The brave Ice Run teams of 2014 launched from Irbit, Sverdlovsk Oblast, Russia, on Monday afternoon, commencing their epic, dangerous, idiotic, but ultimately, rollicking good fun adventure north to the Arctic Circle on a series of vintage Ural Motorcycles.
As usual, Monday morning came around all too quickly as jerry cans were purchased, cigarette lighters fitted, and expedition kit organised into bags and lashed inexpertly, and then slightly less inexpertly, onto the luggage racks, into the sidecars, and in the rather modest boot space afforded by the Urals. Keeping control of their kit, so that what they need is easily accessible, in multiple layers of gloves and mitts, in roughly the right order, will have a big impact on their comfort and sanity out on the road, so Olly and I were more lenient than usual as timeframes started to slide and the midday start we had scheduled crept past.
While teams faffed I made a quick dash to the town council to say thank you for their hospitality in my best Russian. All teams have had a blast over the launch weekend and the town of Irbit welcomes the Ice Run with feverish enthusiasm. The mayor duly agreed to flag off the teams from the town square, and there was quite a party gathered when we finally sputtered into line. Two statues adorn the square; Lenin, and a new monument to Catherine the Great, who founded the town.
As well as the heavies of Irbit, the mayor, the editor of the local newspaper, and our very own Sergey, himself a Ural motocross legend, town councillor and general badass, we were joined by an Orthodox priest who had come to bless the teams and their journey.
Holy birches were flicked, illiciting a few involuntary flinches as the sauna-based shenanigans of the previous evening were recalled, and prayers read, and donations made of course. Tea was also served, this being The Adventurists after all, but not just any tea, oh no. Tea was served from the World's Largest Samovar (the Wiki entry suggests that Irbit's claim here is currently contested but I can confirm that it has a) a massive certificate and b) a LOT of tea inside, and am therefore satisfied at the authenticity of the claim).
Once tea had been served, and photos taken, it was time for shit to get serious. Just before this happened however I had to prise my swimsuit off one of the Ice Runners, Chris Bird, who appeared to be wearing it over his riding gear. Several local dignitaries including the mayor found this no end hilarious.
With a flourish of his chequered flag the mayor officially started the Ice Run, and teams filed out serenely, led away by Kate and Boris. It was a stirring and as always, slightly comical sight. We convoyed to the first petrol station out of town, for a final conflab, warning about the weather, and a biscuit for the road. And with a nonchalant kick start, they were gone. Olly and I raced them to the main junction to see which way teams would go. Just 1km beyond the fuel stop comes the junction which will decide the next 1000kms - put simply, north-east or north-west. While neither are easy (sorry, have you never heard of the Ice Run?), the north-east route includes a lot of very technical, poorly maintained tracks early on, whilst the north-west route puts you on a much busier road for the opening stretch, a very different kind of hazard.
8 of the nine teams turned right, so heading north east. And Kabir Late, team Homer's Odyssey, went straight on; he'd be our first true solo rider. If he ever gets to Salekhard that is.
Here's a gallery of all the teams before the off - click the photo to scroll through... I doubt they'll be looking as fresh, well fed and perky when I see them next.
That's all from me from the start line.
Chief of the Ice Run, from Irbit, home of the Ural