Day 36: Novosibirsk to Omsk, Halfway to Paris!

Number of tie wraps: 23 (7 added since last post)

Countdown: 4558 miles down, 4127 to go (more than half way to Paris)

Quote of the Day: Luke: “What can we do to keep the spring on?” John: “Tie wraps?”

During the 1908 race from New York to Paris, the Thomas Flyer and the American team finally overtook the German Protos just before arriving in Omsk, a feat requiring an all night run that began on June 29 and ended with the Flyer passing the Protos about 10 a.m. the following morning. At this point in the race, the Italian Zust was still in China, about 500 miles west of Harbin, trying valiantly to catch both the Americans and the Germans. Click here for the original New York Times article.

Here is what the terrain from Novosibirst to Omsk looks like — very flat and a mix of open fields, wetlands, and clusters of birch trees, perfect terrain for George Schuster and the Thomas Flyer to make good time for catching up to the Protos.

Terrain in Western Siberia

Terrain in Western Siberia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Our drive to Omsk didn’t involve overtaking any other racers since there aren’t any other racers, but we made good time and, for once, the drive was uneventful, other than a bit of rain. The roads were good, and we had only a few minor delays for construction, so we arrived in Omsk only nine hours after departing Novosibirsk. Our hotel in Omsk is about 1/2 block from the Om River; here’s the view from my hotel room:


Omsk (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

However, as you probably guessed from the quote of the day, the Roadster still had some problems with the rear shocks. The Tire Doctor repair from yesterday worked great until we hit a bone-jarring jolt about two hours into the trip. I was riding in the Envoy and I thought, “If the Tire Doctor fix survived that, it should survive anything.” Unfortunately, the fix didn’t survive, and by the time we got to our next fuel stop around noon, all the air had once again departed the rear shocks. Since we only had about four more hours of driving, John and Luke elected to wait until we got to the hotel to install the springs purchased at the auto market yesterday.

Before installing the springs, John first used the Tire Doctor to push the shocks back up and Luke pumped some air into them. Then Luke installed the first spring over the right rear strut, which only took about five minutes. The left rear strut was a little trickier because of interference from a brake line, so it took both John and Luke to get the spring into place, accompanied by numerous references to the shock’s parentage on the part of Luke.

Installing the left spring

Installing the left spring (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

This should get the Roadster to Moscow!

Right strut with spring installed

Right strut with spring installed (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Left strut with spring installed

Left strut with spring installed (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The clamps John bought yesterday wouldn’t fit, so he slid back under the car and added seven more tie wraps to secure the springs to the shocks.

Example of tie wraps used to secure the springs

Example of tie wraps used to secure the springs (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow after a short walking tour of Omsk, we head to Ishim, about a 300 mile drive. I’m not sure if we’ll have WiFi tomorrow evening, so I may not be able to post again until we arrive in Tyumen on Sunday or Ekaterinburg on Monday.

Days 32-33: Krasnoyarsk to Tomsk

When George Schuster and the Thomas Flyer arrived in Tomsk on June 27, 1908, the Flyer had again caught up with the German Protos, but the Americans were still unable to take the lead. The Protos had arrived on morning before the Flyer arrived, but the German team delayed their departure until the following morning for some repairs, making it possible for the Flyer to catch up. But due to various logistics issues, the American team wasn’t able to leave until 3 a.m. on June 28, so Schuster continued to drive all day and night to catch the Germans.

During the portion of the trip from Irkutsk to Tomsk, the 1908 racers had relatively few problems. However, the Flyer had to be pulled out of about five feet of water when crossing a river near a village because so many curious bystanders had crowded onto the small improvised ferry used for the crossing that the raft sank. But the villagers came to the rescue and pulled the Flyer to shore.

The Flyer also encountered some problems due to the road conditions, and the New York Times reported that, “The tremendous bumping the car had met with on part of the road had bent the spring hanger.” As a result, Schuster ordered his guide, Captain Hansen, and the Times correspondent to take the train to Tomsk to lighten the load until they could get the spring hanger repaired. After pointing this episode out to John at lunch today, he briefly considered putting Luke on a train to Tomsk as well.

Click here to read the original New York Times article.

We left Krasnoyarsk this morning about 7:30 for our 400+ mile drive to Tomsk. We are now officially in Western Siberia, and I’ve noticed a shift in the terrain from forested hills to flatter country with shrubs and scrubby trees that look like small aspen.

Terrain in Western Siberia

Terrain in Western Siberia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We had excellent roads for driving this morning and we were nearly at the half-way point at lunch time. About 1:45, we arrived in the town of Mariinsk and followed the signs that pointed to Tomsk, which put us onto a different route than the one Ksenia had planned to use. But my map showed a big fat highway line to Tomsk that looked significantly shorter than the planned route, so between the map and the signs in Mariinsk, we decided to take the shorter route.

Everything was fine for the first 20 minutes on our new route, and then we ran into some awesome potholes. Another 20 minutes later, we considered turning back, but then Ksenia asked someone stopped by the roadside when the road would improve and he said another 30 km or so, so we decided to stick with it.

Representative road conditions this afternoon

Representative road conditions this afternoon (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We bounced around for another two hours, but I’m pretty sure the route we took was probably closer to the route used by the 1908 racers as they drove to Tomsk. We also traveled through many small villages we wouldn’t have seen otherwise. One thing that amazes me is how many of the houses in the small villages we’ve passed through have satellite TV. It’s a wonderful juxtaposition of an old way of life with new technology.

Satellite dish in Siberia

Satellite dish in Siberia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We arrived at our hotel about 7 p.m., about the same time we probably would have arrived if we’d stuck with the original route, which was longer, but probably easier to drive. But we all agreed that the route we chose was much closer in spirit to the original race!

Tomorrow morning we head to Novosibirsk, a short 268 km drive that we hope will end with a box of four new shocks for the Roadster waiting for us.

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.