Turning south from Teriberka on February 8, had a significant psychological effect on Mac and I. We drove 100km of the same road we came north on, before turning south east onto the main north – south highway between St. Petersburg and Murmansk. We drove in silence. The cab lacked conversation or music entertainment. We were both deep in thought processing the struggles and euphoria associated with having achieved the goal, of reaching the Arctic Ocean. The daily vehicle and living challenges continued. Another fuse, and the retracting operation of the table which converts the dinette into my bed, failed. We changed the fuse outside in -18 and I shared Macs bed. Improvising and adapting ourselves became the norm. However, that coupled with the emotions we were experiencing, I found the constant battle against living and travelling relentless. Honestly, I was struggling. The entire focus of my energy and positivity it took to reach our goal, had nothing else to cling to. Everything I was working towards, was over.
We had a few places we wanted to visit during our 1500km route from Murmansk to St. Petersburg. The first one was a town close to Olen-ya. It was detailed as a Saami Village. Saami people are the indigenous Finno-Ugric people inhabiting northern parts of Scandinavia and Murmansk Oblast. Their livelihood largely depends on reindeer herding – providing them with meat, clothing (fur) and transport. We had no idea what to expect but unfortunately, this was never an authentic Saami village at any point. It existed for the sole purpose of tourism. Many tour busses are driven from St. Petersburg daily to visit these tourist traps. Fortunately for us, we were also assumed to be part of the tour and were never asked to pay. So of course, we made the most of our morning with them! We were walked around, classic tour group style going from husky cuddles to reindeer cuddles to a game of Saami football – it’s actually handball with a parcel of reindeer skin. We sat on a sled and were pulled around a 200m circuit buy four reindeers and we had kisses from an elk. It was all a bit of a tourist trap but it was free and we let loose and had great fun.
After leaving the Saami village we drove the short 100km to a town called Kirovsk. Kirovsk was a huge domestic tourist destination due to its 27km of piste in Big Wood Ski Resort. Mac and I went our separate ways during our afternoon in this town. Although we’re as close as best friends and have an unreal connection for father and daughter, we both still require time alone to reflect and process. Basically, I’m a self-proclaimed loner and Mac needs his stillness.
I walked through the town before I could find a path into the trees that I wouldn’t sink into. I walked for a while until I remembered the weight on my back was the laptop I tap all of my stories into. I found a cosy café, sat in a window seat facing the sun with tea in hand (obviously), watching all of the humans that inhabit this town go about their afternoon, and I wrote.
I got back to the cabin around 1900, hoping dinner would be an imminent event. Instead of cooking, we decided to have a brief baby wipe refreshment and head out for dinner and whisky (you guessed it, we’re still frozen). Fusion, an all in one building with a restaurant and bar, karaoke area and nightclub entertained us for the night and we made our way back to the truck sometime during the early hours.
I did intend to snowboard in Kirovsk, way back when in Murmansk, when we pinned this town to the map. Still feeling the weight of this change of direction, coupled with absolute whiteout conditions. I gave it a miss. Instead of staying here for the sake of premade plans, we drove out of town and back onto the highway with the focus of using this time elsewhere. We drove until after dark, parking in a truck stop on the side of the road. We were both mentally prepared for a full days driving. These are awful days, even at the best of times. We were rolling by 0730, on February 9 armed with sandwiches, fruit and biscuits in our snap box alongside a flask of tea for myself and coffee for Mac.
By 1200, we had consumed the majority of our lunch and boredom was beginning to take over the sanity we had left. It was a difficult driving day. I was still feeling very heavy and unmotivated. Mac made great efforts to talk through what we had accomplished, and the continued journey we had. When travelling with another person, as we are with each other. Both parties have to pull their own weight. One can’t carry the other for long, and I knew this. I just needed an environment which allowed me to find what I lost when we turned south. So, we went searching for it.
P.S. We didn’t get to the fire bit… we had another failure, but also some extremely uplifting news!
I’ll just recap for those of you who may have missed that.
· We found a track and almost slid off of it.
· Evidently, we have an electrical fault in the cab regarding the four wheel drive mechanism.
· We have a Unimog with no four wheel drive.
· WE’RE THAWED!!
· I showered, washed my hair, changed my entire set of clothing and walked in the silence of the night. CURED and happy to be exactly where I am, with motivation to keep heading forwards, in which ever direction that may be.
· We flushed our wee down the toilet for the first time in three weeks.
· We got a little drunk.
After spending the morning chasing waterfalls, we hit the tarmac with the intention of covering serious kilometres before turning into the forest for fire night. However, watching a local struggling to get his Scania flatbed through the slush, we pulled in front and helped. It was at some point during this attempt, we realised we had ourselves yet another problem. Our diff-locks were failing, meaning instead of the front axle (both wheels) driving together, they were spinning independently. Further reducing our off road capability, substantially.
Unfortunately, spinning all over the slush ourselves, we had to leave the Scania to figure it out for himself. We didn’t think much more about our new problem this evening. It was added to one of the problem lists, most likely the more imminent problem list. Instead we drove out into the forest, parked on the side of a track and lit our fire.
(Yes, it is a washing machine drum).