Tuesday, February 12, 2013

We're on a Road to Nowhere

Pat had the only detailed map amongst us. My 1:70 billion bizzaro projection map was all I could find before I left. It was the same one Tom and I had used on the Mongol Rally. Back then we ultimately resorted to relying on a combination of downloaded GPS files and asking for directions. Pat’s map on the other hand was purchased in Yekaterinburg on his arrival and looked confidently detailed. The route was selected, bikes packed and off we set. The roads were still covered in snow, but even in these remote areas plows and earth movers keep things smooth and passable. Blue skies, sunshine and the open highway - this will be a breeze we thought! Plus, we’re ahead of all the other teams - we might make even finish first. 

An hour and a half later the road petered out. Not only did it peter out, it came to an abrupt end in dense woods with only ‘No Unauthorized Hunting” notices to keep us company. We had found it - the Death Road that Olly had spoken of - or so we thought. Rather than wander on into the wilds, we agreed that we’d head back to the nearby village and find out why we were so far off our course - it seemed more practical than spending three days starving in the belief that we were right and the map was wrong. Backtracking then towards our missed turn and steering due north, not northeasterly, Zaya took the helm. We were making great progress when, at a corner, the team decided to pause for a break. As she came round the bend, Zaya either decelerated too fast or braked too hard and described a perfect 90 degree leftwards arc into a snowbank. As passenger I did the mental arithmetic and decided there was no real danger to us or the bike and enjoyed the slide as we flumed into the ditch like a couple of cartoon characters. Geordie, laughing his head off, saw the whole thing, but sadly had his camera turned off. 

Checking with a local shopkeeper we were sent off towards a village and from there onto a road marked by the tiniest of signs. We should have been a little more suspicious. Ruts appeared and deepened quickly. It was close to freezing now, warm enough to make us open our jackets as we muscled the bikes through the crud. Trucks were bogging down and getting stuck creating obstacles for us. Eventually we made our way through a long track and the rest of the teams, who by now had caught up, followed suit. Getting past the disabled lorries was full on body contact motocross and Zaya perched herself atop of a stack of hay and videoed the excitement. By the time I collected her we were pulling up the back of the phalanx of Ice Runners. And it was real work. With Björn and Rico’s help we muscled our way through, though. As a solo rider and having lost second gear, Geordie was lighter and necessarily faster than the rest of us. Along with Pat and Guy he set a cracking pace. Towards evening we passed the other teams as they set up camp and asked if our partners had gone ahead. They had, so we pushed on into the twilight with its long shadows and deep snow. We bounced and thrashed and when we were almost at the point of giving up we turned a corner, crossed some railroad tracks and were suddenly reunited with big smiles and congratulations all round. 

Nothing remains a secret for very long in Russia. Moreover a bunch of foreigners pitching camp on the edge of town is really an excuse for a party. Night fell and the Milky Way lit up in all its glory. Without cloud cover the temperature dipped towards −20C. Fog rising from our breath was backlit by our headlamps in a scene worthy of a James Cameron sci-fi epic. Then out of the darkness a motorbike rider bearing vodka appeared. When the first bottle was gone Vladamir insisted that we must be hungry, so he rode off and reappeared 20 minutes later with more vodka and pot full of varénikis prepared by his mother. Varénikis are traditional meat or vegetable dumplings and these were warm and swimming melted butter. It was the best meal we'd had since our arrival in Russia. Within the hour two cars full of Russian men turned up with more vodka and trunks full of firewood and the festivities got into full swing. Around 2AM the fire and conversation finally burned out and we bid our farewells and crawled into our sleeping bags. Thank goodness for slow sunrises. 

No comments:

Post a Comment