Asia Expedition 2013

arvids

New member
This summer a group of overlanding enthusiasts from Latvia and Russia will embark on a four month, 28000km long trip through Asia.



We hope to receive reports from the travellers on our site www.4x4travelclub.eu, but as they will be in Latvian I'll try to re-post something here as well in English for all non-latvian followers.

1st part: Latvia – Altai
(Riga – St. Petersburg – Moscow – Kazan – Chelyabinsk - Omsk – Novosibirsk – Altai), ~6000 Km, 14 days;



2nd part: Mongolia
(Altai mountains, Gobi desert, vast Mongolian steppe, ice-cold mountain rivers, wild nature, Ulanbator, the land of Genghis Khan etc.), ~5500Km, 30 days;



3rd part: China – Tibet
(Trip around the whole of People's Republic of China, visit to Tibetan holy places, Tibetan mountain trekking routes, the tight mountain roads etc.), ~11 000Km, 65 days;



4th part: Kazakhstan – Russia – Latvia
(Heading home via Kazakhstan, visit to the shrinking Aral sea), ~5500Km, 16 days.



Although all cars have already left Riga on May 1st, the trip official starts May 10th from St. Petersburg after picking up all remaining participants and doing final check-ups.

The vehicles

Preparation of this expedition started at least 1,5 years ago. All began with a goal to build cars for an expedition to Mongolia. As time went by it was decided to expand the route and slightly change vehicle setup.

The convoy consists of a Toyota Land Cruiser 80, a Toyota Land Cruiser 105 and a Dodge Ram 4500.
Toyotas were chosen for their reliability, spacious interior and the fact that they are popular in Mongolia and China making repairs and finding spare parts fairly easy.

Toyotas

Both toyotas are 4.2 diesels, TLC80 has the new generation motor with a turbo and 24 valves - we added only an intercooler. TLC105 on the other hand was without a turbo, so we fitted a Safari turbo kit with an intercooler. By doing this TLC105 gained a lot more grunt which will be needed let's say in Altai mountains.



Both Toyotas have Ironman 4x4 5cm lift kits with heavy duty springs and shock absorbers, custom bar work front & rear, WARN 5.6T winches and Hella spotlights. Traction will be provided by 33" Goodyear Dura Tracs and the travel range extended by additional 160l fuel tanks. As there are many unbridged rivers in Mongolia, fitment of Safari snorkels was a no-brainer.



Dodge Ram 4500 HD

As the trip grew in length it was decided to add this beast of a vehicle to serve as a mobile base which will carry spare parts, extra spare wheels, welding equipment etc. There are many RAM modifications, this one is a 6.7Td with a manual gearbox with low-range.

The body is a double-cab with 5 seats and a platform on the back to which an Alaskan camper has been fitted. It's a sandwich-type camper that can be hydraulically lifted and lowered, has two beds, kitchen with a sink, a gas stove, an oven and an electric water boiler so that the crew can take a shower on the outside. WC however was removed to make more space for the gear. A side awning was fitted to make camp life a little more comfortable.



Original 31" tires where exchanged with 37" Continentals that usually are fitted to Unimogs. This in turn required 20" Unimog wheels which were customised to fit Dodge.

From the factory Dodge had an Ad Blue system, but when testing the cars in Murmansk region we came across a problem - Ad Blue was to be found only in to gas stations near St. Petersburg. Therefore it was decided to remove the system and fit a small electronic thingy so that the ECU doesn't go nuts. Additionally a custom 125mm exhaust was fitted. All these changes gained additional 60HP.



To carry even more load, custom boxes under the camper and more storage solutions inside the camper where made. On the back: four extra wheels - two for Dodge and two for Toyotas - long range telescopic antennae, gas balloon and gerry cans. Front was outfitted with a custom bar with a 9T winch and a 6T winch on the back. Snorkel, 2m custom aluminium sand tracks and a bunch of water cans on the roof where all part of the deal.
 

Dan Grec

Expedition Leader
Awesome, I can't wait to read stories and see photos from the expedition!

Do you plan on paying the guiding fee in China? I expect that will get very expensive for 65 days.

A friend that lived in Russia said it's quite possible to drive in and around China without paying the guiding fee- are you doing that? How?

Thanks!

-Dan
 

Ray Hyland

Expedition Leader
This is going to be an epic trip. I especially am keen to see how the Dodge does on the same trip as the Land Cruisers. The LC is such a trusted Overland vehicle, but on paper the Dodge makes a lot of sense.

Please keep us updated.
 

arvids

New member
Prologue: Riga - St. Petersburg

The adventures have begun even before the start.

On the way from Riga to St. Petersburg Dodge's clutch started misbehaving and it was decided to replace it before the long journey. Easier said than done - local dealer is unable to even lift the nearly 7 ton heavy car, so a Mercedes truck service comes to rescue. The joy is short-lived as the flywheel decides to disintegrate and take down the clutch and a bunch of other parts. All this on a car with only 18 000 km mileage.



Dealer can deliver a new flywheel only in 2 weeks which is a no-go, so the team relies on friends from Finland that can come up with the parts before the start of the expedition. Thank God Helsinki is only a 5 hour drive from St. Petersburg and to avoid the risk of getting stuck at the customs one of the team members fetches the parts from Helsinki himself. Fingers crossed this was the first and the last breakdown of this yet-to-prove-itself expedition vehicle.



On May 11th after several days of packing, re-packing and stocking up food the team of entrepreneurs, a journalist, a kayak trainer, a retiree and a farmer have left St. Petersburg.
Their location can be GPS-tracked via http://share.findmespot.com/shared/faces/viewspots.jsp?glId=07bK9dImDPj4LVB3q1uTssHNQbsQIx6Ii

At the time of this writing the team has reached the Republic of Tatarstan and the city of Naberezhnye Chelny - home of the the Kamaz trucks.







I'll forward all questions to them, but whether they can be answered depends on the availability of an internet connection.
 
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arvids

New member
Do you plan on paying the guiding fee in China? I expect that will get very expensive for 65 days.
Just got a word from them that indeed it will get expensive, about 15 000 EUR to be exact. A no, they haven't found a way to travel without a guide.
 

Dan Grec

Expedition Leader
Just got a word from them that indeed it will get expensive, about 15 000 EUR to be exact. A no, they haven't found a way to travel without a guide.
Thanks very much for the info.

My buddy from Russia drove into China many times without paying anything or having a guide... I wonder if it only applies to Russian plated vehciles, and maybe only at certain borders.. ?

I'd love to find out.

-Dan
 

arvids

New member
I wonder if it only applies to Russian plated vehciles, and maybe only at certain borders.. ?
That you have to ask your buddy :)
Unfortunately our travelers haven't found another way.

This group has two cars with Russian plates and one with Latvian, not sure if that matters as they will receive temporary Chinese plates anyway.
 

arvids

New member
About the team



Mihail A. - an entrepreneur from St. Petersburg. Geologist by education, loves hiking, interested in history, Asian culture, various spiritual practices and a great admirer of Tibet. He's also one of the lead initiators of this expedition.

Jānis - a passionate overlander (car & bike) and adventurer. Farmer and boat-lessor from Kurland, Latvia. He'll be the crew's mechanic.

Alexander - now retired, but with 30 years experience as a truck driver in USSR. In youth was a serious cyclist.

Mihail P. - professional kayak trainer and traveler, has traveled the World with various means of transportation. Will be in charge of crew's kitchen.

Grigorij - journalist, traveler, adventurer, photographer. Has been to more than 80 countries by various means - on foot, hitchhiking, by motorcycle and bicycle.

Miks - adventurer, likes traveling with a 4x4 or by a motorcycle. In charge of the route and navigation.

Already after the first days the team has initiated a tradition of doing physical exercises on every stop. An activity cheered the passing crowds. So the team nicknamed itself the traveling sports camp.
 

arvids

New member
Marathon from St. Petersburg to Barnaul

A report from the city of Barnaul, 8 days and some 4800km from home.

Roads in Russia are a theme for itself. A highway can turn into a minefield in no time and it has nothing to do with the distance form St. Petersburg or Moscow. At times countless patches make you think you're driving on a chess-board.

But the traffic participants are even more bizarre - everyone seems to be a born racing driver, making overtaking manoeuvres as spectacular as in the movies. It's unclear however how the Russian and Chinese made cars withstand this abuse, as after 2000km Dodge's sway bar links are destroyed and plastic parts on Toyotas have de-vibrated themselves loose.

The landscape is quite monotonous - meadows and forests. It gets more interesting when crossing Ural mountains, but driver's can't really enjoy the scenery as they have to keep a sharp eye on the road which is loaded with heavy trucks.

After Ural mountains the roads become a bit better and by Novosibirsk have improved significantly, also traffic is less intense.

The team is driving in a marathon-like mode as the goal is to reach Mongolia as soon as possible.

Some notes from the first days of the journey:

May 11th, St. Petersburg - Vologda, 665km
It's wise to get up early and leave St. Petersburg while the traffic still sleeps. There are numerous road works on the way, but they don't impede the progress that much. Before Cherepovets right before our eyes a Chevrolet goes sideways, flips and lands in a ditch. Driver gets out of the vehicle himself and no further assistance is required. The day has been long and in Vologda a hotel is found quickly and nobody even minds the ongoing wedding.




May 12th, Vologda - Nizhniy Novgorod, 550km
The day quickly gets hot and by midday it's already +25C. It's nice to see the fields by the road are being cultivated, but embitters the mess in roadside parking spaces - hills of garbage spoil the scenery. About 30km before Nizhniy Novgorod we're stuck in traffic as everyone's returning from May 9th Holidays. Even with a local "Waze" we spend 1,5 hours barely moving and that amidst heavy swelter. When we do finally arrive in Hotel, we're welcomed with a wonderful outlook to the city that lies next to the majestic river of Volga and swarms of curios passers-by, who especially are interested in the big Dodge. They don't hesitate to take photos and ask about the trip.





May 13th, Nizhniy Novgorod - Naberezhnie Chelny, 635km
Today's target is Naberezhnie Chelny, a city in the Republic of Tatarstan, the home of Kamaz trucks. The road to Naberezhnie Chelny is relatively uneasy, a lot of traffic and not very spectacular. We spend our day by getting lost in the city of Kazan and by overtaking trucks. Also for the first time we need to financially support local police, because of crossing the uninterrupted road marking, which is considered a serious offence in Russia and threatens with a removal of a driver's licence.



May 14th, Naberezhnie Chelny - Chelyabinsk, 735km
Despite the planed long run for today the scenery freshens-up as we cross the Ural mountains. The traffic however hasn't become easier, quite the opposite. It seems that all the weak and old trucks need to take the same road. We're being stopped by police numerous times, but more because of the interest. Chelyabinsk is an industrial and grey city, but it looks like the money does flow here as there are many new and expensive cars on the road and in hotel's restaurant groups of locals exchange facts about what and how much each of them owns.



May 15th, Chelyabinsk - Ishim, 590km
Day starts by cleaning air filters and locking ourselves out of Dodge while filling up. After an exchange of some harsh words and 20 minutes later we get hold of the keys again via the small camper's back-window. The road looks really nice, but the joy is short-lived as it turns from Kazakhstan into the direction of Baikal where it becomes a true war zone. Driving is done using 1st and 2nd gears and reminds us of some trophy raid stages. With a 4x4 it's still doable, but it's unclear how the big trucks manage to cross this 30km long stretch of madness.



May 16th, Ishim - Omsk, 350km
Some photos by the tanks in the city and a short drive to the nearby city of Omsk.



May 17th, Omsk - Novosibirsk, 650km
Traffic lightens up and we start to see even more cars with steering on the right side. It's explained by the fact that the cars are 20-25% cheaper and more reliable on this side of Ural mountains. The weather chills and it's only +5C in the evening. The city of Novosibirsk is developing rapidly, we see a lot of shops, restaurants, expensive cars and masses of people heading to the centre to party friday night.

By the hotel we meet a motorcyclist who has just returned from a three week trip to Mongolia. He reports that it's already quite dry in Mongolia and that cheers us up.

After 17 days on the road it's no wonder the first little disagreements in the group show up, but nothing that can't be solved by a pint of beer.

May 18th, Novosibirsk - Barnaul, 245km
In the morning we face some difficulties with leaving the packed parking place which results in Dodge brushing a new Nissan Patrol, but fortunately only with a rubber part. Again some little itch between the teams - someone misheard, another one didn't copy what's on the radio.

Despite the heavy rain and difficult driving conditions we arrive in Barnaul in the afternoon. As the rain doesn't stop, we kill time by shopping and resupplying for the journey ahead. A local taxi driver kindly offers to sell us a firearm which should come handy, but we kindly refuse. But we do get tons of advice about what to do and what not to do in the city.

On the next day we'll enter the Republic of Altai and the scenery will change from the grey and flat to green and mountainous.

Altai awaits us!
 
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