QUIN man Declan McEvoy has always been a big dreamer. One of his mantras is “if your dreams don’t scare you, maybe they’re not big enough”. However, his next endeavour, which he plans to complete in March, will make the hairs stand on the back of your neck.
Cooly and calmly he reveals, “I am going to attempt to ride a motorcycle on ice crossing 636km of frozen Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world, in mid-winter Siberia”.
If he completes this solo ice ride, he will make it into the Guinness Book of World Records but with temperatures expected to be -20° Celsius by day and -30° by night, and storms and freezing fog to contend with, this is no walk in the park.
The idea came to him two years ago, when he was on the second leg of a round the world solo motorcycle trip. His journey took him to the shores of Lake Baikal in Russia in the middle of summer.
“Lake Baikal is a real holistic place and a lot of people gravitate towards there. It is awesomely beautiful but that did trigger the thoughts of what would is would be like in winter. I enquired about it from the locals and they said the lake is frozen solid in winter and people actually drive cars on the lake,” he said.
That got Declan’s mind racing, wondering if it would be possible to drive the length of it on a motorcycle. He has been fixated on this idea ever since.
Initially planning to do the journey as a solo motorcyclist, Declan’s plans nearly altered when two other motorcyclists, one from India and one from Lithuania, were interested in getting involved too.
Together they made a proposal to a leading Indian motorcycle company for sponsorship and received funding for the whole expedition, contingent on the trio securing a Guinness World Record, however the funding wouldn’t come on stream until 2020.
“This news came to me at the beginning of December 2018 and while it was great to have a vote of confidence, the 2020 thing was hard, because a lot of things can happen in a year and I’m not one to wait around. It left me in a dilemma over Christmas because it meant would I revert back to my original plan to do this solo. The problem with this is most of my friends are normal people and when you ask them should I do this, they say are you mad? Why would you do this solo and this company will back you to do it in 2020? I keep saying there are no guarantees they will do it and your life is now,” Declan said.
His Lithuanian friend, who is currently embarking on the world’s coldest motorcycle ride in -65°C in Eastern Russia looking for a Guinness World Record is also encouraging him to fulfil his dream.
This gave Declan the push he needed to go for it and this past week he bought a motorcycle for the trip, which he will modify.
“The trigger is pulled and I’m going ahead with it. There would be a lot of fears and yes I am afraid, but you have to face your fears and go and do it anyway. The minor fear is can I get all the logistics in place to make it happen on time because I only have eight weeks. Concerns I have are will I arrive too early or too late. Too early and you are arriving into harsh Siberian storms on the top of the lake, too late and the ice is beginning to melt. Also, I am asking myself can I survive at -20° by day -30° by night because those are the typical temperatures at this time of year,” he said.
More serious concerns include how do you traverse a frozen lake that has an unstable surface and what to do if he falls through the ice.
“It is the deepest lake in the world at 1,600m which, at the end of the day, if it was 10m deep it would be the same thing if you fall in. I’m looking at the notion of buying ice picks that you can wear around your neck and are connected to hooks on your jacket. If you fall in you can dig them into the ice and pull yourself back up,” he said.
How the ice behaves is going to create a challenge in itself.
“The ice does behave like big tectonic plates, so for 600km it’s not just one piece of ice. The ice does break and move around, with ice sheets moving together and forming uprisings of up to a metre high that you would need an ice pick to break through to make passage for yourself. If they are moving together in one spot, then in another part they are moving apart. There can be up to three metre gaps in the ice. What you can do in that situation is ride along the length of the crack and find where the three metre gap becomes a half metre gap and get across that way,” he said.
Other more basic concerns will include where will he find fuel, food and shelter. While there are some settlements along the western lakeshore, there are very little dwellings further north. Also, as these settlements are often summer destinations, they are likely to be unoccupied in winter.
Camping on the lake is not feasible given the conditions and the amount of equipment required, so Declan will be trying to find shelter along the lakeshore.
He expects the journey will take six to 10 days, even though it is 636km. He explained that you can drive at 120km on ice if it is perfectly smooth but he is accounting for the fact that this lake is never going to be smooth for any great distance, as Lake Baikal is known for the most curious ice formations.
“It is recommended that you don’t ride at the shore because ice is most unstable on the shore. If you have a river flowing in, the ice is also unstable, so I will need to move in about 20km from where any river is flowing but I am also advised never to go into the very middle. If you lose site of both shores, even with GPS and a compass, you can become very disorientated if a fog or storm moves in,” he said.
Asked about what kind of support he will have during the trip, Declan said he is determined to do this solo and that, to him, means doing it completely alone.
“The way I look at it is a number of years ago, I did a parachute jump from 30,000 feet but did I do that jump? No, I didn’t because it was a tandem jump. It’s also a bit like those who climb Mount Everest, in my opinion the Sherpa is the one doing all the hard work. They lay out all the ladders, the Sherpa carries all the gear, so can you really say you did it if you have someone in support, so I would be reluctant to take support. While right now I’m worked up and a bit fearful about this, I always find on the day when you go out, you find there really wasn’t a whole lot to it. I’ve no doubt that Lake Baikal will be fine,” he said.
With a planned starting date of March 10, Declan said he has little time to acclimatise to the conditions and is currently studying wind chill charts to prepare himself.
“If you are moving at 50km an hour in -20°C, it will feel like -60° with the wind chill factor,” he said.
Bearing this in mind, he has to also think of the toll that will place on the motorcycle, as materials react differently in cold weather, with elastics and plastics tending to break and certain parts on his bike will need extra insulation, such as his oil filter.
“Another logistical thing is where do I get the clothing. I can’t just go into Dunnes Stores next week. Thankfully, through social media, I’ve found someone in Helsinki who will get me sorted with suitable clothing,” he said.
Work is already taking place to kit out his motorcycle and Declan expects to say goodbye to it on February 1, as he will ship it to Russia.
“I’ll do the modifications myself, a particular type of motor oil needs to be used and coolant and I need to install hand protection for the cold, an extended screen, GPS, compass and temperature gauges. I’ll have to modify the luggage compartment and I have a set of tyres being made up in Lithuania at the moment,” he said.
Mentally, Declan is also preparing himself by not getting too carried away by the reasons why he should not embark on this project.
“I find I need to stay in touch with positive people. My Lithuanian friend is very straight talking and not only is he like a walking encyclopaedia, he is also like a shrink as well, which you need for something like this,” he said.
As Declan also gives motivational talks, telling young people that their life is now and fear is temporary, regret is forever, he feels he needs to follow his own philosophy by feeling the fear and doing it anyway.
He concludes by saying, “If your dreams don’t scare you maybe they’re not big enough” and this is exactly why he is determined to go through with it.
Declan is hoping for financial support to achieve the world record for a solo ice ride of this kind and has set up a Go Fund Me page which can be accessed here and anyone looking to find out more can visit http://www.thebaikalproject.com.