This is the story of Russia's Lena Highway, aka the Highway from Hell.
The Russian Federal Highway runs from Moscow city to the Siberian city of Yakutsk. The last 600 miles is called the "Lena Highway". This bizarre road runs parallel to the Lena River on the final leg to Yakutsk.
As you can readily see for yourself, in the summertime, the Lena Highway turns to mud whenever it rains. There are several Internet sites that consider the Lena Highway to be the worst road in the world. Personally I would give this dubious honor to Bolivia's Road of Death (next story). After all, no one gets killed in the mud, just incredibly aggravated.
Yakutsk is the capital of the Yakutia Republic, part of the vast Russian region known as Siberia. The old joke is 'War is God's way of teaching us geography'. With that in mind, any kid who grew up playing the board game Risk remembers Yakutsk and neighboring Kamchatka as two territories with weird names located up at the top of Asia. As a kid, I had never heard of these places. Nor did it ever dawn on me people actually live there (if getting stuck in the mud is considered living... )
The road of mud isn't the only problem. It seems that people who live in Yakutsk were born to suffer. Yakutsk is considered the coldest city on earth, with January temperatures averaging -45 �F. The coldest temperatures ever recorded outside Antarctica occur in the basin of the Yana River just to the northeast. Yakutsk is the world's biggest city built on continuous permafrost. Most houses are built up on concrete piles to keep from sinking.
For most of the year, the road to Yakutsk is so frozen that the driving is excellent. In the autumn the road freezes back and becomes even better than most soil roads. In the dead of winter there is no problem as vehicles drive directly over the frozen Lena River. Cars are allowed to drive up to 70 kmh (45 mph).
But watch out for summertime! Believe or not, Yakutsk is actually cut off from the world much of the time during the summer. In a story I read about a 2001 flood caused by the Lena, it said Yakutsk does not even have railroad! This means that in the summer when it rains, Yakutsk is virtually inaccessible except by boat or plane.
And even the boats are not much help.... the Lena River is impassable for large stretches of the year when it is full of loose ice, or when the ice cover is not sufficiently thick to support traffic, or when the water level is high and the river turbulent with spring flooding.
July temperatures often exceed 90 �F! This makes the Yakutia region among the greatest in the world for seasonal temperature differentials, helping to explain the mud road fiasco which you are about to witness. When it rains in Yakutsk, it pours! And the rains turn the road to Yakutsk into a quagmire.
Unfortunately, this major artery does not have an asphalt surface even though it is a vital Federal highway. Attempts have been made to put down a proper surface, but the road immediately turns to mush the moment it thaws making repairs impossible. Consequently, in the summer, every time it rains, hundreds of cars become stuck in the mud.
Yakutia is the area of permafrost. The Lena Highway melts down to 1 meter every summer for 2...3 months (usually July and August) - that makes it impossible to build usual roads (using asphalt or concrete) there. Such roads are called "zimnik" ("zima" means "winter" in Russian).
In the autumn the road freezes back and becomes even better than usual soil roads, but that is little consolation to those stuck in the summertime mud. The pictures you are about to see were made in August 2006 at the start of the problem. Ultimately 600 cars got stuck there. In other words, as bad as things are in the pictures you are about to view, they only hint at how impossible the conditions can really be.
A car can be trapped in the quagmire for days. According to witnesses, hunger and lack of the fuel are all part of these mud traps. One woman even gave birth to a child right in the public bus she was riding because no ambulance could possibly get to her.
Making things worse, people are afraid to come to the rescue. There is a report of construction teams that were afraid to appear on site when called. It turned out that during their previous visit they were beaten by people who had been stuck in the jam for a few days. So now the cars and trucks are left to fend for themselves. Only in Russia.
Lawlessness is common. People often break the locks on the trucks in a search of food and warm clothing. Fuel, food, firearms and steel tow-line are needed most during the rainy days on the Lena Highway.
Those roads have been left unpaved to keep the Germans out. This is what Russians have told me when I have previously discussed this subject of their undeveloped infrastructure.
Maybe this is some kind of joke, or outdated WW2-era thinking, I don't know, but you try driving a Leopard 2 or any heavy tank through that.