About a week ago I discovered the thread on Expedition Portal that someone had started about the problems we had with our vehicle near Yakutsk. Since then I have followed the discussion with interest (using my iPhone) but because of lack of real internet connection have not been able to contribute. So this post will for the moment be my contribution. The reason for doing it this was is that I can prepare this post offline and send it to our website even if my connection is slow.
The first thing to say is, thank you, to all those that have commented about our "poise" or "calm" in the face of a rather major breakage. Let me just say that one of the advantages of a blog is that one can calm down and regain ones composure before commiting anything to print. You can rest assured that at the time the incident took place there was more than a little emotion and adrenaline flowing.
The next thing to say is just how lucky we were that we had some connections in the area. These connections orginated on ExpeditionPortal and put us in contact with a number of 4x4 groups across Siberia and without these connections I have no idea what we would have done but for sure we would have had to leave the vehicle on the side of the road for some period while went looking for help.
For those that don't know we own an Earthroamer in addition to our GXV/U500. We bought the GXV/U500 after deciding on this particular adventure and that was an explicit decision that the Earthroamer was not suitable for this trip. That decision was based on problems we and others had with the Ford engine (PSD 6.4 in our case) and the difficulty of working on the engine in the F550. It was also partly based on a reading of the around the world journey by Australian Dick Smith in his Earthroamer. He had major engine problems but in addition had a number of camper issues.
Now that we are on the trip we are able to see what kinds of vehicles are traveling the roads in Russia. It may be that the U500 was a poor choice (at least in terms of the reasons we chose it) but I am pretty sure that I would not go back and swap for our Earthroamer at ths point. What the future may hold and how I feel about that statement in a few months only time will tell.
Why we did not try some kind of "temporary" or "field fix" with a "block of wood and some bailing wire". First one needs to appreciate how far we had to travel with whatever fix we applied in the village of Hapatagay. We had 1000 km of very rough road before getting back to the main East/West highway and then another 1000km before getting to Chita the nearest sizeable town that was likely to have any kind of repair facilities. So any field fix would have needed to be able to last at least 2000km.
My hosts in Yakutsk and I did devise a field fix, it was a variation on the quick patch applied on the afternoon of the incident. Put a metal plate under the rubber bushings. But my assessment was that the damaged rubber bushing would disintegrate during our return journey and that would result in some very nasty metal on metal impacts. With the likelihood that the mount attached to the camper would be irretrievably damaged.
Hence I decided that prudence was the best course. And at least from Haptagay I was close to an airport where as once we started the return journey airports were few and far between.
Why I chose to fly to Berlin and collect parts rather than have GXV come to me. Simple expediencey. I could do that faster than they could get visas and be in Russia. Also I had a temporary import document for my vehicle in my possession and felt that would help get the parts and tools through customs without hassles over customs duty and import restrictions. It certainly works that way in Chile.
At the risk of "beating a dead horse" I would like to point out just how amazing I think it is that we actually got the vehicle fixed at all. Haptagay, the village in which we parked our vehicle after the incident, is literally a small Yakutsk farming community with no mechanical repair facilities of any kind. Thus we knew from the beginning of the exercise that all the tools and parts necessary to make the repair would need to be either already in our truck or would need to be shipped (some how) to us. In preparing the package that was eventually sent to Berlin for me to pickup I spoke to Roger at GXV twice a day (morning and night when our awake hours coincided) for over a week to ensure that all the necessary parts and tools were being included in the package. To achieve this GXV had to order in and test a range of tools, not the least of which was the air bag which was central to the final fix. That we did this and got it right from half way around the world is what I find amazing. It goes without saying that the exercise would not have succeeded without an unstinting commitment on the part of GXV. And for the synics amongst you - yes I am trying to give GXV a "pat on the back" because I feel it is deserved.