We'll, it was bound to happen eventually. Off-roading through the forests and fields of Russia in a tiny hatchback isn't exactly the most prudent plan (but it sure is fun). While piloting our LRC on a muddy road through the woods this morning, we got stuck. Though I say we, really, I mean me. I wasn't paying close enough attention to the road.
Very often, the dirt tracks in Russia sport giant, car-eating ruts. These chasms are usually wide and deep enough to swallow an entire wheel, (on a small car like ours) leaving it spinning several inches from the bottom. The rutted example below is from a free-camp a few weeks ago.
Encountering these things is always nerve-wracking. They can make turning back a very precarious proposition, so we usually just stay the course, hoping the car-trap beneath us eventually closes. I liken the experience to playing a real-life game of Operation – as long as we don't touch the sides we'll be okay. Of course, the stakes out here are a bit higher than having to endure an annoying buzzer for a few seconds!
Last night, we camped in a cozy birch tree clearing. To reach it, we had to follow a muddy road through the woods, three kilometers off the main highway
On our way out today, I somehow missed one of these car traps. It was a pretty minor one actually, so I'm using that as my defense! Anyway, there were two shallow depressions, the ruts perfectly spaced for the wheels of our car. Rather than driving over the slick, muddy berm between them, I drove our LRC directly over it, firmly wedging the road on the underside of our car.
I realized what was happening in slow-motion, an agonizing moment too late. If not for my second of hesitation, I might've been able to gun it over the sopping mess. As it was, we came to a halt with a sickening and permanent-sounding, squish.
At first, I tried the usual rocking back and forth dance to dislodge us, something I've done many times to escape deep snow at home in the Midwest. Sadly, we weren't going anywhere. Then, I thought we might put some wood and branches under the tires to give it some traction. That didn't work either.
Backing up was impossible because the rear end of our car was bottomed out on a berm of mud, and going forward was the same story. I got pretty despondent about the situation for awhile, beating myself up for not paying closer attention to where I was going. Being attacked by approximately one million mosquitoes while trying to heave our car out of the mess I'd gotten us into sent me down a little further still.
After about twenty minutes, covered in mud, I declared it a lost cause – at least for the two of us. Tara snapped me out of my funk with a punch on the shoulder and our oft-yelled and playful cry of, "ADVENTURE!" At first, I furrowed my brow at her, the voice in my head was determined to make this a bad morning, but then I wrestled back control and responded with a sarcastic, "Extreme."
A few moments later, I remembered we'd be looking back on this and laughing eventually. Why wait? I started doing so right away.
Time for plan B. Tara happily stuffed a backpack full of our important things, locked the car, and we walked out to the highway. It was only a kilometer, thankfully. Then, we began hailing cars, hoping to find someone who could pull us out. A few minutes later, we noticed a couple parked across the road, so we ran over and tried to mime what the trouble was.
Though their car was even smaller than ours, they agreed to drive over and see what they could do. As soon as they pulled across the highway and saw the track we'd taken through the woods, a look of horror came over their faces. They shook their heads apologetically and drove away.
The next truck we hailed began pulling off the road towards us immediately. Unfortunately he shook his head, and placed his palms together against one side of his face in the universal gesture for, I'm going to sleep. Undaunted (we didn't need a ride) we waited for him to stop and then mimed our plight.
He smiled, held a finger up in a "give me a minute" sort of way, and made a call on his cell phone. Within minutes, his buddy (a fellow driver) pulled over, and the two of them joined us for a walk through the woods!
First, they tried pushing while I drove. Our tires spun, mud flew into the air, and our LRC didn't move one single inch. It was looking pretty grim. I thought for sure we needed someone to pull us out, but the guys had a great idea.
They wanted to lift the back of our car up, hoping to shimmy it to the left or right so it wouldn't be bottomed out in mud. It took several rounds of "a'deen, dva, tri" LIFT!, but we managed to heave it out!
With the rear end on solid ground, Tara hopped in the driver's seat, and we all went up front to push. She put the car in reverse and slowly laid on the throttle, wheels spinning, mud flying, our car inching back ever so slowly. Finally, we'd done it! What a relief. When Tara stopped backing up, I grabbed a jug of water from our car to help the guys clean up.
Overwhelmingly grateful for their willingness to lend a hand, we tried to give them some snacks for the road. They politely refused. We then tried to give them some money for a celebratory round of beer, but they recoiled in horror, saying "nyet nyet nyet!" And so, we left with firm, honest handshakes, wide smiles, and many words of thanks as we hopped in the car, headed to Novosibirsk.
We saw a dead body on our way into the city today. Well, part of one anyway. A cold, sickly forearm and hand that looked more like wax than flesh. It hung out from the edges of a black plastic bag which had been draped over the rest of the remains. Some gruesome but unrecognizable blood and gore were strewn the area as well.
Leading up to this scene, the primary feeling amongst drivers was frustration and impatience, eagerly chomping at the bit to go go go, utterly disgusted with anything that might get in their way. Seeing the cause for the traffic jam was quite the site. It hit like a blow to my stomach.
As well, there was a heavy weight on our shoulders today. The fiasco leaving our camp had pushed it aside for a time, but once things had settled, our minds returned to some family problems back home that needed to be addressed. Not wanting to deal with anything besides some heart-to-heart conversations with our loved ones, we checked into a hotel.
Our break was a success—we had the talks we needed to with family, and all was well again. Just as we finished, it started pouring outside. Peering down through the deluge at our mud soaked car from the tenth floor of our hotel room, the rain felt cleansing in more ways than one.