Bikerafting Yakutia

Bikerafting Yakutia

Part 1

It's been a long time since I've invoked such smiles and amazement from those around me. "Yes, Roman and I are going to cycle in Siberia this time. No, I’m not kidding. No, it's not always cold there! Uh, yes, there are bears. By boat? Of course we’re bringing boats!”

The idea for this journey started long before we boarded the plane to Russia. In fact, it was way back when 2014 was drawing to a close. It was the beginning of a strange union between Roman and myself, when the first symptoms of wanderlust surfaced in us both. Admittedly, Roman and I didn't know each other back then. We only had one mutual friend. We met while I was working in a climbing gym and he was a visitor there. One day, at the end of my shift, we got into a conversation which was only slightly influenced by beverages crafted from Germany’s famous hops. It did not take long for us to discover our common interests and afflictions…and so we decided to venture a journey together...by bicycle...to Tajikistan. At that time, for whatever reason, we were given the title "The Tadchicks" (a play on the pronunciation of Tajikistan: “Ta-jik’s”). This should also explain the references in our second journey together.

It's been a long time since I've invoked such smiles and amazement from those around me. "Yes, Roman and I are going to cycle in Siberia this time. No, I’m not kidding. No, it's not always cold there! Uh, yes, there are bears. By boat? Of course we’re bringing boats!”

The idea for this journey started long before we boarded the plane to Russia. In fact, it was way back when 2014 was drawing to a close. It was the beginning of a strange union between Roman and myself, when the first symptoms of wanderlust surfaced in us both. Admittedly, Roman and I didn't know each other back then. We only had one mutual friend. We met while I was working in a climbing gym and he was a visitor there. One day, at the end of my shift, we got into a conversation which was only slightly influenced by beverages crafted from Germany’s famous hops. It did not take long for us to discover our common interests and afflictions…and so we decided to venture a journey together...by bicycle...to Tajikistan. At that time, for whatever reason, we were given the title "The Tadchicks" (a play on the pronunciation of Tajikistan: “Ta-jik’s”). This should also explain the references in our second journey together.

Skipping forward past our journey through Tajikistan, at the end of our four-week tour through the Pamir, Roman and I had had a bit of a fight—a big fight, in fact. It came at the moment when we were being forced to give up our freedom and return to our “civil” lives. Perhaps it was that existential angst, or perhaps we were both just hangry. We had lost seven kilos of body weight, and hunger had been a constant companion on our journey. We both knew that back in Germany piles of work were waiting for us, backed up inboxes and impatient clients, real life.

But it was at the airport in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital where things boiled over, and we were forced to confront corrupt security officials. I ended up paying a paltry ten-dollar bribe to free Roman from an inspector who thought we were a little too happy after having a couple of beers after our long journey.

Skipping forward past our journey through Tajikistan, at the end of our four-week tour through the Pamir, Roman and I had had a bit of a fight—a big fight, in fact. It came at the moment when we were being forced to give up our freedom and return to our “civil” lives. Perhaps it was that existential angst, or perhaps we were both just hangry. We had lost seven kilos of body weight, and hunger had been a constant companion on our journey. We both knew that back in Germany piles of work were waiting for us, backed up inboxes and impatient clients, real life.

But it was at the airport in Dushanbe, the Tajik capital where things boiled over, and we were forced to confront corrupt security officials. I ended up paying a paltry ten-dollar bribe to free Roman from an inspector who thought we were a little too happy after having a couple of beers after our long journey.

15
18

It was at that moment I realized how cheap it was to bribe people in uniform, but also the moment I swore to myself that I would not travel with Roman again—but never say never. In December 2017, that two-wheeled-wanderlust began to emerge once again.

There is an old adage that says, "No good story starts with a glass of milk". And while we have not scientifically proven this (it is inherently difficult to prove a negation), we did confirm that good ideas (sometimes) arise in the company of beer. After days of internet research, we came across some old military maps from the USSR. While they were not the most current, they were incredibly detailed. We traveled with our fingers to every corner of the ex-Soviet Empire: Kamchatka, Mongolia, the Altai Mountains and the region around Lake Baikal. But none of it really made sense if we were to travel without taking extra flights and facing exorbitant travel costs. Roman casually mentioned the idea of "bikerafting", a combination of riding by bicycle and paddling with a packable, inflatable boat—a concept that was relatively new for us Europeans. Suddenly, the maps of the Soviet Empire appeared in an entirely new light.

Roads and rivers, in combination, now created a completely new transportation network, opening up an entire wilderness with endless routes and limitless exploration. This was another one of our brilliant ideas.

After drafting and throwing away a few route ideas, we came across the eastern Russian republic of Yakutia. It is about ten times the area of Germany, but with fewer than a million inhabitants distributed in small pockets throughout the region. We quickly decided that this would be our playground. After further investigation, we also found a road of real significance—a gravel road.

The “Kolyma Trassa” is known as the "Road of Bones". This road came into the limelight in 2004 when Ewan McGregor (aka Obi Wan Kenobi from the recent Star Wars saga) rode his motorcycle from Yakutsk to Magadan as part of this trip around the world. At the time, he had been unable to traverse the road of bones without the help of a convoy of Russian trucks…the rivers were too powerful to cross by motorcycle. It became clear to us that we had to go there.

It was at that moment I realized how cheap it was to bribe people in uniform, but also the moment I swore to myself that I would not travel with Roman again—but never say never. In December 2017, that two-wheeled-wanderlust began to emerge once again.

There is an old adage that says, "No good story starts with a glass of milk". And while we have not scientifically proven this (it is inherently difficult to prove a negation), we did confirm that good ideas (sometimes) arise in the company of beer. After days of internet research, we came across some old military maps from the USSR. While they were not the most current, they were incredibly detailed. We traveled with our fingers to every corner of the ex-Soviet Empire: Kamchatka, Mongolia, the Altai Mountains and the region around Lake Baikal. But none of it really made sense if we were to travel without taking extra flights and facing exorbitant travel costs. Roman casually mentioned the idea of "bikerafting", a combination of riding by bicycle and paddling with a packable, inflatable boat—a concept that was relatively new for us Europeans. Suddenly, the maps of the Soviet Empire appeared in an entirely new light.

Roads and rivers, in combination, now created a completely new transportation network, opening up an entire wilderness with endless routes and limitless exploration. This was another one of our brilliant ideas.

After drafting and throwing away a few route ideas, we came across the eastern Russian republic of Yakutia. It is about ten times the area of Germany, but with fewer than a million inhabitants distributed in small pockets throughout the region. We quickly decided that this would be our playground. After further investigation, we also found a road of real significance—a gravel road.

The “Kolyma Trassa” is known as the "Road of Bones". This road came into the limelight in 2004 when Ewan McGregor (aka Obi Wan Kenobi from the recent Star Wars saga) rode his motorcycle from Yakutsk to Magadan as part of this trip around the world. At the time, he had been unable to traverse the road of bones without the help of a convoy of Russian trucks…the rivers were too powerful to cross by motorcycle. It became clear to us that we had to go there.

11
8

But route planning was very difficult. From 10,000 kilometers away and without useful travel reports, it was all but impossible to truly get a sense of the terrain and routes. This was not exactly a tourist trap. A road on a map from 1950 may well have been reclaimed by nature long, long ago. By the end of 2017, our planned route contained a total of approximately 1,300 kms on the Road of Bones. Afterwards, we wanted to traverse 200 kms through the Pampa (plains), paddle 20 kms over a glacial lake, pedal 150 kms across a pass then cover the last 500 kms on a river towards the Sea of Okhotsk. This was in our plan, but it was not in the cards.

The scheduled return flight from Okhotsk was cancelled at the beginning of 2018. A bitter setback for us, because the quaint gold-mining town would only be reachable by boat or by rickety plane from Khabarovsk, which was even further away. There was no justification for the cancellation from the airline. Apparently the small village at the edge of the Sea of Okhotsk was no longer a popular travel destination for Russians aristocrats. As a freelance photographer, this route would have worked for me, but was not feasible given our timeline. Roman had sacrificed his entire annual vacation for this adventure, and we had no time to spare. Such is the employee's eternal suffering. The planning started again (we were on “Plan E” or “Plan F” in the proverbial alphabet). We didn’t give up and continued along the original route in the hopes of finding an alternative.

 Logistically, the last (and what would be our final) route was no walk in the park. Bike, boat, tent, safety equipment, first aid and several kilos of food had to be shipped or flown to Yakutsk. The Russian transport regulations would be worth a separate chapter here. Fortunately, we had some support to minimize the risk of a technical knockout: Bikes from the noble forge of Tout Terrain in Freiburg, waterproof bags from Ortlieb, white water packrafts from the Anfibio-Packrafting Store. All eventualities should be covered.

But route planning was very difficult. From 10,000 kilometers away and without useful travel reports, it was all but impossible to truly get a sense of the terrain and routes. This was not exactly a tourist trap. A road on a map from 1950 may well have been reclaimed by nature long, long ago. By the end of 2017, our planned route contained a total of approximately 1,300 kms on the Road of Bones. Afterwards, we wanted to traverse 200 kms through the Pampa (plains), paddle 20 kms over a glacial lake, pedal 150 kms across a pass then cover the last 500 kms on a river towards the Sea of Okhotsk. This was in our plan, but it was not in the cards.

The scheduled return flight from Okhotsk was cancelled at the beginning of 2018. A bitter setback for us, because the quaint gold-mining town would only be reachable by boat or by rickety plane from Khabarovsk, which was even further away. There was no justification for the cancellation from the airline. Apparently the small village at the edge of the Sea of Okhotsk was no longer a popular travel destination for Russians aristocrats. As a freelance photographer, this route would have worked for me, but was not feasible given our timeline. Roman had sacrificed his entire annual vacation for this adventure, and we had no time to spare. Such is the employee's eternal suffering. The planning started again (we were on “Plan E” or “Plan F” in the proverbial alphabet). We didn’t give up and continued along the original route in the hopes of finding an alternative.

 Logistically, the last (and what would be our final) route was no walk in the park. Bike, boat, tent, safety equipment, first aid and several kilos of food had to be shipped or flown to Yakutsk. The Russian transport regulations would be worth a separate chapter here. Fortunately, we had some support to minimize the risk of a technical knockout: Bikes from the noble forge of Tout Terrain in Freiburg, waterproof bags from Ortlieb, white water packrafts from the Anfibio-Packrafting Store. All eventualities should be covered.

3

Part 2

Fast forward: When we land on the Yakutsk runway on the 29th of July, 2018, relief washes over us. We are halfway around the world with 140 kgs of luggage. Hailing the largest taxi we can find, we drive to our accommodation. Nariyana, a gentle couchsurfer, has agreed to store our unneeded things for a month and a half until our return. Another great example of the local hospitality, she is.

After some last-minute shopping in Yakutsk, we sit at the Lena River on the eve of our departure. Five weeks of Siberian loneliness, 2000 kilometers and some unforeseeable events lie ahead of us—and a lot of gravel.

The next morning, the route out of the city leads us through dense Russian traffic. We quickly note that the local drivers have no regard for cyclists. Close overtaking maneuvers and lengthy blasts from car and truck horns follow us out of the city. After about ten kilometers, we arrive at the ferry station which will take us to the other side of the Lena. When we saw the river on our maps, the life-blood of the Yakutian country, we knew we would not be using our Packrafts on this day. The river is a solid two kilometers wide, and with a current of 10 km/h, not exactly slow moving either. To traverse this waterway, one would have to start very far upstream to reach the intended ferry dock on the other side.

The ferry crossing itself takes about an hour, and the first curious passengers ask us in amazement where we plan to go. An older man shakes his head and gives us a half-filled bottle of vodka, laughing: "For the road!” And then he says another sentence which we have heard often already and will hear many more times in the coming days: "Good luck!”

On the other side of the river, we enjoy a short, unexpected stretch of asphalt before the road turns into gravel. This road through no-man's-land connects Yakutsk with the small town of Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk and has a terrifying history. The "Road of Bones" was built by thousands of prisoners under Stalin's rule from 1930 to 1950. Political prisoners and gulag inmates died like flies, shot by their guards or unable to endure the inhumane conditions, cold and malnutrition. The foundation of the road itself is told to contain the bones of the prisoners who built it. And for what purpose? To extract the enormous resources of gold and diamonds in the region. What else.

Part 2

Fast forward: When we land on the Yakutsk runway on the 29th of July, 2018, relief washes over us. We are halfway around the world with 140 kgs of luggage. Hailing the largest taxi we can find, we drive to our accommodation. Nariyana, a gentle couchsurfer, has agreed to store our unneeded things for a month and a half until our return. Another great example of the local hospitality, she is.

After some last-minute shopping in Yakutsk, we sit at the Lena River on the eve of our departure. Five weeks of Siberian loneliness, 2000 kilometers and some unforeseeable events lie ahead of us—and a lot of gravel.

The next morning, the route out of the city leads us through dense Russian traffic. We quickly note that the local drivers have no regard for cyclists. Close overtaking maneuvers and lengthy blasts from car and truck horns follow us out of the city. After about ten kilometers, we arrive at the ferry station which will take us to the other side of the Lena. When we saw the river on our maps, the life-blood of the Yakutian country, we knew we would not be using our Packrafts on this day. The river is a solid two kilometers wide, and with a current of 10 km/h, not exactly slow moving either. To traverse this waterway, one would have to start very far upstream to reach the intended ferry dock on the other side.

The ferry crossing itself takes about an hour, and the first curious passengers ask us in amazement where we plan to go. An older man shakes his head and gives us a half-filled bottle of vodka, laughing: "For the road!” And then he says another sentence which we have heard often already and will hear many more times in the coming days: "Good luck!”

On the other side of the river, we enjoy a short, unexpected stretch of asphalt before the road turns into gravel. This road through no-man's-land connects Yakutsk with the small town of Magadan on the Sea of Okhotsk and has a terrifying history. The "Road of Bones" was built by thousands of prisoners under Stalin's rule from 1930 to 1950. Political prisoners and gulag inmates died like flies, shot by their guards or unable to endure the inhumane conditions, cold and malnutrition. The foundation of the road itself is told to contain the bones of the prisoners who built it. And for what purpose? To extract the enormous resources of gold and diamonds in the region. What else.

From Yakutsk, the road extends 600 kms in almost-straight lines into the Werchojansk mountain range. For us, the occasional curve in the road is a welcome break in the rather meditative route towards the hills.

With each pedal stroke, we pass through sparse larch and pine forests, through birch groves and by old, decaying farm communes. We pass abandoned barns and herds of wild horses. The road surface is much more varied than the view. For days, there is nothing but trees on the horizon. After some time, we notice that our cruising speed is a little bit too slow: the first mosquitoes fly alongside us, seemingly unaffected by the wind. A nerve-racking affair.

After five days riding on gravel and bones, we reach Chandyga, a somewhat-disheveled town on the eastern bank of the Aldan River, another huge tributary of the Lena. Rusted remains of old factories still stand as witnesses of a bygone era. We are greeted with raised eyebrows. Children watch us suspiciously. A small supermarket gives us some culinary variety before we use the rest of the afternoon to rack up some more kilometers.

The next day, we reach an eagerly awaited milestone: the first of the mountains. It is about time as we had had enough of the dead-straight kilometers. The last few days were harder on our minds than on our bodies. We were no longer interested in counting and comparing different types of gravel.

In this region, trucks circulate through the remote villages like Oymyakon, which was another 200 kms away. With a record temperature of -70 degrees centigrade, this settlement is regarded as the cold-temperature pole of the world. Fortunately, in August we experienced a much more temperate 20 degrees. The wakes of dust kicked up by these trucks cover our skin with a thick crust.

During the daylight hours, huge thunderclouds build up in the mountains and proceed to unload their cargo every afternoon, providing us with precious drinking water. We don’t mind the wet so much, but soaked firewood makes for challenging evenings. (Bikepacker tip: birch bark contains tar which is flammable, and helps the wet wood burn.) We build our evening bonfires a little bit bigger as we come across the first sighting of bear tracks in the sand.

From Yakutsk, the road extends 600 kms in almost-straight lines into the Werchojansk mountain range. For us, the occasional curve in the road is a welcome break in the rather meditative route towards the hills.

With each pedal stroke, we pass through sparse larch and pine forests, through birch groves and by old, decaying farm communes. We pass abandoned barns and herds of wild horses. The road surface is much more varied than the view. For days, there is nothing but trees on the horizon. After some time, we notice that our cruising speed is a little bit too slow: the first mosquitoes fly alongside us, seemingly unaffected by the wind. A nerve-racking affair.

After five days riding on gravel and bones, we reach Chandyga, a somewhat-disheveled town on the eastern bank of the Aldan River, another huge tributary of the Lena. Rusted remains of old factories still stand as witnesses of a bygone era. We are greeted with raised eyebrows. Children watch us suspiciously. A small supermarket gives us some culinary variety before we use the rest of the afternoon to rack up some more kilometers.

The next day, we reach an eagerly awaited milestone: the first of the mountains. It is about time as we had had enough of the dead-straight kilometers. The last few days were harder on our minds than on our bodies. We were no longer interested in counting and comparing different types of gravel.

In this region, trucks circulate through the remote villages like Oymyakon, which was another 200 kms away. With a record temperature of -70 degrees centigrade, this settlement is regarded as the cold-temperature pole of the world. Fortunately, in August we experienced a much more temperate 20 degrees. The wakes of dust kicked up by these trucks cover our skin with a thick crust.

During the daylight hours, huge thunderclouds build up in the mountains and proceed to unload their cargo every afternoon, providing us with precious drinking water. We don’t mind the wet so much, but soaked firewood makes for challenging evenings. (Bikepacker tip: birch bark contains tar which is flammable, and helps the wet wood burn.) We build our evening bonfires a little bit bigger as we come across the first sighting of bear tracks in the sand.

7
6
5

Part 3

The dynamic weather conditions resulted in pushing the bikes more than riding them. We leave the "Road of Bones" on the ninth day, managing only 40 kilometers as we slowly progress to our next goal: to reach the Dyby River and paddle it from the mountains towards the Aldan River. We have our packrafts with us—these red rubber boats, which, as we will learn later, can take some serious punishment. 

Our equipment, including the bike, weighs in at 70 kilos each. We hadn’t had that much time to fully load the boats and test them under the conditions we would be facing. What we considered to be a slight lack of experience would turn out to be quite dangerous a short time later. The river, in its most pristine form, meanders through the mountainous landscape and hosts sections of whitewater rapids. Although the passages themselves are not technically difficult, they become extremely complex. Overturned trees and roots block the river and hide under the water’s surface. Sections of the riverbank are constantly eaten away and fall into the water, and tributaries from all sides combine to form eddies and change the riverscape.

On the second day of paddling, I capsize, taking an unplanned dive into the river. I, along with the boat, am pulled under water and wedged against two adjoining tree trunks which had fallen from the riverbank.  On this day, only one thing is certain: We will not die here.

We take our time moving forward, and with greater care, we inspect the dangerous sections of river, circumnavigating them when necessary. After a few days, the river becomes noticeably wider and calmer. With a smile on our faces, we paddle through dramatic landscapes and pristine natural beauty. We are the only humans within 200 kms, but the wilderness is densely populated. The woods are teeming with bears and moose, but the creatures are so shy that we manage only fleeting glimpses before they disappear into the thicket once again. It is a vast landscape that is ripe for exploration and bursting with life. And yet as we journey through, we see only a fraction of this world, floating beside the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

After three weeks of solitude, we reach the Aldan, a river that, if we continued to follow it, would flow into the Lena and spit us out into the Arctic Ocean. Here, paddling becomes a slow and tedious affair. Frustrated with our lack of progress, we construct a new vessel, a catamaran of sorts, out of driftwood and our two pack-rafts. We hoist a tarp to use as a sail, and embark on the next part of our adventure.

Part 3

The dynamic weather conditions resulted in pushing the bikes more than riding them. We leave the "Road of Bones" on the ninth day, managing only 40 kilometers as we slowly progress to our next goal: to reach the Dyby River and paddle it from the mountains towards the Aldan River. We have our packrafts with us—these red rubber boats, which, as we will learn later, can take some serious punishment. 

Our equipment, including the bike, weighs in at 70 kilos each. We hadn’t had that much time to fully load the boats and test them under the conditions we would be facing. What we considered to be a slight lack of experience would turn out to be quite dangerous a short time later. The river, in its most pristine form, meanders through the mountainous landscape and hosts sections of whitewater rapids. Although the passages themselves are not technically difficult, they become extremely complex. Overturned trees and roots block the river and hide under the water’s surface. Sections of the riverbank are constantly eaten away and fall into the water, and tributaries from all sides combine to form eddies and change the riverscape.

On the second day of paddling, I capsize, taking an unplanned dive into the river. I, along with the boat, am pulled under water and wedged against two adjoining tree trunks which had fallen from the riverbank.  On this day, only one thing is certain: We will not die here.

We take our time moving forward, and with greater care, we inspect the dangerous sections of river, circumnavigating them when necessary. After a few days, the river becomes noticeably wider and calmer. With a smile on our faces, we paddle through dramatic landscapes and pristine natural beauty. We are the only humans within 200 kms, but the wilderness is densely populated. The woods are teeming with bears and moose, but the creatures are so shy that we manage only fleeting glimpses before they disappear into the thicket once again. It is a vast landscape that is ripe for exploration and bursting with life. And yet as we journey through, we see only a fraction of this world, floating beside the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

After three weeks of solitude, we reach the Aldan, a river that, if we continued to follow it, would flow into the Lena and spit us out into the Arctic Ocean. Here, paddling becomes a slow and tedious affair. Frustrated with our lack of progress, we construct a new vessel, a catamaran of sorts, out of driftwood and our two pack-rafts. We hoist a tarp to use as a sail, and embark on the next part of our adventure.

2
9
14

We set sail, and with the mainsail deployed, we momentarily read a surprisingly spritely 15 km/h on the GPS "speedometer". We start to pass by some fishing villages and encounter some barges on the waterway, soon realizing that we are indeed bound towards civilization. Anglers stand on the shore and rub their eyes as we float by.

We are relieved when we touche land again, with the calendar approaching the end of August. The temperatures have dropped in the last few days and constant rain has dampened our spirits. The rain had also transformed the road leading from the village of Ust-Tatta back to the "Road of Bones" into an impassable trough of mud. A few kilometers outside the village, we are told the same:  There is no getting through.

In an unexpected moment, a Russian-built jeep (a "Racingcardboard") comes towards us. Three gentlemen excitedly leap out of the vehicle and ask us where we want to go. Their answer to our plan is straight up laughter. We happily load our mud-caked bikes onto the roof of their all-terrain vehicle. No ropes to fix them to the car. In broken english they suggest that we would be better off joining them for some fishing.

Arriving back in the village, we are given a warm welcome and invited for dinner. They are quick to lead us to the showers, an old wooden hut which doubles as a sauna in the cold season. After four weeks without bathing, our hosts determine that a bit of hygiene was in order. Once we cleaned up, we set off to catch dinner.

We learn quickly that catching the night’s main dish would be no small endeavor. We set out in speedboats onto the Aldan toward a group of log cabins. We didn’t count, but something like twenty-five camo-clad men carrying rifles over their shoulders loaded case after case of vodka into the huts. It turns out to be a sporting evening of multicultural bonding and brotherhood, the details of which are either a bit hazy or a beyond translation…or perhaps a little of both.

We set sail, and with the mainsail deployed, we momentarily read a surprisingly spritely 15 km/h on the GPS "speedometer". We start to pass by some fishing villages and encounter some barges on the waterway, soon realizing that we are indeed bound towards civilization. Anglers stand on the shore and rub their eyes as we float by.

We are relieved when we touche land again, with the calendar approaching the end of August. The temperatures have dropped in the last few days and constant rain has dampened our spirits. The rain had also transformed the road leading from the village of Ust-Tatta back to the "Road of Bones" into an impassable trough of mud. A few kilometers outside the village, we are told the same:  There is no getting through.

In an unexpected moment, a Russian-built jeep (a "Racingcardboard") comes towards us. Three gentlemen excitedly leap out of the vehicle and ask us where we want to go. Their answer to our plan is straight up laughter. We happily load our mud-caked bikes onto the roof of their all-terrain vehicle. No ropes to fix them to the car. In broken english they suggest that we would be better off joining them for some fishing.

Arriving back in the village, we are given a warm welcome and invited for dinner. They are quick to lead us to the showers, an old wooden hut which doubles as a sauna in the cold season. After four weeks without bathing, our hosts determine that a bit of hygiene was in order. Once we cleaned up, we set off to catch dinner.

We learn quickly that catching the night’s main dish would be no small endeavor. We set out in speedboats onto the Aldan toward a group of log cabins. We didn’t count, but something like twenty-five camo-clad men carrying rifles over their shoulders loaded case after case of vodka into the huts. It turns out to be a sporting evening of multicultural bonding and brotherhood, the details of which are either a bit hazy or a beyond translation…or perhaps a little of both.

21

The next morning, our hangover is quickly remedied by a few swigs from the freshly-opened bottle of vodka that had appeared on the breakfast table. For us, the liquid courage is a big help, as moose heart soup was on the breakfast menu. Are there croissants in Siberia, too?

It is late morning by the time all of the evening’s participants awake from their beauty sleep. We board the speedboats again. Roman and I look at each other a bit confused as all of the boats except ours turn into another direction. Upstream, one of our companions starts pulling fishing nets out of the river. We both swallow hard when we realize that the fish in the nets are strictly protected sturgeon. The fish there are considered a delicacy and are hunted for their caviar. We return to the camp with the fish still gasping for air. Celebrations on shore begin immediately as the sturgeon are gutted. The largest fish contains what must have been two or more kilos of fresh caviar. Our hosts’ English isn’t great, but "No Instagram" is quite clear when I pull out my camera. I smile and photograph anyway.

One day later, we leave the village and head back to Yakutsk. 350 kilometers of dirt road and mud lie ahead of us, but we have to hurry as our little fishing expedition took some time out of the calendar. The kilometers flow by and Yakutsk welcomes us with warm coffee and a bag of crisps.

It's the end of an exciting and partly nerve-racking journey and possibly the start of a new adventure. As I said: This was the tip of the iceberg.

I've already decided for myself: I will be back. Thank you Yakutia.

The next morning, our hangover is quickly remedied by a few swigs from the freshly-opened bottle of vodka that had appeared on the breakfast table. For us, the liquid courage is a big help, as moose heart soup was on the breakfast menu. Are there croissants in Siberia, too?

It is late morning by the time all of the evening’s participants awake from their beauty sleep. We board the speedboats again. Roman and I look at each other a bit confused as all of the boats except ours turn into another direction. Upstream, one of our companions starts pulling fishing nets out of the river. We both swallow hard when we realize that the fish in the nets are strictly protected sturgeon. The fish there are considered a delicacy and are hunted for their caviar. We return to the camp with the fish still gasping for air. Celebrations on shore begin immediately as the sturgeon are gutted. The largest fish contains what must have been two or more kilos of fresh caviar. Our hosts’ English isn’t great, but "No Instagram" is quite clear when I pull out my camera. I smile and photograph anyway.

One day later, we leave the village and head back to Yakutsk. 350 kilometers of dirt road and mud lie ahead of us, but we have to hurry as our little fishing expedition took some time out of the calendar. The kilometers flow by and Yakutsk welcomes us with warm coffee and a bag of crisps.

It's the end of an exciting and partly nerve-racking journey and possibly the start of a new adventure. As I said: This was the tip of the iceberg.

I've already decided for myself: I will be back. Thank you Yakutia.

20

Words and text by Kilian Reil.

Stayer Gravpacking the High Atlas
Project type
The Road to Eroica
Project type
Moments of Movement
Project type
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