September 01, 2016

Crossing Siberia

Russia first began to pull on me back in 2010, while I was in Central Asia on a climbing expedition to make a first ascent in Kyrgyzstan’s Tian Shan Mountains. Over the five years that followed, I ventured further into more remote corners of Central Asia and into countries on the perimeter of modern day Russia.

Each place I visited and the unique people I encountered fueled my fascination with the region: a camo-clad Siberian driving through the Western Mongolian town of Olgy, heading towards the Altai Republic with two freshly shot adult wolves lashed to the hood of his UAZ 4x4, blood trickling from their noses onto the streets; two Russians who bombed their way enthusiastically across the Eastern Kazakh steppes in an old beater car to cheerily greet my friend and I with a toast of vodka as we journeyed across Kazakhstan on horseback in 2013; or Radik, a boisterous and good-humored man originally from Russia who decided to become a camel breeder and herder in the Kyzyl Kum desert of northern Uzbekistan. My interest in the world’s largest country grew with each new incident.

It was on a trip paddling in the Barents Sea of Arctic Norway, on the tiny Grense Jakobselv River less than 20 meters from the Russian border, that I realized it was time to experience and explore Russia from the inside. I was mesmerized by how big it was, knowing that, from this insignificant point on the Russian-Norwegian border, the coastline ran unbroken for thousands of kilometers all the way to China.

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