Allow the lag since the last installment of the Ice Run blog to give you some indication of the scale of celebrations that have concluded this magnificent Baikal Pioneer's Edition. There has been the usual chorus of "The Ice Run was tough but it was nothing compared to the Ice Run hangovers" amongst the dazed and disorientated teams, and they have clung vigorously to a post-adventure life-raft consisting of vodka, hash browns, pork loin and vodka.
The teams hit Tarmac, of sorts, in the town of Ust Barguziyn, some 600kms by road to Irkutsk and the feted chequered flag.
Natraj and Ashwin were the last to leave town, apparently staying in bed until about 5pm, when they finally popped up on the tracking system and got moving. Meanwhile 5 teams were thrashing their way off the main road following the track laid during our recce a month earlier. As adventure would have it the river which we had crossed as ice in February was no longer solid in March, and the Bandits, On the Rocks, Joseba and the Oirish were forced to rattle over increasingly remote tracks looking for an elusive crossing of the mighty river Selenge as darkness fell. This they found after considerable head scratching, map wielding and breakdowns, and they lost several hours to the task.
Meanwhile, Cozy and Hugh and The Amerikan Boyz forged their way south west to sample the delights of Ulan Ude, which will be the finish line of the mighty Mongol Rally in a few months' time. If we are ever allowed back, that is, as I received reports of Hugh riding the long-suffering Maybelline up the staircase into their hotel, (this after a morning spent reattaching her sidecar without a critical bolt which somehow vanished in the previous day's rescue). And clearing the dance floor of the local nightclub of its only other two clientele. It was a slow start for Hugh and Coz the following day, with the fog of self loathing hangover finally lifting around 4pm.
By that time, the Indian team of Natraj and Ashwin had pulled off something remarkable. After their hearty sleep in Ust Barguziyn they pulled a Le Mans style 24-hour all-nighter, riding in 2 hour shifts all night and into the following afternoon. Black Caviar, their partner for the Run, has been freakishly reliable, just a snapped clutch cable, and has also sprouted wings, reaching a whopping 110kph on the road home, to the delight of Ashwin in particular. Where other teams expressed real terror at sharing hairpin mountain roads with monster trucks, with no brakes, no headlights and no horn, for the boys from Chennai this was right in their comfort zone and they made amazing time. They also strapped Natraj's head torch to the windshield in the hope of seeing where they were going.
We were enjoying a hard earned pint in the bar and the attentions of a beautifully costumed local maiden by Wednesday afternoon. Before long the toll of their marathon drive claimed them both and they retired to the walnut headboards and outrageous thread counts of their suite at the Marriott Hotel, who had, perhaps foolishly, invited our party of pioneers to nest at their very swanky 4* hotel. The breakfast buffet, the laundry, and in particular, the 24 hour bar, have possibly never taken such a battering....Watching the bellboys gingerly pick the filthy, sodden bags, Jerry cans and axes which counted as "luggage" from the racks on the motorcycles has been a joy. They definitely don't normally have to do ratchet straps.
Natraj and Ashwin proceeded to sleep for 18 hours solid.
In that 18 hours they missed the following;
The Italians cruising in in time for a cocktail and some WiFi (finally!) after a heroic solo drive home. These boys have thoroughly enjoyed going local and everything they have learned about motorcycle maintenance, they have learned on this trip. With a spare battery and a charger in the sidecar with Antonio, they managed to do without their faulty alternator for the entire homeward stretch. Bravo boys.
Eric and Scott were not far behind them, their major engine repair holding up very satisfactorily. No brakes or headlights, and possibly a gasket gone on one carburetor, plus a bent peg so shifting gear is a bitch. Plus that leaking fuel tank. Oh and the exhaust held on with metal tape. So basically Eva had a clear round. The fact that these guys can just adjust their riding to compensate for the deterioration of the Urals is admirable.
The Party of Five - Bandits 1 and 2, On the Rocks, the Paddies and Joseba, limped in around 1am on Thursday morning. Their experience of the M55, the road which hugs the lakeshore all the way in to Irkutsk, was a hairy one, with multiple blown tyres and inner tubes and huge trucks hooning past with little or no regard for their three-wheeled elders and betters. There were multiple tows, just to keep the terror stakes that bit higher, and a lot of stoppage time, happily with Scott on hand to knock up his ubiquitous sandwiches. (It's highly likely that at any given time Scott has all the ingredients for a sandwich on his person. Including a choice of mustards).
There was no time for a nap and a shower for these fine pioneers, but straight to the bar for some back slapping, some absinthe (Uinsionn made the catastrophic error of telling us it was his birthday), and at some point before dawn, some pizza. No-one knows where these came from and how, but the Colonel, Dennis, was commissioned to source them and sure enough they arrived in all their cheesy glory in what seemed like 5 minutes. He really does have a LOT of authority.
Cozy and Hugh rolled in at some point on Thursday afternoon, brimming with tales of derring do. Unfortunately everyone else was asleep or at work setting up the party at this stage so no-one can really say what those tales were. Maybelline (formerly Nancy Snow their poor, poor Ural) looked like she had just escaped from the gulag and is still unable to maintain eye contact, 2 full days after the boys’ departure to Moscow.
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