Ice Run teams meet their Urals in Siberia for pre-launch training
It's the morning of the Ice Run launch and all the teams have undergone a weekend's intensive training in riding, maintaining and fixing a Ural, cold weather survival, navigating the ice roads, drinking a shit-load of vodka, and for the finale, jumping into an ice-pool in their smalls and thrashing each other wih a big birch branch.
So far, all have risen to the challenges presented, but once they emerge from the relative luxury of the hotel, blinking and perhaps a little bruised from the birch it remains to be seen how they will fare on the cold and lonely road to the Arctic.
Here's a photographic round up of the last couple of days in Irbit, Siberia:
Team Snow Worries, Ozzies Adrian and Mark, plus Patrick Coleman of team Tsardines in a Can, watch a master at work assembling a brand new Ural. The Ural is still handbuilt in the town, with each bike hand assembled by a single worker. Teams were impressed by the quality of the machines.
I asked the foreman how the current models compared with our fleet of mighty Vintage Urals (our eldest is from 1968, and our youngest was minted in 1982, like me), and the length and depth of his peals of laughter was a little disconcerting. "100%" was the answer. It needed no translation.
He redeemed himself a little by telling us that he still rode a 1980s Ural to work and back every day. Call that voting with his feet.
Saturday was Training day 1, and the teams were taken straight to the garage to draw for their Ural, and learn a little of her individual character and foibles. Here they gather round Olly for demonstration on perhaps the most fiddly bit of the Ice Run - starting your damn bike. All held their breath as air choke went in, fuel choke came out, carbs were flooded, isolator switch went on, and he lifted his foot... it started on the first kick. This is a very good omen for our teams, as last year this process could take up to 3 hours. All teams had got the hang of starting by the end of the session and were puttering easily round the factory compound on their new steeds.
In the evening teams were treated to Ice Run 2012 Pioneer Olly's blistering presentation which alternately thrilled and horrified his audience of Ice Runners-in-waiting. The answer to that question, by the way is, "not nearly as shit as they were last year". After some extensive re-conditioning by chief Irbit mechanic Sergey they are all purring like a kitten selectively bred for its purring ability, on steroids. We'll see how long that lasts...
After having the bejaysus scared out of them by me and Olly, teams were soothed by a banquet dinner in the beautifully decorated hotel restaurant. This was washed down with about 30 litres of vodka and some ear-splitting Russian pop music, all of which seemed to galvanise the teams quite well. We hit the town and showed those Russkies how to get down. Sergey II, the junior mechanic, declared us to be "a danger to ourselves and others" on account of the silken dance moves on display.
Sunday morning dawned cruelly too soon for many an Ice-Runner. Happily a hangover was in the itinerary and the sun was at its zenith when we returned to the garage to take the Urals for their first proper test run, at a local motocross track. It's wall to wall Urals as the teams convoy through town to reach the motocross track, led here by Geordie Tait of team Abusement Park.
On the first incline at the track, this close convoy formation bit the teams in the arse, with most of the guys having to get off and push since they had no space to get a run-up for the hill. So that was a good lesson. Will and Pat Coole of Coole Runnings also had to get a tow-start. Probably good practice, too...
The teams park up at the end of a successful motocross afternoon session. All very quickly got into the habit of leaning right out to the right of the sidecar when turning right-handed, after Ben Cooke of team Putin Up with the Tremlin sent his sidecar skywards after a slightly squiffy turn. No harm done, good lesson learned. The custom-made 'fat-suits' we had made in Irbit seem to take the chill in their stride, as well as looking absolutely pimping, so it's looking good for a cosy ride north.
Once relieved of their helmets and woollens the teams were whisked off for a special dinner at the town museum, and, even more enticing than the stacks of blinis and sour cream were the wholesome entertainments put on for us, as the dining room was stormed by these magnificent babushkas, who sang, danced and whooped as the teams refuelled.
As you can see they can move pretty fast, and in fact the correct collective noun for such a grouping is a 'Flail' of babushkas. After dinner and dancing, things got even more interesting...
Teams were treated to a traditional bania, alternating between a sauna, where they were thrashed with hot birch branches, and a pool made by cutting a hole in a frozen lake. Something akin to alternating between a frying pan and a fire. Notice the altar at the end of the pool. After some initial scepticism, most of the brave Ice Runners proved their mettle and leapt in (and very quickly leapt out again, it should be added). Here Olly Rowland leads the way in his mankini, leaving Geordie little choice but to leap in to the freezing depths...
Not a pool to linger in with a pina colada. Ben Cooke and James Keys of team Putin Up with the Tremlin make for the sauna, as fast as they can. After some dashing through the snow, on a one-horse open sleigh (no, really), and a spot of reindeer petting, it was time to return to the relative warmth and comfort of the Hotel Povorot, for one last time.
The mighty fleet was parked up outside the hotel, looking ready-for-anything. Hopefully the teams will be similarly up for it when they step outside into the chill this morning.
The Ice Runners, 2013. A handsome and sturdy bunch they are, too. Good luck chaps.
More from me soon.
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