Day 25 – Zavidovo to St Petersburg

The road is long, not much of a winding road. It’s 685kms of mainly straight highway with the only reprieve today being a track event in the late afternoon, 30odd kms from the hotel. And when the crew is buggered from the tedium of the days run. The endurance element really means something. This is what the event is all about, how to break the man and the machine.

We are officially starting out at 8.55am.

The hotel was nice last night but by the time you get in and do the car maintenance and eat, it’s bedtime. Up at 4.30, that’s habitual now, then breakfast and the waiting game begins till start.

Russia is impressive and if I’m repeating myself, apologies.

We began well, a good breakfast and after waiting some time we hit the road.

A couple of hundred kms while it rained and it was cold. Then a miscalculation of direction and once more backtracking 80kms to the PC. Instead of checking and responding to each waypoint I had loaded the entire days headings into the GPS and so although we were heading for the end of day MTC, it was an interim waypoint that we should have aimed for which was in a different direction.

We got there for the PC with seconds to spare. But that’s not the end of the miscalculations. We got to the racetrack at the end of the day, did our two circuits and in good time too.

Then the last stretch, 37kms to the hotel and the MTC. As we got closer to the city the traffic density intensified and the distances between road take offs were shorter and an incorrect road was taken.

Once off the correct course at rush hour is fatal.

Thank goodness for the GPS. Even this was difficult to interpret as the arrows were small and needed magnification then reduced to get a picture of where we were headed.

All in all it was a bad afternoon re navigation and time. It was impossible to get to the MTC in the allotted scheduled time.

St Petersburg is a very large and significant city. It’s well populated with cars and people.

So getting around is fraught with the chances of getting lost; We did, once on the freeway trying to get to the destination from the incorrect location. Its a busy rush hour, city is more than stressful for the crew at the best of time.

We got there in the end buggered and disappointed that we had lost so much time.

Day 24 – Nizhny Novgorod to Zavidovo

The first thing I have to do is be corrected on two known matters. The first is that the yellow pipe work in the photos that I described as conduiting hot water to each household for heating houses in the villages that we passed through is incorrect. A reader, thank you, has informed me that the pipes carry gas to each household and that each household then uses that to heat the house and the water. One lives and learns!

Also, the photo of the horse and rider displayed white light streaks as if these were clouds. They’re not, they’re reflections of light from the ceiling inside the building.

Thanks for bringing these matters to my attention. I don’t want to misinform.

Yesterday I also informed you that the Russian pilot was the first to fly over the south pole. This is also incorrect. He actually was the first to fly over the North Pole. His small ‘plane is now exhibited in Nizhny Novgorod.

I have now read a little about the area and the history is rich with local achievement, politics, art, invention and architecture. I’m not saying more as I will surely err. But from what we saw it’s a fabulous place.

A little Russian classic car

Moving on to this rally that we endured today, which began at the what is called the NRing circuit some 40 odd kms outside of the city.

Each car was required to do two laps within a 10 minute time span but not less than 4 minutes. Denise achieved a time of 5mins 20 seconds. Not bad?

NRing circuit

Then the long slog of the balance of the trip. There was to be two test starts and finishes, but due to some extenuating circumstances these were cancelled.

So, on and on over hills and dales. Beautiful countryside, especially in the morning as the wind blew gently over the green/blue hue of ripening heads of wheat in the vast oceans of endless wheat fields

Some new buildings

The road traffic was full on and overtaking was difficult. Slow, tedious progress.

We need to keep moving if were to get to Paris, that’s the driver when you stop and think of it. It’s still a way off and tomorrow we head for St Petersburg, 669kms of travel.

We also have a rest day there.

Churches and buildings

Yesterday after the day’s events Steve did some work on maintaining the suspension and wheel bearings/seals. All these parts wear and they need to be checked and replaced when required.

So other than just driving the car Steve is always assessing the areas that need attention.

She’s still purring is Denise. She’s been a faithful friend who has delivered us thus far so well. Respect!!

Day 23 – Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod

A good night’s rest, but the daylight began at about 2am. Couldn’t turn the lights out!

The days start for us is 9.25 am. A long time to wait after we get breakfast at 6.00am.

Car is good. We expect a hot Monday morning.

As it turned out, the day became overcast and the temperature was cool.

As usual, Denise started on the turn of the key, ready for the day. We had fuelled up the night before so we wouldn’t waste time getting to any of the bases.

The daily bulletin was given when signing out so the amendments had to be extrapolated into the route book as depicted whilst underway. A number of amendments and notifications to ensure a safe journey.

One of the PC’s had been cancelled leaving only two for the day.

A 485km journey to Nizhny Novgorod. This is the place of the first Kremlin in the Soviet Union, now abandoned, an old fortification dating way back when.

The trip commenced on the usual long straight roads, though these were busy this morning as it was a week day. So many lorries using this highway and together with the road works it was slow and tedious. I’ve not mentioned before, but the roadworks are undertaken without the stupendous safety requirements that we have in our country. The “cones” are non-existent, only the small sport cones can occasionally be seen but they are blown away by passing cars.

It’s not that there is no concern about safety, it just that the individuals working in the roads are self-conscious to ensure their own safety. Like a cone will stop one from being injured?

Moving on, the only time that needed to be met was the MTC at the days end, and that had been shifted to a town square, where some celebrations were taking place. I don’t know the reason of why we were there, other than it was the place where the first Kremlin was situated. And it was being celebrated.

Again, there were throngs of people that met us at the finish line. These people just love cars!

Car enthusiasts

It’s a shame that we are only here for the evening. We will not see anything in this city, and the buildings that we see while driving through are fantastic. I took some photos while driving so they’re not the best but you may get to understand what I mean.

Some architectre

Our hotel here looks great from the outside but it’s basic inside. Rest the head, sleep and rise to do the same the next day as the day before.

A statue of Lenin out side our hotel

A scene from in the lobby of the hotel

Day 22 – Ufa to Kazan

Day 21 was our day of rest and was just that.

From the hotel window and some shots of roadside images

Because day 22 is 616kms, with three STC’s and one track event, it will be a long day. However, on receiving the days bulletin on departure/start, one gravel STC was cancelled, the other two still on, one on a busy public road, the other a short but winding bumpy rutted road. Denise took it in her stride, bouncing vigorously, pig jumping, the suspension that Steve had tweaked was working well.

Our times were right on the calculated times, so no points lost.

Then long, long roads, basically to get west and to the next rendezvous city.

It was hot too; windows open wide with the wind howling through to keep the temperature down. Hard on the ears, and communication becomes more difficult. But it is what it is.

The long hot straight roads, and oil installations  are a common sight. There’s lots of oil wells here keeping the wheels turning

Villages along the way, the roads and fields of wheat

Then, 17kms before the home stretch, a track event. A really nice professional track, 2 kms long, two circuits. Good fun. The minimum time 3 mins 45 and the maximum 9 mins. We did it in 5.30. Not bad?

Then onto the Korsten hotel in Kazan for the evening.

The local time turns out to be back 2 hours. Makes the day even longer.

Tomorrow is a transit day to Nizhny Novgorod. 487kms. No competition, just passage controls, although if some cars have problems, it can affect the results. Just saying.

Some houses along the road. Getting better as we move west. And a new subdivision of houses

If you can see the yellow pipes running parallel with the road, they are connected to a central boiler house that transmits hot water for heating the homes in winter

Day 20 – Bannoe lake resort to Ufa

Last nights rest was the best for a long time. We both slept well and as usual, up at 5.00.

Denise in the morning looking a little grumpy

And the brow that most other drivers see a lot of. !!!

The start line at Bennoe lake resort

It was to be a 455km day today with basically little to do but drive to Ufa. The only competition was a run on a race track 25km from the resort.

That was enjoyable. The heat of the sun had not yet come through.

The minimum time to complete the circuit was 1minute 30 seconds and the longest time was 5 minutes.

We did it in a comfortable time of 2mins 30 seconds.

Then on the highway to Ufa. It gets hot but the trip was uneventful. Just one rally car behind the other. It was getting hotter.

Some general road scenes. A cow stop and…..

The days distance was actually 355kms. Someone cocked up and so the design of the day was just travel.

Denise’s cousin, an Austin. Ready for a quick shower spruce up

We are staying at the Hilton tonight and tomorrow night. It’s a rest day. For some.

Steve decided because we arrived early that he would do the maintenance on the car today so that he can have tomorrow off.

The rubber bushes on the front right steering and suspension need replacing and he wants to check the possible leak of brake fluid somewhere. The torsion bar needs adjusting, etc, etc.

So, not much excitement to report I’m afraid.

Let’s hope we do get some rest as I think we need some.

Day 19 – Kazakhstan to Bannoe, Lake Bannoe resort Russia

We are crossing the border this morning. A direct run of 124kms over straight roads. There’s going to be much more of these straight roads as we head westward and the graveltravel ceases to exist. Gives our speedy mates the edge.

Inside the hotel accommodation. It’s old and reminiscent of the Soviet days. Not a nice place, but a place to put the head down. The rooms had three beds each and the they were two feet wide and about 1foot off the ground. They creaked when you turned at night. Like sleeping on an old crate

Our departure was the usual 9.25am and from the town square. Few people this morning but some interesting conversations with some. A lot of people here speak some English and when speaking to a teacher she said that the children are taught three languages here. Kazakhstan, Russian and English. They are progressive.

Leaving the square and someone who wanted to be photographed

There were the usual bulletin amendments to the route book but because of the border crossing and the 1 hour time change it was a little more difficult.

The border cross was quick and friendly.

But there was no time in the schedule to waste any time. No stop for something to eat.

In the afternoon there are two STC’s. These have been held on wheat farm tracks. Dusty and full of winding and rutted dirt roads. The first was ok, though we couldn’t achieve the time due to the car in front interfering with our run because of a nav error he made cutting in front then leaving us, literally in his dust.

Back on the road again. Wheat fields for as far as the eye can see. Great countryside

The second STC had such a short time vs distance that the average speed would be 116kph!!!

Impossible. But we did our best. Can’t be silly and bust our gut and break the car.

Still, Denise performed well and she just keeps going. She purrs.

Around mid afternoon the route guided us to a “Return to Russia” event, an historical event where the Ural river divided east from west and the turmoil around that time. It’s called the Magnitogorsk celebration and the PtoP just happened to be there on the day. A real welcome by the locals, each car being introduce over a loudspeaker system. A hot day and all and sundry turned out. Lots of children beautifully dressed and everyone trying to speak to you. The old and the new. They are just so friendly. There were some old cars, bikes and some armaments. Russians dressed in their old uniforms. Couldn’t take any photos due to phone being left in the sun on the car dashboard charging up. Pity. Got a couple though before it froze.

At the Russia celebration before the camera froze

People were all over Denise taking photos fawning over her!

Then the long run to the evening destination, the Bannoe Lake Resort.

More agriculture and driving through a typical poor village

A village of condos that was what seemed like a sanitorium during the soviet era. Set in amongst silver birch trees predominantly on the shores of a small lake. Apparently it snows here and it’s a ski resort too. Gets to 30 degrees below in winter. Again, throngs of visitors met us at the entry. A four piece heavy metal band played popular modern songs and in general a gala feel.

At the Bennoe Lake resort

Dinner was served at a lake venue on the premises.  Good food and Steve and I partook of a couple of Heineken beers. The first for quite a while.

Due to temperature, which is hot now, we were drained from the day’s activities. Bed and dead. Slept like there was no tomorrow.

Day 18 – Balkashino camp 7 to Kostanay

We awoke this morning in our tents wet with condensation and rainwater ingress. Although the sleep was good the festivities went on till the early hours of the morning. Strange people trying out karaoke, and failed miserably. It went on and those trying to get to their tents would (inadvertently) kick our tents guy wires and waken the occupants.

Some people don’t know when to give up and to think that we were to drive 588kms the next day, well.

Sleeping bags a little wet and the morning was cold. A nice sunny morning but cold.

Breakfast with some green tea, to keep the hands warm, and all is good.

Starting time was 9.25 am. A little late for the distance to be covered.

The start cate from camp 7. Pictures of the countryside

The first stop, after going through a deep water crossing was a ski circuit. An approx. 2 km concrete track through some bush surrounds. We had to do between 1.55 minutes and 5.55 minutes. We did it comfortably in 2.58 minutes. Denise liked this track.

Then onto the highway to do long distance but interspersed with 3 Sporting Time Controls.

The first was good but the Russian car sped past us and on wanting to pass the car in front miscalculated the distance and did a 180 degree spin and head back in the direction of the car he had overtaken then spun out onto the rut on the road to have lost a wheel and become stationary. Absolutely unnecessary and most dangerous. The driver has absolutely no fear. He just boots it and……. watch out.

So, onto the next two STC’s and again we did well in attaining the distance in the correct time. These roads ran through wheat fields. The dark earth was soft but the road was twisty so considering that the average speed was 80kph Steve had to work hard to keep the car on the road.

The endless roads and wheat fields. Blue skies. They have plenty of water here and can grow anything. Pleasant but boring driving. Can’t show pics during the rally across the fields as too busy doing other things

On the third STC one of the cars came off the road and into a valley on the side of the road. No one was hurt but the shock to the occupants must have been traumatic.

Driving these roads for the STC is hard on the drivers. Safety, speed and navigation.

Then a couple of hundred miles to drive to the hotel and be there at 5.50pm.

The roads ran straight for such distances through wheat fields. Thousands upon thousands of hectares of the finest arable lands, as flat as a pancake and for as far as the eye can see. There’s so much more that can be brought in too.

The country is rich in minerals, oil and agriculture. It grows many hectares of pine trees too. There’s no limit to what they can do, and they’re doing it.

The response to our arrival in the city’s town square this evening was amazing. They are so enthusiastic and a lot of people speak some English. That’s so different from the other towns and cities we’ve been to.

Arrival at the town square in Kostanay. We couldn’t drive though the throngs. We notice lots of young children in all of the places visited. They are well dressed and look like they’re well loved

Our hotel tonight is akin to the Soviet era hotels that one reads about a lot. It’s not good. The big mama sits in an office on each floor to keep order. It’ll do. We’ll be asleep in very short order.

Food was good though. Sleep will come easy tonight.

We go back across the border in the morning back to Russia.

A good day today.

Day 17 – Nur-Sultan to Balkashino camp 7

Leaving this city without being able to have a look around is a shame. The buildings we could see on the way in and out were stunning architecture. The city blocks were the size seen in the US but sprinkled in between were original structures of days past.

A picture from the hotel window before dark. Steve working on the car in the hotel car park and the dirt from Denise’s bottom. Another shot of the city at night from hotel window

The track out was straight forward on long stretches of city roads and stoplights then onto highways that stretched for hundreds of miles before us. Concrete roads that would be considered the best became boring as we progressed to the one exiting event that when we arrived we found had been cancelled.

Photos going out of the city

Back to more concrete road to our next event that was a passage control and a couple of time controls.

The car had lost the overdrive that Steve had repaired the night before. Obviously some electrical issue. As he had replaced it with a new one. He hasn’t worked it out yet as to the cause but our speed was dramatically reduced and the motor revs increased accordingly.

The last evening Steve had spent the best part of two hours cleaning, adjusting, replacing and tweaking the various parts that required attention. Some 5-6kgs of dirt was removed from underneath. A good job but failure of the o/drive continued to perplex.

With all the tight schedules every day and lack of sleep can be dangerous on the road. Care is essential.

A national park we drove through

A hotel coming out of the park. Scenes of the countryside. It’s so fertile and the govt is making the most of it. There’s a lot to develop yet

A successful arrival at the camp entrance only to find throngs of people. We had expected a serene location in the countryside somewhere.

Not to be.

We were directed to our tent which was the size of a pea pod. Rain was threatening and Steve didn’t want to pitch his, but it was the only resolve to get some sleep for the night.

It then became obvious that this site was to become a gala event with the locals Turing out in their customary costumes, dancing and singing.

At the campsite 7 in Balkashino and the welcome gala that the locals put on. The garb is something to behold

The facilities here looked “not so good” but these too turned out to be first class. Showers with hot water and proper toilets with flushing and blue water.

Really good.

So, as it turned out it was a rather joyful afternoon, the food cooked by the locals was surprisingly good and breakfast the next day was also ok.

Some more activities at the camp

We bed down relatively early, 8.30 but the partying carried on to all hours.

The worst feature was people walking past the tents, inadvertently tripping over the tent ropes in the dark, with the obvious outcome of waking the occupant.

It rained during the night and the tents were wet inside. And the cold of the early morning was getting through the sleeping bags.

But there were really no issues to complain about.

Some more pics of camp 7

Day 16 – Irtysh Hotel to Nur-Sultan

Morning had broken at about 4.30 am and it was a clear day, so far.

The hotel we stayed in was very good and food was excellent.

The city was quiet at that time and the police still had a presence directing early risers to their cars parked a couple of hundred meters from the hotel.

Breakfast commenced at 5.30 and many competitors were preparing their cars (vintage) to start going out at 7.00.

Buses were ferrying drivers and navigators from the hotel continuously.

The bulletin (short for amendments) was five pages long. A lot had changed since the recce teams had put the route book together so naturally, in a country such as Kazakhstan that is developing rapidly took a bit to understand and incorporate the changes onto the book. You’ve just got to get it right or the chances are you will err en-route.

All done and away at 8.25 looking for the way out of the city.

A modern new bridge outside the city of Irtysh, and cars ready to depart the Time Control in correct order

There were to be 4 STC’s and 7 TC’s. This is a heavy schedule considering that we have to cover 556kms today. But if getting to the starting points correctly and on time the event can be good fun.

The first STC was great fun on an open paddock with farm like tracks. The distance was 8.24 kms in a time of 8 minutes, average speed of 67kph.

It was a soft rough course and surface with mud holes and water holes. About two thirds of the way, the Russian competitors, who started one minute behind us, passed in a wash of mud going like a bat out of hell. As he passed his car swerved and fishtailed as if it was going to roll. Our windscreen was covered in mud and we couldn’t see the track ahead. Squirting water from our water bottles cleared up the vision enough to get to the end. Crazy stuff.

We got in in 9 minutes so we lose points for the one minute.

Then onto the next STC, which when we got there, had been cancelled. We were expected to cover the course at our leisure to maintain our mileage totals. But doing this showed just why this stage was withdrawn from competition. We nearly rolled whilst just having a leisurely look. It was just too dangerous, so good on the ERA for deciding to cancel.

Then on to two STC’s in a row. One after the other. On a field with tracks going every which way. The total for the course was twelve kms in twelve minutes.

There were just so many tracks that you would have to be excused for not having selected the correct one. It was so complicated that there were many, including us that were just too perplexed to find the correct route.

It was good fun but frustrating.

After this last event we had some 200kms to get to the MTC at the Marriott hotel in Nur-Sultan.

Nice cloud structure

Straight newly completed concrete motorways that stretch so far into the distance. You get the feel that Kazakhstan is developing into a very well structured country. Vast fertile land and mining is allowing the country to prosper as they harness their potential.

New motorway construction and Denise covered in mud, again

Whilst travelling the motorway Denise decided to lose the electric overdrive gear.

This means travelling at a slower pace while using more fuel.

At the hotel Steve donned his overalls and began evaluating the reason for the fault. He’s still at as I write this blog.

The city that we entered is truly startling! New buildings of glass, stone and concrete abound. Designs that are amazing and modern. We couldn’t really assay these while driving but will have a look in the morning before we leave. This city surpasses some of the more well-known capital cities of the world. It’s really an eye opener.

The city of Nur-Sultan from the hotel room window

Tomorrow we leave base at 9.25am. The trek is for 416kms. We camp out for the last time in this rally at Balkashino.

Day 15 – Russia to Kazakhstan

It’s Sunday morning 16th June and our “day of rest” has come and gone. There’s no rest for the wicked, as the saying goes.

Our start times have been reset and we begin the rally at 8.25am.

There is an amendment sheet to the route book for updating the program for the day.

There are a few changes that need to be taken into account from when the course was set last year.

The exit from the city comes easily as traffic volume is low and we make good progress confident that we are on the correct course.

An interesting modern bridge just out of Novosibirsk and the general scenery going west to Kazakhstan

We did query an instruction that seemed ambiguous and felt confident we understood.

However,,,,, the instruction was ambiguous and the “navigator” took a turn wrongly.

He should have been following the waypoints on the GPS, which didn’t show up when we were some 50kms off course!!!

We were running comfortably on time but this put the kibosh on getting anywhere today. The drive was already 630kms plus another 100kms backtracking!

Once back on the correct track, and rain was added to the mix, there was an STC to partake of on a graveltravel road.

Well, when we got to this STC, the road, some 16kms in duration, was 200mm deep in mud. It was slush and the car was covered in mud, splattering over the windscreen so that all vision was lost. The wipers could not remove this slush mud so we slowed whilst one of us could squirt water onto the screen to clear it. It was dangerous yet like kids, it was enjoyable to drive through. Mud everywhere and it went on and on. We skidded, fishtailed and slid like you wouldn’t believe. The road was quite wide so there was room aplenty if there were no other cars on the road. We just couldn’t see. We also couldn’t stop as being stuck was not an option so kept going sometimes not knowing the direction of our heading. No time to take pictures. We used all of our precious water supply just to try and keep the windshield see throughable.

At the end a group of amused onlookers that had seen the other cars coming through covered in mud, had a chain gang going with buckets of water and a watering can to slosh clean our windscreen. Great consideration of some enthusiastic people just wanting to help.

Eventually back on some sort of tarmac we stopped at a service station and Steve cunningly saw an opportunity to wash the car under the station canopy that was leaking copious quantise of rainwater from its roof. It worked a treat. Parked transversely across the entry to two pumps slowly moving back and forward. Other customers saw the funny side and accepted another lane.

We were late at all the control positions this day because of the error made earlier in the day.

Part of the afternoon activity was crossing from Russia to Kazakhstan. We dreaded the delays in this process, but as it turned out the process was smooth and friendly.

On the Kazakhstan side of the border the sun came out. Very welcome.

It had been cold where it had rained so it was a welcome relief to get some sunshine.

The last part of the trek was to find our hotel which wasn’t too difficult as it turned out. The roads toward the city were long and straight and the surface was quite different from the roads in the Russian side.

The inside of Denise for those who haven’t seen inside the cabin in which we spend so much time everyday and the throngs of people at the arrival in the Irtysh hotel

At the official parking lot in the city there was a huge crowd to meet all the cars. These people just love cars where we’ve been so far and everywhere we go there are waves and “toots”. Even the police want to shake your hand when you arrive.

It was a good, looong day with the only blemish being the ambiguous course direction resulting in a poor performance day I’m afraid.