13th March – As we head of camp, we hit the zimnik (local highway on ice and snow). Conditions are a bit better on the road and we doing good progress…
2 MECHANICALLY IMPOTENT BLOKES.
1 ANTIQUE RUSSIAN MOTORCYCLE.
AND THE DEEPEST LAKE IN THE WORLD.
This is the adventure that separates the men from the boys and the ladymen from the ladyboys. Invasive cold, biblical remoteness, and a vehicle so notoriously temperamental it makes John McEnroe look like the Dalai Lama.
We have evacuated this adventure 4,000km east, to the biggest chunk of Siberian ice we could imagine; 636km by 80km, the incomparable Lake Baikal.
Riding a monstrous Ural motorcycle, we intend to skid, glide, stutter and fly around the lake at times skirting the shore, often so far out you can’t see dry land.
With a surface of over 12,000 square miles the lake offers a full range of riding surfaces. In places it’s polished smooth & flat like a mirror. In places it’s protected by wind and resembles a freshly ploughed field, with great tombstones of ice to navigate around. If the winter is mild there will be surface water and cracks to pick a path through.
Ladies and Gentlemen this is the deepest lake in the world, 25 million years in the making, Lake Baikal. If our Ural plunges through the ice here it will fall a mile before it hits the bottom. At which point we’ll probably not get it back.
Perfect for an adventure then. Right?
Training will carry us along the North-western coast, across Olkhon Island where the support unit will drop back to fulfil a less conspicuous role.
Then, like baby birds being jettisoned from the nest by an over-zealous mother, we’re free. Hopefully having picked up enough knowledge to meander our way up to Severobaikalsk and the welcoming hot springs at the far North of the lake.
We don’t have a set a route, we are just given GPS co-ordinates of fuel drops and some particularly hazardous bits to avoid (best not to get the two mixed up).
From Severobaikalsk the adventure becomes like the Ice Run of old, travelling along the zimnics (frozen rivers), forest trails and snowy covered dirt tracks of the Irkutsk Oblast.
Lake Baikal in March is a positively balmy -20c which is a bit friendlier to the bikes than the -40c of Salekhard in February. While this means bits of the bike are less likely to fall off, there are still a whole bunch of unknown factors which might chomp our botty like a case of posterior frostbite.
The bikes – They’re old and don’t respond terribly well to the cold. We’ve improved the ignition and batteries and given them all studded tyres, but they were not designed for the Ice Run; that’s sort of the point. They weren’t reliable in factory condition, and age has not wearied them in this regard.
The cold – At minus 20 a 25 mph wind will take the air temperature down to minus 35. At this temperature even Arctic foxes can freeze to death.
The terrain – Parts of the ice will be sculpted by the wind and smooth as a baby’s buttock, other bits will be cracked like a builders bum. The route up the lake will not be a straight line, this much is safe to assume.
Guess What? Global Warming is happening. It’s happening so much so that scientists decided we should rename our era to Anthropocene since we screwed up the planet so much in the last 50-100 years, here is a quick video to show you how bad it’s getting.
Deforestation is a major cause of climate change – putting more CO2 into the atmosphere than all of the world’s transport combined. Here is a little more info about it
Given the rate of how we messing up our planet, we feel very privileged to be able to experience the magic of a frozen landscape.
Our way to give back is to raise money for this year charity – Cool Earth.
Action to preserve the remaining areas of rainforest is needed urgently in the fight against climate change. Cool earth is supporting local communities to protect their forest livelihoods and is providing powerful examples for action on a big scale.
Sir Nicholas Stern, Economist and author of the Stern Review.
Siberian adventuring machine.
These days Ural make excellent bikes. Thankfully that was not always the case and scattered across the corners of the ex-Soviet empire lie scores of old school Urals.
Built like a tank, slightly rusty and often unreliable. Obviously the all round perfect Siberian adventuring machine for facing over 2,000km of frozen rivers, lakes and roads at -30c.
In 1939 the Russian army thought it was high time they had some motorbikes. Ever the masters of efficiency they nicked one from the Germans – the BMW R71 – pulled it apart, copied it (badly) and slapped a Ural badge on. Thus was born one of the world’s coolest motorised bicycle machines.
Right up until the 2000’s the design remained pretty much unchanged. It is these old engineering marvels that we have carefully selected to make sure completing the Ice Run is really quite hard.
We will have a whole 3 days of training! You hear it right, no one, or two and half but THREE full days to cover bike maintenance, ice-driving, navigation and ice survival. That should be plenty of time for someone that just got his probation riding license, right?…
After the two days of training they release us into the wild.
Over there we expect to encounter some of the local fauna: Bears, Wolfs, Drunken Russian Uncles…
11th March – As we push further we aim for the fuel drop about 150 km ahead. Everybody is pretty fixated on making that distance today but many issues keep…