We ate lunch in a kitsch salon festooned with flags of Lenin and portraits of Stalin, along with endless video loops of scenes from the battle for Stalingrad. Souvenir choices included large caliber pen lighters and bullet casing necklaces. Resisting such temptations we were soon back on our way north. The incredibly difficult roads smoothed out at the top of a vast plateau allowing us to make up some time. As the sun set we noticed there were fewer and fewer trucks in the twilight giving us a clearer view of the road ahead.
Eventually, we pulled into a truck stop and were accosted by a young man in full combat fatigues, blond hair and a crew cut. We somewhat nervously wondered if we had entered the twilight zone. He asked in Russian if we were looking for a room and I said in English, no only to eat something. We parked and after we sat down the young man reappeared with his cell phone. By typing in Russian it would translate whatever he wrote into English. We would have had quite a conversation except Tom had left his reading glasses in the car and the text was almost too small for me to read. Dinner of borscht and hotpot followed with a smile and a wave goodbye as we set off for bed. Our field that night had nothing going for it other than it was 11pm. Within earshot of the highway and a gas station and overlooking a drilling well we nevertheless crawled into our sleeping bags and slept like rocks until morning bird call.