At a truck stop at the northern terminus of the Vilyui ice highway in northeastern Siberia, drivers make small talk not about life on the road but rather the life of the road.
It might last another week, suggested one driver casually, tucking into a steaming plate of meatballs. “Not likely,” countered Maxim A. Andreyevsky, 31, the driver of a crude oil tanker truck. “Didn’t you see the shimmer on the surface? It will be gone in a day or two.”
Every spring, thousands of miles of so-called winter highway in Russia, mostly serving oil and mining towns in Siberia and far northern European Russia, melt back into the swamps from which they were conjured the previous fall. And every year, it seems to the men whose livelihoods depend upon it, the road of ice melts earlier.
That insight has turned Tas-Yuryakh, a tiny village of log cabins that depends on the ice highway for business at its truck stop and gas station — the last gas for 508 miles — into a hotbed of true believers in the human contribution to climate change.
“Of course people are to blame,” Andreyevsky said. “They pump so much gas, they pump so much oil. Brother, we need Greenpeace out here.” With highways made of ice, including the icy surfaces of deep lakes and rivers, all it takes is one pleasantly warm spring day for the highway to vanish. Every year, officials say, at least one big rig goes through the ice of a lake or big river.