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  Valentin Efremove

The Beast at Rest

While out eating Scha-schlick, a Russian favorite meal of BBQ meat, Henning and I encountered a strange vehicle in the parking lot.  Intrigued we both ambled over to get a better fix for our curiosity.

Before us was something straight out of the pages of the National Geographic.   A large, armored vehicle that was obviously built for some serious expeditions.  On the side of the truck were the words Polar Explorer in English along with the picture of a Polar Bear.

Andrey, who was also eating with us, asked if we wanted to meet the occupants of the vehicle to which we readily accepted.  After the echoes of the knocking had died down, the door was opened by your very typical version of a famous explorer.  Long straight hair framed a leathery lean face layered with a short salt and pepper beard.  Dis-interested eyes quickly took in the sight of both Henning and I before becoming quickly focused on Andrey with the evident look of "This had better not be wasting my time".

Five minutes later after the translation came through that we were like minded travelers interested in hearing more about what he was doing, his demeanor changed and he warmly invited us into his modified military BTR-80 to share, with the help of Andrey, his story.

Born in Novgorod, 53 year old Valintin Efremove is a famous russian explorer who has had a long passion with the arctic.  Trained at the Moscow University in Cosmology Engineering with the aim of working in Russia's expanding space industry, Valintin then went to work at the Chicotka nuclear power station between Russia and Alaska.  

While only there for only a year, he quickly became enraptured in the Arctic environment with it's pristine beauty, unique animal inhabitants and large open spaces.  Quitting his job he followed this thirst to live with the Russian Eskimos for a few years where he spent considerable time traveling the region by dogsled as well as by Reindeers and where his nights were lit up by the Aura Borealis.

His current expedition is centered around the Island of the Stone Giants.  At first I thought he was talking about Easter island, but as the conversation continued on, he was in fact describing an island near Novarserbisk and Verchoynsk where the temperatures reach as low as -73 degrees Celsius.

The island is covered with stones which resemble human faces and animals as well as remnants of mammoths and an ancient cultures, which Valintin is spending his time and effort into discovering more about.

After driving us in the gargantuan vehicle of his, which was a true experience in itself, to another bar, we proceeded to drink some more and meet his friends before retiring for the evening.

Encountering each other again a few days later we sat on the beach and talked some more via sign language while showering me with beer.  After a short sail on his friends 38 foot Polar Circle where I met a charming couple of University students, Valintin invited me to join him next year in February or March when he is selling the BTR-80 to purchase a balloon in which he will continue his exploring.  I don't know how serious he was, but it is an interesting proposition to be sure as I don't think I have anything on the calendar at that time ;-)

Being on the bikes, we have stood out somewhat and have met some of the most interesting people that one might not usually meet.  I'm looking forward to meeting many more - maybe even  from a balloon someday.