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The gravel began at exactly 8 p.m., just after sunset. We could see the taillights ahead start bobbing up and down in the washboards, and the Cube began to shake. Evgeni slowed to a ludicrous six miles an hour. Other peregonchiks flew past in waves. "You've got to be kidding me," Aaron moaned. We hit pavement again after a few miles, but for the rest of the evening it was back and forth: asphalt, gravel, asphalt, gravel. When the road was good, Evgeni might speed up to 55 or even 75 miles an hour. On gravel he rarely topped 15.

We slept that night as the peregonchiks did—in our car—in the parking lot of a roadside café. Aaron was in the backseat of the tiny Cube, I took shotgun, and Evgeni stayed in the driver's seat he had occupied for the previous eight hours. We Americans had sleeping bags; Evgeni had a gray sweater and track pants. He left the motor running and the heat blasting. When it got hot, he turned the car off. When it got cold, he turned it back on, alternately shivering and sweating until dawn. The 30 or 40 drivers around us were doing the same.

The landscape changed over the next days: fewer hills, fewer houses, smaller stands of trees breaking up expanses of savanna, fog hanging 20 feet above the long grass and rising like smoke off ponds and slow-moving rivers. It was summer elsewhere, but a few hundred miles north of Vladivostok, it had become autumn in full. Trees' leaves were orange or gone altogether, and forests of larch were changing phase—Christmas trees turned yellow. Aaron and I spent hours staring out the windows, barely talking except to point out the odd farmhouse, tractor, or cemetery. We tried to find the names of the villages we passed on our map, but they were usually too small, or Siberia was too big.

We drove through the Khabarovsk Territory, where until a recent crackdown mafia had exacted a tax on passing peregonchiks, then through Birobidzhan, the capital of the Jewish Autonomous Region—a Stalin-built homeland meant to offer a Marxist alternative to Zionism—where we leaned out the windows to snap photos of Yiddish signs and the giant menorah in front of the train station. Here freedom of movement had meant freedom to flee to Israel; the population was now more than 90 percent ethnic Russian. We passed but didn't see the new rocket-launching cosmodrome near the village of Svobodnyy the former site of a 200,000-inmate gulag. Our surroundings became ever swampier, darker, more leafless—burned not by fire but by deadening cold. Civilization was soon reduced to gas stations and diners, all catering to peregonchiks, all as new as the highway itself. Two nights in a row, Vadim chose modern NK Alliance gas stations as our resting point, and Aaron and I pitched our tent next to the Fuso, peering out at a forested wilderness lit fluorescent green by 24-hour lights.

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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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