Dmitry Filimonov

Lake Baikal rule

30 September 2011

If you ever drove on the ice of Lake Baikal you will remember the experience for a long time. If you drove on the ice of Lake Baikal in March you'll remember it forever. Because in March no one is driving on the ice. But imbeciles and the local shaman Valentin Khagdaev. Shaman Valentin Khagdaev is running for a mayor office in Olkhonsky district. Olkhon is the Island in the middle of Lake Baikal. The meeting of the mayor candidate Khagdaev with voters is scheduled to take place in the club of the fishing village on the island of Olkhon. The election campaign should be won whatever it takes.
At the edge of the ice two "Volga" cars stand immobile. One of them is armored. The cars belong to an Irkutsk businessman with a golden tooth. Businessman is financing the election campaign of shaman. Because the businessman with a golden tooth has interest in Baikal fish omul. Baikal omul is money. If shaman is elected the head of the district, the businessman with a golden tooth will be in charge of the region... Politics for you. And you should know that policy is a risky business.
On the shore there is a gray bus parked having a stove inside. Two men get out of the bus wearing jackets with words "Emergency Committee" insignia. The task of the men is to put signs and landmarks on the ice road. Actually, there is the only sign there - an exclamation mark. The poles stick out of the ice meaning the limits between the road and the shoulder. If there is a crack develops, a gully or a hummock, the EmerCom men swing the road to a side. They strongly misadvise driving to Olkhon. It is March after all. In the morning there are seemingly no cracks and gullies, and by the noon sun warms up and all the issues develop from the devil knows where. But we cannot afford not driving. We – stands for the shaman Valentin Khagdaev and his detail: shaman’s wife, the businessman with a golden tooth, the driver of the second "Volga" and correspondent. We will have to take the risk. The election campaign. No kidding.
In the past there was a helicopter flying to Olkhon. It was a very old helicopter. To start the engine, the experienced pilots wound a rope on the shaft, connected the other end of the rope to a truck and pulled. Then the old helicopter crashed. So now, in November or March, when the ice is still thin or already thin, only driving can bring you to the island. The driving along the ice track. After a very dedicated prayer.
The shaman takes out from the trunk a plastic bottle with milk, pour a little portion into the cork and sprinkles the cars. The drops of milk are running down the hood. Shaman whispers a prayer to the spirit of the Lake Baikal. Now you can go. But the driver of the second "Volga" flatly refuses to get behind the wheel. The businessman with a golden tooth uncorks a bottle of vodka (there is a whole crate of vodka in the trunk to please electorate), pouring vodka into a plastic cup and handing it to the driver. The driver drinks the vodka in a single gulp and regains his braving within seconds.
Two cars are race across the ice of the Lake Baikal. Wind "Sarma" blowing from the Sarmat Valley cleans the snow making the Baikal ice shiny and smooth like a hockey ground. If it were not for the ridges and gullies…
Local driving abides a special set of traffic rules. Ice driving requires leaving the car doors open. Cold you say? But if the car runs over a gully there is a chance to escape. It was calculated that it takes two to seven minutes for a car to go under the ice. If the doors are closed the ice will block them. That simple. During winter five to seven cars sink in the Lake Baikal. People are rare to die - only those who do not observe the "open door" rule are in the risk area. Rule number two - do not fasten seat belts. Otherwise you will not have the time to unfasten it. Rule three - do not reduce speed. At high speed, there is a chance to slide over the crack.
Stopping in front of a crack means going under ice. Rule four - do not brake. The brakes on the ice are optional. Braking will result in the car’s spinning and veering off the track.
The distance to the island is a kilometer and a half. The armored "Volga" is not the best vehicle to drive on Baikal ice in March. Shining track is squealing under the wheels of a heavy vehicle. "Volga" is bouncing on the hummock and crushes all its metal against the ice. A crash sound is heard through the metal rattling. The sound of cannon shot. The drunk driver is yelling obscenities. This is not a cry of fear. This is a cry of joy. The route is over! This is the shoreline. We made it, lucky we!
Well, I hope you understood now what traffic rules apply in Russia. The Baikal traffic rules.
P.S. Oh, by the way.. Shaman Valentin Khagdaev did not win elections that year.



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