::: t+06d // Wolga

The icy Russian night cloaks the world and keeps it silent. I am standing in the dark, leaning against the large panorama window panes of the suite, glancing at the frozen Wolga. I am reflecting our plans, checking the next legs of the trip on Google Maps: to the border of Kazachstan, then Oral, Aktobe, Aral, Shymkent – probably one of the most fascinating, and certainly the loneliest and most remote part of the trip. 520km to Oral, another 475km to Aktobe and from there another 620km to Aral.  Southwards of Aral settlement will become more frequent, but between Oral and Aral there are parts in which the road passes through the desert without passing any facilities for over 200km. Interestingly enough google maps shows a couple of traffic jams on the roads. Usually this indicates one way operation due to construction sites. Many nights I have spent with preparations, going through options, making estimates, evalauting challenges and chances, trying to minimise risks. Nights and hours of research and consideration. All these theoretical thoughts now add up for the first time with practical experiences with the Russian winter.

First of all, the car. The operational envelope goes down to minus thirty degrees according to Audi, but this is not a quantum leap, not a digital transition from one to zero. Fatigue. Fatigue increases when components are brought close their operational limits, and what may work for 50.000km or more in Central Europe, may malfunction way quicker in the Russian winter – a phenomenon not unheard of. This alone would not concern me, I was expecting that and this was why some of the most exposed parts had been replaced prior to the drive.  And I was prepared to go and seek a garage occasionally for minor repairs. What concerns me slightly more is that I would have expected a more dense network of Audi/Volkswagen Services in Russia based upon the fact that these are among the more popular cars of Western manufacturers in Russia and that I would have expected spare parts to be available more easily than we experienced in Kursk (though it is hard to tell to which extent this was a result of the Russian holidays, which I expect it is). This is, however, not very promising for Kazachstan, in which I should expect an even lower availability of spare parts. Taking into account that being stuck in a remote place would cause several follow-up problems (most of all with the time frames of our visa plus customs issues), I find this thought concerning.

Secondly, we are now going to enter the most exposed part of the road. Northern Kazachstan is already under the influence of the central Russian climate, likely to experience cold surges from Siberian air in winter. It is unusually cold these days, much colder than I expected based upon the available general weather and climate data. Driving the car on its operational limits in a very remote and to us unknown environment does not comfort me.

While I am glancing out at the frozen Wolga, I feel a certain uneasyness. Going into the mountains teaches you certain experiences. Play to your instincts, first of all. But also make rational considerations in an irrational environment, an environment which provides far less information than would be necessary for clear decision-making. This involves risk-evaluation in complex risk environments of different, independent overlapping risks, which by themselves may not trigger a no-go decision, but in combination very well can. Moreover, preventing oneself from seeking for the signs and considerations, which would allow you to go and to not abandon your plans, but instead positively seeking for those which indicate a no-go and hence to be open for the decision not to go, regardless of what you already have invested to this point. Way more difficult than climbing a 4000m plus summit, is getting down safely again. Many mountaineers have died not on the climb, but on the descent – because they had missed the point of no-return. This, by the way, includes the ability not to question your previous decisions subsequently, only because it turned out that against the odds it would have been possible to go. You need to remind yourself that you were deciding under the lack of crucial information, and that therefore your decision remains a right decision, even if the random elements coincidently turn out to have been more positive than you expected, because precisely this was not foreseeable. In other words: what ex-post might have been possible, remains impossible ex-ante, and therefore the ex-ante decision not to go was the right decision.

If you do not follow this maxime, you almost certainly will experience the risk-shift effect, which is known from avalanche risk evaluation. Human nature tends to shift to more and more risky behaviour, whenever a decision involving an unkown risk turns out to be still (apparently) safe. Consequently, skiers are known for tending to decide for more and more risky slopes, because all previous slopes had turned out safe, until they finally cross the invisible limit and trigger the avalanche and possibly pay for this wrong decision with their lives. By sheer logic this triggers another consequence: whenever the limit is unknown, it is impossible to take decisions which remain within the framework of safety, without keeping a safety margin. Any safety margin will always lead to abandoning options, which possibly still would have been safe. As a result, deciding against an option which would have been still safe, therefore does not indicate a wrong decision, but simply must occur whenever taking safe decisions. Subsequent knowledge that a certain discarded option would have been (still) safe, therefore automatically must occur, and so hindsight cannot serve as an evluation tool for previous decisions (at least in most cases).  Really, rather the opposite is the case: if you ever witness a slope that you seriously considered, but against which you decided, being triggered and going-off, you have come dangerously close to that invisible limit. Really, you should not have ever considered this slope in the first place, if your decisions were good. The art of climbing mountains is not as many think based upon continuing until reaching the summit, but on the ability to turn back before crossing  the point of no return, and regardless of previous investments into your undertaking.

All this speaks against this road into the ice desert. Let it be remote, fine. Let the car be more challenged by the Russian winter, fine. But temperatures at the lower limit of what we expected and the car probably being more likely to suffer from fatigue already before the operational limit of -30°C, is a combination I do not like. Approaching limits so far that your last fall-back scenario remains your only option, I do not like either.

And then there are these faint signs, just like in the mountains. In the mountains this can be subtle changes in the sound of the snow, or in the feeling when touching upon it with your skis. It can be the look of icy shapes, or something not even accessible by the rational part of your mind, but rather a feeling of unusuality. I have expierenced this a couple of times, and almost always it had been significant.

Traffic jams in the desert of Kazachstan? I had not seen any such indications on google maps before. This does not make the theory of constructions sites – although this would be a typical explanation in other circumstances – very likely. And I hinder myself from searching for explanations which would reason why this observation was harmless. Rather I try to seek for more sinister explanations, reasons not to go, if there are any. Now, if these traffic jams occur suddenly and in several locations, this only means the cars are slowing down at these spots. Now, this indicates that the road conditions have changed suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly. It therefore rather indicates that weather conditions must be harsh, and that the road has come close to impassable, and that road services are working on their limits to continue to keep it open. I am checking the weather reports; -22°C for Oral, -24°C for Aktobe. This I knew. Then I start to check for the smaller settlements: -26°C, -27°C. Really, that means that on the open road between the settlements temperatures must be about to drop below -30°C – jointly with heavy snowfalls and strong winds, Probably the cold and the snowfalls are about to block the road.

That is the final piece in the puzzle: I have taken my decision. we will not continue to the East. Thjis means that we will miss out one of the most exciting part of the road, and the we will never reach our original destination: Kyrgistan. Instead, we will head for our alternative goal – the majestetic mountains at the Southern Border of Russia: The Caucasus.

The alarm rings early this night at around 4.45 a.m. local time. We discuss the situation, and re-set the GPS: the first way point lies 375km to the south down that famous river; Wolgograd. The city that once was known as… Stalingrad.




::: t+05d // Kursk – Saratow



A mild winter light illuminates the outskirts of Kursk, which seem to lie still and peacefully, asleep in the cold. Temperatures have dropped to -19°C again. We are following the highway eastwards towards Voronezh through wide and open lands.

The first kilometers on the studded tyres bring new experiences. Their sound is clearly audible, but not too disturbing. The steering on clear asphalt is slightly more indirect and the tyres tend to drift, which is not suprising as clear asphalt is not what they are made for. On the more snowy surfaces they’ll show more of their strengths later today.



Would you like to wait for a bus (-18°C)?


Dusk is falling early and the sun has set when we reach Voronezh.

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Crossing the river Voronezh shortly before it enters the Don.

We refuel the car. Ekto-Diesel at LukOil Fuel Stations remains operational down to -37°C according to the fuel station’s personel. That should do (I hope). Peculiar detail: you are required to pay first, which means that you’ll have to indicate the amount of fuel you’ll want to purchase, which kind of hinders you to fully refuel, if you want to stay on the safe side in terms of not buying more than fits the fuel tank.

Eastwards of Voronezh lands are getting more lonely, and the climate rougher. While roads had been totally dry up to Voronezh and a hundred kilometers beyond, it slowly starts snowing and the wind freshens up. The long drives through dark winter woods make me think of music like Klaus Schulze’s Velvet Voyage ( http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XT6zVDwmzUg ) and some Norwegian Black Metal Albums.

Around 200 kilometers behind Voronezh we are clearly in a different kind of region than we used to be. Settlements are sparse, the road no  longer ressembles a western country road, but a true russian highway, the storm blows snow across the tarmac and large trucks are thundering towards Wolga river, creating huge trails of snow swirling through the night.

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Around midnight we finally reach Saratow, a Wolga town (and formerly home to the so-called “Wolgadeutschen”, which were later deported to Kazachstan, but have left their mark upon the town’s architecture). It is the last outpost before the road will finally disappear into the vast desert lands of the Russian-Kazachstan border.

We have booked in advance a nice hotel with a view on the famous, large, Wolgabridge – primarily, because it offers a garage. We will certainly need it, if we intend to start the car’s engine tomorrow morning….

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::: t+05d // Kursk 3


The car’s thermometer this morning shows -19°C. Very reluctantly, of course, that is. The display is malfunctioning due to the cold: the liquid crystals don’t seem to be too liquid any more. The entire care is coverd in a chrystal gleam, the snow scrunches under the feet with each step. The breath is freezing to the car’s window panes.

It takes ages to start the car. For around 30 seconds nothing happens at all. Then, an onccassional blow, the car shakes. Slowly these blows increase to occur, the engine starts running very slowly at around 400 rpm but still needs the support of the starter motor. After like 90s finally the combustion itself keeps the engine running, still not on all cylinders, but the inital heat created by the first ignitions finally makes all cylinders stabilize. Two minutes later the engine is running normally.

We are driving again to the Volkswagen Service, a modern post-2000 building at the outskirts of Kurk, and this time, really, the service center is open. We receive a warm welcome and the car is being driven to the “express service” lane. We are trying to explain our problem with gestures and rudimentary Russian knowledge (nobody speaks English at all, including the sales personel and the manager).  We also ask them to mount the studded tyres – and only then I notice that I have forgotten the box with the wheels’ screws at the reception desk of the hotel. A short call by my co-driver, and the receptionist is taking care of the screws. Meanwhile, the servicemen are examining the car and its generator in a huge hall, echoing russian dance music.

Then for a while nothing happens. After some time we are trying to use the facilities, but the toilet is simply frozen. I start to understand a bit about this country…

After some time, we are speaking to what appears to be the manager and it turns out that in their view the generator needs to be serviced, but they would not have any presonel to do that.  This reminds us of yesterday. The voice with the heavy Russian accent is echoing in my mind: “Best you go to Volkswagen tomorrow. If they cannot repair it, you call Victor.”.


We are showing the photo of the old drawing of the location of Victor’s place to the manager. He gives Victor a short ring, all seems well. A few minutes later “Taxi. Victor”.  – “Da.”.

One of the servicemen and my co-driver a driving to Victor. For a good while I don’t hear anything, until they return. “The generator was broken, not only the carbon brushes.” – “Oh, really? Never heard this would happen at all. Usually it is always the carbon brushes being worn out.”. – “It seems, in Russia this happens more often.”.

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The servicemen remount the serviced generator – and the car produces full voltage again.

We are quickly unloading the car to access the studded tyres – as quickly as this is possible with the large amounts of luggage that we are transporting and while being in a service garage. The serviceman mounts the centrification rings and starts to mount the tyres – they still don’t fit. I’m perplexed. The entire equipment was sold based on the car’s precise data by a professional German seller. What the… ? It turns out the screws are not fitting – they are too long. They simply packed the wrong screws. We are re-using the old screws, all tyres are being mounted, and finally we are ready to go. The entire service costed around 35 EUR + another 100 for Victor (which must have been the deal of his life, but that was ok for us).

We shortly return to the hotel, before in the early afternoon we begin to head eastwards again.

::: t+04d // Kursk 2


I have a new surprising insight: Russia is cold! Not a bit cold – very cold. And this is only the very West of Russia, and anyway most Russians will laugh at us and think of – 17°C as moderate temperature, I suppose. But at least people at Kursk agree that these days are unusually cold, even for their standards. Maybe they were just being polite, though…

To recharge the car’s battery, which after the generator failure of yesterday would not charge anymore, we decided to  take it togehter with a charger to our room. Unfortunately, it is way more complex to demount a battery from an A4 than it used to be on an Audi 90 quattro 20V. This, however, only  means that (unneccessarily) many covers needed to be dissassembled, in relatively narrow space. Not too funny at almost -20°C with a flash light, but ok  – in most other contemporary cars it would have been way worse.

Back in the room we found that my Bosch Charger was lacking one of the mounting clamps (my mistake), which was a bit disappointing, until I fixed that with the starter cable.

With the freshly charged battery we drove in the morning to find the Skoda or Volkswagen repair services. We had checked the spare part’s details the night before (this A4 uses a Valeo generator, instead of a Bosch, which unfortunately would have been the better choice (quality, lifetime, spare part supply)). The Valeo had been used in several different Audi, Volkswagen, Skoda, even BMW. So, once a garage would be open, we should relatively easily be able to retrieve it.

Unfortunately, all of these were closed due to the Russian New Year’s Holidays. We then drove into another part of the city, of which we knew there were a couple of smaller independent garages. Having arrived, we immediately found a hand-painted sign “автозвук 12 Вольт“. Auto-something, 12 Volt. This sounded promising… (really it means: Auto Sound (sic!) 12 Volt, but well, we did not know this).

Passing through the backyards of socialist concrete blocks, we were following more hand-painted signs, until we reached an old yards surrounded by several garages. Out of a nearby bulding a man came and was about to lock the door, so I just stopped the car and ran towards him. I was able to stop him, until my co-driver arrived who spoke to him in Russian. He told us a number: “32!”. – “What?” – “32.”. We must have looked really stupid… “Garage 32. There! Go go!”.

So we went to one of the many garages, the one with the number 32, and stood somewhat helpless in front of the door. “Go go!, Enter!”. Beyond the door was a dimlit room, an incredbly vast collection of scrapped generators, batteries and all other electrical parts of old cars, and an old russian guy in the middle of it.


While my co-driver tried to explain our problem in Russian, I started to look around. Quickly I spotted a stack of small devices on an old fridge in the room’s center: Voltage Regulators of car generators – the part which holds the carbon brushes that most likely we would need to change.

I drew the old men’s attention to the parts. “Ah.” he said and lauged out loud. “Yes yes, but only Russian car!”. Ok. Meanwhile three other Russians had arrived, one of which spoke a little English. We were discussing for some time, and they made several calls for us: all shops were closed. Then, they figured out somebody who would  have such spare part, but we would need to demount the generator. Really, this is not necessary to exchange the carbon brushes, and – again – it takes way more effort than on my earlier Audi, but they wanted to check the generator itself. Unfortunately, somebody would need to come to demount the generator, and we would then need to bring it by taxi to another guy who would check it and had the spare parts. That would be the only solution for today. Meanwhile, however, it turned out that Volkaswagen Service would be open the next day – on Sunday – which then led me to the decision that another night in Kursk would be the right way forward. We chatted a bit more, and gave a heartily goodbye. Three guys investing 45min to find you somebody else to repair your car – that would be rarely found back home.

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We used the rest of the morning to do some shopping and have an early lunch, and re-checked in into our previous hotel. In the afternoon, spirits lifted again, I suggested to mount the studded tyres, which almost everybody drives in Russia and which come-in quite helpful. So we unloaded the car, the tyres, lifted the car and started demounting the normal winter tyres.

When I started mounting the first studded tyre I noticed it would not fit perfectly to the wheel’s hub. I was confused as the rims should perfectly fit to the car. I then remembered a set of blue rings which came with the rims. Indeed, they would fit into the center of the rim and probably make them fit to the hub. However, I was starting to get very cold after more than an hour outside, and I was not entirely sure, and I did not want to mount anything to the wheels the use and mounting of which I was not familiar.

So we remounted the old tyres and re-packed the car. It was only later that day that I had the chance to read-up on the internet the meaning of these rings. They are centering rings that come with all third-party rims to allow the rims’ manufacturer to somewhat go “one-size-fits-all”. Mounting them was described the easiest thing in the world: just push them in. Guess I should have read that earlier…


::: t+03d // Kursk


Originally we intended to start the trip on 30 Dec in the afternoon. Now, things do not always work as planned and so it was only after a relatively short distance that I noticed that the right front brake wouldn’t work properly. When this issue became more and more intense, I finally took a stop to have a look – and found a darkly red glowing brake disc. The failure was relatively clear: brake calipers in Audis tend to get stuck if they are older, causing a bearly noticeable slight, but constant touch of the break eventually resulting in great heat and fatigue. There was nothing to be done than slowly returning home, stopping at each motorway station or parking to cool the brake with water.

Now, the issue is that clearly31 Dec is not a very good date to get a brake being repaired. Moreover, on 1st Jan obviously all garages are closed, and so they are on 2nd and 3rd this year, because this is saturday and sunday. That created a serious risk of delaying the entire trip for over 4 days, rendering many of the envisaged waypoints questionable. Luckily enough, the great mechanics team of the garage I am working with, was willing to repair the car on 31 Dec directly in the morning – the owner personally driving around the city to try and collect that spare parts! (Try that at Audi’s contractural garages: you won’t even talk to a mechanic, and without scheduling repair a week ahead, nothing will ever happen!).

It was almost noon when we finally hit the road. The dark grey intense rain showers gave way to a fair winter afternoon east of Berlin, and then into Poland on perfect roads to the western outskirts of Warsawa. Strange to pass by this country so meaningful to me in such haste, excited about the unkown lands to the East, and bittersweet about PL at the same time…


We reached the border to Ukraine around 23h00. The formalities taking around an hour we almost experienced the perculiar situation of missing New Year: Ukraine is UTC+2 while Poland is UTC+1, and when you pass the border between 23h00 und 24h00 in eastern direction on 31 Dec it will never be 00h00.

A lonesome road through the dead of the night, seemingly endless woods and a straight line of tarmac for miles in the middle of nowhere. Surreal to talk to friends and relatives on the satellite phone at 01h00 (which was 00h00 back home) while driving through that lonely night. 580km and 5 hours later, Kiew. Meanwhile snowy roads, open fuel statiosn which would not sell any fuel, but resulted in me leaving petrol cap on the car’s roof… we noticed the noise of the flap closing only some 10 kilometers later, turned and with the help of the GPS found back the fuel station in the heart of Kiev’s labyrinth of roads. I was walking down the speedway with a flash light, and really, after a few meters, I finally found back the fuel cap.

Dawn some miles north of Kiew, very snowy, deserted roads and beautiful landscapes. This looks very far from home already, remote.

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-18.5 °C in Eastern Ukraine.

Around 11h00 we finally hit the Russian border. On the last meters the Ukranian military stopped us, the guy was very friendly and asked us to drive some documents to his colleauges at the border post some kilometers down the road.

Ukranian customs were way less friendly and moroons though! While entering Ukraine from Poland with a fairly well organised, professional process, exiting Ukraine on the Eastern border was a nightmare. The customs police would not speak any other language than Ukranian and the result was that we had to unpack the car completely and that EVERY of our aournd 25 bags was checked in detail, and half of the car disassembled. All that in the biting cold of around -17°C. This took certainly 2.5 hours by itself. The Russians were way more professional, but we had to unpack again our entire luggage, This procedure plus border formalities took another hour and we were quite frozen by then. When already we thought we had made it, we were asked to fill-out 3 customs forms. And that now was the final nightmare. With lots of it being available in Russian only, and many of the questions being understandble only with good knowledge of the Russian system, it took us around 10 approaches, equal to another 1.5 hours, until we finally got the stamps.

We continued to drive when dusk was already falling… my first time in Russia. Though entirely frozen, our spirits started to lift again, only when we noticed some 20 kilometers short of Kursk that the battery voltage was dropping. This indicates a generator problem, and that is most likely carbon brushes being worn out. The replacement procedure is quick, easy and cheap, but you’d need the spare part. I used to carry one onboard on my old Audi 90 quattro 20V, but not yet on the A4 quattro. So we headed for Kursk, found a hotel, and hope to replace the carbon brushes tomorrow. Only issue is that all Russia is on vacancy from 01 Jan to around 07 Jan due to New Year and Orthodox Chrismas… let’s see!


::: t-01d // A snapshot of weather forecast


We will pass through Aktobe probably around Monday next week (if all goes well), but at least the weather forecast indicates the mentioned preparations were not too far off the mark.

Otherwise, I have been performing a couple of tests over the last days.  The torches are amazingly wind-proof, once they are burning properly (which takes a few minutes), it was impossible to extinguish them unless using a pot of water. Moreover, the Sat-Phone works quite well, too. While in the beginning I was under-estimating the importance of a clear line-of-sight to the sky, the use of an external antenna resulted in a constant strong signal even in quick movement with absolutely acceptable transmission quality.

::: t-09d // Preparations & Equipment – Pt. II

The worst case scenario to be considered presumably is:

  • car break-down including failure of coolant system (e.g. broken radiator and/or hoses)
  • resulting in a complete loss of engine power and coolant, and therefore loss of any heating mechanisms provided by the car
  • a remote place combined with snowy conditions, which may cause rescue times up to 48h hours
  • no mobile network coverage
  • bad weather conditions with temperatures down to -30°C

Although such a situation is hopefully unlikely, in particular break-down of the coolant system (esp. in artic conditions with extreme temperature gradients (-30°C air temp, 100°C coolant temp) and resulting fatigue) is definitely within the range of scenarios to be considered.  Rescue times should typically range between 12h to 24h, but in worst cases (road blocked by shifted snows and/or avalanches)  48h may occur.

Outdoor Equipment:

  • 3x magnesium signalling torches
  • 25 torches
  • 3x5m tarpaulin
  • Zippo + fuel + flints + wick
  • swedish fire steel
  • vaseline + cotton wool as tinder (need to check it)
  • sleeping back (extreme temperature: -28°C)
  • 2l catalytic cooking benzin + 5l standard benzin + 40l diesel
  • benzin cooker: coleman 533-700e
  • cooking gear
  • 2x LED Lenser 85 Lumen + Lithium Batteries Energizer L91 (Lithium batteries show better performance in low temperature environments, operating range: -40°C to 60°C)
  • snow shoes (e.g. to move easily to positions with good satellite reception or suitable signalling exposition)
  • Satellite Phone (Iridium, which as a LEO device should perform slightly better in mountainious regions than phones that use geo-stationary satellites)
  • food reserves with high energetic value
  • water + pot to melt snow
  • mineral tablets
  • basic medication/ first aid kit
  • Thermosflasks


::: t-10d // Preparations & Equpiment – Pt. I

For future reference, and for anybody interested, I will be listing some of the preparations we have undertaken, starting with the car.

Roads are to be expected to be of varying conditions, theoretically up to virtually inexistant, but we have tried our best to avoid the latter category through intense research on the web (forums, blogs, youtube videos). Especially in Nothern-Kazachstan we are expecting very remote roads in conjunction with severe cold (theoretically below -30°C) and constant snow. This requires a couple of preparations and considerations (including considering the conditions under which to abort the trip).

Car:  Audi A4 quattro 1.9 TDI Avant.

The four-wheel drive +  generally relatively robust Audi should do for what we are intending.

Fuel: Diesel.

This is an issue, as normal winter diesel may cause issues around -20°C, because paraffins will flocculate and hinder the flow through the filter and/or the fuel lines. The constant fuel circulation in Audi/VW cars combined with the heating through locating the fuel filter very close to the engine results in tests showing that these cars would still run without problems in temperatures aournd -30°C with ordinary winter diesel (the flow of which is guaranteed down to -22°C in Germany/Austria). Other vehicles, as Opel, had shown issues with the cold already at -18°C.

I have been also consulting with an engeneer at Audi’s through an official contact channel. I was advised that that the operational limits for which the car has been desgined are reached with temperatures exceeding -30°C . Fuel additives, if available at all for lower temperatures, are risky, because they – I am told – thin-up the fuel, which, however, also serves as lubricant for the pumps and nozzles in advanced, modern diesel engines. (In addition, some of the better additives require use at temperatures over 0°C, which – obviously – only works, if you dispose over a heated garage). In countries like Russia, Polar Diesel is being offered. This may work at temperatures of -40°C to -50°C. Anyway, Audi advised that this fuel does not meet the standards required for their engines (though it remains unclear, whether this meant “formally” or “substantially”, I interpreted it rather as “it may work, but no guarantee”). Audi advised further that there wasn’t a market for diesel passenger cars in Russia and Scandinavia, implying that these fuels are intended for larger machines such as trucks.

There are no standard heating devices available to overcome this problem, unless one would set-up a highly individual solution. In this case, it might be far more advisable not to use a Diesel car at all. In our case, we will seek to avoid driving in conditions where temperatures will drop below -30°C. We will carry onboard at least 20l of Polar Diesel for emergency cases.

Tyres: Nokian Hakkapeliitta 8 studded tyres (205/55 R16)

Tyres are another issue. Firstly, it would be a mistake to believe that “winter tyres” equal “winter tyres”. The rubber composition of each tyre shows optimal perfomance in a certain temperature range. Winter tyres for the central European market need to show best performance in a temperature range which is completely different from those designed for arctic conditions. Consequently, standard winter tyres will perform much worse in low temperatures than arctic tyres. Moreoever, each tyre is a compromise of trying to optimise its performance in different driving conditions, which would require conflicting design concepts. Central Europe knows mild winters, in which snow often becomes watery and a high-risk of aqua planing results from these conditions. Nordic winters involve black ice, hard snow surface and similar conditions. Nokian, one of the most prominent nordic tyre manufacturers, provides an instructive video:

Moreover, road conditions to be expected in Russia, Kazachstan and the other countries are fairly different from those in central Europe. Studying hours of Russian dashcam video footage of road accidents, it becomes quite clear that black ice – occuring unexpectedly even for locals, apparently – is a major threat. Addistionally, hard snow surfaces will be typical rather than exceptional. Therefore, in my assessment, studded tyres are a very good investment. They will significantly reduce the risk of loosing control over your vehicle (albeit this will obviously not prevent other cars from crashing into you, to be honest).

Videos on black ice:

Several indepent crash in safe-looking tunnel:

Standard Black Ice Videos (note that the worse accidents result from over-steering after loosing control, which makes the car then crash into the opposite traffic):

Performance of Studded Tyres on Ice:

Nokian Hakkapelitta 8 is among the top-performing studded winter tyres available on the market, according to my researches. It is also a very robust tyre, which may turn out helpful when trying to cross 3000km of ice desert in Kazachstan. Which in winter can look like this: Road to Astana (KAZ) in Winter.

A final remark concerning the tyre size: While I have no empiric proof, my personal experience is that slimmer winter tyres are NOT preferable, and that small difference are well noteable. Both on my Audi 90 quattro 20V and the A4 quattro 1.9 TDI performance significantly drops when mounting 195/65 winter tyres instead of 205/55 winter tyres. In both cases, my feeling is that a significant drop in control, also in deep snow, is th result. I have since returned to broader winter tyres and find that these have a significantly better handling and a larger security reserve.

For extreme conditions, I have a set of 4 Pewag Brenta snow-chains on-board.


Engine: cambelt (timing belt), all other belts, coolant pump, coolant heat exchanger, coolant temperature control unit, fuel filter replaced. Motor oil checked (also regarding artic temperatures), coolant for temperaturs down to -40°C.

Brakes: checked, brake fluid exchanged (because water included in used brake fluid can freeze).

Lights: checked.

All lubricants: checked (incld. gear box, hydraulics, differentials).

Tools and Materials on board:

  • coolant antifreeze
  • windscreen cleaning antifreeze
  • motor oil
  • hydraulic oil
  • spare fuel filter (if flocculated fuel blocks the fuel filter, exchange will allow for shorter times to restart the engine (probably best in conjunction with admixture of polar diesel fuel)
  • 2 x 20l Diesel
  • 1 x 5l benzin (for emergency cases)
  • torque spanner
  • large set of standard automotive tools
  • car jack
  • 4 x jack stands
  • tape
  • wire
  • tubes/hoses
  • hose clamp set
  • wiring tools and materials + fuses
  • wiring plan
  • spare bulbs
  • assembly plans
  • 4 spare tyres (non-studded winter tyres)
  • 2 snow showels
  • 4 snow-chains
  • tow-rope
  • starter cable set
  • car battery charger unit
  • fire extinguisher
  • air pump (for tyres)




I generally like the idea of travel blogs. And I certainly like travelling. However, I am not sure to which extent I will manage to frequently update a travel blog while travelling (which is I think crucial to its success), but let me try and see.

::: t -10d // Initial Thoughts

Well, this is for those who wish to follow our road trip to the East for a while. The general idea behind this is – as always – skiing holidays, naturally. As the Alps turn out to be less and less suitable for skiing (unless, of course, you do backcountry skiing, which however is a completely different story), while simultaneously becoming more and more expensive, we are looking for alternatives. The real story, of course, is that skiing in remote places allows you to do phantastic roadtrips through unique landscapes where otherwise you’d never seriously would want to go to taken into accout the effort it takes.

Now, what we are aiming at are Kyrgyzstan, Kazachstan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan. The route will probably lead through Kiew (UKR), Kursk (RUS), Saratow (RUS), Uralsk (KAZ), Aktobe (KAZ), Aralsk (KAZ), Shymkent (KAZ). From there onwwards a circle through UZB, TJK, KGZ (or vice versa). This, of course, in theory. Depending on wheather and road conditions we may end up in Caucasus “only”, which is not the worst destinantion, either. Depending on the the time we’ll have and the road conditions we’ll find, a return via Gergio, Turkey and the Balkans might be considerable.

Possible Route, Part I

Possible Route, Part II