|Expedition Trophy: Far and Beyond - Final part of Russia’s incredible Event|
By Robb Pritchard: Ever eastwards, day and night. The Ural mountains came and went. A bright blue sky above a frozen landscape, a snow storm through the night and nearly a week from a bed it all seemed to fade into a blur where all concept of space and time were lost. I looked out at the snow, sky and trees with no idea where I was or even what day it was.
The Expedition Trophy is so incredibly epic that less than half way in it seemed utterly endless. Another road-side pee stop, a black eye from falling asleep with my face against the window and the GPS says 2200km to our next destination, turn left in 1724km.
Somewhere there is a task to drive 200m through a field of metre-deep snow but everyone would rather sleep than dig… and then after 10 days, hearing stories of teams falling off the road because the drivers just couldn’t stay awake we somehow manage to get to lake Baikal.
Its mystical majesty is enough to wake us up and I see something I’ve missed for days; smiles! Cars are battered, eyes bloodshot and stubble has bloomed into full beards, but as we stagger around sharing coffee, stories and man hugs there is a sense of achievement like no other event I have ever been to. And something more to celebrate, we are over half way! …although standing on the bright white faults in the ice and looking down into the dark abyss below I wasn’t too sure if we’d be going much further…
But we’ve learned by now that there are no points for standing still and the massive frozen lake is the scene for another ‘special task’… GPS points were scattered all over the metre-thick surface but ice doesn’t freeze smooth, near the edges are glass-sharp shards… and of course the organisers chose places like this to put the points. There were also big fissures to contend with and snow crunching under the tyres sounds rather unnervingly like ice cracking… But after so long on Russian roads I seem to have become immune to the dangers…
And then another Golden Envelope task for the new team I am with, Sabine’s friendly Team Yeti. Those not wanting, or needing, points headed off on the main road towards Khabarovsk, but we were to make a slight detour to follow a railway, the Baikal-Amur mainline, or BAM for short. Such easy words. A ‘detour’ in Expedition Trophy language is 1400 km and they call this a ‘winter road’ because in the summer the mud is so deep that you simply cannot drive a vehicle there… and if a Russian says it is impossible you know it must be hard!
But judging by the number of cars we had to stop and pull out of the snow banks it was hard in the winter too. We were all so unbelievably far past the point I thought the human body would succumb to exhaustion yet at every shoddy bridge we jumped out to pull frozen planks across the gaps or inch down to cross the icy river and then winch up the other side. And it was here that I came to see the true strength of the Russian soul.
Each of the three teams doing the route in convoy were endowed with such an incredible tenacity to keep going that I was constantly amazed. Always there was someone sleeping on the back seats, bouncing around under a pile of coats, but it wasn’t out of laziness, they’d soon be ruffled awake to take the wheel when the current driver could tale no more. And even if there was time to stop there is no camping in -28C… and so we never stopped. Not for 3 days… or maybe it was 4… I don’t really remember…
We’d began this frozen, white-washed odyssey an age ago near the border with Norway and 12 days later had a few moments to stop at the Chinese crossing. The moment was almost as surreal as the bunny blessing priest… but we knew that there wasn’t so far to go now… after what we’d done so far the 2-day drive to Vladivostok felt like a pop to the shops!
Teams with the lowest number of points had been getting dropped out at each meeting point but the final task, which seemed laughably simple compared to what else they’d been through over the last two weeks, was to get up a hill where the $100,000 waited. The difference in points each team had collected were converted into seconds…
I was with Team NEC and watched with a quiet sense of despair as the other crews were flagged off ahead and all we could do was stand there and watch. In fact the winning team had already hammered their winch anchors into the ground and got to the top before the marshal had even began our countdown… But we were in Vladivostok, we’d made it to the end and like no other event I’d done, watched, heard of, or even imagined, just getting to the finish was the most amazing achievement!
The winning team were called Cosmos which I think is quite fitting for an event so completely out of this world! I would like to give special thanks to Team NEC and especially Konstantin Rudenko and to Inga Prays for making everything alright in the end.
2013/03/21 | 12:11 CET | ARTICLE: MR/HS/PRITCHARD