Photos by Marc O'Malley
Words by Spencer Schubert
As much as it pains me to say this, Derrek, you were right.
Before our flight to Russia, the world was a different place than it is as I write this. Covid had begun to enter conversation, but I didn’t want to hear it. The world was only beginning to realize the scale of an incoming pandemic, but Derrek’s mom is a nurse and warned him of an inevitable lockdown. The day before the flight, he tried to explain the severity of getting stuck abroad, while I tried to convince the crew otherwise via group text. We’d had a slow start to the winter. It seemed this trip, a month in Murmansk, was going to be our saving grace, and I wasn’t going to let anything else hinder our project. I was willing to justify just about anything to get to Russia. It’s an intimidating place, but I never thought a virus would become our biggest fear.
The wild times started before we even left. Marc missed his flight because his Visa didn’t arrive in time, Derrek went to the hospital the morning we were supposed to fly out because he was feeling sick—the doctor said it was just stress. Upon landing in Murmansk, Tommy, Colton, and myself were certainly feeling the stress as well, as doubt grew that the car we rented would ever show up. But we made it to our hotel, and Artem arrived later that night. The other boys were only a day behind. Once everyone was there and got a few clips, it seemed as though it was all falling into place.
We were only a few days in when the boys woke me up in the middle of the night. News broke that Europe had issued a travel ban to the US. We piled into one hotel room, sitting on hold, the echo of awful elevator music resounding on repeat as we tried desperately to talk to anyone at the airlines. After an hour of panic we realized we weren’t in Europe. We were in Russia! The ban didn’t apply to us. So like any smart people in the middle of a global shutdown, we went back to bed to deal with it later. This set the tone for the trip.
Day by day, we spent breakfast arguing if that was going to be the last day we filmed in Russia. I called Chris Grenier, who had rushed home from Finland. He said it was a shitshow at customs and that we should fly back immediately. I withheld that information from the crew. Derrek was reasonably explaining that we should probably not get stuck in Murmansk, while I continued to make empty claims that the virus wasn’t anything to fret. We rationalized this by telling ourselves that customs back in the US would be packed, and we might as well wait that out.
Tommy became an Instagram god when we threw that Wolf of Wall Street scene on his story, as people across the globe panicked to get home. While the world settled into quarantine, we were running through flocks of pigeons and feeding wild dogs. I remember concerned texts from friends asking why we were still snowboarding, to which we would respond, “Yeah, Russia is loose. Fuck it.”
Checking the news on your phone from a Russian hotel room in the midst of a burgeoning pandemic. Russia was only reporting a few Covid cases, maybe eight in total or something. That was somewhat comforting, but Russia isn’t the most historically honest country either. Perhaps you remember Chernobyl? Russian borders were closed to most of Asia but still open to The States. Europe gave a few days’ warning before they closed the borders, so based on that we figured we were fine for the moment.
Not knowing how long we had, my priority was the blue rail next to the one Dillon Ojo famously hit. We went there with the intention to drink a Corona in his honor, and to our surprise, there was a rail just like his but with an extra kink. I had brought my Ojo pin and shirt, so I wanted to get a clip as a tribute.
I think we made it a week before it became clear that we needed to go home. People were already in full lockdown mode, and as much as I was relieved to leave, I was nervous about what we would return to. Quarantine memes were the main source of info I had as to what life looked like outside of Russia. Joking, I texted my roommate to ask if we needed toilet paper. Turns out we did. He said the liquor store was a madhouse too. So I left behind a beat-up board and my old boots to make room for what I would need for my journey home, toilet paper and vodka.