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Wild Rivers and Remote Mountains - Siberia Pt. 1
Wow...I've been back to the US for about 2 weeks now and I'm still acclimating to the culture and the rigamarole of life. Quite a stark contrast to my month in Siberia. I gotta say...it was one of the best expeditions of my life. So many stories, great paddling, and a sweet group of paddlers and new friends.
Last fall I started looking into planning a trip to go kayaking...somewhere exotic, foreign, remote, and wild. Over the years having paddled a lot in the western hemisphere, my mind's been racing to the east and I found myself pouring over Google Earth and the wild land that is Russia. The largest country containing much of the remaining wildlands in Asia, Russia has a plethora of remote and wild rivers and mountains to satiate the hardest of explorers. I contacted Tomass Marnics who paddles in Siberia a lot and he mentioned he was putting together a Team to paddle the Onot River in the eastern Sayan mountains. Perfect!!!!! I plugged in the coordinates he sent into Google Earth and began drooling over where we were headed: wild mountains, remote rivers, amazing culture, Lake Baikal...this place had it all :) For the next 9 months the Team exchanged emails and prepped for the trip discussing equipment needs, food, and the gear we were each responsible for (SPOT device, fishing gear, cameras, etc.) I'm glad we had that much time because we needed it. I also found out that my favorite Tasmania Devil Adiren Kiernan was going so I knew right away I had a friend on the trip.
Google Earth Coordinates: 52.162525, 101.378153
Before heading out I knew I had to pack light. We were doing back to back 10 day self-support trips and my kayak was going to be heavy. I mean real heavy. You end up taking the same personal gear for a 4 day trip as you would for a 10 day trip, the biggest difference being the amount of food and I knew with 10 days worth of food, my boat was going to be heavy. I needed to be especially thoughtful on how much I was going to pack into personal gear. Also, the airlines like to charge for overweight bags so each bag I brought needed to be less than 20kg's. After going through my gear list several times, I was happy with what I was bringing and my duffel bag weighed a mere 18kg's...room for more stuff incase I was planning on bringing home some souvenirs. Also, I was allowed two checked bags at 20kg's and I was only bringing 1 hoping that my paddle bag would be checked as luggage and not as an extra over-sized piece. That would have cost me an addition $150 each way along with my kayak which was $300!!!! Any savings would be awesome :)
The plan was for everyone to fly into Irkutsk, Russia prepped for a July 22 departure. Some guys were getting in early to check out Irkutsk, some like myself were getting in on the nick of time. I had originally planed to fly LA - Moscow - Irkutsk which put me getting into Irkutsk on July 20th after 33 hrs of travel. I wanted to have a full day to recover from flying and to cruise around checking out the "Paris of Siberia". Well...after the Malaysian Airlines jet got shot down over Ukraine and the airspace was closed off, I decided to change flights and airlines. I ended up flying with Korean Airlines via LA - Seoul - Irkutsk. A more direct route but longer flight time because of a 19hr layover in Seoul with a total travel time of 38 hrs. Thankfully Incheon Airport in Seoul South Korea is a really great airport so I was able to hang out and enjoy it. While I was at Incheon Airport and with 19 hrs of hanging out time, I got a chance to see some cool stuff and the South Koreans are really trying to make an impact on foreign travellers. While cruising around the airport, I sat down at their "Cultural Education Center" and did arts and crafts in ancient Korean ways. I also saw a re-enactment of the Royal Korean Family. Super cool!
After a long day, my gate call finally happened and I boarded the flight to Irkutsk...psyched...tired...and pumped to get it going.It was late...around 10:45pm...and I had a long long flight still to get there. I was passing through times zones and was set to arrive at 2:35am. When I arrived there was no one there to pick me up. I managed to translate to the local Russian airport staff using my iPad and Google Translate, that I didn't have a ride until the morning. They brought me to a dark back room and let me crash in there so I set up my pad and sleeping bag and tried to get a few hours of sleep in.
The next day I hit Irkutsk cruising around for a couple of hours site seeing before heading back to our Hostel to pack. It's pretty classic jumping on a bus and riding into town hoping you're on the right bus going the right way. I stared out the window making sure to check out landmarks so I knew where to get off on the way back!!