Our goal this morning is simple: get to Omsk and check into a hotel. We've had enough excitement in the last 24 hours to last a month (okay, not a month, but at least a few days!). It has been eight nights since our last shower, and we are craving some peaceful down time, safely indoors.
In order to make this happen, we need to get to a highway. Yesterday, we left the main roads in search of adventure, found it, and then camped smack in the middle of both major thoroughfares leading to the city. When we couldn't find the road to the southern highway last night, we headed north.
Looking at the map this morning, it is pretty clear the southern route is the shortest option. Our fuel gauge is quickly dipping towards empty, so we opt to go for it, hoping the road leading to it will be a little less elusive during the day. We're also curious to see if the village south of us made it through the night.
Somewhat expecting to discover the smoldering remains of a Siberian settlement, we are relieved when we arrive and see that everything is just fine. The fire is safely away, smoking in the distance.
We think we've found the "road" to the southern highway. Unfortunately, the gravel track quickly deteriorates to dirt, and a few hundred meters later, morphs into grass. Soon, we're following a barely-visible line through a prairie, directly into a forest. It doesn't look like anyone has been this way in years.
I have a very bad feeling about this. I want to turn around and head north. Tara says she doesn't like the idea of plowing through the trees in our tiny car either, but thinks we're wasting valuable gas backtracking all over the place. She is navigating, and insists the rapidly diminishing trail is actually on our map.
I am still uneasy about continuing. In spite of Tara's concerns that the route to the northern highway is marked in the same fashion, I insist that we turn back. Some of the ruts we're traversing could easily rise up under the middle of our car, leaving our front wheels spinning. If we get stuck or break down out here, it will be a long walk for help.
The route north turns out to be a real road – rutted and potholed all to hell, but a road nonetheless. I'm not too excited though; there's no telling how long our luck will last. Hopefully this path won't disintegrate into nothingness too!
Tyler is going faster than I'd like, just wanting to be out of here. I keep telling him to be vigilant, but it isn't until a lurching dip into a deceptively deep pothole that he starts to take it easy. We may be short on gas but we do have plenty of time.
With an enthusiastic hallelujah! we roll into a good sized town. We're running low on everything; the city feels like an outpost in space. Somehow, over the last few days our reserve rubles made it into our wallet, and have been spent. Our food is nearly gone, and we have only stale, flat mineral water to drink.
The gas station doesn't take cards, and pumping enough to get us to Omsk completely expends our local currency. Relieved to be sure we'll get there, I am only slightly miffed by the fact that we now have no money to buy food. It's not the end of the world – we have plenty of emergency supplies.
Dry ramen it is! We crunch this breakfast of champions into a bowl and sprinkle the maze of noodles with its small, salty packet of chicken seasoning. Washed down with previously-carbonated mineral water, breakfast is served. We've seen better days, food-wise.
Following nearly two hundred kilometers on a thin ribbon of pavement stretching through nothingness, we arrive in Omsk. There, we join the cramped "lanes" of traffic, a whirlwind of impatient, reckless passing on too-narrow streets. Within minutes, the maelstrom slows to a halt in an accident-induced jam.
The rest of the ride into Omsk is boring, but it doesn't matter; boring is just what the doctor ordered today. After a long, frustrating and familiarly futile search for inviting and inexpensive accommodation, we shack up at the quietest hotel we can find. Checked in to our nice clean room, we crank up the AC, close the curtains, and open our laptops. Time to get to work!