Last night, another pesky cop pulled us over. During the time we'd normally spend searching for a safe place to sleep, we were patiently doling out our paperwork, tapping our feet surreptitiously, and waiting for him to surrender. As he fumbled around with our documents, the sun slipped below the horizon.
Eventually, he grasped the concept that we'd done nothing wrong, our paperwork was in order, and we were too amiable, foreign, and seemingly oblivious to give him any bribes. So, he sent us on our way into the dark of night.
Just a little annoyed that we'd been waylaid during this crucial part of our daily routine, we started the car, flipped on our headlights, and drove away to find a home. We kept our cool, promising each other that we wouldn't let our good day take a turn for the worse.
About twenty minutes later, we spotted a promising road with lots of trees on either side. Squinting his eyes, Tyler drove our car directly into the isolated bit of woods.
This morning, we got a better picture of what our surroundings looked like. We had driven down a pretty steep ditch, over some very tall grass, and had plowed over a tiny tree to reach our well-hidden, forested home.
I was a little worried about the baby pine tree, since we had to drive over it again on our way out.
But the little guy popped right back up unscathed. Phew!
Next was the steep incline to reach the road. Tyler wasn't sure we could make it up slowly without spinning the tires like crazy, so he wanted to get a running start. Before he hit the gas, I made sure no cars or people were up there.
…and then he gunned it:
Over the big hill! These dang things never look as steep in our photos as they do in real life.
Waahoo! Who needs four wheel drive? Not us.
Every day, our family members get an automated email or text message from our Spot GPS letting them know we've arrived safely wherever it is that we're staying. Tyler programmed our website to retrieve this information automatically, and put a marker on our map.
My Dad loves this. He always goes to our website and zooms in on it as far as he possibly can to see exactly where we are in the world. Sometimes when we talk on the phone, he'll ask us details about the most recent one.
He'll say, for example, "Oh, you're right next to a huge building, what is that?" So we peer out of our tent, look around, and say "What big building? Did we pass a building? Oh yeah, I guess there is building over there! But we have no idea what it is."
Unlike my Dad, we don't have a bird's eye view of our trip – we're focused on the kilometer in front of us:
Every few days, we'll find a fast enough internet connection to load our website, actually see our stories in completed form, look at how our photos appear in their little black frames, and my favorite, check out our map with all the little orange markers. Unlike my dad, I zoom out.
Tyler laughs because I always want to see "where they are!" as if the long journey that appears on screen is happening to someone else, and is completely unrelated to the short drives we make each day. Without fail, every time I see our path laid out like that, I sort of gasp in disbelief. We're in that blank spot in that vast country! As I write this, we're just a stones throw from Kazakhstan of all places.
On the road today, unable to click a button to display a topographical map of where we are, we have a moment of confusion. Since we're now officially in Asia, shouldn't we have crossed the Ural mountains?
I'm jettisoning my brain back to fifth-grade geography class, and aren't the Urals the geological divider between the two continents?! We ask each other, "I didn't see any mountains, did you see any mountains?" Maybe we crossed through a hilly valley? In any case, there were no switchbacks or expansive vistas – just a few forested hills a day or two ago.
Next, we begin to question whether or not we are actually in Siberia. We stop at a roadside cafe to look through our guidebook and learn that, depending on who you're talking to, we may or may not be there. It's a general name for an unmarked region, not a specifically designated area. Siberia's boundaries have been slowly transforming for centuries.
Once we pass through Tyumen, though, a city known as the "Gateway to Siberia", by any current reckoning we are officially there.
I am a bit surprised, because so far the land doesn't seem strange or different or exotic to me. With flat land and fields stretching for miles, Siberia doesn't exactly feel like I'd thought it would. I'm not sure what I had in mind, but it actually looks a lot like home. This type of realization has become a repeated theme throughout our adventure.
As we're driving through what could very well be any flat land in the rural Midwest, gray clouds begin to pad the sky. We think maybe it will rain, but it holds off for awhile. Before it strikes, we stop so I can take photos of Tyler and the golden wheat fields behind him, shorn down to stubbly shafts.
When it starts to get dark, we look for a place to call it a night. The vast empty fields don't provide much cover, so we wait until we pass a clump of birch trees before turning off the main road to investigate.
In this Siberian forest, we have quite a few wild-camping possibilities, to say the least.
And yet, somehow, we are still remarkably picky about where we'll pitch our tent. After driving up and down the dirt road carpeted with brown pine needles, we eventually settle on a flat spot and get camp made.
For dinner, we have more dumplings (filled with potatoes this time!) which I cook with diced onion and melty cheese. The plump pillows nestled next to bright green balls of seasoned Brussels sprouts make for a delicious feast. We eat in our tent, watching once more the show that inspired this trip in the first place.
Hours later, when the rain has long passed and I am fast asleep, Tyler rouses himself from our warm sleeping bag to take a picture of the starry Siberian night.