It was great, we had our own little area that included a gazebo. How romantic!
About an hour in to setting up and hanging out a couple girls who lived there wandered over. One of them had a parrot and the other had some weird fluffy creature. Apparently there was some kind of petting zoo there and they would charge tourists a few bucks to take a picture and hold one of them. They realized we weren’t really interested in that so they just let us take a picture and hold the animals anyway. One of them spoke some English and told us they had a monkey, but alas it was somewhere else.
Oh yeah, I broke my drone… It had rattled itself apart apparently, and even though it had a mount to stabilize the camera gimbal it was no match for the Pamir highway and sheared itself from the assembly, and ripping an irreparable power strip. Kind of a waste of space, I only pulled the thing out a few times because we were always in a hurry. At least I got it refurbished, but still a shame.
The Birch’s made us a pasta dish for dinner and we hung out drinking by the campfire. It was a fantastic place, it even had a makeshift sweat lodge and cold bath. NOTE TO FUTURE RALLIERS: GPS coordinates 51.713900,85.767400