The inaugural Baikal Ice Run launched in a flourish of flag waving and frogging as our nine brave pioneer teams were treated to a Stirring fanfare from the military band of Irkutsk.
The first track - the really famous one used for space exploration can't remember the name. Maybe the theme from 2001 a space odyssey? ['Also sprach Zarathustra' 1896 - Strauss?]
Kalinka - was second song on the list, probably the most famous Russian traditional song, they even did a little dance to go with it. It was amazing.
Played out to the Farewell of the Slav Lady (a traditional ballad of a woman lamenting as her sons left to go to war, rather appropriate in the circumstances) with a couple of extra verses slapped on last minute while the Indians rammed their bike into the Italians and then spend 5 minutes untangling themselves and kick starting.
There were a couple of stops on the way to the launch, as is traditional on the Ice Run, when the sheer intensity of the challenge finally dawns on the riders and they experience an irresistible urge to faff. In biblical proportions.
Next we stopped by the local priest of Listvyanka who blessed the assembled bikes and runners, sprinkling them with holy water and reciting some solemn prayers to speed them on their way. Dave Fry of the Bandits on Ice commented that the moisture on the engine might not be to 501's advantage, but then did concede that she had been running much better since having a Tibetan prayer scarf tied round her windshield. Sometimes, you need the spirits with you.
This spiritually fortified the group proceeded to their first fuel stop and experienced the kick in the tits that is using a Russian fuel station. After that we stopped to refuel the humans for the long drive ahead, with what will possibly be their last encounter with familiar brands and gluten free shit for the fussy eaters.
A band of impossibly glamorous girl-bikers just happened to be loitering outside Spar with a short speech, some well-chosen mascots (a barrel of whisky a giant wrench to whack the errant Urals with should ordinary servicing methods prove unsatisfactory, and a cuddly toy), and this really seems to stir our overwhelmingly male group. Phone numbers were exchanged and commitments made to get back to irkutsk at all costs. Well done ladies.
From there the teams enjoyed the open road, in fact for the first time since arriving in Russia, and had a relatively benign cruise along the tarmac. We will meet them next at the mouth of the ice itself before Olkhon island, where things will most likely get much, much more interesting.