I BADE FAREWELL TO MY LIFE
Honza Žďánský is AZUB’s friend. With our support, he rode on a classic bike around the northern hemisphere and in the autumn of 2014 he got a crazy idea to cross the frozen Siberian Lake Baikal on a bicycle. It only took a few minutes to see that it would be us who would take care of the development and construction of a fat trike suitable for snow, which we would base on AZUB T-Tris, and that Honza would set off on his ice expedition in March the following year on three wheels. The following lines will tell you all about the whole experience, about the preparations, the deep fear and great joy, and also about earthquakes. We recommend that before you start reading, you should at least put on a pair of nice warm socks.
Contributed by Honza Žďánský
The idea for a winter crossing of Lake Baikal
It simmered in my head for over a year. The thought itself actually came to me right there, by the lake. During my trip to Japan I spent several days on its southern shores and I had time to think. The desire to do something unusual and new did eventually bring me onto Baikal’s ice. The actual planning of an authentic polar expedition was a challenge in itself. The more I studied about the polar topic, the more I was determined to embark on some chilly adventure. The turning point came after I talked about the trip with my friends in Azub. They came up with an idea of their own and proposed the journey to be done on a recumbent trike made by them. With this suggestion, the whole trip took on a new dimension, larger by exactly one wheel.
Unexpected complications surfaced soon, a week before departure I learnt that that year the Siberian winter had been extremely warm and that in places the lake wasn’t frozen over. I had kept a watch on the weather throughout the whole winter and the temperatures did not go over the -10°C mark. So the news of a “warm winter” came as a surprise.
100% of my physical strength
Nevertheless, on 6th of March, shortly after noon, I stood on the shore of Lake Baikal in the village Kultuk and headed north. It was snowing and windy, the visibility was around half a kilometre. Before long, the layer of snow on the frozen surface of the lake began to be increasingly difficult to ride through, to the point when I was forced to stop and get off the trike. I had known that the possibility I might have to pull the trike behind me was there, but spending six days in the harness was not. The deep powder snow and drifts made riding the trike impossible, so I had no choice but to move forward on foot. Day after day, eight hours of hard work crossing ice walls and hummocks, snow everywhere. Crossing or bypassing cracks required using 100% of my physical strength. Here I discovered an unexpected advantage of the trike, the possibility of transferring the cargo between the front wheels, thus creating a fatbike cart which was reasonably stable and easier to operate. The most critical moments came with the cracks in ice. I came across them every day. Some I was able to just step over and carry on, others, 50-70 cm wide, I had to walk around until I found a place where I risked crossing. There was no space for an error. Knowing that I was “in it” alone and getting help from someone else was out of the question, caution was my highest priority. In six days I managed to move forward a little over 100 km. It was a pitiful result. My optimistic plan that I could cross the lake in two weeks was just a laughable memory.
A final blow
The turning point came after a week when I finally began seeing smooth ice and the frozen snow drifts became passable. Despite that, I was not able to speed up. There was no respite from cracks in the ice, and what was more, I started coming across areas with only thin ice. Although due to bypassing bad places I walked and rode many kilometres, my direct approach was only around 20 kilometres per day. It was clear that to complete the journey I would need to replenish my food supplies in the middle of the lake, on the Olkhon Island. Unfortunately, in the end I wasn’t able to do that. On the tenth day, the whole journey received a final blow. At eleven o‘clock in the morning, just as I was starting to move to the left shore, there came an earthquake accompanied by a dreadful noise of cracking ice that rattled the “solid ground” under my feet. For endless seconds, with bated breath and my heart in my throat I stood and waited for what would happen next. The earthquake opened up several new cracks and crevices, and I had no choice but to return closer to the shore. An hour later came a second quake that continued to break up the ice. Terror-stricken, I raced the shortest way to the shore. Even so, those seven kilometres took me nearly two hours. After this incident, which left several scars on my heart, realizing that the entire region was at that moment totally unstable, and after much deliberation, I decided to abort the mission to cross the lake. I refused to return onto the lake under those conditions.
From the warmth of my home
Despite all that, I have great memories of Baikal. It was a huge life’s lesson for me, not only because of travelling in extremely cold temperatures, but also mentally. Nature is beautiful and unpredictable, and it is precisely that what pulls me outside, away from the warmth of my home.