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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

ZiL Team Sees the World By Truck

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The squat figure of Moscow Mayor Yury Luzhkov peeped out of the ZiL truck as he drove the last 500 meters of a remarkable journey that had lasted four months and covered 24,075 kilometers.

Luzhkov had the easy bit, though. He only drove the relatively clean road from the Mayor's Office, down Tverskaya to Manezh Square.

The crew, seven Russians led by Italian businesswoman Stefania Zini, had driven three of the monster trucks across snowed-in tundra and the frozen beaches of Russia's most isolated spots on the first round-the-world journey of its kind.

The trip grew out of Zini's idea of driving her Landrover to Uelen, a village at the far end of Russia on the northernmost tip of largely roadless Chukotka.

"At the start it was a little bit more modest," Zini said in an interview Monday.

She approached Russia's famous explorer Dmitry Shparo and his Adventure Club for help, and the idea began to take on a new life of its own.

In February, three ZiL trucks set out from Moscow to travel through Novosibirsk, Yakutsk and up to Uelen.

It was only there that they decided to carry on, and the ZiLs were transported across the Pacific Ocean to Seattle.

They drove across Canada to New York and took a trip down Broadway before shipping the trucks to England for the last leg across Europe. The convoy finally reached Moscow on Saturday, becoming the first trucks to go around the world.

Zini, who moved to Moscow 10 years ago and works as the Italian representative for the kitchen and furniture shop Chic, had long been an autosport fan, driving from Moscow to Beijing and Tehran in her Landrover and snowmobiling along frozen rivers and reservoirs from Moscow to Murmansk.

But after figuring out that her Land-rover wasn't quite up to the challenges of Chukotka, she and Shparo's club gathered together a team of drivers, engineers, sponsors and three trucks provided by Moscow's ZiL factory.

The factory gave Zini a course in truck driving and although she had to change gears with both hands at first, she soon passed the test for her truck-driving license.

"I built up the muscles here," Zini joked, holding her biceps. She estimates she drove 10,000 kilometers on the journey.

With nearly half the journey in Russia over frozen land, they set out in February to reach Chukotka in early spring before the thaw had begun. Part of the way was over roads made by local villagers by driving over the snow and compacting it.

For the last 850 kilometers after the village Mys Shmidta, though, the trucks had to push their way through themselves.



As they left Mys Shmidta, Zini says the locals told them: "You're mad" and "You'll be back soon, the last person to leave turned back after 40 kilometers."

It was here that the two drivers on the crew from Chukotka came into their own as they edged the trucks forward centimeter by centimeter, carefully judging whether the compacted snow was strong enough to hold the vehicles.

The rest of the team walked ahead testing the snow as wind whipped them and temperatures fell to minus 45 degrees Celsius.

"They're specialists and can feel when a truck can go and where it can't," said Zini, who speaks perfect Russian.

Progress was no more than 10 kilometers a day and the team was forced to dig out the trucks more than once, but the weather held out. The day after they arrived in Uelen, the storm began.

It was in Chukotka that the question arose of what to do with the trucks and they decided to carry on around the world. The crew returned home as it took six months of organization to get the trucks to the United States.

Despite the fact that Alaska was less than 100 kilometers away across the Bering Strait, they were forced to transport the trucks by ship to Vladivostok and from there to Seattle.

Traveling across North America and Europe was not as simple as it may seem compared to Chukotka. Most of the drivers had never driven abroad, with one never having driven outside Chukotka before the journey.

"Everyone was very stressed," Zini said.

"The biggest problem was that the local authorities and local customs officers could not understand what you were doing," she said. "They all thought you had some commercial aim [and] were scared you were going to leave the truck there or sell it."

As well as driving, Zini also was in charge of the otherwise all-male expedition, a role she found tough.

"You disappear as a personality. You have to learn how to associate in that society, how to relate to each person … so as not to offend them but also so they listen."

"She was a real captain," said one member of the crew, Kirill Zhuravlev, an engineer with the ZiL plant.

"What I saw on those four months is something that most people won't see in their lives — that's the first reward. The second is that I taught myself how to treat people, how to understand, and be patient."