Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Cylinders

Zimnik Nick
Instead of turning the corner to follow Paddy and Nick, Zaya kept straight on and plowed into a snowbank. Eva stopped - just altogether stopped. Between us we got her turned around and were trying to figure out what happened when the other team showed up. Rob, a Londoner who sounds like he just walked off the set of a Guy Ritchie movie, came over and asked if he could help. Not being sure what was wrong, we explained that Eva had died, even though there was plenty of juice in her battery. Turns out Rob’s bike had exactly the same problem two days before and the solution was to run a wire from the positive battery terminal directly to the starter. Ten minutes of crimping and taping later Eva was running again and we were very grateful for the advice. 

Earlier that morning Nick and I had taken a taxi to the police station to fetch our bikes. Strolling in in our fat suits past a group of thugs who looked like they had just posed for a series of mug shots, we managed to grab the attention of an officer in her mid 30’s. With dark brown hair, four inch heels and a tight pencil skirt she was no babushka. By this time my adventure beard was grotty enough that, when combined with 10 days lack of sleep, I looked like crap. I figured her willingness to help was all down to Nick’s good looks. She confidently bossed her male colleagues about until one of them found his keys and led us out a back door to the impounded vehicle area. Returning to our hotel we then putzed around for a couple more hours. At lunchtime I saw Rico and Björn, almost like an apparition, orbiting the town’s center and gathered them up. Over tea they brought us up to speed on what had happened back in Priobe. To keep their engine running they tried to drive around the hotel. They only got halfway. Their bike simply stopped and wouldn’t restart. Help eventually arrived and they had to buy a big new car battery, by which time we were long gone. To make matters worse they were only running on one cylinder and progress was slow. 

After fixing Eva the road conditions deteriorated sharply. The zimnik would be nice and smooth for 500 metres then dissolve into five kilometres of ruts and potholes full of loose snow. Standing on the pegs helped me find a line of attack while simultaneously keeping my tailbone from being bruised. At one point the road bent around a copse of trees at an incline of 25 degrees. In a moment of panic Eva slid sideways on the glare ice until we gripped some softer snow at the edge of the river and bounced. Whew! 

The next biggish village sat on a high bluff looking out over the main river. A side road ran directly from the shoreline past a couple of grounded fishing boats and straight up onto the main street. I eased on the throttle and with plenty of runway made it quickly to the top of the hill. As we crested out of the shadows, the sun dazzled me and I saw a car bearing down on us. We came to a quick stop just before the car crossed the intersection. Slowly, with agonizing anticipation, Eva started rolling backwards, down the hill, the steep hill we’d just climbed. No front brake. Useless rear brake. Lots of rapid mental calculations and vocal swearing. I decided to swing into a snowbank and we came to a rapid, safe rest. Zaya and I looked at each other for a moment, exhaled, and then got out and started pushing. At that point, Nick and Paddy, who were laughing hysterically, came over to help. It was then I decided if there’s one thing a geezer and a young woman need on the Ice Run, it’s a couple of big, strong Yorkshireman. Paddy, in his quiet deadpan way, said watching us was a bit of a spectator sport. I’m not sure it was a compliment. 

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