The alarm went off at 0530, to which I snoozed. I woke again 10 minutes later to Mac holding out a cup of tea. That’s better. Morning routine almost complete, Mac went to start the engine. It wasn’t the familiar and oh so beautiful shake into life I heard, from the cabin this morning.
Hm. We were going to go on explaining how we overcame this little issue but Mac has some iPhone storage related issues.
So, I shall continue in writing. After cranking the engine for 20 consecutive seconds, and again for a further 10 – 15 seconds, we realise she wasn’t going to start without some assistance. The assistance came in the size of a 350ml spray can called Easy Start. Easy Start contains ether. Ether is a gas which is used to assist with the ignition of internal combustion engines, specifically in low temperatures. In our case, -14 engine block and -18 air temperatures. We fetched a long flat head screw driver out of the tool hatch so I could prop open the air inlet filter space and spray the East Start down into the engine air intake. This enabled additional fuel to get into the combustion cylinder to encourage ignition. Thanks Google.
Mac cranked the engine for another 20 seconds while I sprayed half a can of the magic stuff into the hole. No joy. We tried again. A further 20 seconds and a whole lot of Ether later, she rumbled to life! Thankyou! Now, let’s get out of the city. I’m ready for wild.
We drove east straight out of the city, on a road we assumed to be tarmac, topped with a winter of compacted snow. With it being winter, at 68 latitudinal degrees north, I followed the sun out of my south facing window all day. It was a blue bird day. Although we had some degree of light from around 0900, the sun didn’t actually creep above the horizon until after 1030. A few hours and 120km later we arrived in Teriberka. The landscape changed quickly during this drive. The forest thinned, the trees gave way to small scrub and eventually that gave way too. Russian Tundra! The tundra is a vast treeless expanse of land generally found north of the Arctic Circle. Plant and tree growth is hindered by low temperatures and short growing seasons. The tundra was covered in snow around three quarters of a metre deep, I learnt this the hard way stepping back too far in order to photograph our rolling home.
In the 1950’s Teriberka was a well-developed, thriving business town with a population of 4800 inhabitants. Sadly, during the 1960’s the fishing industry on which the town was reliant, was transferred elsewhere. Reducing the population significantly. Current there are approximately 1000 inhabitants. Consequently, there are many abandoned residential dwellings and business premises throughout the town, and along the coast of the Barents Sea. On a positive note, tourism is beginning to develop in this area, which in turn is generating relevant employment opportunity for the local population.
As we entered the town, there were a collection of abandoned fishing vessels which although frozen in place provided great exploring opportunities for us; they sit, a small reminder of the town Teriberka used to be.
We continued north, to the coastline. Our intention was to reach the northernmost sandy beach on Earth. The track we drove was infrequently used, with many areas of deep snow. I walked the track, enjoying the freedom of open spaces, also because drifting through the deep snow is more Macs thing than mine. We drove until the road wouldn’t allow us to pass any further, and we walked.
We were around 3km from the sandy beach. It was -28 on the cab thermostat, with a swift wind coming in our immediate direction. We had all of our clothing on, but fingers and toes were a problem. It took us about 25 minutes before we had our first view of the open ocean ahead of us. A boulder beach, around 15 metres in depth. We had one thing on our minds. We wanted to touch the Arctic Ocean. We clambered across the ice topped boulders, rather gingerly. We picked a nice ice free boulder to park our butts onto, while the waves gently lapped between them at 69.2 latitudinal degrees north.
After having dipped our fingers in the ocean, we rumbled back down the track we came in on and thus began the hunt for our northernmost beer. A small café/bar, back towards the least abandoned part of town had a collection of local people inside, local Saami people – the non-engaging kind. Oh well, we’re used to it now.
This beer was more than just a beer. This beer meant we made it. Against so many odds. After so many aspects of the vehicle failed on us. On these expeditions, it’s more than just a vehicle. It’s more than just a means of transport. It is our lifeline. We were tested, physically and mentally. But we made it here anyway. Positive mental attitudes and our ability to see set-backs as just another challenge to overcome – got us to the Arctic Ocean. That, and that alone. Like I said, it was more than just a beer.
We walked back to the truck, in awe of where we were going to be sleeping tonight. We chose a flat piece of ground, at the far end of town, overlooking the River Teriberka. We weren’t in anybody’s way, nicely tucked out of site behind a mound of snow – an ideal location to deposit the contents of our poo bucket. I’ve actually become quite accustomed to decanting my poo into the bucket and emptying it in the snow. I’m disgusting, I know… I could explain further if you like. If the contents of said bucket are poured slowly, it creates a perfectly circular hole in the snow which consumes the contents, hiding the fact it was ever deposited in the first place.
On this joyful 69.2 degrees north day, I was not awoken quite as nicely as yesterday’s hot tea in an outstretched hand! Three heavy pounds on the door. We ignored it. A few more. Ignored. I heard Mac grunt in disgust of the events. A long string of pounds I lost count of in my sleepy haze. Mac stuck his head out of his window. WHAT? *Inaudible Russian*. We went back to sleep. Some sleepy time later – pounds, more pounds. *Inaudible Russian*. This time Mac paid attention to the hand gestures as well… He interpreted them to be – you need to move, or those guys from over there will come and cuff your wrists, *international wrists in handcuff motion*. We decided it was time to move and have breakfast elsewhere.
We spent this morning walking around all of the places we were certain we wouldn’t be shot for entering. There were many locked entrances and heavy military presence. Maybe there is more going on here than meets the eye. We talked about it at length but at the end of the day, we can’t know for certain. We explored many of the derelict houses within which people used to live. There was an entire community here, thriving. It’s sad really. I couldn’t help but wonder where these people are now. We also couldn’t determine why anybody would want to build a stunningly modern log cabin amongst all of the properties just one more winter away from hitting the ground.
I also threw some hot water in the air and marvelled at the results!