Based on the past day and a half, this trip has now officially become an adventure! For those short on reading time, the highlights are: the sat-nav gave us bad directions that contributed to us ending up on a dirt road in some remote forested area; we ended up stuck in slimy mud and couldn’t get out before night fell; we slept inside the Defender in sub-zero temperatures; I spent five hours digging out the Defender this morning before getting some welcome assistance from my new best friend Nikolai and his tractor. For more details and photos, read on. It’s a doozy!
The day started out well enough as we left Kazan. Departure was delayed somewhat as we had to stock up on groceries for the fridge and we also stopped at a car wash to get the Defender clean. Had I known what would befall us that evening, I wouldn’t have bothered!
With a clean vehicle, we set the GPS/sat-nav for a city between Kazan and Perm and set off for the day’s journey. After a while, the sat-nav took us down a remote dirt road and then announced that in 1km, we should take the ferry! Not what we were expecting but what the heck, a ferry ride would add some interest to the trip. Problem was, the ferry had been scrapped quite some time ago but nobody told the sat-nav! Now we had to find a new route to our destination whilst ignoring the pleas of the woman in the sat-nav to do a U-turn and go back to the ferry.
A stop at a nearby fuel station armed us with some rough directions about which towns/villages we needed to pass through and the route pointed out on our paper map. So, off we set on the new route, supported by the sat-nav.
We knew from the directions that we had been given that we had to get to the small town of Kizner and then on to the town of Mozhga. We were also told that there would be some rough, bumpy roads, but that was the best way to go to avoid a much longer journey. We got to Kizner with about two hours before sunset and figured we had sufficient time to at least reach Mozhga before we stopped for the night. The sat-nav confidently told us which direction we should take from Kizner but it soon became a wide dirt road, albeit with well-packed tracks so we could maintain a good speed. After about 20km, though, the dirt road became less firm and then became quite muddy, requiring me to utilise diff-lock for the first time of the trip. The sat-nav was still confidently telling us to go ahead!
By now, we were doubting the accuracy of the route but it was getting closer to sunset and we were hopeful that Mozhga was just around the corner. We arrived at a small village where the road became very muddy and slippery, but there were regular 2-wheel drive cars parked outside the houses. That said, I needed diff-lock and 2nd gear low-range to get along the road. As we passed the village, the road started to look worse and we stopped briefly to consider whether we should continue or turn around. This is where I ignored David’s off-road training and paid the penalty! I know that when the route begins to look doubtful, it’s best to walk the route and confirm its suitability before actually driving it. Had we done that, we would have turned around. Instead, I decided to drive around one more turn and that’s where we got stuck in the mud!
We were not stuck too deeply. I surveyed the scene and saw that there were patches of solid ground on either side of the muddy track that I could potentially use to turn the Defender around. So, I put on my boots, got out the shovel, and set to work on a recovery plan. I dug out tracks for the wheels and we laid branches and twigs in front of the wheels to aid traction. Once in place, I was able to drive the Defender out of its predicament and turn it around on the harder surfaces. However, to go back the way we had come, we would have to drive back through the muddy patch which was very slimy. I walked the track and selected what looked to be firmer ground, where the mud was bound by grasses and vegetation. It looked as though we’d be able to drive over the firmer ground and get out of there. However, when we tried, the Defender quickly got bogged down in some very wet and slimy ground. This time, the vehicle was more deeply stuck than before. With daylight fading, we decided to try to use the hand-winch to pull the vehicle back onto the firmer ground and park there for the night. No good! The vehicle was stuck firm and the slimy ground was sucking my boots into the quagmire like quicksand. We weren’t going to get out that night. We emptied some gear out of the rear of the vehicle to clear the sleeping area and climbed in. We had no choice but to sleep inside the vehicle for the night. Fortunately, it was equipped with mattresses and sleeping bags, already in place to climb into.
Once inside the sleeping bag, I was fine, but Klaus felt the cold and didn’t get much sleep. It was daylight at 5.00am so up we got to begin the recovery process. There had been sub-zero temperatures over night which had frozen the pond next to us. On the positive side, it had also hardened the ground that was a quagmire the night before, helping to make our next task easier
In the morning light, an inspection revealed the enormity of our problem. We had sunk into the mud up to axles. The front bash plate and both differentials were firmly stuck in the mud. There would be no way of getting the Defender out until all of that mud had been shovelled out, clearing the diffs and all of the underbody. So, at 5.00am on a cold and freezing morning, I set about shovelling mud from under the Defender. This meant moving at least 8 inches of mud from underneath the entire vehicle. I had been saying that I needed to fit in a workout but I wasn’t contemplating five hours of shovelling dirt!
After five hours of digging, I got to the point where I had cleared all of the chassis and underbody from the mud. We again packed the areas in front of the wheels with branches and twigs to aid traction and I tried to drive the Defender out. Partially successful, I was able to move the vehicle forward by about one metre, freeing both front wheels and the rear nearside wheel. But the rear offside wheel dug itself in down to the hub. It was the closest wheel to the pond, where the mud was the softest. The sun was also beginning to melt the ice and the previously hard mud was softening again. The rear offside wheel would now have to be dug out again – but at least the underbody was all clear of mud.
By then it was 10..00am on a Sunday morning and we reckoned that the nearby villagers would be up and about. Whilst I continued to dig out the rear wheel, Klaus set off on foot to the village, armed with a picture that I drew of a tractor pulling out the Defender. We were hoping that a kindly villager would come to our assistance. In the meantime, I cleared a path in front of the stuck rear wheel.
Sometime later, music to my ears! I could hear a tractor making its way along the track with a loud Russian voice. Soon, the tractor appeared around the bend with Klaus as a passenger. Klaus had come across Nikolai in the village, showed him the drawing along with a photo of the stuck Defender on my camera. As it happened, Nikolai owned a tractor and here he was to rescue us. I hooked up a snatch rope to my front recovery bumper and we attached it to the tractor. Once I was behind the wheel of the Defender, I gave the ‘thumbs up’ to Nikolai and in seconds we had the Defender free of the mud.
Had Nikolai not been willing to help, I would have had to dig for at least another hour to prepare the ground so that I could drive the Defender out. I was very happy! I gave Nikolai a nice tip in thanks for his assistance and we ‘chatted’ briefly, explaining that Klaus and I had slept in the Defender overnight. Happy with his tip, Nikolai drove off on his tractor. Meanwhile, Klaus and I packed up the recovery gear and got the Defender ready to drive away.
Just as we were preparing to leave, Nikolai reappeared carrying a plastic bag. With a grin on his face, he told us he had brought us breakfast. He only speaks Russian and we don’t, but we were able to communicate with each other to a degree. He had brought with him scrambled eggs that his wife had made, along with some type of pastry. He also had bread and warm milk – from his own cow – as well as pork scratchings from one of his pigs. We understood that he has three children and that he also has a bee hive that produces honey. We were able to gather this from Nikolai as we sat with him and enjoyed the breakfast
Our encounter with Nikolai was an amazing experience. We got to enjoy true hospitality from a wonderful man, despite a significant language barrier. If we hadn’t had the misfortune to get stuck in the mud, we would never have met him and we would not have enjoyed this wonderful interaction. I didn’t enjoy having to shovel mud for five hours but I left the village with a smile on my face and a warm heart. Nikolai was my new best friend and I’ll remember our interaction for years to come.
We were able to drive away from the village and retrace our route about 20km to find the correct turning to Mozgha, and on to a city for tonight’s stay. Quite an experience and a valuable lesson learned about off-road driving! I don’t plan to be spending another five hours digging out the Defender, so will be much more cautious about where I take it!