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Lake Baikal

Steven Le Hyaric is an ultra-endurance athlete and adventurer whose travels have taken him all over the world on two wheels. Earlier this year, he set out to cross the planet’s largest freshwater lake by bike. We caught up with Steven to hear more. 

A month ago, I was leaving Charles de Gaulle airport in Paris on my way to Irkutsk in Russia. The plan was simple: to cross Lake Baikal from North to South without assistance in the company of ultra-endurance athlete Perrine Fages. Was it a challenge, a madness? No, just a dream waiting to be realized.

At 700 kilometers long and 80 wide, and with depths of over 1,600 meters, Lake Baikal is the oldest and deepest of all the freshwater lakes in the world. It alone contains 20% of the world's fresh water, making it the largest water reserve on earth. And like all corners of paradise, it is necessary to protect it. This expedition meant an opportunity for me to discover and share the mysteries of Lake Baikal and its special atmosphere—a subtle mixture of materials and lights and a magic that is absolutely captivating for all those who have set foot there.

From the beginning, this Siberian adventure seemed impossible, from problems with visa acquisition to transportation of equipment, financing and the approaching coronavirus. But we had put so much energy and desire into crossing this lake on two wheels that nothing could stop us. All that was left to do was to pedal.

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In our bags we took only the essentials. The items selected for this adventure on Lake Baikal became the subject of a thousand thoughts and reflections. I needed a strong bike, stable on ice and snow and able to hold the heavy load and survive freezing temperatures. The choice of fatbike was therefore essential. For this, I trusted my friend Francis from MLines Bikes to handle the preparations. 

On top, I had a Garmin 66i plus  a Garmin ETrex for navigation with Restrap pouches to carry my gear for multiple days and nights on the lake. Five-inch studded tires would provide grip and stability. The rest of the kit included Look pedals, special 45NRTH shoes, an Ideal saddle, steel luggage rack, FARR extenders, Barmitts poggies, Bliz goggles and mask, shorts, basic mountaineering gear, Urge helmet, a Samaya tent, a map for two, a compass, two knives, a camera, a drone, a notebook and a pencil and all the cycling and cold weather clothes. All in all, 50kg to pull behind the bike is a lot and little at the same time. On foot, it goes very well, on the bike, much less so...especially after a heavy snowfall. 

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On Day one, I was unfortunately hit by a car after just 50km. I got out of it with a broken Restrap luggage rack and bags. This meant turning back to Severobaikal to repair what was repairable, then back to square one with 70km already on the odometer. Touched but never sunk, nothing happens by chance.

During the eight days it took to cross the lake, I suffered...we suffered. We also smiled, a lot. We cried sometimes. We shared, we lived. We communicated, we yelled at each other. Most importantly, we moved forward, whatever the cost. Sometimes in Dantesque conditions. Baikal is ruthless. I was asked before I left. "Are you sure you are ready for that?" 

Yes, I was ready. I was much less ready than I have been for previous long expeditions, but I was ready—we were ready. The reality is that Baikal changes every day: snow, rain, hail but also ice, feverish or broken. Baikal is alive, and that's what makes crossing it so challenging— and interesting. 

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I enjoyed every day of this crossing, every second. Perrine supported me; I supported Perrine. We communicated constantly so that nothing serious would happen. Except for a small fall on the last night, a break in the ice under our tent on the third night and a big cold snap on the day of a storm, everything went well. We avoided almost all the traps of Baikal, except for the omnipresent snow which slowed down our progress by half. We hung on, managed and anticipated the dangers, thanks in part to technology (thanks Garmin 66i, you're a great friend now). 

So, once again, I'd like to thank everyone who made this, and so many other adventures, possible. Thank you for who you are. Thank you for encouraging this kind of project. 

Thanks to my team 1,000 times over: Perrine, Pierre-Jean, Anthony. Thanks also to my partners who are present for me during this complicated period for companies. Thanks to my friends who support me and put up with my moods in preparation for adventure. 

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As for what's next, it’s time to work...a lot. This confinement changes the initial plans a little bit but it's all part of the game. It's best to stay at home, and it's a great opportunity to get caught  up. Between resuming writing, working on future documentary projects and preparing project 666, there is no shortage of work. I'm going to give myself a few moments to train indoors every day, the opportunity to redo the basics of general physical preparation. I lacked power at times on Lake Baikal, and I don't like battling myself alongside the elements.  

After the confinement, I will test myself on one or two ultra-endurance projects in France or abroad according to the new measures in force. We will also organize some conferences and broadcast my films in France and abroad when possible. 

Finally, and as I often do, I would like to encourage each of you to continue, never give up your dreams, and even realize some. Always go further to discover. Be free, and be happy to be alive. 

Life is beautiful. 

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