And… we’re off!
It has been a hectic couple of weeks full of last-minute preparations, gear purchases, and logistical arrangements. If there is one thing that I’ve learned recently, it is that organizing an expedition is a LOT of work! Yet it truly is an exciting time. In less than a week we will begin an adventure that I have been dreaming about for over 5 years. It seems impossible that in such a short time my daily routine will change from sitting behind a computer in a t-shirt with a coffee cup in my hand to waking up each morning to -35 degrees and a world encased in ice. I can’t help but wonder what kind of unforeseen challenges we will encounter, who we will meet along the way, and what moments will become forever engraved in my memory.
In the first weekend of February the three members of the team that live in the United States got together for a short training camp in Eugene, OR. We worked hard to get all the bikes fully winterized, built, loaded, and tested. Maikey, being a native Venezuelan, found ways to modify the bikes to our needs in half the time of his American counterparts. By the time I had changed the grease in one pedal Maikey had fashioned a wine cork to function as a grease-injection plug and had purged all the old grease out of four sets of pedals by forcing in the new grease with a grease gun. Eric and I learned quickly that Maikey has a few tricks up his sleeve. I have no doubt that his ingenuity will come in handy on the trip.
On the last day of the camp we headed up to Willamette Pass to test the bikes on snow and meet a photographer for the local Eugene paper, the Register Guard. The bikes performed exceedingly well, and the Axiom racks and panniers were rock solid. It is great to be able to head off on a trip of this extent having full confidence in the gear that we will be using.
A few days later the article came out in the Register Guard. It can be found here –
We have had a lot of success lately raising interest in the trip. The Mayor of Eugene, Kitty Piercy, has given us her blessing as well as pins, chocolate, and official mayoral pencils to hand out to citizens of Irkutsk, Eugene’s sister city. The non-profit environmental organization Pacific Environment will be working with us to increase our media presence and network with local environmental activists in the regions surrounding Lake Baikal. Men’s Health Russia is our main informational sponsor in Russia, and has already published a couple of articles about our trip. If you read Russian you may enjoy their articles here –
We were also fortunate to be awarded a “Be First” grant from Eddie Bauer for product support. Eddie Bauer will be providing us with some of their world-class expedition clothing to keep us warm in the frigid climate of Baikal. Although average daytime temps of -20 Celsius are not exceedingly cold, with occasional sustained wind speeds of up to 120 kilometers an hour, conditions on Lake Baikal could get cold indeed. Outwear garments from Eddie Bauer such as their Peak XV Down Jacket and Igniter Pant will help ensure that we remain protected against the fiercest elements.
One of the unique features about our bikes that people are often curious about is the 2-speed single speed drive-train. We will be using a double chain-ring up front (34 and 32 teeth) with a single-speed cassette hub in the back with two cogs on it. (18 and 20 teeth) The chain is tensioned with adjustable sliders in the frame and there are no derailleurs. It is a standard single-speed drive-train with the exception that we have two gears to choose from. By dropping the wheel out of the frame using the quick release, we can manually move the chain from the 34/18 combination to the 32/20 combination without adjusting chain tension. In this way we have two gear choices to deal with the various terrain challenges that we may encounter.
The tires that we will be using are the Nokian Gazza Extreme. We chose this tire for the simple reason that it is the only one available in a 29 inch size. It seems very well built and has 294 steel carbide studs to bite into the ice. The only thing we don’t like about it is that it seems a bit narrow for a winter tire. I would love to see these things in a 2.3 or 2.5 size.
As we enter our final 24 hours of preparation our thoughts are on the weeks ahead. Have we thought of all possible problems and the best ways to deal with them? Will we be warm enough? Will there be so much snow and/or broken ice that we will spend most of our time walking? There is always a degree of uncertainty and self-doubt before starting out on a big adventure. We can hope and plan for the best result, but in the end we have to be satisfied with just getting out there and giving it a shot. If you are interested in following us on this Siberian cycle tour, check us out at www.cyclebaikal.com We will be updating our location with a Spot locator device and texting via Twitter from the field. We will also upload blog entries and photos when possible. We wish you the best of luck on your winter adventures, whatever they may be, and hope that you are able to enjoy this unique cycle tour vicariously in the comforts of your home. Toss back a cup of hot cacao for us on occasion! We’ll be toasting you in return with a Russian-sized glass of vodka to fight off the cold. Cheers!