Hong Kongers who Beat Siberia Two Adventurers & the Frozen Wilderness

[15/03/12] 

Michael Godby and Scott Taylor aren’t your typical expats. The intrepid duo, otherwise known as Team XieXie, have just returned from Siberia where they found themselves racing a Soviet 650cc motorbike (with a sidecar) across one of the world’s most uninhabitable tundras. Their adventure started in the relatively balmy town of Irbit, finishing 2000km later in the northern Siberian town of Salekhard, the only city in the world in the Arctic Circle. No swimming trunks required.

The Senior Consultant and Managing Director by day withstood temperatures of -40ºC to finish first in the inaugural “Ice Run”, a mad dash organized by The Adventurists. In the process they raised HK$135,866 for Room to Read, a charity which improves the literacy levels of children and promotes educational gender equality in developing countries.

It wasn’t the boys’ first rodeo either. In 2010 they inhaled sand by the bucket load as they crossed India, covering 3500km on a two stroke rickshaw, while also pledging over HK$60,000 to a Room to Read. They regaled us with some of their greatest stories:

siberia

What did your friends and families think about your Siberian adventure?

Not many people were overly positive about us taking a motorbike across a supposedly dangerous country, over ice and snow, in minus 30 degrees. On the trip there we didn’t encounter much confidence either. In fact, a member of staff on an airline that will remain nameless told us it was an impossible journey. He said there was a 100% chance of death. 

Seeing as he’d already invited us into the cockpit to chill for an hour, came back to talk with us for a considerable period of time, slunk off to the back of the plane to have a smoke and sneaked us a bottle of vodka, his morbid comment left us wondering what the hell we were doing.

Fortunately we’d met Sir Ranulph Fiennes (the man who’s crossed both poles on foot) before we left Hong Kong, and he’d given us all the confidence we needed. He basically said we’d figure it out as we went along, but with Xie Shares as our lead sponsor and a load of amazing gear from Columbia Sportswear, Mountain Hardwear, and Recon Instruments who also generously partnered us, we were pretty well prepared. The Recon goggles were particularly cool. They have a heads up display which shows you temperature, speed and the direction you’re traveling. We also kept in touch with that nameless member of staff because he wanted us to text him if we managed to beat his 0/100 chance of crossing the finishing line. He was a great guy actually.

Did you have a full-proof plan?

No, not at all. We arrived in the town of Irbit in Ural and went to the bike factory to rent a bike. Russians sure know how build a bike because it was a great piece of machinery - modeled after a BMW, but tweaked and improved. Then we met a local who invited us for a vodka to warm up and he drew us an unbelievably detailed map showing us how to get to our next destination. We set off and just figured it out as we went along.

So the people were helpful?

Oh yeah, the best.

We were warned about the Russian mafia and that Siberians would get drunk, aggressive, pummel us and then rob us blind. We listened to the advice and equipped ourselves with bear spray to ward off any big Ruskies - some of them are about the same size.

Scott: I sprayed him (Michael) with it the first night - it was really strong. 

Michael: “Yeah it is was pretty unpleasant!”

Scott: His eyes welled up and went really red, as did mine because it kind of wafted back at me in the corridor.

Michael: It’s meant to keep bears at bay so there is every kind of chili known to man ground up, liquefied and shoved in a can. 

We didn’t need it though. The people we came across were incredibly friendly although they seemed to go through an interesting transition after meeting us. Firstly, they would stare with hard, strong faces as if to not show any emotion. Then they would find out what we were doing, think we were crazy and worry about us. Then, after a short while, they would invite us into their homes, give us plenty of hugs and vodka and help us in any way possible. 

friends

Did you see a lot of vodka?

It was everywhere - people would give it to us all the time. They would stop in their cars to help us with fuel but also give us a bottle and drink it with us while snacking away on a frozen fish. Memorably, we were once stopped by a policeman at dusk and were worried about being in trouble for having a less than road worthy bike. It turned out he just wanted to share a shot of vodka with us.

What was the craziest thing you ate?

Horse. Also, when we stopped and met some locals, one of the guys pulled a reindeer leg out of the snow (they use the snow as a fridge). He started hacking away so we had our first taste of frozen reindeer sashimi. Tuna cake for breakfast was pretty odd as well.

How did Rudolph taste?

Good. Gamey and rich but delicious.

What was the most dangerous part of the trip?

Spending a night without a sleeping bag. We were traveling at good speeds, 80kmh plus, getting a bit of airtime over bumps with a fairly heavy load, so things rattled around and we lost a few things - sleeping bag included. When we set up camp for the night and realized there was only one bag we played rock/paper/scissors for it.

Michael: “Scott won but because it was -30 degrees he had to keep waking me up to make sure I was sill alive. When we got up in the morning I was so cold and tired but I couldn’t escape because it wasn’t as if we were going on a short journey to a 5* hotel. There weren’t any places to stop along the way. It was a pretty rough morning.”

Who was the worst person you came across?

Michael: “A cold Scott.”

cold-scott

So you were each other’s own worst enemy?

Yeah, when you’re tired and cold you can get quite short with each other, but really everyone we met along the way was unbelievably hospitable. They were so warm and friendly – in fact, we still get Google translated emails from guys we only spent an hour with. They make absolutely no sense.

The locals didn’t speak much English?

No, not at all, it was very broken. Our charades are now amazing - everything was done in sign language.

Any advice for aspiring adventures?

There are huge misconceptions today because everything is so global and word of mouth travels faster than ever before. People have strong opinions about countries they’ve never even visited - and they’re largely based on fear. For instance, I have loads of Indian clients who said in regards to our rickshaw run around India, “You’re an idiot. You’re going to get robbed and mugged. Don’t do it and don’t eat street food, because you’ll die.” We did it all and were fine. Our advice is don’t listen to the stereotypes or opinions. Go and find out for yourself - take chances.

You basically did the opposite of what you were told?

Yeah, like, ‘don’t drive at night’ - every night we drove. ‘Don’t talk to the locals in Russia’; we’re best friends with all of them. In India they said ‘don’t eat street food’ - that’s all we ate. People hear one thing on CNN or a newspaper and make these huge assumptions about places even if they’ve never been there. An idea gets planted in their head and that’s why, when we told everyone what we were doing, only one or two people said, “I wish I could do the same.” Everyone else said we were complete idiots and asked how we could be so stupid. It was incredible how many people looked at it from a negative point of view.

Can you sum up your favorite part of the trip to India?

It was a funeral. It sounds brutal but we picked up a hitchhiker in the middle of the desert. He told us to take a left at a place where there were no roads – just sand – and we hesitantly accepted his invitation to join the funeral he was attending. He assured us that it was a case of ‘the more the merrier’ because it was a celebration of life rather than an act of mourning. It was quite a refreshing perspective. We parked the rickshaw and walked for about forty minutes until we came to some make-shift tents in the middle of the desert. We met the locals and had some food before getting absolutely trashed. The deceased had lived 100 years which made it easier to celebrate their life. It truly was a great time.

india-rickshaw

Favorite Place to eat in HK?

M: Some xiao long bao in Crystal Jade

S: Our own BBQ and bar on Tai Long Wan.

What are you reading right now?

M: In the Sea There are Crocodiles: Based on the True Story of Enaiatollah Akbari

S: I was reading Mad Dogs and English Men by Sir Ranny, but left that with our sleeping bag – destination unknown

Where is your favorite place to go on the weekends?

M: A lake in china with a couple of speedboats for a bit of wakeboarding and BBQ'ing

S: Camping on Tai Long Wan.

What bar serves the best drinks?

M: A cold cider from Ben's Bar in Shek-O on a sunny day, post hike

S: Goccia’s Lychee Martini. Four of those and you are gone!

What’s one think you can't do without?

M: Sunshine and music. Preferable to have both at the same time

S: Adventures, I need at least one a year

Favorite thing about HK?

M: Accessibility to the array of amazing places in Asia

S: Non stop hedonistic fun and our amazing group of loyal friends with the same mentality

Least favorite thing in HK?

M: Fog/smog

S: Humidity, I don’t cope well! 

Where to next?

Africa...


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