The yellow s**t road

We chose the route through Russia because we felt it was the safest, with the best roads and held the best possible chance of getting the ambulances through without damaging them. We had very little prior local information on the state of the roads before we left, but we had heard that Russian roads can be dodgy. Using the maps we had bought for the trip, we chose roads that were marked red, major roads according to the maps. The one exception was a 250 kilometre section between Tayshet and Tulun. Slightly worryingly, these were marked yellow, for minor or ‘B’ roads and there was no way around them. So far teams Kasotiri and Commonwealth had made good progress across Russia on the red roads but concerns were beginning to rise as we approached the yellow road.

The roads started to get bad at Kansk, locally spelt as ‘Kahck’ which seemed appropriate. When we followed the signs for the M53 rather than the directions of our trusty Garmin sat navs, the signs directed us to the Kansk bypass. We can only assume the road had been constructed to avoid spoiling the town’s ‘beauty’. Without a bypass all heavy traffic would only distract from the glorious sights of derelict buildings, stray dogs and the star attraction smog factory. It was by far the worst road that we had come across, with craters rather than pot holes and mad truck drivers swerving wildly to avoid them without slowing down. It only lasted a few kilometres before we rejoined a more civilised road, but it took quite a long time to get through. We didn’t know it at the time but it would prove to be good practice for the next day!

The ritual morning mosquito face slap

After a late night and a welcome supper of Borscht night at an isolated truck stop we made an early start on the yellow peril. At first the road was OK, but steadily deteriorated. We spent what seemed like hours bouncing through rutted and pot holed forest tracks while dodging fast moving impatient lorry drivers. We eventually reached a lovely stretch of tarmac, only for it to last about 2 kilometres before returning to the dusty pot holed mess! The same pattern repeated as the day went on. The scariest part of the route was that Russian drivers didn’t alter their disregard for safety or over taking. On several occasions, as we were lumbering along unable to see ahead for the dust, a car (or even a truck!) would suddenly appear at our side and disappear into the invisibility ahead, often at great speed. The good news is that the Russians are trying to address the problem by building a new, smooth motorway. We drove alongside this tarmac haven for many miles, but were unable to use it. Instead we could only looked on in envy at the bored construction workers stood on it, scratching themselves. The dusty and the constant bumps wore everyone out but spirits remained high and we finally reached Tulun, tired but without incident.

No confidence in my driving!

When the visability is low it's time to go!

After a long day we tried to find a hotel in Tulun. We asked at a petrol station and a local youth on a dirt bike offered to show us the way to the best hotel in town. We followed this little maniac, who had the standard disregard to road laws as we have come to expect in Russia, to this hotel. It was shabby, expensive and had a scared and menacing parking attendant who demanded money for parking even before we had entered the building. We decided to give it a miss and drove on for an evening of wild camping and star gazing.

This morning we made it to Irkustk and after a slightly surreal lunch at a German Bier Hall we will be pressing on to more wild camping on the shores of Lake Baikal.

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