April 2, 2015
An incredible adventure
As I write this post I sit in the business centre of the Marriot hotel in Irkutsk, finish line of the Ice Run and where 4 other teams and I arrived yesterday short before midnight. The last 2 weeks have been quite intense and challenging, but I’ve loved every single minute of it, especially the great comradery between the teams with whom I’ve had the pleasure of sharing this experience (http://www.theadventurists.com/the-jibber/2015/1/22/meet-the-ice-run-pioneers). We’ve all had a blast, enjoyed amazing views, learnt new riding skills, tested our limits and succeedded, and created long lasting memories.
Thanks a lot to The Bandits, Team on the Rocks, Hugh, Cozy and the rest of the teams for all your help and friendship over these two weeks. I hope we stay in touch!
And a million thanks to those that have donated to the Great Ormond Street Hospital and Cool Earth helping me raise close to £2,500!!!
I wrote my last post while in the plane from Moscow to Irkutsk. Irkutsk is one of the main cities in the southern part of lake Baikal, a Transiberian stop, and where all but one of the Ice Run teams met. In addition to visiting this nice city and its many churches, I bought a Russian SIM card hoping this would allow me to send regular updates from the ice (fail!), tried local food like pozis and varenikas (massive win!), and accompanied some of the other teams for last minute shopping of gear and tools.
On Friday (20th March) morning we left to Listvyanka, a small town south of Irkutsk by the shore of Lake Baikal, where we met the mighty (and unreliable) Urals, and which would become our training ground for the next 3 days. Here we learnt how to ride the bikes on ice (and how to get them out of deep snow), how to camp on ice, how to make fire on ice (yes, it’s possible!), what to do if we fall in frozen water… Nothing could stop us now!
Nothing? Well Christine, my bike, proved to be a bit moody the first two days and broke down almost every 3-4 hours. It was very, very (very!) frustrating but helped me learn a bit of mechanics from mechanic god Dave, who over the following days would become the saviour of many teams and most indispensable Ice Runner.
And on Monday (23rd March) the Ice Run finally started as we were waived goodbye by a Russian band.
Shortly before we had received some presents from a local women motorist club in a more informal farewell ceremony: a barrel of whiskey for the cold nights (guess who is carrying it?), a big wench, and a big map not to get lost.
From Listvyanka we rode on land to Olkhon Island, where we were able to see the Shamanka (the sacred shaman rock for the Buryats), and then hit the ice on our way to Severobaykalsk, the biggest city in northern Baikal and crossing point to the eastern shore. Luckily, my bike was finally running as smooth as silk and just needed some care and attention in the mornings (don’t we all?)
Over the last couple of weeks we’ve camped on ice twice, once in a snowed forest and several more in wooden summer lodges with no electricity or water. We’ve riden on smooth and beautiful shinny ice and over ride-ups and cracks (including some jumps over them and one of the Bandits’ bikes ending up in the water). The bikes have suffered the hard riding conditions: dozens of spark-plugs changed, 3 exhausts came off while ridding, a bike lost its sidecar’s wheel, malfunctioning alternators, coils, cylinders and carburettors… But all in all it’s been a truly incredible experience, in great part (as said above) for the great comradery and team spirit.
The ice conditions on the western shore were much worse than those in the eastern one (more ride ups, cracks and water puddles), which meant all the teams had to convoy and follow the instructions of the great Dimitri (in charge of the expedition and ice expert) and his sidekick the sweet Lida (our interpreter and in charge of the expedition too). However, once on the eastern shore, some of us left the pack and went to explore the ice on our own. The tracks previously left by cars would often disappear forcing us to decide which way to go, we had to negotiate ride-ups and cracks and pick the best place to cross them, we had no support vehicle and all had to help each other to get through difficulties… and it felt incredible!!!
And on Sunday night, after having enjoyed our last day on ice and seeing how Hugh and Cozy’s bike lost its sidecar in the “enchanted forest”, we arrived to Ust Barguzin covered in mud and in search of somewhere to sleep (which took almost 1h!). From now on we would only ride on land, but also unassisted.
The last two days of riding have been both tough and very satisfying,
- Tough because of the multiple breakdowns: between the 5 teams convoying together we changed 5 tires (front, rear and sidecar), had to tow Travis and Ellies’ bike through the forest at night (while avoiding to be run over drunk lorry drivers), some of the other bikes had to deal with a faulty throttle, blocked front wheel, malfunctioning brakes or carburettors… Christine was not at her best but at least kept me safe from trouble
- Satisfying because we’ve managed to overcome all difficulties as a team and made it to the end line together, and because bandit Travis took us through one the most amazing forest track I’ve ever seen (kilometers and kilometers of beautiful bendy and hilly road while the sun was setting)
- Has it been very cold?
- The first few days the temperature was between 0 – 8 degrees and then dropped to between -15 – 5 degrees. So yes, a bit cold but less than initially anticipated
- How is it sleeping on ice?
- Surreal. If properly insulated (thermal mat and air mattress) it’s not too cold, but the ice is a “living thing” which moves and cracks during the night making thunder-like sounds. One night I had one of those sounds underneath my tent and, although I knew I was safe because the ice was very thick, it was spooky
- Why were you travelling so close to shore?
- According to the training we received the ice is normally stronger closer to shore, and if shit hits the fan you are always closer from help. Towards the middle of the lake, because of the vast amount of fresh water underneath, the ice is more likely to crack
- Any remarkable Yousebadas?
- Yes, several!
- I was given a jerry can to carry and it fell off the bike while ridding, cracking right in the middle (don’t worry mum it was not dangerous)
- I tied the Athletic flat to the bike and it got stuck in the drive shaft while riding (sorry Isabel, I’ll get you a new one!)
- I’ve been riding a bike full of petrol with a whiskey barrel attached to its sidecar, over bumpy roads and rough ice
- Is it true that you’ve been in a parade across Irkutsk and may feature in the local news?
- Indeed!. The funny story though is that, due to the lack of brakes and somewhat f*cked gear box, I’ve stalled the bike twice in less than 25 minutes
- Would you do it again?
- Yes. I’ve enjoyed every minute of it and wouldn’t mind riding Christine again, but I think we need some days apart from each other (or there is a risk one will set the other on fire…)
- Was it scary/dangerous?
- No (and this is an honest answer)
Snapshot of this year’s Ice Run: