Irbit to Salekhard

Posted: November 17, 2012 by blinkenzomg in Uncategorized

Hello gentle readers,

Having nothing else to do this morning, I thought I’d provide everyone with an update on our extensive preparations so far. Here’s a handy summary:

Awesome cool helmets and balaclavas: purchased!
AWESOME MOTORBIKE FOR PATRICK: totally purchased. Unfortunately this is unrelated to the trip
Visas: we have them, though my passport must be somewhere really safe at the moment, because I’m not entirely sure where it is
Cold weather gear: probably should get some. Also food, a tent, communications gear, a motorbike license for Guy, and everything else. And suitcases might be useful too.

…so as you can see, we’re basically ready to go. Good thing, because we’re leaving in two months.

In lieu of actual preparation, I thought I’d write some more then about our route through Russia, to give you some idea of the terrain we’ll be travelling through. After a bit of a jaunt through Helsinki, St Petersburg and Moscow, we start the insane-motorcycle component of the trip in the city of Yekaterinburg (Екатеринбу́рг), notable as the place where Tsar Nicholas II – the last Tsar of Russia – was shot in 1918. Plenty of gory details over at Wikipedia: Lovely.

From Yekaterinburg we catch a bus to Irbit (Ирби́т), a couple of hours to the north-east, where we meet up with the other teams crazy enough to do this trip with us. As at the time of writing, this group consists of nine Australians, three Brits and six people from various other countries; it seems that this trip appeals to people who have never actually tried to ride a motorbike in subzero conditions. I can’t think why.

We spend a couple of days in Irbit getting to know the other teams, getting some training on how to ride bikes with sidecars on ice – how hard can it be? – and madly purchasing last-minute supplies. Then we head out on the 11th of February into the bear-infested Siberian Wilderness. Our cunning plan at that point is to follow the Ob River north, until we arrive at its source and our destination in Salekhard, right on the Arctic Circle.

Unfortunately for us, the Ob river doesn’t appear to be much of a river per se (at least according to Google’s satellite photos) until about 300km north-east of Irbit. As you can see, we also seem to be a bit short of roads. In fact, some towns in the region are unreachable by road in summer – the only access is by boat or helicopter.

In winter, the locals make up for this lack of infrastructure by constructing roads from ice and snow. These zimniks are by nature temporary, passing through villages that are unlikely to be on any map. They vary in quality – some are major routes, will be well-cleared and have hundreds of cars passing each day. Others may only have a few cars a day passing through.

So it’s a bit of a puzzler. One plan which was quite successful on the Mongol Rally in 2011 was to have a dashboard-mounted compass (which told you where Mongolia – aka “eastish” – was), and then take the nearest road to that direction out of town and see where it led. 90% of the time this worked brilliantly, but unfortunately the other 10% of the time we drove around for six hours trying to find the right road until we gave up in exhaustion and slept by the side of the road. Oh, Turkmenistan.

Of course, our other issue is that the dashboard compass will probably be frozen.

In any case, here’s a quick stab at a route from Irbit to Salekhard, which totals out at just over 1900 bear-filled kilometres.


Unfortunately, Google Maps can be a bit sketchy at the best of times, particularly when it comes to Russia. This particular route contains such wonders of modern cartography as the Road Through a Lake:


You can also get some idea of how well the marked roads match the satellite imagery:

In the words of the handbook we’re supplied by the Adventurists: Just head out northish and hope for the best.


PS. Yay, wolves!

  1. GOOD LUCK GUYS says:


  2. Peri Coleman says:

    Yes well… the road north from Irbit disappears into a swamp at a township called Mezdurecenskij… After that the only road south of Salekhard is an east-west one that runs west from Ivdel at the foot of the Urals to Njagan and Priobe on the River Ob. It doesn’t cross the river, needless to say. All the larger towns in the endless swamp have little airport signs on them in my nice Russian mapbook, but that probably does not mean a lot! Pray for a good freeze if you are planning to use roads that cross lakes! Keep warm!

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