MYB expedition – day 2: Susuman to Ust-Nera.

Despite these hard times, we continue our work saving the world from all manner of cyber-maliciousness. We adapt; we carry on. Meanwhile, I hope my travel notes and photos will bring a little cheeriness to all who view them – because there’s hardly a better way to do that than with the beauty of nature (and a spot of adventure).

On day-two of our Magadan–Yakutsk–Baikal road trip, we had to get to the next large village on the Kolyma Highway – Ust Nera – where we were to spend the night. I write ‘had to’, since there’s literally nowhere else where we could stay along the route: there are a few tiny settlements, but they each have a full zero hotels apiece. Still, the distance to cover wasn’t so far (the odometers showed 415km that evening), and the views from the road all day were simply fantastic…

Though gravel-covered (not asphalted), the road was as smooth as… a sable’s fur! As usual – all the snow had been cleared along the full length of the highway; as usual – it was well-signposted (and crash-barriered on the bends).

Our favorite distance marker: 1111! ->

On this day we had a spot of technical trouble. More on that a bit later…

Here’s today’s route:

The previous night in Susuman it was around -50°C. This morning it wasn’t much warmer. The exhaust fumes from our cars hung over the road like a thick fog – so much so we had to keep our distance from one another – otherwise we’d have been driving blind!…

Driving through Susuman, there was hardly anyone about. Not so surprising given it’s sooo cold…

The main street – it was a toss-up as to what it would be called: was it going to be the typical Lenin Street, 9th May Street, or Soviet Street? In this case, it was the latter ).


This is… the (municipal-budget-financed) “House of Children’s Creativity” extra education center. What, couldn’t you guess?! Turns out that an aviation enthusiast in the 1980s figured that attaching the cockpit of a real (decommissioned) IL-18 would add to the quality of hands-on learning for the aviation-design club that was housed in the building. Adds to the quality of interesting uniqueness of the building too, I’d say).

The inevitable Lenin on the wall mural there; Soviet flags too… That’s as athletic-and-lean-and-chiseled a Lenin as ever there was one – but I don’t think there ever was one ) ->

Still chilly this February morning…

We felt a little awkward when we were out in the cold for a short time here. There we were, typical tourists sticking out like sore thumbs all gloved and hatted and jumpered and polar-jacketed up so as to resemble the Michelin Man, when a local girl rushed past us in a simple puffer jacket and jeans – with the mercury showing minus 47 degrees! At least she had a hat on ).

Here’s a monument to the Czechoslovakian Tatra truck – a T111, I believe – which was popular here in the 1950s–1970s:

Flowers? Surely placed there, not alive, right? ->

Before we leave town – time to fill up. Already the gas stations have become brutal…

A quick latte in the warm café? No chance – until Yakutsk!…

The price of gas was already up on that in Magadan: octane 92 here – 66 rubles per liter… In Magadan – 57.50 rubles:

All duly filled up with gas, on we race. It looked like we were in for a splendid day of steady cruising in the winter wilderness… But then… One of our cars – the last one in our convoy – ended up in the roadside ditch:

So what happened?

That morning it was bitterly cold (nearly -50°C) and foggy. The visibility was further reduced by exhaust fumes of vehicles (particularly old trucks – most of which seemed to be diesel, which doesn’t fully burn when it’s this cold) adding to the pea soup. Our convoy was passing two trucks coming the other way. The first four passed them by fine. The fifth had to swerve to avoid a third oncoming truck – a smaller one – that had started to overtake the two trucks in front of it. The third truck saw too late there was an oncoming car – our fifth Land Rover – and slammed on the brakes, but, given the icy road, it lost control and swerved into the oncoming – our – lane. Like I say, our car No. 5 luckily saw this skidding truck ahead in the nick of time, and swerved into the shoulder. Close shave. Could have been so much worse.

Here’s the dashcam footage of the incident:

And here’s the post-incident scene:

Though the driver of our fifth car was quick with his reactions, nevertheless there was some damage to the vehicle – to a rear wing and some front fender molding. Still, better that than anything more serious…

As per the traffic rules in Russia when an insurance claim is to be involved, we had to wait for the traffic police to turn up and document the near-miss. They came from Susuman – some 20km away, but it still took them a full hour to arrive. We even sent someone to find out where they’d gotten to…

The measuring of the distances involved in the near-collision with this ‘professional driver’ plus all the paperwork took up two hours of our precious daylight time 😕.

During the two hours stood around waiting, I decided to make as best a use of the downtime as I possibly could – remembering the spoil tips I’d been meaning to take some pics of during a stop. Herewith, the result of my time-saving move – spoil tips; also trenches:

…And they seem to go on forever ->

Here are the said trenches,and mounds of spoil on the map:

Btw, they say that modern technology is much better at separating gold from regular earth than in the past, so it could be that the gold-mining companies have gone over this stretch a second time.

Finally, we set off again!… The road – marvelous! The weather – perfect! ->

Our first mountain pass of the day; winter fairytale mode: on ->

Here comes the abandoned mining town of Kadykchan. And here‘s last year’s report thereon. This year the road to the ghost-town hadn’t been cleared, so those who fancied a closer look had to walk:

Right after Kadykchan there’s a turn-off to the old Kolyma Highway. In winter it’s impassable, but in summer it’s doable on specially prepared off-road vehicles. Have a look on YouTube for videos. Here’s the old road viewed from the new:

Onward, and we pass a fresh spoil tip – this time from coal mining, not gold.

We reach the Kolyma-Indigirka pass – another perfectly picturesque (in winter) spot. …It’s a good place for a stop and a walkabout:

We had to chuckle a this sign: it says “Life is more important than speed”. What speed? It’s impossible to go any faster than 90km/h (at least in winter). If you do, your car will fall apart!

The border between the Magadan Region and Yakutia, also where we add an hour to our watches! ->

Our favorite distance marker – “1111”. Why? The internal name for our immune operating system is “11-11”: Petrovich and I simply had to stop for a snap:

It was getting dark already and we were still on the road due to the delay earlier. The road was getting trickier too – it ran between a bank of the river Nera and the foot of a mountain. In places – tight! ->

Night falls, alas…

The turning for the “Arctic” winter road. Who knows – maybe one day we’ll take it…

Then, as luck would have it – our fifth, final car had a flat tire. Yes – the same poor car that was in the accident earlier! Something sharp had punctured a tire good and proper (during the whole trip we had just two flats).

Of course, we had spare wheels, and we were changed quickly:

A short while later we were in Ust-Nera where we were to spend the night.

PS: Here’s the map with our route on the first day – from Magadan to Susuman (the map for today – above); maybe it’ll be useful to someone one day…:

The rest of the photos from our MYB expedition are here.

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