Russian Off-Road: Extreme Outdoor Tour in UAZ 2206

 

- Hey, man, do you want a little off-roading and caving?

My morning began from this question in a popular messenger. This sounds so damn good that I didn‘t need a time to think, no doubt. 

Friday morning we came to the strangely looking old-schooled vehicle that is called UAZ Bukhanka or just “Loaf of Bread“… Several people were lively chatting there.

We joined the company of Tony, our tour guide, Emilia who was the German journalist and Mark, typical Australian.

The route lay through several small villages with typical Russian names… Yusupovo, then to Nikitskoe, then to Novlenskoye. Perfect route for foreigners who want to gain exotic impressions and go outdoor.

 

While Tony spoke in decent English about what awaits us, the morning rain ended, the last summer sun came out. The tourists checked their smartphones, so Tony told us about its UAZ:

- Almost new, six years at all. Original engine native, more than ninety thousand kilometers of mileage. Lifted to a couple of inches, thirty-second tires, Castor +5, winch, a lot of small changes.

UAZ 2206 is not only the amazing van... it's the longest car still being produced. What's more? It looks like it is still 1965! It's hard to believe that the van from photos are only 6 (!) years old.

We managed to discuss not only those genious from the Ulyanovsk Factory that makes brand-new rusty vans, but also a bunch of vital topics like common friends and some nostalgic places.

Then we said farewel to normal roads and turned to the normal forest.

 

Putting on kangaroo-bar that has the exactly same name in Russia, Tony drove the car into the woods, not forgetting to show the image of the extreme sport driver. It’s a pity there were no balalaika, a samovar with vodka and a bear in the back to complete the look!

UAZ 2206 is a not normal car even if it’s only 6 years old. Only a few people can drive it well. Why? First, power steering at all makes driving very difficult, especially for girls. Tony‘ wife can't turn the wheel when UAZ is not moving! Off-roading through the snow makes you sweat in 15 minutes.

UAZ 2206 also has the all-round visibility as it’s not a car but a tank! To move back, you need to get out of the car to make sure you didn‘t crash into something.

Like most Russian cars, UAZ 2206 has only manual gearbox with 4 speeds, so you can speed it up to its 130 km/h only with a terrible roaring sound!

 

The “loaf” were leaping and chasing through the potholes of wet ground. Passangers went flying around the cabin. The sound from the back doors was like millions of tiny metal pots merrily jumps. 

- Well, guys, how many modern SUVs will pass here? - cheerfully shouted Tony, bringing down UAZ in another puddle.  

- Few of modern SUVs will pass here! - We answered almost in unison in different languages, while UAZ was burrowing deeper and deeper.

 

Not the lift by two inches neither the thirty second wheels could help us. We‘ve been trapped in the mud puddle that did not want to miss the prey. 

”That‘s why we have a winch” - cried Tony having hooked the winch to the nearest tree, so the car was pulled out.

The winch was the most useful thing we made with our UAZ 2206 to make it move when it got stuck! We bought it just after terrible off-roading festival where we lost many hours escaping our Bukhanka with UAZ Patriot, then opposite, then both cars with Patriot‘s winch one by one.

Now it makes every our extreme off-roading easy and fun! Even if UAZ got stuck, Tony needs about 5-15 minutes to make it move again.

 

Then we crossed the river ford four times in a row just to get the perfect shot and finally stopped to have a BBQ.

Crossing a river sounds extreme enough, especially when water comes out from the gear lever. But UAZ 2206 was made for military forces, so the van is rusty and robust at the same time. Its engineers make it simple and solid, although it has a lack of comfort even in 1965.

Actually, our UAZ has already survived after drowning in Rybachy expedition! Tony told us how he dried the engine, changed oils and some details, then started the car and drove for 2000 km back to Moscow almost without problems!

It‘s easy in Russia, because many small details costs 1-2 USD and you can find them in every tiny village. I don‘t know how people maintain their UAZ vans in other countries. Maybe with Tony‘s help?

 
 

What a magic to sit outdoor, on the bank of the nice river and grill the tastiest meat! Actually, it‘s one of the most popular activities in Russia. There are no mountains, oceans or great touristic attractions in most Russian towns, so people have no easy ways to spend their free time. People in Siberia even can‘t go outside of towns without being biting by the horde of mosquitos. So every weekend families with friends went to their dachas or just nice places around to spend the day playing volleyball, swimming and chatting.

Summer is short in Russia, lasting from 2 to 4 months usually, so people are very concerned to spend this time effectively. I may say that Russians are like bears… during a long cold winter they live in a daze waiting for a summer. Then they come back to live walking, camping, traveling until the next long winter.

I remember this feeling from my schooldays... feeling that the winter is close. Summer is a small life. It stops with the winter.

 

Grilled meat is a must-have of every outdoor weekends. Russians have a special term for such kind of meat. We call it ”shashlyk” or ”шашлык”. In almost every supermarket you may find a ”shashlyk” that is ready to cook. Other people just buy a meat and marinate it with anything from wine to kiwi.

It said that cooking shashlyk is for men only. Women usually cut vegetables and make salads. It‘s difficult to cook the great shashlyk! You need superb meat that is marinated properly. You should grill it for not too long and without an open fire.

People eat shashlyk with wine and tomato ketchup. No vodka! Russians prefer wine and beer.

Do we drink vodka? Sure, vodka is good if you to party hard with friends or freezing somewhere near North Pole :) Vodka is also a very special attribute of life in depressive villages, cold Arctic towns with no infrastructure and no places to do. Sad story.

 

Finishing the amazing lunch, we drove for 30 minutes to our Syany catacombs. The place is very popular among adventurous people... many times we met there with friends to drink vodka and chat. Nowadays students go to bars for such purposes, but 10 years ago we couldn‘t afford them, so catacombs were amazing place to have a party when there‘s a cold winter outside!

The catacombs are not equipped at all! No cameras, no big brother. Pure extreme. They are huge, having almost 15 km of passes, so only experienced cavers may safely walk there. Tony spent many days exploring the catacombs (and vodka) in his studentship, so he remembered every pass in the system.

What’s the origin of this place? We often call Moscow ”white-stone”. European Russia is flat! You need to drive for over 1000 kilometers to find low mountains. So all buildings of ancient Russia were made of wood. Unfortunately, wood and fire are not good friends. So after several hard fires, people start mining limestone making a lot of catacombs!

 

Perfectly knowing the route, Tony led a group of foreigners into the darkness. There were halls and tiny passes where we needed to crawl. Amazing outdoor adventure!

We were surprised to see several chambers with chairs and tables that locals brought there. Tony told us that many people spent underground almost every weekend, so they equip the chambers and even blanch walls. We visited several” attractions” and went out.

The last day of summer was over. Aussie Mark successfully drove to the airport. Our UAZ 2206 rolled along the highway to Moscow, Tony cheerfully chatted with Emilia how she could get to the house by metro, while we were lounging in the cabin drinking the evening beer.

What a great adventure it was!


Summer is over. Extreme off-roading adventures are not.