In my job as a double driver, tour trucking speak for double manning, I am not a full-time tour driver, I prefer to be a double driver as I get to stay in hotels rather than the cab (those who read my previous blog know I also do this for Formula 1) my least favourite destination in Russia. Next is any former Eastern Bloc country, particularly Bulgaria and Romania, so I surprised myself by getting talked into taking on a job to Russia that would travel overland from England, and back again. A good friend of mine persuaded me to take on a job that involved double driving two trucks from Transam Trucking’s yard (Suffolk, GB) to Kazan and Somara. I agreed to the job, and in the space of two weeks the job changed to Krasnodar and Rostov-on-Don, and my friend dropped out! However, I had committed, it was around three weeks work just before Christmas, and another good friend of mine took his place double driving the other truck, so maybe it wouldn’t be so bad!
On Weds, 14th November I arrived at the yard around midday and we loaded up the trucks with our personal gear, collected permits, topped up with AdBlue, checked the wheel nuts and left around 1pm. We were shipping out empty to Switzerland where we would load for the gigs, then return the gear afterwards-maybe?! There was talk some of the gear would be dropped off on the way back at Moscow to be flown to further gigs, even though Moscow really wasn’t on the way back! The journey down to Dover was uneventful save a queue to get over the Dartford bridge at 3pm-why? Dover was very busy, we arrived around 17:00 weighed in at just over 17000kg and were booked on the 18:35 P&O boat to Calais. We presumed it was so busy due to industrial action in certain European countries, and possibly the tunnel was affected because of this. After a nice meal on the Spirit of Britain I changed some spending money into Euros (I had already changed up a float into Roubles and Ukrainian ‘dingbats’-most currency other than Sterling and Euro is known as ‘dingbats’- for our hotels on route) and spent the rest of the crossing swapping tales and planning the route we were to take. Once off the boat it was my turn to do a stint, my driver Bryan having driven from the yard. Bryan hit the bunk and I soon found myself driving in thick fog which cleared just after Bethune. I tired after 2.5hrs of driving and was on the verge of waking Bryan when we came across a peage near Reims which woke me up! I then managed to complete 4hrs 20mins before pulling into a rest area to change over, and immediately jumped into the bed. After a quick read I managed a good 3.5 hrs plus sleep and was rudely awoken by Bryan! Looking out of the window I realised we were in Germany, Bryan routing via Strasbourg and cutting across into Germany near Mullhouse, and it was a very unsociable 3 degrees outside. I only had 35kms to go to Aesch, near Basel and we took Weil-am-Rhein route as it’s normally quieter than the St.Louis border into Basel, so we were surprised to find big queue about a mile from the border. We queued in the second lane for transit and empty trucks, and waited, and waited!
Nearer the border we had to slalom around trucks whose drivers had gone to sleep, amazingly in the other lane two trucks had their curtains pulled, the long queue behind them oblivious they had given up and were parked! 500m away from the border our other truck went sailing down the outside to try to cut in at the front, and he managed it so we later found out. Bryan warned me that he has often seen a policeman standing at the front of the queue directing anyone who has done this down a slip road that leads off to the airport and the St.Louis border with no way of rejoining the queue, so we didn’t risk it. It took 3hrs to reach the border customs area, and the reason for the chaos became clear, they were rebuilding all the parking area and access and parking was restricted. It took us five minutes to buy our Swiss road tax and we were through! In 20 minutes we reached our load point at Aesch, I walked the 10 minutes to my hotel, in a barmy 4 degrees! I was dog tired, but not too tired to make a few notes for the blog! (Top Blogger – BS)
On Friday morning we walked from our hotel to meet the trucks at 11am, giving us a 24hrs break. It was a beautiful sunny day and was eight degrees centigrade. However we find Bryan and Richard ready to leave but still waiting for the ATA carnets to arrive. We finally get them and leave at 12:30, and are back at the Swiss border in 20 minutes. The building work was taking place on this side too, and we had to wait a while to park. The carnets took 1 hour to open at customs, and we were in Germany again heading north towards Berlin and Dresden. The temperature dropped to freezing once the sun went down but traffic was reasonably light and we made good progress, stopping near Cheminitz to change drivers. I was straight into the bunk and slept solidly until I was woken somewhere north of Wroclaw, Poland. It was freezing, and when I first looked out I thought it had snowed as it was completely white. Polish roads are damn awful, tramlined and single carriageway mostly. They are busy bypassing towns with new stretches of dual carriageway, so we were forever diverted on and off the A8. I missed the turning onto a new section of by pass and ended up running down the old national road, which wouldn’t have been a problem until I took another wrong turn and ended up on a country lane. It took a while to find a road to reverse into and turn round, and when I rejoined the correct road I realised we were now behind Richard and Kevin’s truck which we had been well ahead of. Running behind the truck, Kevin then took a wrong turning thanks to the Sat Nav and we did a long diversion that cost us about an hour. However it worked in our favour in a way as just before our time was due to run out we came across a good hotel with truck parking so dived in there for an 11 hour break. It was 07:30 by then and was really cold, the hat and gloves came out! Once checked in we had breakfast and a beer (it was our evening, remember!) and as I was shattered jumped into bed.
Sat evening, and we left at 18:30, and not half hour into journey just after Bryan mentioned there may be drunks around as its Saturday night, we round a right hand bend and an oncoming car crosses the centre line and heads for us. Bryan quickly flicked the steering wheel and the car missed the rear of the trailer by millimetres. We came across a matrix sign for the Polish/Ukrainian border that said 25 trucks- 3hrs. We were hoping this was accurate as that’s a very good crossing time for that border. However, not long after we came across the back of the queue, which was around 6-8km long, more like 300 trucks!
Around 2km from the border at midnight we pulled into a garage to meet our fixer. He would help process our paperwork, theoretically speeding our crossing. We filled our AdBlue tanks from containers we were carrying in the trailers, as we needed to seal the trailers for transiting Ukraine. We then followed his car jumping the queue, but had to keep stopping to let oncoming trucks through, 20 minutes later we arrived at the frontier at 00:20. By 07:00 we were cleared and entered Ukraine. We had been told we were not receiving an escort car for Ukraine, which was unusual, and I must admit worried me as every time previously we have had one, and tales were abound about corrupt police and bandits. However, Rich and Bryan are very experienced at these countries and were quite happy we didn’t have one as we could do our own thing. Within 10kms of border we were stopped for speeding on a dual carriageway section. As Kevin was driving Richard’s truck in front I drove on and stopped around 1km up the road on the hard shoulder, after all I hadn’t been waved in! I could see lots of arm waving going on in my mirrors, and 15 minutes later when Kevin got moving again, he told me that they wanted to fine him for me speeding as well. He refused and told them to walk up and fetch me back, which they were not willing to do. He was fined 60Euro, turns out we missed a speed limit sign on the dual carriageway that slows you for the checkpoint area.
The roads were not bad to Kiev, a little potholed in places and rutted, but bearable. We headed for Kiev and drove right through the centre, not sure if we should have, but we didn’t get stopped! Not far from the airport, right in the middle of a 7.5t limit, we found a hotel with lay by parking nearby. Kevin and I checked in, and Bryan and Rich settled down in the cabs.
At 09:00 we departed Kiev. Amazingly the roads south of Kiev were very good, and mostly dual carriageway, similar to France. We deduced as they were new looking that they had been completed for the recent Euro football championships. The weather was dull but temperatures were above freezing. Later when it got dark it became hard to see the local Kamaz doing 25mph, with no lights on! This delayed us in the single carriageway sections. As we got closer to the Russian border the roads became awful, and our speed decreased dramatically.
We stopped for the night 66km from the border at a motel/brothel. Well we reasoned it was a brothel, there were a group of young ladies naked in the jacuzzi, and men would turn up and escort these ladies elsewhere in the complex, and return them a little later! Added to that, it was in the middle of nowhere with nothing else around for miles.
Kevin and I left all our valuables in the trucks, locked away, and braved the motel. The rooms were bizarre, huge with velour curtains and leopard skin bed covers. There was no food available but we managed to get some biscuits from a vending machine and some very cheap bottles of beer from the fridge by the Jacuzzi. With broken English/German/French we had a ‘chat’ with the friendly receptionist, broken only each time a couple wanted access to the Jacuzzi. She would switch it on for them, take a bottle of drink in and start the romantic music on the cd player. She was genuinely curious about where we were going, and why! We learnt that she spoke Russian as this part of Ukraine still did being so close to the border, and being occupied for so long. She was most intrigued by Kevin’s tobacco pouch, she had never seen a rolled cigarette before, and gratefully accepted one, only to have a coughing fit, Golden Virginia not agreeing with her! We retired to our boudoirs and spent the first few hours in bed awaiting a knock on the door from a young lady, which luckily (?) never came!