The Great Siberian Traverse
I spent the month of March 2015 with a crew of 8 guys, crossing the entire country of Russia from Vladivostok to Moscow via the Trans-Siberian Railway. Along the way we got off the train at two different stops and went into the mountains in pursuit of good backcountry skiing. In Siberia? That place looks flat! Well, a great majority of it is. But it turns out there also are some incredible mountains there, too. The fine, talented folks at Sherpas Cinema made the following 30-minute movie about our trip in conjunction with The North Face and Powder Magazine. In short--it was an incredible adventure, we found great skiing, and got really lucky with snow conditions. More than anything what struck me about the trip was the people we met along the way who went above and beyond out of their way to show us the best snow and terrain and secret stashes, and then insist that we take it all first. Then, they would invite us for dinner, bring us gifts of food and alcohol, and generally just shower us with love and generosity. A few times we would encounter drunken men who would tell us, always good-naturedly, "Putin good. Obama bad." But it was always in a friendly manner. Most people just wanted to have a real discussion and connect as human beings. More than anything we could feel their pride of place, and that they want to be seen as good people with a good country, happy and contributing to the world.
I was wary of the food before going to Russia, and I was pleasantly surprised to really enjoy the food almost the entire time. It was mostly simple food, prepared in a straightforward manner, but always from scratch and always with care. There were a lot of potatoes and meat or fish, and of course bowls of borsch (beet and cabbage soup), no two bowls ever the same. Almost everything was garnished with fresh dill, and there was often a basic cabbage salad with vinaigrette which in my opinion is always a winner. They do enjoy putting mayonnaise (from a tube) on everything, so once I learned how to say "without mayonnaise, please" it really improved my days. I like mayonnaise only sometimes, in very specific uses.
It was a great trip, and also, very shortly after I got back Jim and I were expecting a baby, which is funny because you might be too if you just returned to civilization after a month in Siberia. It's one of those trips where I'm very glad I went, and yet I would recommend it to only the most intrepid of travelers, those who really like to get out there and get amongst it and have a REAL BIG ADVENTURE.
It's summer now, but I think often about Siberia. I think about our kind friends, the Russian brothers Alex and Andre who showed us the way and took care of us the whole time, and Jeremy and Irisha whom we met in Sheregesh and many others. I think about all of that land we passed, all those little towns with their summer garden plots and brightly covered garden sheds covered in snow. The gardens are probably going off right now, and I imagine many kind Siberians picking berries and harvesting the bounty from their gardens. I think I'd like to see it in the summer one day. Until then, I'll put fresh dill into my salad dressings whenever I can.
And, you can see some gorgeous photos from our trip by photographer Kari Medig and read a great story from John Clary Davies about our trip on Powder Magazine's site, here.
Basic Dill Vinaigrette
(makes enough for one big salad)
--1/3 cup olive oil
--2-3 T rice vinegar (I use seasoned, if you prefer unseasoned you may find you enjoy adding just a tiny drop of honey or maple syrup or a good, aged balsamic to add a bit of sweetness)
--2-3 tsp dijon mustard
--1 tsp chopped fresh dill, preferably with flowers
--salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Whisk until emulsified and pour over any salad of your choice! It's especially good on spicy greens, I find.