Men vs Wild

22:49, Apr 10 2012
siberian desert land
ON THE MOVE: David Murray (at the controls) and Simon Limpus on the 1940 Ural motorbike and sidecar.

Taking on intrepid journeys of epic proportions is nothing unusual for David Murray and Simon Limpus.

The pair have taken overseas adventures to the limit in recent years: a 13,000-kilometre motorbike trip around Argentina in 2008, and the 1000km Mongol Derby horse trek across Mongolia in 2009. They have crossed the Arctic on dog sleds, and most recently braved freezing cold conditions to compete in Ice Run 2012, a motorbike race traversing the Siberian desert, all in the name of charity.

Their charity efforts have so far reached $40,000, with the latest adventure raising $10,000 for Youth Focus, a charity based in Western Australia which aims to prevent youth suicide, depression and self-harm. The pair also earned themselves seventh placing in the event.

LACKING LANDMARKS: Snow and ice as far as the eye can see. A view of the Siberian Desert in the middle of winter.

Murray and Limpus' latest adventure would be enough to send most travellers packing soon after arrival – for a number of very valid reasons, including the weather, transport and accommodation.

The temperature averaged -32 degrees Celsius, or down to -60C if you took the wind-chill factor into consideration. Their mode of transport came in the form of a tired old 1940 Ural motorbike and sidecar, and their accommodation was a tent, often pitched in the Siberian wilderness, which regularly had icicles decorating it like some form of self-made chandelier.

For Limpus, camping under the stars in the Siberian wilderness was the highlight.


It is fair to say Murray and Limpus do not fit the mould of "most travellers".

Instead, they probably lean more towards the category of Man vs Wild's Bear Grylls, who is often seen on television taking risks, just so he can get from A to B. No waterfall or wild beast can stand in the extreme adventurer's way. People who fit the "Bear Grylls mould" aren't necessarily crazy – just keen to see parts of the world that are virtually untouched by everyday tourists.

If that was what Murray and Limpus were after, the Siberian wilderness was the right place to be.

Ice Run 2012, which took place in February, started in Irbit, where the Ural motorcycle factory is based. The race finished in Salekhard, the only town in the world that is on the Arctic Circle. The area is blanketed with "several" metres of ice and snow for six months of the year.

Murray and Limpus completed the race in 11 days, with no support crew or set route.

Virtually from the moment the gun sounded, each of the 12 teams were on their own, fighting for survival, while navigating their way north by compass to the finish line 2500km away.

"Basically, everyone went off in different directions," Murray said.

"You follow one road and it comes to a dead end, so then you have to find another one."

No Lonely Planet guide could have prepared them for the journey ahead, which for many riders was possibly part of the attraction – although an A to Z of mechanics en route to their destination could have come in handy.

Murray and Limpus' bike had seen better days. It was old, knackered and unreliable, to say the least.

"We had lots of problems with the bike," Murray said.

"We broke down just about every day we were there.

"We had to ride throughout the night some days just to make up time."

Their mechanical problems started on day one when the brakes broke. At various stages of the journey they also had to deal with the back wheel falling off while travelling along an ice road, the front forks snapping and the front suspension breaking.

Murray and Limpus spent each morning heating the bike's spark plugs under their armpits just to get it started.

"You almost celebrated every time you got it started up," Murray said.

However, once it was going, the bike would be just as unreliable as it was the day before, always wanting to veer off the road.

Mechanical glitches continued just 4km short of the finish line, when the gear box "basically exploded", forcing Murray and Limpus to push the 300-kilograms of bike and equipment the rest of the way, which was no major hurdle, given what they had already endured.

"It was a constant battle," Murray said.

However, giving up was not an option.

"You can't. If you give up you would pretty much die out there. You just have to keep going."

Instead, the pair had an optimistic approach, saying the breakdowns and other challenges they faced just added to the adventure.

"That was part of the enjoyment of the whole thing. You mix with the locals and have to get yourself out of trouble. That's why we do these trips – they tend to be the best part of the adventures."

Freezing conditions also proved a challenge from start to finish. The slightest hint of moisture turned to icicles and boiled water would transform back into a solid block of ice within minutes. Even gas bottles could not fight the freezing elements.

"We had to light a fire to heat up the gas bottles so we could cook anything. It was taking about an hour to boil water – it was terrible. You would put water in your drink bottle and five minutes later it was freezing again. It was frustrating," Murray said.

"It was just so cold. We had about 17 layers of clothing on."

Even holding a spanner with bare hands had dire consequences, because the metal had a tendency to stick to skin, Murray said.

Sleeping at night was also a challenge, given the freezing conditions, but was made more bearable with the help of thermal liners and two sleeping bags each.

Murray and Limpus were sponsored by Tekapo company Earth, Sea and Sky, which supplied the pair with jackets specially designed for Antarctic expeditions.

"They were priceless. They were down-fill and had a fur trim over the head, and were totally wind and waterproof. We couldn't have done it without those jackets," Murray said.

Hypothermia was a very real threat, which Limpus failed to avoid. However, he managed to overcome his illness with lots of vegetables and hot tea, provided by a little supermarket.

The cold was unavoidable, Murray said.

"At one point I lost feeling in both my feet. It took 45 minutes to get feeling back – I was in agony, trying to get the blood flowing into my feet again."

Murray and Limpus were prepared for just about anything nature threw at them, including the wild animals that roamed the area. Packs of wolves were a particular threat.

But, just like the 1980s fictional television character MacGyver, Murray and Limpus were ready.

The pair travelled with a crossbow, ready to aim it at any animal that crossed over the invisible line of, "you're in my territory and are about to pay the price".

Murray said the crossbow wasn't needed, which was a good thing considering it went into premature retirement after it fell off the bike halfway through the journey, along with a bag containing various other items, including food and heat packs.

However, the crossbow did come into contact with a certain someone before its demise.

"At one point I was blowing a bit of snow out of the (crossbow's) trigger and my face got a bit close and attached to the crossbow," Murray said.

Limpus was boiling water at the time so managed to free Murray's face by applying heated water to the area.

"He lost a tiny bit of his lip," Limpus recalls.

"So the crossbow wasn't used in anger, other than for David's face."

It's not the first time the pair have relied on each other, and it's unlikely to be the last, given the passion they share for travelling off the beaten track.

However, it's unlikely they will repeat their Siberian adventure again in the exact same format.

"I would do it again, but I would probably do it in a car with a heater," Murray said.

But travelling by motorbike provided the pair with some "crazy experiences" they might not have encountered if they were travelling by other means.

Murray said one of those moments was when a film crew stopped the pair to interview them. An hour later they climbed back on their bike, only for it to break down, yet again.

The film crew towed the bike 110km to the nearest town. While it was being repaired, Murray and Limpus discovered their earlier interview had made Russian news headlines.

Murray said it was the support of people they met along the way that helped them get through.

"You wouldn't be able to survive over there without the help of the locals."

Murray and Limpus first met while attending Gordonstoun School in Scotland. It was there that they discovered their passion for extreme adventures, Murray says.

The pair were part of a team of students who travelled to Indonesia in 1998 to help build a school for a small village.

"That sort of started it," Murray said.

Now the pair are planning their next epic journey – riding 26 camels for 2575km across the Sahara Desert, following an old slave route.

The Timaru Herald