Saturday, February 9, 2013

Death & Love

Our introduction to the motorcycles now complete, we made our way to the Ural factory museum where a truly splendid collection of antique motorcycles was on display. The entire history of Urals was there, right back to its origins with a BMW R12. What was perhaps most interesting was how little the basic model changed in 60 years. It wasn't a big surprise given Russia's history of central planning and lack of investment in basic research, but it's easy to see how this manifest lack of progress helped sow the seeds of the Soviet Union's ultimate self-destruction.

That afternoon we took in a local ice hockey game. The Russians are as serious about hockey as the Canadians and that's saying something. We watched a local league match and the entire town seemed to be at the stadium with us. Among the spectators was Irbit's mayor and Sergey the fixer from the Ural factory. Behind us dozens of young kids were playing matches on the six other natural rinks.

Back at the hotel the official briefing was getting underway and was to be taken seriously. Olly, the Adventurists' own professional stunt man, had participated in the inaugural Ice Run in 2012 and learned a number of lessons that he was was hoping would scare us sensible. It was working. We learned that there were two routes north to the ice roads. The easy one was along clearly sign-posted, paved roads that were well maintained. Riders headed that way would most likely only have to deal with the cold and the generally obstinate unreliability of the motorcycles. However, there was an alternative. A route that, if memory serves me, Olly described as an uncharted avenue to certain death. At least that was his experience when last year he and three teammates got stuck deep in the woods, all the while believing they were heading in the right direction. Their road out of the town of Tavda narrowed gradually until it became a single track as they entered a forest, where they promptly bogged down in deep snow. For 48 hours in biting cold weather the four men muscled their Urals along a total of 40 kilometers. Eventually a group of local hunters found them quite by accident and with their four wheel drive truck dragged them back to safety and gave them directions. In so many words Olly reiterated the Adventurists' prime directive: "On the Ice Run you will be completely responsible for your own safety. If you get into a difficult situation, you will have to get yourself out of it." He then gave us advice on driving: 'ruts are sluts', frostbite: 'check each other to make sure you don't have any exposed skin', drinking alcohol in the cold weather: 'don't', and the mechanical condition of the bikes, 'so much better than last year!'

Sufficiently sobered up by the end of Olly's talk, we all headed back to the bar for dinner and drinks to take the edge off our nerves again. There Zaya and I sat and made smalltalk with Geordie, an Aussie from Sydney on his first big winter adventure. With his neatly trimmed beard, Geordie looked for all the world like Czar Nicholas II. Zaya was quite taken with him, that much was obvious, and it would be hard to believe he wasn't interested in her. 

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