The Cape to Cape expedition has now reached its cruising speed as it heads across the vastnesses of Russia. The sheer scale of this country means they have to drive through a wide range of contrasting landscapes and surroundings. Everything from forests and frozen lakes to motorway interchanges worthy of the Paris region as they come into St Petersburg !
In the course of this first week, everyone involved in the expedition was able to fully realise just how big Russia is. The distance from Murmansk to St Petersburg is more than 1,500 km. But what the figures don't reveal is the toughness of the journey. There aren't the kind of "traps" found in the desert - but the road surfaces are in very bad condition (largely as a result of the constant freezing and thawing), making it very hard going for both men and machines. The vehicles have to slalom between the potholes to avoid blowing their tyres or breaking their suspension. Only a few recently repaired stretches allow the drivers to relax a little, while the Russian motorists overtake the Cape to Cape Caravan in a rather acrobatic fashion. The aridity of Murmansk gives way to dense pine and birch forests. There is a tangible change once the Arctic Circle has been crossed, which is even more marked in Karelia. In Belomorsk, our caravan causes quite a stir as crowds of children and teenagers surge forward to welcome us. But this is a mutual discovery, since it is during this stage that the Cape to Cape teams begin to get a broader view of the country, with its amazing contrasts of timeless, traditional datchas co-existing with collective housing developments dating back to the Soviet era.
As we draw closer to St Petersburg, the road winds between wooded hills, passes through villages of wooden houses, skirts frozen lakes (including the vast Lake Ladoga) before becoming little more than a track. But not for long, since our arrival in St Petersburg involves negotiating a massive motorway interchange worthy of Western Europe. You soon get the feeling that some of the country's wealth goes through this metropolis with its ceaseless port activity, its opulent shops, the arrogance displayed by some cars and its (grandiose) historical heritage, meticulously restored. St Petersburg is as much a city devoted to business as it is to tourism. For this reason, Cape to Cape will be meeting up with local customers and prospects before heading off towards the southeast and Moscow.