By Sophie Norris
A dad-of-four and his two friends have scooped a new speed record for crossing the world’s largest freshwater lake in bone-chilling temperatures.
Michael Stevenson was part of a three-man expedition team who tackled Siberia’s Lake Baikal faster than anyone else in history earlier this month, completing it in just 12 days.
Alongside pals Rob Trigwell and Scott Gilmour the 39-year-old builder covered 397 miles in 12 days, 21 hours and 13 minutes, crossing the finishing line on March 14.
The trio were already fans of outdoor sports but say nothing could have prepared them for their icy adventure.
Michael from Orrell, Greater Manchester, said: “It was a massive sense of relief just to be finished because the last 10km seemed to take an eternity and was so mentally draining.
“It was soon after the record achievement began to sink in that a massive sense of disbelief that I could have done it came over me.
“I knew we were capable of beating the record, but once I’d done it I was questioning myself and whether I deserved it.”
Michael along with humanitarian worker Rob, from Northampton and race director Scott, from Bo’ness, Scotland but who lives in Norway, beat the previous world record made in 2010.
Wolfing down 6,000 calories a day, including a stash of Haribo, chocolate and sausage rolls, they smashed the record previously held by Kevin Vallely and Ray Zahab of 13 days and 16 hours with hours to spare.
Michael said: “We started in the early hours of on March 1 and finished at about 2.08am on March 13.
“The nearest town to Lake Baikal is Irkutsk which is quite a busy place, but nearby the lake was just a sleepy fishing village with very little going on at all.
“The ice itself was between two metres and two-foot thick but there are some sections of open water.
“At times you’d see it cracking and here it moving under your feet. Parts of it were like tectonic plates so it’d crack, it was quite a weird experience.
“Some parts of just clear ice where there’s no snow so you can see the water underneath. It’s bizarre.
“I did actually go through it at one point and my left leg was in the water up to the knee and my right knee fell in too, but my foot stayed on the ice.
“The water itself was actually warmer than the air temperature. The key was to keep moving to keep up body heat.
“It would have been different if I’d fallen in fully because you have to keep your core temperature and be careful but I just kept moving and had to pick the dry ice off my legs.
“We were travelling around 4km per hour which added up to 50km per day and travelled for between 12 and 15 hours per day.
“In total we travelled more than the 397 miles from one end to the other because we were moving to avoid water and cracks too – it was more like 420 miles.”
Despite the dangers of such an extreme challenge, the trio had thoroughly researched what they would face and knew how to care for themselves in sub-zero temperatures from previous expeditions.
Michael may have beaten a speed record but the modest dad admits he’s been in better shape.
Michael said: “Training-wise I’m probably the most unfit I’ve been in a couple of years. With a two year and a 10 month old I’ve not done as much as I used to.
“In the past I’ve done 200 mile runs and ultra-marathons.
“I didn’t do anything specifically to train. It was just about being ultra-efficient and managing yourself properly.
“When you’re somewhere that cold, injuries don’t heal like they would normally. I cut my finger on my nail before I left and I had that injury with me for two weeks.
“You have to exercise proper foot care, use lots of moisturisers and lip balm. It sounds silly but these are things that can end expeditions.
“All your blisters need to be taped up each night. It’s about being disciplined.
“We kept hydrated and had to consume around 6,000 calories a day.
“We had wrap packs which were about 1,000 calories each then I made packs of Haribo sweets and chocolate and savoury snacks like sausage rolls which we had to defrost under our t-shirts before eating.”
Michael’s fiancée Lauren Highton, 32, stayed at home to look after their toddler, Issac [Stevenson], 2, and 10-month-old daughter Maya [Stevenson].
Lauren said: “I knew there were dangers involved in the expedition but Michael has done outdoor sports for years.
“It was hard looking after the baby because she’s teething but apart from that, I just kept checking my phone because he’d send me a message twice a day via his tracker to say he was okay.
“I don’t think I’ll be joining him any day soon. I like walking and exercise classes but I don’t fancy skiing in Siberia.”
With very little time to recover, Michael, Rob and Scott are now planning their next major trip in two years’ time where they will tackle the icy terrain of Greenland.
Michael said: “Our next plan is to ski across Greenland before it melts too much and we’re looking to do that in 2020.”