January 16, 2009. Andrey had barely started the engine when I got my next lift from a truck driver heading to Tomsk. Vova, the new driver, was very interested in hitchhiking, he kept asking questions and I shared my hitchhiking experience with him. What always makes me smile is that almost every driver who picks you up asks the same one question: “So, do people stop to pick up hitchhikers?” Even when you already told him you crossed 3500km hitchhiking from Moscow. Vova dropped me off at a rest area a few kilometers before the road turned left towards the city of Tomsk. I walked into the nearby café and ordered two cups of tea and potato pies to have an early breakfast. Around 5:30 AM a cargo van stopped for me. Two hours later we were passing through the city of Kemerovo. The driver decided to help me a little more and drove me out of the city. He left me on the road to Krasnoyarsk. In 10 minutes, I got a lift from another cargo van. The driver’s name was Kostya.
We were now on the M53 highway, and the Road was stunningly beautiful! All around us was the taiga. Kostya fervently shared stories about his life here, about the forests, about the great variety of mushrooms and flowers, about rivers and lakes, and beavers of taiga. I kept looking far into the horizon where the sun seemed to be reflected in the woods and the mountains.
At 10:50 AM, between the 407th and 408th kilometers of the highway on the top of the hill I saw about 50 black crows sitting on the snow. Kostya said the crows appeared here a month ago: “There was a terrible car accident on this spot. Two huge trucks. Head-on collision. And a smaller vehicle between them. All the passengers in that car and one of the truck drivers died instantly. Since then, the crows are here all days and nights long.” I got goosebumps.
Kostya dropped me off on the Mariinsk bypass and drove to the city. Since all the trucks heading east were taking this bypass, I was hoping to get a ride all the way to Irkutsk from here, but I got stuck for an hour and a half, or maybe more. Two locals and one bus driver helped me to leave the Mariinsk city limits. Then an old man offered a ride for the next 20 km. He said he’ll drive me to the nearest rest area where there are many trucks. “It’ll be easier to get a ride for a longer distance from there,” he said. He was right.
Five minutes after he dropped me off, a red “Freightliner” truck pulled over next to me.
“I’m going to Irkutsk,” said the driver when I opened the door.
“Me too,” I said.
“Then what the hell are you waiting for? Get in.”
I got in. We introduced ourselves and talked for a while. But after being out in the cold for a long time, the warm cabin made me feel sleepy. The driver noticed it and suggested I sleep at the back for some time, which I did and slept for 3 hours.
At 10 PM, I noticed a road sign that said we had about 900km left till Irkutst. “Almost there,” I said to myself. Around midnight, when we were passing through the town of Kansk, I received a text message from my mother, in which she wrote that my brother and his wife are going to have a son! It was great news, and I felt happy, but I was sad, too. I realized that while I’m out in the world, roaming around towns, walking along the roads, meeting new people and exploring new cultures, back at home my parents grow older, my younger brother becomes father, life continues there, but I’m not a part of it anymore. This is probably the biggest sacrifice you make when you choose the wanderer’s path. The question is… are you ready to make this sacrifice?
Tea with Strangers