This book is dedicated to the men and women who were brave enough to accompany me on my journeys to the far ends of Russia. It was their spirit of adventure and penchant for exploration that made these trips and, in turn, this book, possible.
This book also is dedicated to the hardworking outfitters, guides, interpreters, and cooks who helped make our wilderness camps warm and comfortable in many inhospitable places.
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ONE OF THE FEW things I remember about the Soviet Union from my childhood is Nikita Khrushchev pounding his shoe on a table at a United Nations General Assembly meeting in 1960. I don’t remember why he was beating the table, but I do remember the former Soviet leader as being something short of a real charmer. He’s the same guy who told the world his country would bury ours … not exactly an open invitation to Americans to stop by for a visit. Throw in the fear of Russia generated on our side of the pond when President Reagan referred to the Soviet Union as the “Evil Empire” and you can understand my reaction to an invitation I received in August, 1991, to be part of an exploratory safari to the Land of the Bear and then write a story or stories about it.
It was a special time in history. The world as we knew it was changing. Even the Berlin Wall came tumbling down.
So began one of the most exciting chapters in my life. This country boy from Allendale, Michigan, was about to have his world changed. That pioneering visit took place between the coup and the collapse. It was still the Soviet Union when we arrived in Moscow in 1991, and I was one of the first Americans to get up-close-and-personal with this vast, secretive country. This was a land that Americans had heard only scary stories about, a nation and a people judged to be enemies.
After returning from that journey, I wrote a number of stories for various newspapers and magazines. There was high interest in what I did, what I thought, and how easy — or how difficult — the trip was.
Those stories spawned a huge interest in Russia, so much interest my phone began ringing off the hook! I received more than 400 calls in one week. My wife finally took the phone off the hook so we could get some sleep.
In the ensuing years, I had a chance to explore new lands, learn new customs and traditions, and study a culture few people knew anything about. I’ve met many wonderful people, including a number of dignitaries, such as the President of Kalmykia, the Vice President of Crimea, the ministers of various conservation and forestry departments, and even a colonel in the Russian army.
I also met everyday people from all walks of life — guides, cooks, hotel clerks, taxi drivers, teachers, professors, outfitters, and interpreters. I’ve had the great privilege of sharing many a wilderness campfire with the Eveny, an Inuit-like people inhabiting the wild regions of Siberia.
I learned from my new Russian friends what the Soviet Union was like before the collapse. I’ll never forget when one of them told me his wife would get up at 6 a.m. to stand in line at the store, which opened at 8 a.m., to buy bread. We heard a lot about the bread shortages in the Soviet Union, but this put it in perspective.
During the 20-plus years I outfitted, I made more than 50 trips to Russia. I took hundreds of clients with me, many of them more than once. Most trips have been more than a month long, and some have been almost three months long. (For me, not my clients. I stayed in Russia while my clients shuttled in and out.) This means I’ve spent a lot of time in small trapper’s cabins and tents in the middle of Siberia, miles away from civilization, showers, electricity, and flush toilets.
This book is about those many journeys to the Land of the Bear. It’s not a book about just hunting or fishing; it’s as much about the people, the food, the land, the impressions, adventures, and excitement of trekking through the Siberian wilderness.
IN THE LAND OF THE BEAR is 300 pages, paperback, $21.95. The book will be available for purchase on this website or by calling 1-262-242-3530 starting February 15th.