If you can’t get enough iceboating news, check out the latest issue of the DN class newsletter, Runner Tracks. The photography is outstanding and does a tremendous service in the promotion of our sport.
RUNNER TRACKS IS AVAILABLE IN THREE DIFFERENT FORMATS:
Photo: Sophie Marc-Martin
DNer Mike Madge executes a fly-by maneuver on Thunder Bay in Ontario, Canada on April 11.
Mike Bloom is back home from Lake Baikal after an extraordinary journey home.
Home at last!
Thanks to all of you who were rightfully worried about my getting back to the USA.
Being in Baikal doesn’t exactly provide a true version of life on the outside. Baikal’s mystical powers are rooted in its isolation.
When I left for Baikal kids were still going to school, Purell was readily available, and face masks were on the shelves at Walgreens. Obviously, things changed quickly while I was gone but in Baikal the effects of the coronavirus on the real world was significantly muted. Plus, we had no television, no radio, no newspaper, no magazines and very little internet. I assumed no news was good news
My first inclination I might have problems getting home was when Delta sent me an email stating the departing flight I booked two months ago was cancelled.
They rebooked me on Air France flight through Amsterdam but in true airline fashion my new reservation included an 8-hour layover in Amsterdam and a 12 hour layover in Atlanta. I later learned I was flying through Atlanta because the Minneapolis airport was closed to direct flights from Europe.
Because of the extensive layovers I was actually happy when later that day Air France then told me that their flight was cancelled. I was then rebooked through Paris and on to Dallas. However, when the Paris airport was closed to foreigners, my reservation was cancelled. I then borrowed Joerg Bohn’s phone and rebooked my Monday flight flying direct from Moscow to New York.
And, of course, being is the middle of Siberia doesn’t help. It creates all kinds of logistical issues. First, I had no cell service in Baikal and the internet connection was marginal at best. But more problematic is the fact that Baikal is a 5-hour car ride to the airport and an 8-hour flight to Moscow. Plus, it is no easy feat to find a cab driver willing to drive 5 hours from Irkutsk down a dirt road to pick me up and then turn around and drive 5 hours back to the airport.
Tuesday night I learned that the other Americans in Baikal,Chris Berger and his girlfriend Marci, had already made the decision to leave early. When I discovered that Marci had already secured a cab ride to the Irkutsk airport for Wednesday evening, I took that as a sign and decided I should go with them. It was a difficult decision to make but I knew it was the right decision. Many of the European sailors had already pulled out because several European countries were closing their borders. I didn’t think I wanted to be in Russia if they closed their border.
So I booked an Aeroflot flight flying direct to New York. I was on the first available flight. But that flight was cancelled. I then got lucky because when I tried to rebook the flight I found a seat on a plane leaving Thursday morning.
Wednesday night Chris, Marci, and I jumped in the cab and drove the 5 hours to the airport in Irkutsk. We arrived in Irkutsk about 10 pm. Chris and Marci went to a hotel. Since I had to be back at the airport at 3 am, and was too cheap to spend money on a hotel, I went to the airport.
I got to the airport in Irkutsk about 11 pm and waited till 3 am to check in for the 5am Thursday morning flight. At exactly 3 am, the Aeroflot gate agent appeared at the ticket counter. She was very stern and definitely not happy with my 2 oversized duffle bags and my way too heavy gun case full of runners. She spent the next 30 minutes calculating the cost of the oversized and overweight baggage and asking me questions in fluent English about the content of my bags. I think she took pleasure in telling me the overweight bags would cost $500 to get home, double what I paid when I flew the other direction. Of course, as soon as I questioned the exorbitant price, she no longer could speak English. Thus, I did the only thing I could do, I slid my visa across the counter and using the best sarcasm possible I said “thank you.” Miraculously, her English returned just long enough to tell me that even though I had purchased comfort class with extra leg room neither this flight nor my flight from Moscow to New York had comfort class seats. Plus, If I wanted a refund, I had to call the number on the back of a card she gave me, but I couldn’t call till the office opened at 9 am, some three hours after my plane departs.
The flight from Irkutsk to Moscow was a painful 8 hours. After a 2 hour layover I then flew an even more painful 10 hours from Moscow to New York (JFK). Surprisingly, getting through customs was a breeze. It was almost nonexistent. There was no customs to speak of. Nobody even bothered to ask me about the gun case, let alone look inside. Even more surprising, there was no real heath check. Other than completing a short health questionnaire and walking by a guy who took my temperature using one of those temporal thermometers, you wouldn’t think coronavirus is a global issue.
While in the custom area I noticed my bags were tagged to go to Detroit, not MSP. Predictably, nobody was at the Delta counter so I was forced to leave the customs area and go upstairs to the Delta ticket counter. Once there I learned that Delta had cancelled my flight to Minneapolis along with all the other flights that night to Minneapolis. The next available flight was the next day at 4 pm.
At this point, I had not slept for about 30 hours. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t bear the thought of a 24 hour layover. This was the 7th flight that had been cancelled!
Fortunately, I had enough sense to check my Delta app. I did what the Delta agent could not do. I found a Delta flight leaving in 90 minutes out of LaGuardia. After a quick cab ride from JFK to LaGuardia I walked onto a near empty plane and arrived in Minneapolis early Thursday evening.
Glad to be home. Glad we came home when we did. Twelve hours after I arrived, both JFK and LaGuardia closed because air traffic controllers have tested positive for coronavirus. It is a trend that will not reversed anytime soon.
Despite my expectations, I was not quarantined, unless you count my wife who says she won’t come within 6 feet of me, but that might not be coronavirus related. Still, the CDC says symptoms typically appear within 5 days of exposure so I’ll hang low till next week.
So that’s my Baikal experience. Honestly, the good parts of the trip clearly outweigh the hassles of getting home. I’d go back in heartbeat.
Mike Bloom shares his incredible day at Baikal. For those of you who don’t know, Mike and his good friend, Mark “Doctor” Christensen had promised to make the journey to Baikal together but the Doctor passed on after a long illness at the beginning of this sailing season. Mike kept their promise and remembers his friend at the close of this ice sailing season on Baikal. Good luck getting home.
Yesterday is why you travel to Baikal. When the winds called the Baikal Beast exceeded 17m/s and racing was cancelled I was invited to visit the Stupa on the big island out in the lake. So I put on my spikes for a 7 km walk in winds so strong it could blow us off our feet. Dederic organized the day and we were joined by his wife Alexandra, Chris Berger and Marci and two other Dutch sailors both named Hans.
A Stupa is a religious structure containing the remains of Buddhist monks and is used as a place of meditation.
The shape of the Stupa represents a Buddha, crowned and sitting in meditation posture on a lion throne. But a local guide said the Stupa may represent the five purified elements: land, water, air, fire, and sun.
We honored the Buddhist tradition of circumambulation which is an important ritual of walking three times around the Stupa. As a result, Stupas have a path around them. We also left a small token at the alter. Surrounding the Stupa were many prayer flags. Being there was a moving and spiritual experience.
We then walked back to the ice and walked to the tip of the island to view a famous rock outcropping in the shape of a dragon.
From there we walked around edge of the island to seek shelter as the winds really picked up. We stopped in a beautiful spot with an amazing view of the lake. The rock outcroppings were covered with ice and Dideric and Marci surprisingly produced a bottle of Baikal vodka and glass shot glasses. We all briefly spoke about how fortunate we are to sail in Baikal and to be together with friends from around the world.
We drank a toast to Mark (Doctor) Christensen and then a separate toast to fun and friendship.
As we started the 7k/m trek home suddenly a four dirt Buggy’s were heading straight for us. They were incredibly loud and appeared to be having way too much fun. Turns out they were sent by Jörg to find us.
After a couple of high speed 360’s they stopped and offered three of us a ride to see some ice caves, mountain goats and another large spiritual rock shrine. So without hesitation Hans, Hans and I jumped in. After all, what could go wrong traveling at freeway speeds on a sheet of ice in dirt buggy’s driven by a bunch of crazed iceboaters!
Some three hours later we were back on shore for the regatta’s international dinner. Each sailor brought food from their home country.
Jorge brought eel. Hamrak brought salami and herring. Jost brought bread and sausage. Marci made delicious American baked beans. The Swiss brought Cheese and chocolate while I have no idea who brought the rest.
After a very fun dinner the music started, as did the dancing. Young and old joined the festivities and international boundaries were no longer relevant.
Sailing continues today. The ice has gotten slightly better. Not sure about the wind though.
I made the difficult decision to join Berger and Marci and return home today. Air travel out of Irkutsk is getting difficult. European borders are being closed to foreigners. My airline reservations keep getting cancelled. Many others have already left.
My trip to Baikal was everything Ron Sherry, Jörg and Dideric promised it would be. The people, the culture, the geography is indescribable. It was truly a remarkable journey. One I will remember forever.
Part of the mystique of Siberia’s Lake Baikal is the way the weather unfolds and swirls around you. Dideric van Riemsdijk posted this from today.