By now you might have heard a few of the tales out of Russia. Yes, there could be some serious similarities to the movie “The Hangover”… maybe, just maybe. I mean, how else you do you explain a chipped tooth, face lacerations, nearly getting thrown off a train, Russian police taking notice of your doings, potential kidnappings, Russian Congo lines, Kremlin security breaches and quite a few mis-adventures.
Going to Russia was like a whirlwhind 3-in-1 trip for me.
The first part was family. I was born in Moscow and came to the U.S. when I was 2 ½, but I’ve never been back since. I still have a small amount of family there, and this was an opportunity to meet them. I was incredibly gratefully my dad Joe, my brother Adam, and cousin Sophia, all made the trip. I had wanted to go last summer, but like anything important, unless you set a date it doesn’t happen. (In fact, I regularly talk about knocking off things on my Ultimate Life List – but didn’t follow my advice last year.)
After touching down in Moscow, my brother Adam and I were picked up by our dad and our cousin, who I’ve never met before. They took us to the oldest Jewish cemetery in Russia, to show us where my grandparents and uncle were buried. The cemetery was unlike anything I’ve seen. It was super crowded and filled with monuments and obelisks. (Totally different than other Jewish cemeteries here in the U.S.)
That night, my Aunt Nina (who I’ve only seen twice) hosted us at her apartment. Wow! It was a totally Soviet-era type apartment, where you could reach out from the living room and touch the bathtub and bedroom. Nina probably spent several days cooking some of the traditional food she served. After dinner, we spent some time going through old family pictures. Here’s one of little Yanik before leaving Russia:
(All together now: Awwww!)
That night, even though Adam and I were super tired, we decided to take in Red Square with Maverick1000 Member #142 Matt Curry. Matt was the only Maverick in a day early, and he had done some early scouting of the bars and sights for us. We were in Red Square at exactly midnight, and we may or may not have found an “open” gate to get closer to St. Basil’s.
Here’s a great photo I got of my brother, Adam, looking up at the onion domes:
(Adam’s picture of me was not so great. Perhaps he was worried about the Russian guard with the automatic machine gun coming our way.)
After our tourist-stop, Matt walked us over to an interesting dive bar he found. It was basically a cross between Margaritaville and an Irish sports bar. They had a live band that played in Russian and English. The whole crowd was Russian, but it was like they were in there for an “American” experience. We certainly made an impression that first night, because when we showed up again the next night, it was all high-fives from the bartenders and other regulars who were there again.
I don’t think I need to tell many of the Mavericks that Matt brings a lot of energy to everything…
I was hanging out at the bar with my brother talking, and we look over our shoulder—and all of a sudden the entire dance floor had turned into a conga line weaving its way through the whole bar. Not sure how Matt did it, but he had a little help from Sophia, our Maverick Matryoshka, who helped translate.
It was one of the funniest things I’ve seen in a long time.
Spending some more time in Moscow with my father was really incredible. He grew up about 10 minutes from Red Square, and showed me this park he used to run around in. We saw his apartment (which was shared with about three other families), and then the tour took us to where I was born in one of the outer rings. My dad didn’t quite remember which apartment was ours, and it was pretty funny that my cousin, who was there once, could point it out. Standing in front of the place I was born, I got some great footage of my dad telling a few stories about me when I was little.
The next part of our trip took us to Nizhny Novgorod, where the MiG factory is. But getting there was not entirely without incident. We somehow managed to get on the train with 30 seconds to spare… and then there was:
a) The head of the train (train master) yelling at us in English to keep the noise down
b) Dancing in the aisles
c) Police taking names upon departure
d) All of the above.
As a pretty non-touristy part of Russia. we pretty much stuck out everywhere we went in Nizhny. I got to fly the first day with Matt and Maverick1000 Member #170 Pete Bennett. The entire process was incredible, from getting outfitted in a G-suit, to climbing up the steps into your own MiG jet. It was just unreal!
I’ve been incredibly fortunate to do a lot of different things, and this was definitely one of the top experiences I’ve ever had. Here I am getting into the cockpit:
The MiG 29 is just an incredible piece of engineering, with its flight capability and maneuvering. We all chose the “Edge of Space” experience, which started with a Mach 1.9 climb to 19,650 meters (approx 64,500 feet).
From there I could see the curvature of the earth and blackness of space just beginning.
Pretty incredible… but then the fun really started. My pilot, Sergei, then took us down and let me control the plane after he was sure I wouldn’t pass out. I did a series of barrel rolls and banks. Then he said, “Okay, now please don’t touch the stick.” He took the plane down to about 15 meters and did an inverted pass over the runway. Sick! Then he took it back up into a tail slide—where the jets seems like it’s stalling, but quickly uses the stopped momentum to go into another maneuver. Sergei told me to “prepare for Gs,” and I am to brace myself to keep the blood in my head, in order not to pass out. We did about 7 Gs, and I told them that was good. I knew Matt had done 7, and Pete had hit 8 Gs (though he blacked out). At 7 Gs, I saw my vision start to close in… and I thought that was good.
We did a bunch of other maneuvers, and joked in Russian while I was up there. Then right before landing, he took the plane almost to its full capabilities and pulled 8.5 Gs. We hit the tarmac and he opens the canopy to announce I did 8.5 G’s.
I said, “Sergei, we had a deal – no more Gs.” He said I could handle it. Not sure if he was trying to get me to pass or puke, but it was pretty cool to have 8.5 Gs on my certificate of flight.
Back to Moscow…
After the second group of Mavericks got their MiG flights in, we had the trip filled with unique experiences—like going down into a former Cold War bunker 18 stories below the ground.
Also, visiting one of the oldest Vodka factories in Moscow and spending time in an authentic “banya,” getting beaten down by birch branches and leaves. Sophia is Russian like me, and gave us a unique advantage over the regular touristy stuff. Thankfully she was there, not just for her incredible work on putting the whole trip together, but the many times she was able to read and translate for all of us. My Russian is okay, but I’m basically like a kindergartner.
Finally, the last part of the adventure was speaking in Russia, which was on my Life List too.
MindValley Russia (a division of Maverick1000 Member #85 Vishen Lakhani’s parent company) hosted an incredible event at the Ritz Carlton. It was top-notch all the way, and powerful to be able to come back to Moscow to present on my business success. Pretty cool “full circle” here.
We’ve got a lot of interest and buzz from the Russia MiG trip, so perhaps we’ll go back again. Stay tuned and drop us a note if you want to do it.
Click the title of this article, and then scroll down to post your comments.