Preparation of caravans for the journey is almost completed. We mounted the proud license plates of the 77th region on the vehicles and continue gathering endless small items. Suddenly, today – oh joy – an order comes from the customs: we have to photograph all merchandise (it turns out that we have "merchandise"!), describe the materials they are made of, and their purpose; briefly, without any fanaticism, just a couple of pages for each item, not more. Everything has been already packed in foamed plastic and wrapped by scotch tape. We clench our teeth, take the knife in hand and go straight ahead - unpack everything, photograph, and pack again. If we don't pack the goods, the customs officer will be upset: it's so pleasant to force these guys (that is, us) to unpack all over again for a scrutinizing inspection and organoleptic study. Therefore – we are packing all. As a consolation, the customs broker said: penny ante, think how it is to describe a few 40-feet containers and a couple thousand items, so don’t worry, be happy. I started with the sledgehammer: the photo, detailed description of the material and methods of application. The atmosphere of solidarity of the team is supporting. We are posting the photos of men on the web site with much more pleasure than the photo of the sledgehammer, though it might be also very useful, if it were not for the English-type restraint which is inherent to Nikolaitch and me.
That’s how the matters are. Yours V. Yelagin.
Yesterday a request came from Valdis Pelsh office: "Vasily Igorevich, we need the sizes of your (Obikhod and Makarov) feet in centimeters, in order to buy felt boots." I forwarded the request to Ekaterinburg. Makarov’s reply related to the sizes of the feet of technical staff came quickly. I quote ad verbum, preserving the spelling and punctuation of the author: "Felt boots! That’s cool. For me – of white color, if possible. I hardly caught Nikolayich, he is riding around our kishlak on Yemelya, horrifying all the hens here. Size of his left foot is 25,2, right foot – 25,3. My left foot is 26,7, right foot – 26,5. That is in centimeters. More accurate measurements were impossible, the appropriate appliances are not available. I have personal quilted jacket and a hat with earflaps, if that is necessary. I also have quilted pants left from my grandfather, but it would be better to buy something newer (to show off), otherwise I’ll feel somehow awkward with the Americans, they surely have brand new clothes.
Many thanks from me personally and from Nikolayich for care."
So, our staff has a sense of humor, what gives a vague hope for successful outcome of the undertaking. Indeed, when Thor Heyerdahl has been asked by the competent authorities: what qualities the Soviet member of his expedition should possess (Yuri Senkevich became this member), he replied: "Sense of humor."
Yours V. Yelagin.
Yesterday we twisted the intermediate axle drive shaft during the test drive. The reason: negligent assembling. The mournful evening passed in grievous thoughts - where the shaft (it was unique) can be made, with guarantee of high quality. The concilium resolved: nowhere, especially in such a tight (one or two week) time frame, and to be made soundly. Today in the morning I anxiously waited till 11 a.m., phoned to Ulm, to Hans Rammensee, the great restorer of old-time autos and our good friend. He is a serious man, he took timeout for one hour to investigate the issue. The photo of the part has been forwarded. After an hour, the long-awaited call: "Old chap, here is a private workshop round the corner from my place, a small one, but well-equipped, the craftsman is a proper guy, I know him well enough, he will do it. Heat treatment? Surely, we're all grown-ups." So, the Bavarian village is ready to help in the holy cause of celebrating the 200th anniversary of the discovery of Antarctica by RUSSIAN sailors under the command of Bellingshausen and Lazarev. Maybe the surname of Faddey Faddeyevich (Fabian Gottlieb Thaddeus von Bellingshausen) helped. So, I hope all is well, the shortcomings are eliminated, organizational conclusions are made, the vehicle will be even better than before.
And meanwhile, at our side of reality: the customs has strictly warned that the replaced parts must be returned to the homeland in full compliance with the temporary export list, as a proof that Nikolaitch and I have not opened the retail sale of used parts for cars made in mid-90ies on the coast of the Antarctic continent, thus driving the penguins in a state of utter amazement. Most likely, this is done due to love for the animal world of the Southern continent. Because mass death of penguins caused by laughter shall not be permitted in any case. So, we have good people everywhere, preserving wild life, and not only detecting smuggled goods and suppressing it mercilessly. Thus, everything and everybody is under control - people and even penguins.
Yours V. Yelagin.
On Friday Nikolaitch and I must fly to Moscow, there is a plenty of things to be done there: to buy various technical small items, to collect personal belongings that are scattered all over at different homes, summer cottages and villages, in order to forward them by sea, and not to roam with them through the airports. It is not so simple to hire a truck from Yekaterinburg to the cradle of the revolution (i.e. the coup of the 17th year), to the sea port, because everyone wants to head only to Moscow. The customs broker is eager to see the documents for the ATVs, and I have none, and nowhere to take from. They are pure DIY items, thank God that they are not forbidden. I recall that when we crossed the Bering Strait from Alaska to Homeland, in the village named in honor of Schmidt (the gentleman who managed to drown the icebreaker, for which deed he became a national hero), two police captains, well-fed to the utter indecency, approached us and asked: "May we see the documents on the vehicles?", and in reply I told them confidentially that the vehicles were stolen in Alaska, and now are driven to the place of sale. Similarly, at the customs we’ll have to explain to the officers that in real life the items without documents still do occur, even though it is very bad, and it is necessary to contend with this vicious phenomenon until complete eradication. In whole, the process at customs is expected to be creative, I would say - exciting.
In the meantime, we install the masts for transmitting terminals on the trailers, in the evenings the painting of trailers takes place; the paint is so poisonous and smelly that the exhaust ventilation in the room is not enough, and no one except the painter can withstand it. The weight of the caravans is growing every day, it is enough to make you weep. Every minute we recollect: we have forgotten this, and it is necessary to take that... In the evening (after 23 hours) I watch different videos on YouTube, how Toyota vehicles daringly travel through the vastness of the Southern continent, while talking about the terrible sastrugi (erosion ridges) and loose snow. For some reason they all use aviation kerosene mixed with motor oil as fuel; why it is better than good diesel fuel – I cannot understand yet. Let's wait and see.
The ladies who are guarding our rest at night are making dried crust and feed Nikolaich with green vegetables from the kitchen garden, in the framework of preventive measures against inevitable vitamin deficiency. Obikhod obediently absorbs the useful fiber, he says - it helps. Being a delicate person, I do not dare to ask: against what? That’s how we are getting on. Three days left till leaving for Moscow, and the volume of work – for eight years of toil...
Yours V. Yelagin.
Today the movie-people (so we called cameramen in the Himalayan expedition to mt. Kanchenjunga) arranged their basins, Open Port satellite terminals, transferred something to someone and departed home, satisfied. Meanwhile we, with maniacal eagerness, continue searching for flaws in the vehicles, fix them, in this way suppressing the acute phase of an attack for some time, but this period is short, some other flaw is found again, and the cycle repeats. The days fly by, the outcome is approaching, the customs demands from us detailed lists of the contents of our boxes and barrels, and very explicit lists indeed: phrases like "hand tools set" are categorically disapproved, that means that the customs may not "give the go-ahead", so we write, write... It is highly desirable that every item were of "previously used" category, but when in a conversation with the customs broker I stuttered that we would prefer not to take "previously used" spare parts, he became very sad and explained that spare parts pertain to a very special registration procedure, and far from a simple one. In short, once again it is the "Saga of the Customs". It's more difficult to drive out than to get to the destination point. In order to fall asleep easier and sleep better, Nikolaitch and I passed to tea made of fireweed, but despite of that the sleep is nervous. I hope that the White Silence will heal the bad nerves, especially if nobody will be snoring nearby. But I guess that is too much of dreaming. Local guys practicing witchcraft over our ATVs are mere life-savers, without them we could not manage to prepare the caravans. Some of them are so much imbued by the problem that they also sleep badly at night. They often work seven days a week from 8 to 8 hours, and sometimes till midnight. The lads are real experts: it is the team of "Makarov’s ATVs" company, they need no long explanations – after a brief discussion, how and what to do, they begin to work without a word. They put some ginger into it, the work is accompanied by loud pop music, thus forcing Nikolaitch and me to get accustomed to endure the hardships and asperities sturdily. I must report that the repertoire repeated daily, combined with knocking of hammers, screech of hand grinders, cracking of arc welding may, perhaps, raise endurance in us, if we still remain alive until completion of the work. I am somewhat hard-of-hearing, and it saves me.
That's how the matters are here. Yours V. Yelagin.
Today three members of the expedition joined us - film Director Ms. Kristina Oganesovna Kozlova and cameramen Denis and Alexander. Yesterday Eugene arrived, the specialist on adjustment and installation of TV transmitting complex using which the narrator will tell the workpeople in winter Russia how life goes on in summer Antarctica. These are the last days before dispatching the vehicles to St. Petersburg - everything is strained, all sorts of trifle things are emerging now and then, and the head is permanently stuck with this muck, it is impossible to focus on serious problems: for example, to think about how beautiful, according to rumors, Moscow has become, so faraway, seeming almost dreamlike from here, from Uralmash plant. Endless lists of spare parts, tools – the toilet problem alone could offset the brain, because everything, absolutely everything eaten by us in course of two months, we will be obliged to transport out of the boundaries of the Southern continent. I still hope that at least we’ll not be forced to move all this stuff to the Motherland, plenty of it is there already, we could gladly share our traditional technologies with anybody. But speaking seriously, we endeavor an autonomous travel over 6000 km long, and experienced people again regard it as lunacy, thus awaking our engineering excitement and ambition to prepare the machinery so that we are able to overcome this distance successfully, avoiding falling in a crevasse and without quarreling. I am intending to write diary this time as well, and to post it on our website. One of our main concerns known today - the problem of crevasses; they are not numerous, but they do happen, and even a single hospitable crevasse may be enough to stop suddenly the series of reports. There are no satellite images available; a ground penetrating radar or sonar requires not only a qualified operator on board, but also slows down the movement significantly. Those who travel to the South Pole from Novolazarevskaya station are using the well-known route, which was passed several times. However, our route from Novo (a landing runway near Novolazarevskaya) to the Pole of Relative Inaccessibility lies far from of the “beaten” routes, it has been passed just once about 60 years ago, and at that GPS-less era it was not possible to put the route on the map accurately.
That's how the matters are here. Yours V. Yelagin.