Monday, February 11, 2013

Camping It Up

The drive was cold. We hit the main highway and headed east. There is nothing remarkable about Russian roads. In general they are well maintained and signposted, with the same twee blue signage that they use all over Europe. Conditions, however, became progressively worse as we rolled on. Snow fell and drifted and then deepened enough that it packed down over the blacktop. As the clouds darkened and closed in the weather grew chillier and I was glad that Eva, our aging Ural motorcycle, had been fitted recently with electric handwarmers. 

For the casual tourist the town of Tavda may seem somewhat pedestrian, for us it was simply a turning point as we headed north towards Uray. The afternoon was coming to a close as we swung through the city center looking for our turn. Nothing. By the time we reached the far side of town we still hadn't found the junction, so we made a U-turn and looked for help. Pulling into a thoroughly modern gas station, Zaya went into the little shop and asked the two middle aged women in bright red uniforms behind the counter if they knew where we could find the road to Kaminski. Neither of them had any idea, but a helpful man, with a thin face and a shaved head, looked at Zaya, still dressed as rabbit, and then me, still dressed as wolf, and said he would show us the way. The other riders pulled up and together we followed the good samaritan's shiny black BMW X5 through Tavda’s twisting backstreets. Eventually he dropped us at a big, faded green steel bridge that spanned a wide riverbed, running ran parallel to a train line. Despite the bridge's size there was no way we would have found the crossing from the main road on our own.  

About a mile on from the bridge we pulled over and agreed to stop for the the night before it got really dark. A small road to our right looked promising, so we punched the bikes through a snow bank and dropped down the embankment towards a stand of evergreens and birches. Eva’s engine kill switch was, ironically, dead, so I reached over and turned her ignition key off. She sputtered and stopped. Ahhh, quiet! Our first campsite. It was time to set up for the night and start a fire. Guy and Pat (brothers from Perth) traipsed off to find firewood, their headlamps on full beam. Their lights were bright enough to land an aircraft and reminded me I needed to put new batteries in mine. When they returned, Pat proved just how well prepared he was when he pulled out a portable flame thrower and started torching the wood. In minutes we sat around the roaring campfire sharing snacks and tea and vodka. We turned in soon afterwards and even though the temperature dipped below −15C we all slept soundly. 

Our impromptu team was without doubt the most diverse. All told there were three Australians, Geordie, riding solo, along with Guy and Pat. Guy distinguished himself by at 18 being the youngest adventurer on the trip. (I was the oldest by four years.) Then we had two Swiss guys with very un-Swiss sounding names: Björn and Rico. Zaya was single handedly representing 50% of the Ice Run’s women and was also the Ice Run's only Mongolian. In addition, she was going to be sworn in as an American any day. Finally, there was me, an English/American hybrid.

Modern business pundits say that diversity in a team makes it stronger and more effective. We had it all, age, gender, ethnic, and cultural differences. The only question was, were we a team?

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