Adventure, Interviews

A very long Interview with Team Numb Nuts: The Adventurists Ice Run

Mission: “Olly Rowland and Rob Mills will race 1500km across the frozen Siberian wilderness on old school Ural motorbikes to the only town in the world sitting on the Arctic circle.”

1. Did you pick each other as teammates?
Rob:  Actually Olly picked me. When Mr Tom came up with this adventure we knew from the outset that this pioneer’s event would be invite only, drawn from our Adventurists Wall of Fame, stand-out veterans of the Mongol Rally, Mongol Derby, Mototaxi Junket, etc. The ones we know are up for the challenge and can hack it. Olly made it to Mongolia in 2009 despite his little 1972 Hillman Imp rattling to pieces in Kazakhstan so we sent him an invite.

I contracted Olly’s band (Olly manages The Suburbians) for the Festival of Slow 2011 – the Mongol Rally launch – where he proposed I join him as his team mate. I like to think I was his first choice, but I was probably fifth of sixth.


2. Why so?
Rob: I met Olly in 2009 in Atyrau, Kazakhstan. We were both driving the Mongol Rally in classic cars which were beginning to seriously flag. We took on the road from Atyrau to Aktobe in convoy. I can safely say it was the most difficult three days of driving I have ever done. My vehicle made it and was later repaired but Olly was not so lucky. He acted very well under pressure so I know he can handle this.

I have no idea why he chose me. He probably wants something nice to look at.

Olly: I chose Rob as my last team mate on the Mongol Rally bailed and flew home as he was so out of his comfort zone. I had met Rob on the same mongol rally in 2009 and knew he would be up for the adventure!


3. What skills do each of you host that will get you through this challenge?
Rob: Olly has a beautiful singing voice and can fend of bears with his fists, and I have a brilliant middle-distance stare which is perfect for promotional material.

Olly: I have taken part in motocross races since I was 16, so I’m not to bad at riding cross country, and have basic bike mechanical skills. I do have a tendency to not think about things and rush into them, which Is where I think Rob will be useful as he seems to be a fairly rational and sensible thinker.


4. Are you in it to win it or just to finish it?
Rob: The Ice Run is not strictly a race. I’m not even sure if it could be. For now we’re taking part to see if it’s possible, and I’m sure there is a little bit in all of us that signed up that wants to be the first to do it. No doubt when the going’s good out in Siberia there will be a bit of good nature competitive spirit between us but it’s really a personal challenge for each of us. There’s no prize for coming first.

Olly: I’m not to fussed about winning, but I would like to finish it and then head even further North if we can, depending on how quickly we make the finish line and what state the bike is in.


5. What other expeditions have both of you been on?
Rob: Nothing I would really call an ‘expedition’. I live an ‘adventurous life’ I suppose. I actively take on challenges because that floats my boat. I think the event that sparked this trend for me occurred in 2003. I was living in Hong Kong at the time and one night when I couldn’t sleep I got up, got dressed and trekked across one of Hong Kong Island’s national parks 12km to see the sun rise from the other side. I got hopelessly lost, battered and bruised. It took me 6 hours (which is actually pretty good going given I couldn’t see much) but I loved every minute of it.

My biggest adventure to date was the Mongol Rally in 2009. It changed my life, not least because I now manage the blooming thing.

Olly: I lived on an oil rig in the middle of the sea in Borneo for a month doing some scuba diving conservation, I also took part in the 2009 mongol rally where I met Rob


6. Will they help you out with this one?
This is quite a step up from anything I’ve ever done. In my role of Mongol Rally manager I have driven across Mongolia in February – -30C with wind chill, ice, blizzards, etc. – but that was with a well prepared 4×4 and my friend Jenya who’s local and knows how it all works out there. He’s my fixer in Mongolia, but I won’t get that luxury this time around.

Olly: The experience from the Mongol Rally will certainly give us both confidence when things go wrong, as we were both so used to it happening out there! It also gave us a bit of mechanical knowledge, as well as learning about local cultures which should be able to help us out in the Arctic.


7. Two charities; Cancer Research and Diabetes UK
Yup. Olly is a type 1 diabetic. He’ll have to inject himself with insulin every day if he’s going to stay alive, which will definitely add an extra challenge to the trip. But it shouldn’t stop him from taking part. He’s just been taken on by Diabetes UK as a new spokesperson for the charity. Diabetes shouldn’t prevent its sufferers from doing what they want to do. Olly is a stuntman who’s worked on films such as Captain America and Warhorse, he kayaks, climbs, you name it – it’s a serious condition but it hasn’t stopped him from doing anything he wants to do.

We’re also supporting Cancer Research UK. I don’t think I know anyone who hasn’t been affected by cancer in some way or other, either suffered from one form or other themselves or have been there when friends or family have had to go through it. One in three people will get one form of cancer or other in their lifetimes and 20% of sufferers will not recover from it. That’s a frightening statistic I think and though we have made some progress we still a long way off understanding the disease. A friend of mine from the Rally lost her life much too young to cancer late last year. It was quite a wake-up call.

Olly: We each decided to choose a charity. My choice was Diabetes UK as I suffer from type 1 diabetes, and the stigma surrounding diabetes that you cant live a full and adventurous life annoys me, so I’m out to prove that it doesnt need to stop you doing anything. Even if we weren’t raising money for charity we would definitely still be doing the Ice Run. I think that as we are going on and self funding the trip, then we may as well raise money for charity at the same time as it only takes a minimum amount of effort to organise a justgiving account.


8. Why do people do these kind of expeditions for charity as opposed to just for themselves?
There is no problem with doing an adventure just for yourself. Challenges like this are personal experiences and you might wish to keep them that way. I often ‘adventure’ for myself and I will continue to do so, but it’s nice to use the publicity of larger events like this to raise awareness of the charities we believe in. By generating the interest in what we’re doing in the people we know and grabbing the attention of a wider audience with the press and media we can also ask them to give just a little if they can afford it to Cancer Research UK or Diabetes UK right after. It’s a simple thing to ask. Persuade 50 of our friends to part with £10 each and £500 is raised instantly. We managed £1000 by waiving Just Giving pages under the noses of our Facebook friends and we haven’t stopped there!


9. Do you have a team organising the whole trip for you or are you doing it on your own?
Rob: The Adventurists have found all the bikes and a small Russian team to prepare them and are also organising a large send off from the Ural factory in Irbit, but aside from that we’re on our own all 2500km to Salekhard on the Arctic Circle.I wouldn’t want a team organising an adventure for me anyway. If I wanted that I’d buy a package safari tour instead. It might be labelled ‘adventure’ but I don’t think it is really.


10. Whats been packed?
Rob: Lots of Wayfayrer boil-in-the-bag beans and sausages. Never underestimate a hearty protein rich breakfast when you’re on the move.

And board shorts.

Olly: Ellis Brigham gave us a nice discount on clothing, so I have lots of Northface gear, about 8 layers! We also have an Arctic survival kit consisting of medical supplies, fire lighters, strobe light, mountain blanket etc. We’ve also got our tent, sleeping bags, MSR cooking stove, collapsable aluminium shovel, huge snow boots and a load of cameras!


11. How do you know what to pack?
Rob: There’s been a lot of research for this one actually but I’m still not sure I’ve got it right. I’ll probably freak out on the night before I fly and fill my bag with everything I own. And I love adventure gear and gadgets, and though it’s fun to look at them and maybe buy a few to make life outside more enjoyable, suddenly for this adventure I found asking myself, could this save my life? Could that save my life? That’s been bad news for my bank balance. I’ve brought the most hi-tech bivvy bag I can find… It’s a posh orange plastic bag! Like a big Sainsbury’s shopping bag on steroids. My colleagues would rather I pack light with a Tweed jacket and a cocktail making set. I still might. What more could I need than to look good making cocktails?

Olly: We dont! Other than research on the internet and speaking to people that have been to this part of the world. It’s all down to our own research knowing what we need to pack and wear.


12. Who gets to drive the bike and who has to sit in the sidecar?
Rob: Haha! Good question. Nobody wants to go in the sidecar. It’s freezing in that thing.  It’s a steel box just big enough for you to sit in. It provides no comfort and is cold as a freezer inside before you take it outside where it’s -30C! Oh, and it’ll take the full affect of the wind chill too. Have you seen the Ice Run trailer on The Adventurists Youtube channel? You’ll see Mr Tom snowboarding on a rope behind the bike. On the test run they found this to be the warmest way to travel.

So, to cut it short, Olly’s in the sidecar.

Olly: We’ll be taking it in turns. Apparently it gets incredibly cold in the side car, more so than riding the bike as that has a windscreen, so we will be swapping around regularly.


13. How did you come to that conclusion?
Rob: Nah, it’ll be a shared effort and we’ll ride shifts. It’s going to be tiring work and one or other of us should be resting while the other rides.

Olly: We both want to ride the bike!


14. How did you pick the vehicle?
Rob: Russian Ural’s are iconic. The simple matter of their existence is as much of the reason Mr Tom created this adventure as there being epically cool ice roads to ride in Siberia in Winter.

Olly: The vehicle was picked for us by the adventurists, it’s not exactly the most suitable vehicle!


15. Who came up with the idea of the Ice Run?
Rob: Mr Tom. Founder and Chief chief of The Adventurists. My boss, the silliest man I know.


16. So it’s in teams, do you plan on helping other teams along the paths, or is it each to their own while out there?
Rob: I’ll point and laugh. It might be the kindest thing I to do. People can do incredible things under that sort of pressure.

Olly: I’d be happy to help anyone thats struggling out there. We are in a very hostile, dangerous environment, where the weather can kill in a short space of time, and as much as I would love to finish first, I would feel much worse if I knew I could have helped someone, but because I left them the worse had happened.


17. Why do you do these crazy things?
Rob: Crazy? I don’t really think it’s so crazy. Crazy is base jumping from Christ the Redeemer in Rio de Janeiro.

For sure, pushing our limits like this is definitely out of the ordinary, but I think everybody should be pushing their limits as often as possible. Nothing crazy about that to me.

Olly: I love adventure and doing different things. Not only do I want to raise awareness that diabetes doesnt need to hold people back, but I hate the idea of  having the boring repetitive mundane life that lots of people get on with.


18. What is the plan for entertainment along the way?
Rob: Travel scrabble, adding together numbers on passing registration plates, box set of Adam Sandler movies, rousing chorus’s of Kumbaya around a warm camp fire… None of those.

Olly: We have start line and finish line parties organised, as well as going to an ice race track before we set off on the endurance challenge.

The vehicle

19. How long have you been planning this for?
Rob: About 6 months I guess but it’s been extremely difficult to find much time, managing the Mongol Rally takes over my life sometimes!


20. Is this expedition open to anyone, or is it an Adventurist member only?
Rob: Invitations for this year’s adventure were sent to veterans of our adventures. Future Ice Runs will be open for anyone to sign up. Next year even Cornflakes can have a go if he wants, but I understand if he feels it’s a little bit too hardcore for him.


21. How has been a part of the Adventurists changed your life?
Rob: I get to bring my hobby to work every day. It’s an awesome place to be. Hate me yet?


22. This is a potentially extremely dangerous expedition. Does fear ever deter you?
Rob:  Sure. This could be dangerous. Siberian winter is difficult at the best of times but one unexpected change can make the environment very hostile indeed very quickly. I just got an email from Buddy from Wild Rides who was part of the test run last year. It reads, ‘seriously dude, it’s life threateningly freezing… have fun – but be careful…’. It’s far from his usual jokey tone. He happened to tell me on the phone earlier today that he thought a few times that he was going to die he was so cold. But then again, he is a big girl’s blouse.

I’ve had emails, messages left on my answer-phone, text messages, all from friends telling me to be careful. That’s never happened before which does freak me out a little bit. My mum and dad have been remarkably cool about it, but they think I’m going to Tenerife.

Olly: Of course there is, but its the risk and the danger that make it an adventure and not a holiday. If I wanted to go away with out any risk Id go to Disneyland.


23. Did you try to follow the traditional route in life and then packed it in? If you did, what made you just do it?
Rob: Not so much ‘try’ but ‘fell into’. I did a degree in Asia Pacific Studies and I don’t really know where that was supposed to take me (though I’m glad I did it). After uni I eventually ended up working HR for the NHS, which didn’t exactly inspire me. You’ve only got so long so why spend 8 hours each day of your valuable life doing something that you can’t be passionate about. You’re wasting your time and not reaching your potential. Too many people in this world must work (hard) to live and when there is so much opportunity to take in our lives it seems criminal not to take it. Take it, find something you love and let that passion make a difference. Live to work. Christ that’s so cheesy I can smell it through the computer screen.  It’ll probably end up as a quote in bold.

So I knew I had to take a big step into the unknown for my own sanity and I quit, did the Mongol Rally in 2009 and ‘fell into’ managing the Rally shortly after.

Olly: I’ve never really had the traditional route in life. I pretty much work as a stuntman when there is work, and when there isn’t any stunt work I’m planning or going on an adventure somewhere. Be it the Mongol rally or the Ice Run, or rock climbing up Mount Snowdon, or kayaking the rapids in the gorges in south of France.


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