The toughest Ice Run ever: With a serial Adventurist

Adventurist groupie Rachel from Chilli Sauce tracked down Mr Chris Plough to chat about the Ice Run and to find out how many of his toes he can still feel.

What is the Ice Run?

The Ice Run is one of the toughest endurance challenges out there. You sign up to ride an old motorcycle, based on 70 year-old technology, through 1800km of one of the harshest environments in the world.

Throughout it all, you’re battling to keep the motorcycle running, constantly moving to stave off the cold and mentally fighting off the creeping thoughts of what would happen if you get stuck out there. 

How many hours a day were you riding?

It varied – on the coldest day it was -43C before wind-chill and about -62C with so we only drove about 3-3.5 hours from Igrim to Beryozovo. On the longest, we were out for about 12.

One thing to keep in mind was that it also took around 2 hours each day to get the bikes started, running well and packed.

As for the journey – this year presented more obstacles than previous Ice Runs. It was 20 degrees colder than previous runs and keeping the bikes on the road was difficult. Last year, some teams finished in only 8 days.

This year, the quickest team was 14 days. I took 15; but, I look at it like this – we got a tougher journey and more bang for our buck

What were the locals like?

Incredible and giving. Nearly every day, someone would warm your heart. In Igrim, one mechanic worked on 3 different teams’ bikes and refused all forms of payment. I was finally able to give him a flag from Kentucky, since that’s where his nephew currently is.

Later in the trip, he even travelled north to Beryozovo to help out a team that was in an accident. A truly great person. Personally, I think the rural, harsh environment lends people to be more open.

Each person becomes a part of an informal support net. When you see someone broken down, you stop to help, because next time, that may be you.

If you ever want to restore your faith in humanity – go on the Ice Run.

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What aspect of the Ice Run was toughest?

While the climate was the hardest part of the journey, the bikes were the most challenging from a mental endurance perspective. The cold was so severe that they made the Urals (which are already known to be unreliable), downright shitty.

On one day, we were cleaning the sediment out of our fuel petcocks when the mixture of poor metallurgy and brittleness caused by -30C temps caused it to snap. Petrol was pouring everywhere and all we could do was put a thumb over the hole and deal with the pain; while trying to hack together some scrap fuel hose to create a workaround.

Another time we found that we got a bad batch of fuel (or someone had put water in it to increase the volume) and had all of our fuel lines and carburettors stuck up with slushy fuel. The only thing we cold do was take everything apart, blow it all out and ride about a few kilometres down the road, before having to do it all again. So frustrating when you’re so close to the end.

The full list of mechanical issues is too long to list here, but includes: a ruptured fuel tank, frozen transmission bearing, broken kick starter, hashed carburettor, 20+ scrapped spark plugs, 2 broken coils, and so on. One team even had a fire while riding, due to fuel issues and overloaded wiring.

What was the biggest surprise?

It feels a bit like I imagine space – like it’s an environment so extreme that without the proper suit, you’re done for in no time whatsoever. It got to the point where anything above -30C was dubbed a “warm” day. And then you look around at the awe-inspiring landscape around you and are simply dumbstruck.

Don't you worry it might go horribly wrong?

I’ve been in bad areas of New York or Philadelphia that had me much more concerned than many of my journeys. I also believe that you can negate many of the risks through your skills – honing your intuition and listening to it; improving your mechanical skills; being a good communicator with people, etc. So usually, I would rate the risk at medium, rather than very high. That being said, the climate made this adventure dangerous.I gave serious thought to the fact that I may not return.  but I wouldn’t let that stop me from going. I just went into it with my eyes open.

You can read the full interview on the Chillisauce blog You can catch up with Chris again in October when he takes on the Mototaxi Junket.