It is a sleepy day in Siberia. A recent series of several time-zone crossings have disoriented me a bit, and I find myself battling odd patterns of sleep and wakefulness. This, combined with a quiet emptiness about the land we're driving through, makes for a subdued, somber, reflective sort of morning.
The mood extends to villages we pass. The old, flowery and elaborate houses which fill them are all askew, quietly falling into ruin.
I am just starting to get a sense of the vastness of this country. Sometimes it feels as though the fields stretch on forever.
Rusting grain storage facilities, odd abandoned factories, and dilapidated farmhouses are scattered among the fields, like battered pieces of driftwood along a lonely, empty beach.
The land isn't totally devoid of life, however. Plenty of cattle can be found roaming, eating their fill of the abundant grasses, and above them, birds of prey survey the fields, swooping and diving overhead – catching mice for lunch, perhaps?
There is something truly stirring about seeing them so free in the air, seeming to love the feel of wind on theithis sight which at home would be rare, has now become entirely commonplace.
Duckies waddle by people's homes in numbers almost as great as the chickens in Romania. Roosters cock-a-doodle-do, and many geese congregate on the roadsides, gossiping about their villages with emphatic honking.
There are cute little kitties:
…and a few people out and about as well:
I watch as two boys walk together, bucket and stick in hand.
Maybe they are going to fetch water from the well?
Though we're seeing a lot, we're still on the main road, and sometimes it feels like we're just driving through places but not really experiencing them. Language barriers continue to frustrate me. When I have conversations with the people we meet (today, the woman at the small produkty), I feel an almost wistful ache because I cannot connect with them on anything but a superficial level.
I also find it a little annoying that we're in a car. I am grateful for our LRC for so many reasons, and Russia really is just too vast to cycle if we want to return home in a reasonable amount of time. But, right now I am missing how easy it was to meet people while on two wheels.
I am looking forward to mounting our trusty steeds in just a few weeks, ready to explore Mongolia. In the meantime, we want to remedy some of our frustration, so we take a turn off the main road.
There are two ways to get to from where we are to Omsk: paths diverge from Tyumen to form a northern route, and the southern route. Both bow out from the same point, and arrive at the same location. We decide to drive right through the middle.
Once the decision is made, our quiet day really starts to get exciting. Asphalt disintegrates into gravel which crumbles into dust. In no time at all we find ourselves on dirt tracks leading right through fields and woods.
While I stop to take a quick picture, and a dusty blue Lada speeds by, then slams on the brakes right next to us. A very smiley brown-haired woman is waving to say hello! She quickly gets out, leaving her husband or boyfriend in the car, and we have a very short but amiable conversation. Then, she smiles and waves goodbye, leaving us quite literally, in the dust.
I feel a bit saddened by the abrupt end of this friendly, whirlwind encounter. As they pull away I am wistfully calling after her in my mind, "byeeee, it was nice knowing youuuuu."
Back in the car, we drive on through the field for a kilometer or so. Then, suddenly, the blue Lada comes racing back. Just before smashing into us, they veer to the side and screech to a halt. Our friendly woman gets out again, and this time, she wants to talk a bit more! It is then that we are officially introduced to the warm-hearted Oksana, and her partner, Sasha.
We talk, all of us miming and trying to communicate, and laughing when we fail at it. One thing we do understand though, is the sign they're making when they hold their hands above their heads like antlers. Are they talking about deer of some sort? They seem intent that we follow them, and whatever they want to show us has to do with deer. Tyler and I smile, shrug, and say sure, once we've quickly made sure the other is okay with the proposition.
Until this point, Oksana has been driving, but she and Sasha switch places. I am still behind the wheel of our LRC. Before I can even insert the keys, they peel out, leaving us again, in the dust.
I start the engine, quickly drop the clutch, and lay heavily on the throttle to catch up with them. I switch to second gear, then third, accelerating as fast as I can to match their breakneck pace. Thirty kilometers an hour, then forty, then fifty, and still they are speeding ahead.
Meanwhile, Tyler is grinning wildly, fumbling around in the back seat for the camera, declaring this is as much fun as driving. Like he's the cameraman for the heart-pumping chase scene in an action movie, he hangs out the passenger's window, telephoto in hand. He's sitting on the windowsill holding on to the handle where we'd hang our delicate shirts and dresses if we had any, snapping photos with the other hand.
I lay on it even more, accelerating to seventy, eighty, then ninety kilometers an hour. Soon I've caught them, blowing past fields and navigating along the streets and intersections of Siberian dirt. I feel a rush of adrenalin as I tear around every corner. It is like I'm playing some real-life video game – I am Jason Bourne!
It's hard to see through the dust being kicked up by Oksana and Sasha's car, so sometimes they veer off the path and drive right through the field! I think they are doing it so they won't blind me. Through the brown clouds, Tyler tells me to keep a watchful eye on their brake lights, which will inform me of any upcoming obstacles in the road.
One would think that a dirt track through the Siberian fields would be bumpy and rutted, but actually, most of the time it is smoother than the pavement! I'm just getting into it when up ahead, Sasha's break lights come on and stay on, so I slow to a stop behind them. I give a quick tug to the emergency brake, and let out a "waahooooYEAH!" as I grip the wheel.
Stepping out of the car, we meet up with our new tour guides, and they lead us to a brown wooden fence. Sure enough, beyond it, is a farm full of elk(?). How cool! Somehow I manage to learn from Oksana that this is a sanctuary, like a nature preserve, and that the animals aren't for hunting.
When our brief tour is over, we thank our new acquaintances and hop back into the car. They're going to lead us to the dirt track that goes to Omsk "Not that one", they seem to say, pointing at two narrow strips of brown in a golden field. "That one!" they are pointing at an almost identical set of tracks. They decide it will be too confusing, so they lead us for awhile in their car to the way we need to go.
Once there, it is time to part ways. Sasha leaves us with a (slightly confusing) map, and we give Oksana one of our postcards. She seems so touched by this small gesture, and wraps us each in a warm, strong hug, wishing us luck on our journey.
Thank you so much for your kindness and impromptu adventure, Oksana and Sasha!
Elated, we continued on, unaware that our day of adventuring had only just begun.