The coldest race on Earth

Starting Line: Roderick Makim and Carson Walker, otherwise known as team Ural Crazy, stand ready with their bike Cheburashka
Starting Line: Roderick Makim and Carson Walker, otherwise known as team Ural Crazy, stand ready with their bike Cheburashka Contributed

A FUNNY thing happens when you are riding a Soviet-era motorbike across Siberia at minus 30 degrees.

You stop feeling cold.

Perhaps the extra windchill as you ride helps you acclimatise quicker.

Perhaps the physical exertion keeps you warm, from the struggle to keep the bike on a straight line as it constantly surges to the right along the icy road.

Or perhaps your mind just ignores it, knowing that the poor bugger in the sidecar is even colder than you.

Welcome to the first ever Ice Run.

11 teams riding 2500km on rickety old Ural motorbikes through the Russian winter up to Salekhard, the only city in the world that sits on the Arctic Circle.

Along the way, I experienced friendly people, unfriendly roads, experienced cold like I'd never felt before, learnt the Russian secret of avoiding a vodka hangover and just how fast you need to ride to tow another bike to the top of a hill of ice - and loved every minute of it.

How?

I heard late about the Ice Run.

A message in December from a mate I hadn't seen in years invited me to take part, and, after a mad scramble of passports, visas, flights, insurance and heavy-duty clothing, I ended up in the Siberian town of Irbit in February, ready to start.

Or false start, as the case may be.

The first time I tried to steer the bike, the ice brought me unstuck and I crashed into a warehouse door as the wheels just kept on sliding in their original position.

That was also the moment I discovered that the front brakes did not work at all and the foot brakes were a little iffy.

My team-mate, Carson Walker from Alabama, had spent a bit of time in some seriously cold places, so he took it upon himself to tell me what I needed to know about driving on ice.

He also came up with the name of our team, Ural Crazy, and the name for our bike - Cheburashka.

Cheburashka

Cheburashka is a beloved Russian cartoon character whose name means something along the lines of "little one who falls over".

We hoped the name would not prove prophetic, although seeing another team lose control of their bike and fly off the road within 2km of the start line - in front of a Russian news camera - it looked like it might prove harder than we'd expected to keep the bikes on the road.

Cheburashka was a 1980s model Ural, and there were doubts expressed about her ability to carry a Queenslander and an Alabaman to the Arctic Circle.

Over the first 1000km, when we were lucky to be on the move for more than an hour a day, these doubts grew.

Finally, on the third alternator, the third relay, the second ignition, the second toggle switch, the 14th spark plug and after one giant electrical overhaul from the helpful team at Renault Maximum in Serov - we had ourselves a working bike ...

...Just in time for the second half of the trip, along the zimniks of the frozen River Ob up to Salekhard.

Why?

Why were these people from all over the world riding these old Russian bikes in the first place?

Enter The Adventurists.

A UK organisation, The Adventurists organise events across the globe from Mongolia to Peru to "fight to make the world less boring".

A slightly off-kilter bunch, the attitude of the Adventurists can be summed by founder "Mr Tom" who joked that the inaugural Ice Run could not be considered a success because "no one died".

No really, why?

Charity.

Aside from making the world a less boring place, over eight years The Adventurists have raised more than $5.2 million for various charities.

Each team in the Ice Run was able to pick their own charity, and by the end of the race well over $15,000 had been raised.

No. Really. Why?

All right - you don't agree to do something like this if you aren't looking for adventure.

And it helps to be a little crazy.

The Best

The people.

There is a perception of Russians as an unsmiling, unfriendly lot of people.

All the Ice Runners found this was only half true.

While you won't see a lot of smiles anywhere you go, time and time again we had Russians drop everything they were doing to take hours out of their day to help us.

In the village of Taezhnyy, the teams Ural Crazy and Ice Ice Maybe knocked on the door of a house on the basis that there were a few Ural bikes in the yard.

The owner, Andrey, spent the entire afternoon fixing Cheburashka for us, in spite of not speaking a word of English and the two teams of Ice Runners speaking about eight words of Russian between them.

Eventually, after hot-wiring our bike and putting in our second alternator (which he had lying under a box in his yard), Andrey happily drove another 20km to lead us to a place to stay for night - at the nunnery at the Church of Saint Simon at Merkushino.

While the nuns were a little taken aback to have four "bikers" show up on their doorstep, stinking of petrol and cold showers, they could not have been warmer and more welcoming.

From nuns to a later encounter with waif-like teenage gangsters wielding handguns and heroin, the Russian people embraced Team Ural Crazy.

(My god we drank a lot of beer with those gangsters).

While part of this was undoubtedly our Cheburashka mascot, the fact that I was Australian ("kangaruski") never harmed our cause either.

Our fellow Ice Runners were also wonderful people.

From the UK, Canada, the US, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Australia, every single entrant in the race were great fun to be around.

Special mention must be made of Chris and Rob from Ice Ice Maybe, who put up with our bike problems for far longer than we had any right to expect.

Mention must also go to Avi and Fisch from the Incaredible Wallabies and Eric from the Windy City Wanderers.

Along with Eric, Carson and I towed Avi and Fisch the final 400km into Salekhard, along the zimniks (ice roads) that ranged from the treacherous to the outright dangerous.

Yes, not only did Cheburashka make it to finish line, she did it towing another Ural behind her.

The Worst

Trying to order dinner from a menu in the Cyrillic alphabet created some interesting mealtimes.

The decision to make up for lost time by riding through the night once our bike started working taught us the valuable lesson to respect the cold.

Then, on the last day, as the zimnik suddenly sloped drastically to the right over a number of steep, bumpy gullies with oncoming timber trucks and the weight of another bike being towed behind us, it was mentioned in Team Ural Crazy that what we were doing could not be any more dangerous.

Before the end of that 16-hour ride, it was pitch black, snow was falling and our third alternator was failing fast, leaving us to ride without headlights for a time.

And we had no choice but to laugh at just how badly we had underestimated the potential dangers earlier in the day.

By the time we got into Salekhard at 2am, none of us could feel our feet or our fingers.

We were emotionally and physically drained.

We had made it.

Come to think of it, that was up there with the best as well.

Topics:  cheburashka, motorbike, salekhard, siberia



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