|Expedition Trophy: Before the start Murmansk - "Endless windswept tundra".|
By Robb Pritchard: The dark snow was only barely discernible from the low black sky and between them only the dimmest blood-red glow from the lights of Murmansk, some 100 km to the south. The grim Arctic dawn was straight from the first page of Genesis.
No trees here, just endless windswept tundra broken only by bare knuckles of rock breaking up through the surface. I was in a place called Teriberka on Russia's far north coast with the Top Gear team. We'd come to see the Northern Lights but ended up at the end of the world.
A snowstorm under a bright orange lighthouse and a priest sprinkles freezing water on a giant pink bunny... but this isn't some surreal dream, I'm at the start of the epic Expedition Trophy and am about to drive non-stop across the biggest country in the world in the middle of winter. The start is in Murmansk and the finish is some two weeks and 16000 kilometers away in Vladivostok.
After the blessing of the bunny things get a bit more serious as around 9:30 the winter dawn finally breaks and the convoy of vehicles head to a frozen lake in a quarry where walls of snow had been piled up. Orange tape fluttered in the biting breeze leading the teams of two cars over a 3 meter high wall of snow and ice.
Snow chains, spades, tow ropes, sand ladders and even chainsaws were pulled out of the vehicles and then half an hour of frantic activity ensued and teams dug, winched and rammed their cars into the giant snow bank. Points mean prizes and there's $100,000 waiting the winner so for most it's a serious competition.
Some get through in a matter of minutes, some work as a disciplined team while others scream horrendous curses - and then embrace each other in crushing bear hugs as they get over to the finish. Only a half-shaft and a broken arm are the casualties and then it's off to the finish of the first stage, just 2000 kms away in Veliki Novgorod.
In the Top Gear Russia car we have coffee strong enough to induce some psychological issues and the theme tune to Smokie and the Bandit playing loud. "We've got a long way to go and a short time to get there, we're gonna do what they say can't be done." Vladivostok, here we come!
2013/02/26 | 21:39 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/ROBB-PRITCHARD