Days 29-31: Irkutsk to Tulun to Kansk to Krasnoyarsk

It’s been a busy three days without much Internet connectivity, but we arrived in Krasnoyarsk about 12:30 this afternoon (Sunday), so I’m back online.

Last night, we had some spontaneous hosts in the town of Kansk. The woman signing John’s car in the picture below is named Irina, and she is married to Gadzhi, the gentleman who owns Zhemchug, translated Pearl, the excellent restaurant where we dined. After we ate, Irina asked if John was the one who owned “the car.” By now, we all just call the 1928 Roadster “the car,” because it’s the one that attracts all the attention! Ksenia translated Irina’s desires and said, “She is very proud of her hometown of Kansk and she would like to sign the car.” How could John refuse that offer?


Irina signing the 1928 Plymouth Roadster

Irina signing John’s 1928 Plymouth Roadster (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We walked 100 yards back to the parking lot where the cars were secured, where we were joined by Irina, Gadzhi, and three other Russian friends shown below.


Our new Russian friends in Kansk

Our new Russian friends in Kansk (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After the signing, Irina and Gadzhi insisted that we come inside a tent outside the restaurant for some champagne and chocolate. We had many toasts as the ten of us shared three bottles of champagne and two delicious chocolate bars. Our new Russian friends wanted us to stay for vodka shots, but we begged off so we could get an early start today. If you ever get to Kansk, be sure to stop by Zhemchug/Pearl for some terrific hospitality — they love foreigners!


Champagne and chocolate toasts

Champagne and chocolate toasts (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Our drive from Irkutsk to Tulun on Friday started with the realization that we were about 3,000 miles from Moscow, according to the sign in our hotel — it actually says “5039 km.” At this point in the trip, 3,000 miles doesn’t sound very daunting any more.


Luke with the road sign in our hotel in Irkutsk

Luke with the road sign in our hotel in Irkutsk (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

It was a rainy day, and we followed the Trans-Siberian Railway for much of the trip, just as the 1908 racers did. The terrain was mostly rolling hills, with a mix of forested areas, pastures, and plowed fields. Today, we stopped for a train for the first time, and I got this nice shot as the train approached the crossing.


Railroad crossing on the way to Tulun

Railroad crossing on the way to Tulun (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

As we drove along, I noticed many buildings painted in IKEA blue and yellow colors. Maybe someone from IKEA made a good deal with a paint dealer in Russia? Here’s some buildings behind our hotel in Tulun.


IKEA colors in Tulun

IKEA colors in Tulun (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We also got some bad news on Friday. There was a problem with Russian Customs in Moscow when the package with the shocks for the Roadster arrived, and the package was returned to the U.S. So Luke had to stay up late once again to get another package sent over, which we hope won’t have the same problem. The new shocks are being shipped to Novosibirsk, where we arrive on Wednesday. On the other hand, the Roadster hasn’t blown another brake light fuse, so maybe that problem has finally been fixed for good.

Checking the Roadster to be sure it will make it to Novosibirsk

Checking the Roadster to be sure it will make it to Novosibirsk (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Saturday morning, after singing Happy Birthday in Russian over a cell phone to Luke’s brother, Tony, which won’t win any Grammy awards, trust me, we headed off for Kansk. We had a very slow morning over roads under construction, going only about 30 miles in the first three hours. We passed this monument on the way into the town of Sherberta, and Ksenia said that the monument was used to indicate Soviet-era collective farms.


Sign for old collective farm in Sheberta

Sign for old collective farm in Sheberta (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After about three hours, we reached better roads and the pace picked up, and we began to anticipate a mid-afternoon arrival in Kansk. But we always seem to find a way to extend our day, and yesterday was no exception.

About 12:30, at a fueling stop near the small town of Alzamay, John discovered that a bag containing his passport and other important papers was missing. After tearing the Roadster apart, we concluded that it had been left in Tulun. Ksenia immediately got on the phone with the hotel, and after the security folks reviewed video from the parking lot that morning, John realized that the bag had probably been left on the driver’s side running board by accident and then fell off as we departed the hotel. We pondered what to do while Ksenia made dozens of phone calls to Tulun, to Mir Corporation, and to the police. At least we had managed to pull into the nicest truck stop we have seen so far, complete with two mini-markets, a café, a hotel, and clean flush toilets, so it wasn’t a bad place to hang out for a few hours on a sunny 70 degree afternoon in Siberia.


Discussion options regarding the missing papers

Discussion options regarding the missing papers (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

John called the consulate in Ekaterinburg and they were very helpful, saying that he can get an emergency passport when we arrive there. In the meantime, we drove into Alzamay to file a police report to help with the other missing paperwork. While John and Ksenia took care of that, Luke and I admired this Kermit-the-Frog colored troop carrier that, based on my limited Cyrillic and Russian skills, I believe was used for counterterrorism operations at some point.


Outside the police station in Alzamay

Outside the police station in Alzamay (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The police in both Tulun and Alzamay have been very helpful, and we are still optimistic that John’s papers may yet be located. But with the help of Ksenia and Mir, we should be able to recover from this before we cross the Russian border again on June 28.

Today, we were thankful for an uneventful 140 mile drive to Krasnoyarsk. We have the day off tomorrow to rest, run errands, and work on recovering John’s paperwork. On Tuesday, we have one of our longest drives of the trip, 603 km to Tomsk, but we believe the roads will be much better!


Days 27-28: Listvyanka/Lake Bailkal and Drive to Irkutsk

Wednesday came early for Luke, as he stayed up until 1 a.m. to order four new shocks for the Roadster. After about $200 in international phone calls, the shocks were in a box on their way to Russia, at a shipping cost that well exceeded the cost of the parts, which we hope will arrive in Krasnoyarsk before we get there on Sunday.


Listvanka viewed from Lake Baikal

Listvanka viewed from Lake Baikal (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

It rained all Tuesday night and into Wednesday morning, but by the time we hit the lake at 11, the sun was beginning to shine, and we enjoyed the mountain views as our cruise boat left the dock. A steady rolling of swells produced a soothing rocking motion in the boat that helped wash away the bumps and jars from the roads of the past several days.


View from our cruise boat

View from our cruise boat (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The boat headed towards the southwest shore of Lake Baikal, and after about an hour we arrived at a steep forested bluff scarred with long chutes from old landslides. Our goal was an old railway that runs around the southern part of the lake; it’s now used only occasionally for tourist trains.


Bluff with the railroad track

Bluff with the railroad track (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After docking and going down the gangplank,


Going down the gangplank

Going down the gangplank (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

we climbed about 30 feet up the sandy and rocky bluff until we reached the railroad track and a tunnel. The 1908 racers would not have used this track or tunnel because they didn’t exist yet, but the railway and the tunnel are similar to those used during the time they drove along the Trans-Siberian Railway.


Old tunnel

Old tunnel (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We walked through the tunnel,


Walking through the tunnel

Walking through the tunnel (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

and then took in breathtaking views of Lake Baikal.


View from the bluff

View from the bluff (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After heading back through the tunnel, we walked down the track in the other direction for a few hundred yards, and Luke found some railroad souvenirs in a ditch.


Railroad souvenirs

Railroad souvenirs (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

About 1 p.m. we went back to the boat,


Our cruise ship

Our cruise ship (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

where Ksenia spread out a traditional Russian fisherman lunch for us, along with Vodka for toasting. We did three toasts, the first to meeting, the second to parents and the third to love.


Ksenia teaching us how to toast properly in Russia

Ksenia teaching us how to toast properly in Russia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The lunch consisted of fresh vegetables, potatoes, cabbage piroshkies, smoked omul, which is a type of fish found only in Lake Baikal, and apple pastries for dessert. The omul was delicious, but it also comes with a warning. When we checked into our new hotel in Irkutsk this afternoon, there was a sign on my desk that read, “Omul has a specific smell. We would ask you not to keep it in your mini-bar or on  windowsill. Being kept on a windowsill it can be spoiled. In a mini-bar omul can spoil a fridge and food products in it; in this case the price of them will be included into your bill. Reception has a special fridge for keeping fish. Please, follow our recommendations.” We will!


Smoked Omul, the local delicacy

Smoked Omul, the local delicacy (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After lunch we cruised along the shoreline for over an hour before returning to the dock. Along the way, we saw the area where the original racers would have landed after their ferry ride across the lake. The area is shown on the left part of the photo below, at the entrance to the Angara River, the only river that flows out of Lake Baikal. The road the 1908 racers took along the eastern bank of the Angara to Irkutsk no longer exists —  it was flooded over when a dam was built in Irkutsk.


The 1908 racers would have disembarked on the landmass shown on the left in this photo

The 1908 racers would have disembarked on the landmass shown on the left in this photo (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After the cruise and some souvenir shopping, we returned to the hotel for some more brake light troubleshooting.


Troubleshooting the brake lights

Troubleshooting the brake lights (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Luke found that the clutch was catching on the brake light switch wires, and that had chafed away some of the insulation.


Chafed insulation

Chafed insulation (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After wrapping the wiring with electrical tape and securing it with a tie wrap, Luke and John are now confident that the problem has been solved. I sure hope so — we’ve already nearly exhausted the spare fuses John bought in China. The repair also brings us to six tie wraps on the Roadster, for those who are keeping count!

Tie wrap #6

Tie wrap #6 (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Luke also had to surgically repair the right taillight lens cover, which had broken into four pieces. It looks as good as new!


Gluing the taillight lens back together

Gluing the taillight back together (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The surgically repaired taillight lens

The surgically repaired taillight lens (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

As good as new!

As good as new! (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Today we visited the Taltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture during our drive to Irkutsk, where we saw dozens of examples of ancient and modern construction techniques for buildings, homes, churches, and fortresses. Luke was in construction heaven. The museum is located on the Angara River, so we had a chance for some nice river views as well.


Inside one of the many houses at the Taltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture

Inside one of the many houses at the Taltsy Museum of Wooden Architecture (Eileen Bjorkman photo)


The Angara River, the only river that flows out of Lake Baikal

The Angara River, the only river that flows out of Lake Baikal (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

When we arrived in Irkutsk, we took a wrong turn and got to drive across the Angara Dam, and then we visited the Angara Icebreaker, which is now a museum. The Angara and its sister ship, the Baikal, were the two ferries that operated across Lake Baikal at the time of the race. The Baikal sank during the Russian Civil War. We haven’t found any specific evidence that says the Angara actually carried one or more of the race cars, but there is a good chance that it did.


The Angara Icebreaker possibly used to ferry one or more of the 1908 race cars

The Angara Icebreaker possibly used to ferry one or more of the 1908 race cars (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We arrived at our hotel and took a short walking tour of Irkutsk, which included the spectacular Bogoyavlensky Cathedral, the Irkutsk World War II memorial, and a wedding party.


Russian wedding party

Russian wedding party (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow we head to Tulun, a town 464 km from here.


Day 26: Ulan Ude to Listvyanka

We left Ulan Ude about 8 a.m., right in the middle of rush hour traffic. Today’s trip was mostly through forested areas as we followed the Selenga River (which appropriately translates to Beautiful River) and wound our way through mountainous terrain.

Typical scenery during the drive to Listvyanka

Typical scenery during the drive to Listvyanka (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

At 10:20 some snow-capped peaks came into view and about five minutes later, we caught our first glimpse of Lake Baikal. The photo shown below is taken from the southern tip of the lake, where we arrived at around 3 p.m. Even with a bit of haze in the air, the beauty of the area stands out.

View of Lake Baikal from the southern tip

View of Lake Baikal from the southern tip (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We arrived at our hotel in Listvyanka at 6:45, after another long day of driving over bumpy roads and through construction sites; however, the roads continue to improve as we travel west!

The 1908 racers didn’t drive around Lake Baikal because they couldn’t — the terrain was too treacherous at the time — so they instead took a ferry across the lake, which ceased operations many years ago, necessitating our drive around the southern tip of the lake.

However, the original racers didn’t just drive up to the ferry and motor across the lake. According to Julie Fenster’s book, Race of the Century, when the Protos arrived in the town of Missawoia on the eastern lake shore to take the ferry to the town of Baikal on the western lake shore, Hans Koeppen and the Protos team discovered that in 1903 ferry had moved 20 miles south of Missawoia to the town of Tanchoi.

The German Protos team attempted to drive to Tanchoi, but crossing the numerous rivers flowing into Lake Baikal proved too much of a challenge, and they were soon stuck in the town of Michiha, where they tried to load the Protos onto a train for the rest of the trip to Tanchoi. But the 1908 racers ran into the same kind of problem we did trying to cross the border into China — they couldn’t find a way at the Michiha train facility to load the Protos onto the train! So they wound up driving back to Missawoia, which had the ability to put the Protos on the train for the trip to Tanchoi.

As a result of the delays to the Protos from running around the shores of Lake Baikal, the Thomas Flyer and the U.S. managed to briefly catch the German team in the railroad yard in Missawoia. However, the Protos arrived in Irkutsk on June 20 ahead of the Thomas Flyer. For more information on this part of the race, click here for the original New York Times article.

Today, the Roadster still had problems with the brake lights and the struts. The man in the photo below helping to pump up the struts is a Russian truck driver who was on his way to Moscow when he spotted us during a stop for lunch. Luke is planning to stay up late tonight to order some parts for shipment from California to Russia that we hope will fix the problems that continue to plague the Roadster!

Help from a Russian truck driver

Help from a Russian truck driver (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow we have a relaxing day for a boat ride on Lake Baikal and the day after a short 75 km drive on a good road to Irkutsk.