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Our hunt led us to the Mijit-Dorju center and a serene, gray-haired woman named Nadia Sat, who sat in an orange sweater in her colorful office and expressed her love for shamanism: "There is energy in water, energy in wood. You get to be in nature. Shamanism is not about sermons. It's about using the littlest things in nature to heal."

She asked us our birth years—1975 and 1976—and wrote them down on a piece of paper, then stared at them for a very long time. She started whispering to herself and stabbing at the paper with her pen. It began to feel less like an interview and more like a doctor visit. She told Aaron and me that it was our destiny to head west. We hadn't mentioned our trans-Siberian trip, so this seemed prophetic. She told me I had been rushing around too much, but that I would soon get to slow down. This also made sense. She tied yellow thread around our wrists, then pulled some poppy seeds from a drawer and wrapped them in tiny white satchels, which she blew upon, chanting our names. She handed them to us. The white color would deflect evil.

"Do you have any advice for the road?" Aaron asked. "Remember that there are two roads," she said. "The poppy can be a drug or it can be a flower." She burned a sprig of sage, and smoke filled the room as Aaron and I got up to leave. I asked if we could make a small donation for the advice.

"Just pay from your heart," she said.

"Well, we don't know what would be appropriate," I said.

Our shaman gave a beatific smile, and her eyes rose to meet mine. "Three thousand rubles would be fine," she said. "That's what foreigners usually pay." For 20 minutes she wanted $125—our budget for the next three days. We mumbled something about lacking the right change. She wouldn't hear it. I'd walked right into this one. "Three thousand would be best," she said.

True to Shaman Nadia's precious advice, Aaron and I headed west, and her bracelets gave us luck from that moment forward. Back in Krasnoyarsk, police at a checkpoint scored us a rare caravan bound for European Russia. The road was now paved and fast, and the mountains were behind us. Nearly 1,500 miles of snow and muddy fields passed in a blur. Somewhere, it was hard to pinpoint a place or moment, the frontier ended. The wave of Japanese cars petered out—ours were the only peregonchiks on the road—and we witnessed a change in tides: Used German sedans with transit plates now barreled toward us in the opposite lane. Eastbound semitrucks towed trailers stacked with SUVs. Our right-hand-drive vehicles were suddenly out of place, not to mention dangerous. Stuck looking out the wrong side of the windshield, our drivers couldn't see around what they were trying to pass. Cities were more frequent, and just as gas station tent sites became scarce, motels appeared. Truck stops took up both sides of the road, offering bright lights and kebabs roasted over a fire.

Past the Urals, our rides were all with truck drivers: a dancer turned shop owner, a young Russian with an American 18-wheeler, a pair of Muslim brothers from Tatarstan. We rolled through Ufa and Kazan and Cheboksary and Nizhniy Novgorod and Vladimir and Elektrostal until the countryside was all onion domes, train tracks, and power lines—sprawl indistinguishable from Moscow itself. Just after dark on one of the first days of November, after five weeks on the road, Aaron and I climbed down from the cab of a semi onto an apartment complex lawn. We put on our packs, strolled down the sidewalk to the metro, and rode it to the center of Moscow.

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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.
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