On February 1st this year, I was once again back in Siberia. However, this journey was one that was way bigger than the one to Lake Baikal. This time I spent 12 months on preparation, and for the first time had a full team with me. Why? I wanted to drive to Oymyakon, the coldest habitable place on earth. Our journey started in -38°C degrees. It would only get colder.
“It seems that he went on an impossible journey with his motorcycle”
– journalist Sam Blum, “Popular Mechanics”.
Ahead of travelling to Oymyakon, we knew that temperatures would drop to -50°C. Again I was planning to use the same motorcycle Yamaha XT660Z Tenere, which is simply unprepared to deal with such extreme weather. Ahead of our departure we made over 40 changes to the bike. Despite the modifications, our first problem happened when riding across the Road of Bones or the Kolyma highway. Some dark periods of history are covered under the name of this road. However, I like to keep positive and The Road of Bones is not as morbid when it’s sunny in -40°C. That said, this extreme cold cracked a wiring loom on the bike, but it was nothing unexpected. In fact, it presented us with an opportunity to get stuck in! Using pretty thin gloves a short 15 minute job took an hour and a half. For the team technician to do repairs in -40°C was not only a physical, but also a serious mental challenge.
“Karolis is demanding but nothing is unreasonable. On this trip, any unfinished homework could of cost us a lot”
– team technician Jurgis Dzvokas.
This part of Siberia is mountainous, and driving a winding mountain path at this time of year is very tough. At the best of times, two cars can just about pass each other and this was evident when we saw several lorries that had tumbled down the sides of these mountains. We almost became part of these casualties after our support van, a Soviet-era UAZ, couldn’t handle the strain of the conditions. Soviet-era vehicles are pretty hardy, but the weather of -45°C just froze its internals. Team did the best and fixed it before van became completely frozen. This was another huge difficulty plus everything is white, it’s sunny, and incredibly bright. Once again though, I noticed that adverse conditions really bring the best out from the mind and it’s so interesting to observe these processes.
Motorcycle meditation in the frozen taiga
As you may have already noticed, nothing about this journey was easy. The weather was extreme and looking back, everything about The Coldest Ride was life-threatening. However, here we are now and I am in front of a computer. Just like Baikal, I used my motorbike as a tool for exploring my own depths of consciousness and as a tool for active meditation. One of the biggest things I noticed in relation to tapping into my inner-self was when we arrived at one of our designated rest points. It was -48°C and we had summer sleeping bags (as a joke from Russian friends “to experience real cold”), perfect motorcycling gear from Rukka, and regular tent. So two of three was not perfect towards these conditions. However, it was what it was, we are still here and we move on. However, in terms of the weather and terain, we hit valleys of cold. As a motorcycle rider, this was very much noticeable as your clothes freeze and become almost like a piece of armour. When you breathe, your inside of helmet freezes up to the level of snowflakes on a face. When temperatures are this low, trying to exercise physically is not enough. So I used my attention to produce heat waves. When I was lucky, heat instantly captured my whole body.
The home run
The last 50 kilometers were the toughest of this trip. I was 20 kilometers ahead of the team taking last test and driving at 130 km/h. With the speed feel temperature was -75°C. The bike’s steering wheel bearings were freezing up and it became nigh-on impossible to steer. My boots which were designed to conquer Everest felt like sandals. I stopped by a river to take a break, but the helmet froze shut. What else can I do? We’d covered 1000 kilometers in five days, so stopping now would have been pointless. I carried on. The van caught up. We made it to Oymyakon. We opened a bottle of something fizzy. The next day we went swimming in an iced over river at -52°C
“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”
– Winston Churchill