The Ice Run is Over and we've got the last update from Ice Run Chief Katy Willings:
The death throes of the 2016 edition maintained a healthy quotient of Urals misbehaving, hammers being deployed, unlicensed pyrotechnics, 'games' which are actually just violence with people clapping, and vodka. Oh, did I mention the vodka? Approximately three days have passed since the finish celebrations, and like Jesus of Nazareth, or Team Tushonka's poor brutalised Ural, I am finally resurrected and able to commentate on the festivities.
We were treated to the keys to the city and invited to parade the Urals round some of the key sites until we parked up right on the banks of the Angara River. Traffic stopped and deferred to us. Especially when it became clear that all brakes and steering on the girls was a bit hit and miss after 2000 punishing kilometers. Back when we were the only vehicles for 100km on Lake Baikal this was fine. In Irkutsk, pedestrians were scattered.
The keenest followers of the adventure will be on tenterhooks as to the fate of Christine, the bike Ala and Erfaim variously sank, crashed and generally abused in the name of adventure. Having survived 350km, post crash 1, with a pretend axel holding a 3rd wheel like a toddler holding a worm, they left Severobaikalsk triumphantly back in one piece, only to bounce off a car at some speed and smash off most of the left side of the engine. Here's a visual reminder:
We left her on a trailer heading to Irkutsk with a new con rod and a mechanic lined up to pull an all-nighter. Hopes were not high but he only went and bloody did it. With the other seven bikes lined up outside the Marriott Hotel, our Irkutsk home now, Christine was delivered on Dmitri's trailer and offloaded gingerly. There were tears, high fives and chest bumps a-plenty when she fired up. Ala's smile could have melted the whole lake.
Dmitri, our Master if the Ice and general hero of the hour, a life-long Ural-sceptic was so impressed by our Pioneers Baikal Ice Run in 2015 that he bought a 1992 Model-T of his own last year, and had intended to parade with us on his. Of course, fifteen minutes on a trailer with Christine meant that his steed got cold feet and would not start.
Crawling round the city at a sedate pace and idling in the traffic meant there were multiple breakdowns, in fact far more than we experienced on the run proper. Which only makes you love them more, if you are an Ice Runner. These aren't show ponies, they are not here to make you look good. Which is lucky because you look pretty silly.
When enough oil had leaked and photos been taken we donned glitzier outfits and de-camped to Irkutsk's one and only biker bar, OBarmot, for some fried fish and back slapping. Memories are hazy but I can give a rough order of play.
To begin, the teams imbibed some excellent home distilled whisky made by the proprietor Max. Dmitri announced a series of games, designed to weed out the most worthy of the Ice Runners who would then be gilded with trinkets, whilst nymphs braided their mighty beards and heralded them in song. First up, the dance-off.
Some constenration abounded that Gareth's worm was judged above Uwe and Paul's touching pas de deux from Balanchine's Romeo and Juliet, or Benny and Carl's rousing rendition of "The Lift" from Dirty Dancing. Dima knows what he likes though.
Next up was the arm wrestle. I appear to have come home with a trophy for this, despite definitely losing more than one bout. I think it may have been a points system. Alternatively, I have someone's trophy. There were some superb displays of grunting, teeth gritting and elbow-cheating, and more unflattering photos of all of the above than would seem charitable after such an arduous adventure. Still, here are some of them. Ha.
Next up the plank. Not for the first time on this trip, Ala out-manned all the men and held her tiny but steely form for a whopping six minutes to take the trophy. With her white teeth, iron core, ready smile and complete lack of a panic response, she has proven herself to be one hell of a Lady Adventurist.
More awards and speeches: Teams gave thanks to the amazing Russian crew for their skill and style, and to the Adventurists for their imagination and grunt work to bring the Ice run together in the first place. Dave and Carl, who spent the two weeks in Irkutsk pre-Run tuning up the bikes and fitting a few key upgrades were justly lauded. Their insistence that they did nothing was just further cause for celebration.
By now the touch paper marked "Party: Caution" had been lit, and accompanied by Anton on the drums, there was much energetic thrashing around. Richard, also of team Kraken Molotov, excelled himself on the dancefloor again and if this photo is to be believed, got an award for something. I honestly cannot remember what for. Well deserved I am sure, if only for their ongoing fire-starting/party-starting impact on the event as a whole.
Shortly after that a very large Cossack biker named Ivan treated us to a traditional Cossack song, about fire and ice and hammers (probably). And then a traditional Cossack game. This involved smacking Gareth really hard on the tits. And then allowing him to return the favour. When enough skin had been bruised they hugged tenderly and shared a chicken wing. No-one remained unmoved by this spectacle. We did go home very soon after though.
And so it came to pass that the Ice Run was concluded, and people had to return home to their lives and responsibilities. All will be changed immeasurably - although I reckon a few very measurable toes may not make it.
All round, an experience both arduous and silly, glamorous and gritty. So many of the things they have seen will have tested their brain's credulity; how is such natural beauty possible?
And more importantly, can I have a go driving your tank please? (yes, you can, Sam and Gareth, Uwe and Paul).
It's difficult to describe in words just how good it feels to beetle along the wind-polished ice of Lake Baikal, your strong-jawed team-mate snuggled winsomely in your sidecar, your Ural steed thrumming along beneath you at the height of her powers. To exert even a tiny degree of control of one's environment, and be comfortable, thriving even, in such an extreme and hostile environment, on a notoriously unreliable machine, is a joy. Usually a short-lived one, but if you can take the lows, the Ice run does afford some quite amazing highs. This picture sums it up.
So the Ice Run 2016 is over.
If you think you could handle the Ice, you can sign up for the 2017 edition.