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.

Day 18: Harbin to Qiqihar

At this geographic point in the original race, it was already June 13, and the American team in the Thomas Flyer was past Harbin and gaining so quickly on the German Protos that the New York Times expected the Thomas to arrive first in Chita, Russia. Beginning in Harbin, Schuster and the Flyer abandoned the railroad tracks and took on a Manchurian guide to help them until they were past the Khingan mountain range. At the same time, the Italian Zust had just left Pogranichnyy. For the full New York Times article on this portion of the race, click NYT_19080614.

The racers encountered good roads west of Harbin and flat land that was almost a desert along “the route of Genghis Khan.” We encountered similar conditions in our drive to Qiqihar today, which turned out to be one of our more relaxing days — only about 180 miles. However, before we could get started, we had to get past the tangle of cars that littered the street where the Envoy was parked. The white one in the picture below blocked us from backing out:


Parking woes in Harbin

Parking woes in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The parking attendants came to the rescue and we were soon on our way. Getting out of town was like driving a country road at midnight compared to our arrival on Saturday, and within about 20 minutes we were back on the G10 heading to Qiqihar. We stopped for gas after about an hour, and the Roadster was mobbed by the riders of three buses also stopped in the service area:


Three busloads of onlookers encountered at our first gas stop for the day

Three busloads of onlookers encountered at our first gas stop for the day (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

While John and Leo got gas, I checked out someone’s lunch,


Fish hanging out at a gas station

Fish hanging out at a gas station (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

and bought some popcorn.


Vendor selling popcorn

Vendor selling popcorn (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We took the Q10 exit towards Qiqihar at about 12:45, and immediately encountered a mini-flood that probably resulted from a water main break. John and I both managed to avoid the water, and then we turned left onto the road into Qiqihar, which turned out to be almost as bad as the dirt road we took on Saturday; the Qiqihar road was paved, but in such bad shape that I feared the Roadster might be swallowed up by a pothole. After about 20 minutes of jerking along, we came to a better road that led us straight to our hotel. However, we did have to pass through one more area of mud even on that road — there seems to have been an epidemic of water main breaks in Qiqihar today. The mud pit was so bad that a passing car sprayed mud inside the Roadster and onto John.

We arrived at our hotel, shown below, about 1 p.m.,

Jun Hui Hotel in Qiqihar

Junhui Hotel in Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

just in time to miss a downpour.

Downpour in Qiqihar

Downpour in Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After a lunch of noodles and soup, John, Luke and I did some exploring around the hotel. We found an endless underground shopping area and a seven-level shopping mall:

Shopping mall in Qiqihar

Shopping mall in Qiqihar (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

We did have one more casualty on this leg: John banged his left front hubcap on something while maneuvering around some cones at a tollbooth. Ow!

The distressed hubcap

The distressed hubcap (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Up tomorrow: Qiqihar to Yakeshi, 420 km.

Days 16-17: Harbin, China

We arrived in Harbin yesterday afternoon about 5 o’clock. It took us three days to get here from Pogranichnyy, but that was much faster than George Schuster and the Thomas Flyer — they took seven days and their adventure made ours seem pedestrian.

The Thomas Flyer left Pogranichnyy on June 3, but after about 15 miles of driving over the Trans-Siberian Railroad track, the driving gear was stripped. Schuster hiked back to Pogranichnyy and caught a train to Harbin to get spare parts. In the meantime, the other members of the U.S. team camped out with the car for three days. After repairs, the Flyer arrived in Harbin on June 9.

Click NYT_19080605 to read the New York Times article about their ordeal.

We left Suifenhe about 10 a.m. and headed through town toward the G10 expressway that would take us all the way to Harbin. I was driving in the lead car with Sim, our guide, and as we approached the toll booth at the expressway entrance, a police officer stepped into the road and waved us over. He asked for my passport, looked it over and then handed it back. He and two other nearby police walked back to the Roadster, and in the rearview mirror I saw them smile and pull out their cell phones to take pictures. John later told me that when the police reached his car, they came to attention and saluted him!

We stopped for gas at a service area after driving for about an hour, and then had lunch and refueled again at another service area about two hours later. The food was delicious, but the portions were huge — next time we’ll just order two dishes and share them!


Lunch on the road in China

Lunch on the road in China (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

I had planned to drive for about 200 km before stopping again, but through a miscommunication over the walkie-talkies, we thought the Roadster was in a dire fuel situation so we took the next exit that looked like it might have gas. Sim asked the toll booth attendant for the nearest fuel station, and he told us it was one kilometer up the road. About 50 yards after the toll booth, the road turned into a rutted dirt road that we followed (very slowly) into a village. We passed farmers tending rice paddies and multiple people on bicycles and scooters pulling wagons piled high with tools, food, and goods to sell. The gas station was located on the edge of town, and a small police van sat across the street from it.

We pulled into the gas station and curious townspeople, including the two young police officers in the van, flocked to the Roadster.

Small town where we stopped for gas

Small town where we stopped for gas (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After getting gas, we bounced our way back to the expressway and continued non-stop to Harbin. Although we had encountered little traffic on the drive over, the traffic in Harbin was the worst I’ve ever driven in (and I’ve driven in Los Angeles and Washington, DC).

Harbin traffic

Harbin traffic (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

But Sim had his GPS and he gave me great instructions on how to deal with the traffic, which mostly consisted of him saying, “Keep moving, keep moving,” and me saying, “I’m afraid I’m going to kill someone.” After making only one wrong turn, we found the hotel, but there was no entryway, so I just pulled onto the sidewalk (after all, just about every other car on the block was on the sidewalk already). Sim negotiated with the hotel parking attendant (I use that term loosely here) and the Roadster wound up on the sidewalk out front and I moved the Envoy to a spot on a side street, which involved driving the wrong way down a one-way street, but no one seemed to notice, given the prevailing chaos.


Figuring out what to do with the cars at the hotel

Figuring out what to do with the cars at the hotel (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Here’s the view from my hotel room:


View from the hotel room in Harbin

View from the hotel room in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Later that evening, John had to move the Roadster to a more secure location because the crowds were causing too much of a distraction for the hotel management!

This morning, we took a tour of Harbin, which included a walk down the central street, called Zhong Yang, where we saw interesting sculptures,


Sculpture in Harbin

Sculpture in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

all sorts of goodies to eat,


Food vendor in Harbin

Food vendor in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)



Balloon vendor in Harbin

Balloon vendor in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

a memorial to the victims of floods from the Songhua River over the years,


Flood memorial in Harbin

Flood memorial in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

boats on the river, including one that looked like a crew team,


Crew team?

Crew team? (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

bottles of gum,


Bottles of gum for sale in Harbin

Bottles of gum for sale in Harbin (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

and the old Russian Orthodox Church of St. Sofia, which has been turned into a museum of Harbin’s early history as it transitioned from a village to a modern city with the arrival of the original Trans-Siberian Railroad route.


View of the ceiling in the Church of St. Sofia

View of the ceiling in the Church of St. Sofia (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

The museum had several pictures that depicted what Harbin looked like in 1908 when the original racers passed through. Here’s one of them:


Harbin in 1908

Harbin in 1908 (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

After dinner, John and I walked back down Zhong Yang to take in the night sights, such as this view of the flood memorial:


The Flood Memorial at night

The Flood Memorial at night (Eileen Bjorkman photo)

Tomorrow we have a relatively leisurely drive of 300 km to Qiqihar.