Zzzzzzzzzzzzz! I grew up in Chicago where the winters are harsh and the women are hairy. Or are the winters hairy and the women harsh? (Get on with it! - ed.) It wasn’t, therefore, a great surprise that our hotel was ferociously overheated. Opening the window merely led to a binary standoff between the blood crystalizing cold outside and thermo-nuclear furnace inside. My ears were cold and my feet were melting, and still I slept the sleep of a sterno-infused vagrant underneath the 47th street bridge in January. (Will you please get on with it! - ed.)
First down for breakfast at 8:00AM, the appointed time, I turned my attention to the TV. It had the good sense to be showing a documentary on the history of Ural motorcycles. And there they were! Our guide at last week’s museum visit in Irbit, Sergey-the-boss of the factory, and a whole raft of wonderful Ural film clips dating back to the second world war. Note to The Adventurists: you should track down this 60 minute film for Ice Runner's movie night. Sadly it was over by the time the rest of the team turned up. Eggs, toast, packing and, what’s this?, the local chief of police to show us the way out of Priobe and onto the zimniks.
The sun inched towards what was sure to become a beautifully clear day. All engines throbbing we were ready to leave. Like Nick and Paddy, Rico and Björn had to keep their bike moving or the spark plugs would foul and the engine would stall. So around the corner they went as we all followed the policeman. Or so we thought. The four of us, Nick, Paddy, Zaya and I arrived at the last petrol station in northern Russia, filled our bikes and waited for Björn and Rico who should have been just behind us. We asked the chief if he’d seen them. He had no idea where they were. I called Rico, no answer. Hmmm… Now what? This didn’t make any sense. They couldn’t have simply vanished. After 10 more minutes we figured that either they had lost patience and gone ahead like the night before, or they went to Plan B, whatever that was. We were all baffled. Then, even though it somehow didn’t seem right, we decided we’d continue on in case they had indeed passed us.
Following the police car out onto a tall berm, we turned right and three kilometers later said our thank-you’s and slid down a side track towards a vast white expanse that seemingly stretched out forever. Pine trees quickly faded away behind us. In their place bare willows, low shrubs, and bullrushes obstinately poked through the snowdrifts waiting for warmer weather. My initial impression of the zimniks was how well maintained they appeared. In the first 20 minutes of our ride we saw three huge earth movers busily shaping the road. Another 20 minutes later we came across our first zimnik crash. A family in a 4x4 had run smack into the back of a huge flatbed truck and a passionate argument was in full swing as we needled our way around them. We paused, tried Rico again on his cell phone, and asked a passing driver if he had seen another motorcycle like ours. He said, sure, just up the road there is a bunch of your guys. And in less than five minutes we had caught up with Ben, Arran, Ben, Jenna, Rob, and Thomas as they broke camp. They hadn’t seen Björn or Rico either. It was a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma…
(to be continued...)