Hitching Tales 3: Siberia, Russia (Part 2)

Hitching Tales 3: Siberia, Russia (Part 2)

posted in: Hitch Hiking, Travel | 0

Despite the fact I was in a decent sleeping bag, my sweats, 2 pairs of socks, winter cap, and jacket, it got extremely cold in the night and I kept waking up. ‘What the hell? It’s August!’, I thought. But alas, such is Siberia. I still managed a decent amount of shut-eye, and felt okay when I woke for good, around 7am. The tent was all packed and I was back alongside the road by 7:30. Confident the worst was over and I’d manage my way into Omsk by early evening, I confidently showed my thumb.

Only 600 kilometers to go, and I had the whole day to do it. What else could go wrong?

Nearby where I was standing, there were tiny bus stops, one on each side of the highway. I wondered what they were for, as I saw no signs of civilization anywhere around last night. I soon noticed a small pathway on the opposite side of the highway, leading into a forest. Several locals were meandering out of there and congregating around the bus stop, apparently on their way to work. I figured there must be a small village down that road, obscured by the thick forest, though I noticed no lights last night.

Within a few minutes, a drunken old local emerged from the forested trail, noticed me, and abruptly approached. The man had white hair and days-old stubble, and was wearing full military fatigues. He was so drunk he could barely stand upright, though it was still early morning. As soon as he addressed me in Russian, I knew I was screwed. The man’s interest shot through the roof when he found out he was talking to a real American.

I wondered how many Americans he’d seen in his life, sure that he could count the number on one calloused hand.

Trying unsuccessfully to be helpful, the old drunkard staggered out onto the highway and started trying to flag down cars. The traffic simply swerved to dodge him, and continued onward. I knew he was just trying to be helpful, but figured I’d already have gotten a ride if he would just leave me alone. I was starting to get annoyed. The man removed a pack of stale, unfiltered cigarettes from his pocket and offered me some; I took a few to be polite. He stubbornly kept trying to initiate a conversation between us, even though it was immediately obvious the language barrier was insurmountable.

The geezer kept trying to get me to follow him into the forest, but I steadfastly resisted. He probably just wanted to show me to his hut and offer me breakfast, but I was taking no chances. Besides, I had a long ways to go. His presence was becoming more and more annoying and I struggled to maintain a cheerful expression all while trying to get him to fuck off.

Just minutes after he finally got the point and left, I got a lift.

A friendly younger guy in a nice, new car stopped. Unfortunately, he only took me about 25 kilometers up the road. Humorously, he presented me with a large can of cold beer upon my departure from his vehicle. I had no desire to drink so early, but hadn’t had any refreshments in a long while so I cracked open the can and guzzled down about half of it while I tried to hitch my next lift. My driver had let me off in yet another secluded spot. It was near a large clearing, but no houses or any other structures were visible anywhere.

Another car soon stopped, but it was yet another short journey. Only about 40 kilometers. I couldn’t believe how many short rides I was picking up; I wished an Omsk-bound car would stop so we could get on with it. This man dropped me in a small village with several rest areas.

Much like yesterday, it looked like a perfect spot to hitch-hike, though this proved to be yet another sad illusion.

I spent hours trying to pick up another willing ride, growing more and more disenchanted with each car that unceremoniously whizzed by.

I spent around four hours at this village! I still can’t fathom why nobody would stop for me there, but hundreds upon hundreds of cars slowly cruised by, right past me. About halfway into my doomed stay beside that stretch of highway, a cold rain began to steadily fall. I was soon considerably soaked, and ran for cover under the roof of the nearest sheltered gas station. I began asking people who were stopping for gas, but inexplicably, although most were headed east, nobody agreed to take me.

It was early afternoon and I was beginning to formulate plans for my next night in the forest, when someone finally stopped. He was a middle-aged guy who appeared and acted highly unhinged. The man spoke very poor English, but got enough across to clarify he could take me 100 kilometers. I didn’t like the way he was eyeing me and behaving during that uncomfortable drive, but the man was true to his word. He dropped me off at a bustling truck stop-restaurant, surrounded by the now-familiar Siberian forest. It was already mid-afternoon and I had barely gone 150 kilometers, just a quarter of the way to my destination; I was in disbelief!

I was kicking myself for not just taking a train when I had a chance, mostly because of the rapidly dwindling time I had to legally remain in the country.

My fortunes finally changed, however. I stood outside the small country convenience store, asking customers for a ride east. Within minutes, a truck driver said he’d take me the full 450 kilometers to Omsk, as long as I waited for him to take a half-hour break. I excitedly said I’d do just that… although I kept asking customers for a ride, they kept declining and the half hour was soon up. When the truck driver exited through the convenience store’s doors, he signaled me to follow him to his rig.

Although I finally had my ride to Omsk, the man’s overloaded semi truck was extremely slow. I think the top speed we reached was about 60 kilometers per hour. Worse, the road conditions on the E-22 highway rapidly deteriorated. Many times we had to fully stop for periods of five minutes or more, or maneuver very slowly through construction areas where only a single lane was open for passage. As elated as I’d initially been over the driver’s offer for a ride, I was soon as frustrated as ever. It was inevitable now; I’d be lucky to arrive at Omsk by midnight.

Once we realized neither of us spoke the others’ language, the atmosphere inside the man’s rig was comfortably silent, as we mostly listened to his loud Russian music. Of all the drivers on this journey who’d given me a lift, the only ones who spoke even a tiny amount of English had been the young military dudes in Tyuman city. I regretted not being able to provide conversation or companionship, but the friendly driver didn’t seem to mind.

When we neared Omsk, he even helped me find my way to my hosts’ place. I had no phone of my own, but I gave him a number and he called them up. I listened as they conversed in Russian, though I had no idea what they were saying. Finally, he passed the phone over to me. My host, who could speak English, explained to me that the driver was going to drop me at a gas station on the outskirts of the city, where a taxi would come to fetch me. All I had to do was wait there.

It all went as planned, thanks to the collective efforts of the friendly driver and my host. The taxi showed up after about 10 minutes, and next thing I knew it, I was finally at my accommodation for the next few days, after a hitch-hiking misadventure that had lasted over 36 hours. Gleb, my host, came out to meet me and insisted on paying the taxi driver. He was a young guy and was obviously highly intoxicated. After our initial pleasantries, he led me up to his apartment.

Going on inside was a wild house party. I was introduced to Gleb’s many friends, all of whom were exceedingly friendly and hospitable. Within minutes, a beer was in my hand and I was sitting in the kitchen explaining to the crew about my hitch adventure. I was so tired I could barely keep my eyes open, but Gleb was in a partying mood. Wanting to make a good impression and be a positive guest, who was I to demand I go to sleep right away?

So we got drunk and partied all night long. Over the next few days, Gleb and his crew, who called themselves ‘Das Pridurcos‘ and fashioned themselves after the famous American group ‘Jackass’, showed me a great and fun-filled time in their fair city. I’ll never forget my stay there, as well as my ‘grand entrance’ after the longest hitch-hiking stretch of my life.

Attachment: Journey through Russia [2015]

Go to: Part 1