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If Siberia is Russia's frontier, the frontier of the frontier is Tuva, a place most famous for being remote. In its brief time as an independent nation in the early 1900s, it produced stamps prized by collectors, and later its nomadic Turkic people's throat singing earned global renown. But Tuva is probably best known for being the obsession of physicist Richard Feynman, who famously and failingly tried to visit its endless steppe and its capital, Kyzyl, in the 1980s, as described in the book Tuva or Bust! Today people visit Tuva partly so they can say, "I visited Tuva," and Aaron and I were no better. We learned that Kyzyl even had an obelisk proclaiming it the geographic center of Asia—which in fact it is, provided you use a certain 1855 map projection by Scottish clergyman James Gall, which nobody ever does.

From Buryatia, Tuva was about a thousand miles to the west and 500 miles to the south. Aaron and I needed a good ride, and we found one with the unlikeliest of hitchhiking aids: the police. At a checkpoint at the edge of Ulan Ude, aided by fast-talking Darima, we convinced the officers to flag down some peregonchiks. In ten minutes we had our guys. Our unwitting hosts were slightly older and more tattooed than previous drivers—a tougher, gruffer sort of peregonchik. The three men warmed up once we said we really would pay for gas: For once, a police checkpoint yielded money rather than took it away. Soon the boss, a gold-toothed man named Volodya who wore slippers and a full tracksuit, was handing me his cell phone so I could surprise his wife: "Hello, I'm a foreigner driving with your husband!"

We crossed between the more populated western shores of Baikal and the beautiful Khamar-Daban mountains—snowy and treeless, with sharp ridges that climbed to 6,500-foot peaks—then entered the grimy metropolis of Irkutsk at rush hour. Here, 3,000 miles from Vladivostok and 3,000 from Moscow, 80 percent of the cars clogging the streets were Japanese. "Davai, davai, davai," Volodya yelled: "Let's go, let's go, let's go."

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  • My son, Levi Bridges, is currently biking across Russia and Asia. He departed Vladivostok on April 1…
  • I wish Aaron Huey would give the camera and lens info he used to get the pictures. Great stuff.
  • Some of the finest photos I've seen of 21st Century FarEast Russia! I too have yet to read the artic…
  • wow! i have not even read the article yet and i am excited. it is like a chapter from a travel book.…
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