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Even after the peregonchiks exit the Amur and the highway begins to look more like a highway, there are still 4,000 miles to go: through renascent Buddhist country in the Buryatia region, near iconic Lake Baikal, then through villages of Old Believers—Russia's Amish, a 17th-century breakaway sect of the Orthodox Church who found refuge in Siberia—and then toward the population centers of Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk. Then past a spur road leading south to the animist Republic of Tuva, and past another spur leading toward the 14,000-foot peaks of the Altay region. Then into the Ural Mountains—the traditional border between Asia and Europe, between Siberia and more domesticated parts of Russia—where the highway becomes many highways: through Chelyabinsk, the industrial birthplace of the Katyusha rocket (a mujahideen favorite), through Kazan, the mosque-dotted center of oil-rich, Muslim Tatarstan, and through Vladimir, a gilded medieval capital. All lead to Moscow.

Alexei was simultaneously one of the best and scariest drivers I have ever known. It was a Saturday morning when he picked us up at our overpriced Vladivostok hotel, a ridgetop tower that smelled strongly of smoke (they hadn't mentioned the recent fire when we checked in). His car was a white Toyota luxury sedan with gold trim, leather seats, and an official piece of paper marked "Tranzit" stuck to the windshield—a recent arrival. Its steering wheel, like that of all Japanese imports here, was on the right, the wrong side in left-hand-drive Russia. Its stereo pumped out loud electronica that heightened the feeling of being in a video game, of it being OK to weave through traffic at 80 miles an hour. We raced down the hill, taking in views of Orthodox churches and windswept Golden Horn Bay, and entered a crowded six-lane road. We swerved from lane to lane, passing everyone. After ten minutes we took a roaring left up a hill and were surrounded by used cars.

Green Corner was unimpressive at first, but we soon understood its size. It was not one lot but many, each hidden by a fold in the hill. One area held Japanese cranes and heavy equipment. Another was almost exclusively SUVs. There were loudspeakers offering instant, walk-up credit, men selling insurance from trailers, and guard dogs leaping out at anyone who got too close to a Camry. There were mechanics, restaurants, and acres of tires and rims. There were Mazda MPVs, Mitsubishi Delicas, Nissan Serenas, Suzuki Samurais, Daihatsu Terios, and Toyotas plastered with Japanglish stickers: "Reasons why I choose this car is that it will totally satisfy my requirements for outdoor living," and "Well, tomorrow, where shall we go?"

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  • My son, Levi Bridges, is currently biking across Russia and Asia. He departed Vladivostok on April 1…
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