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Are We There Yet?

by Tara

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.

LRC in the Woods

I was a little worried about the baby pine tree, since we had to drive over it again on our way out.

Imminent Destruction Imminent Destruction

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.

Leaving Camp: Planning the Exit

…and then he gunned it:

Leaving Camp: Go, LRC, Go!

Over the big hill! These dang things never look as steep in our photos as they do in real life.

Leaving Camp: Oh yeah.

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:

Siberian Road

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.

Russian Roadside Cafe

Once we pass through Tyumen, though, a city known as the "Gateway to Siberia", by any current reckoning we are officially there.

Russian Nuclear Power Plant

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.

Siberian Tractors Team Going Slowly: Tara

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.

Tyler in Siberia Team Going Slowly: Tyler

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.

LRC in Siberian Forest

In this Siberian forest, we have quite a few wild-camping possibilities, to say the least.

Siberian Forest

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.

Siberian Forest Starfield
Previous Entry


I took a quick look at a map, and it seems that Yekaterinburg is just on the other side of the Urals (the Asian east side). The Urals snake down in a long “S” shape, and Yekaterinburg is just on the outside of the bottom curve of the S. From what I’ve read, the eastern edge of the Urals is considered the beginning of Asia. I guess that means that technically, the Urals themselves are still in Europe, and Asia begins once you leave the Urals heading east.

It looks like the Ural mountains aren’t very high in that section where you crossed them. On this map, the terrain looks hilly at best, even kind of flat. The Urals are much more pronounced north of Yekaterinburg and then again south of Yekaterinburg. I could imagine driving through where you did and not even realizing that you’d passed a mountain range.

By the way, I’m wondering if the maps on your website are working properly. When I click on “Show Map and Statistics,” I see only two orange markers on the map with a line connecting them. I assume that is the journey of that day. However, I don’t see any other points and no other line at all, so all of the previous part of your journey isn’t there. I’m wondering if that is a problem with my browser or if it is supposed to be that way.

The main map of your entire journey does show many more orange markers (and red ones from 2009), but there are no lines connecting them. Are there supposed to be lines? It would be useful if there were lines because though I can see all the places you’ve been, it’s actually hard to figure out the route you took between all the places.

You probably know all about it already, but have you ever checked out I came across the online journal ( of a fellow named Peter Gostelow, who is cycling through Africa at the moment. He is using Umapper to plot his journey, and it seems like a very cool application. It shows an incredible amount of detail in its maps and it switches between Road, Aerial, and Hybrid views very quickly. Best of all, it is very fast. I can move around that map and zoom in and out very quickly. It doesn’t even feel like I’m on the Internet. It feels more like I’m just scrolling through an image on my computer. Google Maps is also a great online tool, but I find it very slow by comparison. It takes a long time to redraw maps as you move around and zoom in and out. I guess the advantage is the ability to zoom in on individual buildings and such things with the sattelite imagery. I don't think Umapper can do that. It's closer to a road atlas with topography and some satellite imagery. It just isn't as detailed at the high zoom level.

Love the picture of the stars.

Posted by Doug Nienhuis on August 24th, 2010 at 2:29 AM
I have a quick suggestion for the website. I was thinking that it might be helpful if there was a quick note at the top of each post saying where you are and where the post was written from – ie, what village/city/town and/or region/state or country. There is the post title and the date, but as far as I can tell, it doesn’t say anywhere where you guys actually are – not even the country. I can click on the map and figure it out or scan the post and figure it out, but it might be handy to just have the location up there somewhere with the post title and date.

I know that you are often in the middle of nowhere camping in a field or forest. However, you could give a rough idea of the location – the nearest city, the region, and the country. For “Are We There Yet?” it could be as simple as “Siberia, east of the Urals.” This might be helpful for people who just stumble across your website, too. They’d get an instant idea of where you are. For the record, it looks like you are in the Province of Tyumen in Russia. (At least that is what Google Maps tells me.)

Posted by Doug Nienhuis on August 24th, 2010 at 3:05 AM
What a great trip you to are taking... the picture of the stars in the cold Siberian night is just breathtaking. happy to follow you on your journey!
viele grüsse, kristina
Posted by Kristina on August 25th, 2010 at 2:04 PM
One of the volunteers I work with is really interested in photography and sent me this link of color photographs taken in Russia around the turn of the 20th century: Thought you guys would enjoy. They remind me so much of the current leg in your journey! -Liz
Posted by Liz on August 26th, 2010 at 12:56 PM
Liz - Oh. Wow. Thank you for sharing that link! I'm looking through them now, and these photos are incredible.

Kristina - Thanks! Glad you're enjoying our site! :-)
Posted by Tara on August 26th, 2010 at 1:08 PM

Thanks for the info about the Urals, it is hard to do research out here some times!

On the Show Map and Statistics thing: yes, that is the way it should be. It only shows the route applicable to the journal entry. Though when I wrote it, I never intended for it to include routes with cars, so it might be prudent to set the zoom level out a bit so you can always see the start and end right away.

If you want to see a route from one point to the next (on the main website), just click on any marker and then hit the link at the bottom called show route in or show route out. I can't display all of or detailed routes by default. If I did, the home page would have to load something like 200,000 discreet GPS locations to form the line.

What you see on Pete's website is a hand drawn line over a map, what you see on ours is the actual data from our GPS drawing the line exactly as we traveled it. I'm not sure if umapper supports loading track data, but it would certainly be worth checking out at some point.

On the rough location, that is an excellent idea! This data is in our DB already: each Flickr photo set is named our starting and ending location, and each set is linked to the journal entry that uses it's photos. One of these days when I get time, I'll add this.

Thanks for your thoughts Doug, I really appreciate you taking the time to write all of this!

Now to hit the road! We're off to see a glacier in Siberia :D
Posted by Tyler on September 2nd, 2010 at 2:53 AM