Thursday, 2 September 2010

End ROAD OF BONES - Cold Mountain Road Russia

We had ridden 150 km from Tomtor and crossed the big river. Walter doesn’t tell me, but we actually still have a full day’s ride ahead of us.  It’s 3 or 4 in the afternoon by time we had crossed the river at Kyubeme and started the main road again.

He does tell me there is some of the most beautiful scenery of the whole trip coming up..  So what was all that we have been riding through for days?


I’m not all impressed with the state of the wood bridges on the maintained “main” road through this region!  But I do pop right over on them now with much less fear.

I’m getting more of an attitude not to worry about what I ride over.  If it looks bad, I give it more throttle and it seems to work itself out.  Momentum is my friend is what Walter says, and he’s right.

Before I would stop and look and try to figure out the best, safest or smartest move.. go too slowly, carefully and still screw up.. Now it’s just do it!

It’s been raining since we started the river crossing.  Not really an issue when you are drenched with cold river water, but it would be nice now that we are on the road to dry out.

By the looks of those clouds, it’s not going to stop raining any time soon.

I am really shivering. Actually it’s gone beyond shivering, I am SHAKING in a big way.  Big shakes.. so much I look at my arms moving up and down and wonder if that is for real??

I am using my heated hand grips up to 100% heat, but they are doing little good.

I do have a heated jacket, however, my tank bag, where I plug it in had broken at the very beginning on the gulag road.  I’ve been just strapping it on the back ever since.

On one of the many times Walter stops to wait for me a passer by stops to chat with him, as they usually do.  We are still in a part of the world where they don’t see many foreigners if at all.

They tell him the weather is good up ahead.  This blew me away what he said next.. “Sherri, see the clouds behind us, they look far worse than the clouds ahead of us”.  I look back and I look forward, then I look back again, and there isn’t the slightest bit of difference!  But he was dead serious! He’s either trying to talk himself into a positive outlook or trying to convince me so I can keep going. I wasn’t doing too good, but I ain’t that stupid!!


On top of my wet gear soaked through to the bone, I cannot put my visor down in the rain, because it fogs up so bad.  So open face, hit by rain constantly in my eyes, shaking uncontrollably… When is the next stop?

At this point he says, 250 km.. I think the look on my face, made a look on his face, and I knew I was in trouble.

He finally finds a bit of shelter from an old building his friend Arnaud had erected for a French movie.
We pull in and there is one little spot where I can add my heated jacket.  We rig a way for me to put the tank bag up front again, and I plug in.

It’s a huge relief to feel the heat starting up.. My clothes are still completely wet, but I was hoping for at least warm wet clothes instead of cold.



This is getting harder and harder.  The jacket is doing little good.  From what I can tell I have got it up to full power, as well as my heated hand grips, and my body just will not stop shaking…

This guy is doing it tough as well.



Crap, more water.. as if my feet had an option to get warmer before…



But yes, looking back at the photos now, it is beautiful country.  I really want to find a way to enjoy this!!

As hours and kilometres roll on, my breathing is changing.  I don’t know why, I have never experienced this sort of long term wet cold before.. I have had a good life, and have always had a way to warm up in the past.  Out here, there is no choice whatsoever, but to keep going.  Nowhere to stop even if we could.

I guess to describe my breathing, it was really big intake and really big out.  As if I had just finished a big run.. that was weird.. I’m just sitting on my bike.  Is it physical or mental?

I remembered a story in Australia, about a Mt. Everest Adventurer that got into trouble on his way down the mountain if I remember right.  He got so bad that his team left him for dead if they were to survive.

The most incredible story about survival I had heard and he said he made it through the blistery night in open environment all by himself by controlling his breathing through Yoga practice.

I tried to do this… for however long, and then I realized I was breathing big again.

How did that man do it through Mt. Everest temperature is beyond me!

We come to a big mountain pass.  Walter pulls me over and says to wait… he has been down this road before, and he wants to take photos, but he will go around the bend and up the road and wave for me when he’s ready.



This part looks okay but around the corner, I come into strife.  The road got way skinnier, there was a small river running through the middle of it, and with the crumbly sides and no protection, I was getting upset.


This is the one road, the only road through this part of the country.  So when I had to then tuck to the side to allow a fuel delivery truck past, the breathing picked up a bit and I stopped.  Walter came up next to me, saw my trouble and walked with me until I got past the bad bit.. There was this gully patch in the road, I took it too slow and I stalled.  Hardly able to move from the fear of falling off that crumbly cliff. I got the motor going again and made it to the end.. I was breathing so hard, I thought I might drop the bike.. So I pulled over, put the stand down and actually got off the bike… Walter pulled up next to me, and I didn’t want him to, because then I went into full on crying and hyperventilating at the same time.


It’s ridiculous, I am embarrassed.  I look at that road, and I don’t think it was any worse than any of the other tough bits we’ve been through.. Why am I breaking down??  I still don’t know, maybe from being cold and wet for that long, body temperature dropped enough to change my already minimal bravery levels??  My knees are knocking, by body shakes are turning into freaky convulsions..

But he supported me, and I thank him for that.  He is really patient with me and I feel bad because he is really cold and wet too.  Even worse than me, he forgot his heating jacket in England!

Who am I to complain??

So I get myself together and we go again.

Yay, I finally get a nice solid bridge to cross!!  So glad Walter got a photo of it, they are not common in this country so far!!  You can barely see me on the bridge, but I'm there.. ;-)


It is getting so late.. I don’t know what time it is, but it is getting darker and in this part of the world, it must be after 10 or 11 pm.

After many hours of being pelted in the face with rain, and a wet slippery muddy puddly road, I am using all my mental resources available to cope.

Finally we come across a few houses.  It is not the goal destination that Walter was aiming for.. but when he checks on me, I say I have to stop.   He says there is no accommodation, here not even a shop.

But I see a couple houses and there are lights on, can we at least ask?

A young man pulls up and they talk for a while, and I get the impression that there is nowhere to stay.

Walter says it’s only 80 km to go, and can we make it – with promises that the guest house there has a hot shower for as long as I want to take one..?  I said yes and we started on again.. until I did the figures in my head.. I am only going 40 km/hr.  That means it’s 2 more hours on this road and I honestly and truly don’t think I can make it.. It’s not smart, it’s been dangerous all day, but add another layer to it of darkness, already well beyond what I should have been doing.. So I just stop and say, “I have to find a way to stay here.”

We go back, he finds the same young man,, who then calls a lady out, and she agrees to take me in.  We park my bike in the shed, two more young boys pull up in a van, jump into the shed with me and just watch me unpack.  I wasn’t comfortable with this.. but what are my options??

Then Walter says, I’m going to leave you here and continue on.  What??  You are going to leave me here alone with these 2 young men in hunting clothes who are staring at me??? 

Yep – see ya!

He was cold and had just as bad a day as me, so I went into the house.  The boys had learned a little English from school.. I was dripping wet, I want to get out of my clothes.. they bring me a chair and shut the porch door.  “Chai?”  “Excuse me, Chai”?  Da!!(yes!!) I yell through the door.

I manage through my shaking to get my gear off and my other pack open for dry clothes.

All up it was a 500 km day soaked to the bone in freezing cold rain…

I come out and the boys are waiting right there at the door to escort me into the kitchen.. I was no longer afraid of them, they were truly just thrilled to have an English speaking visitor, and had many questions!

Mom (Anya), had made a big pot of  soup, she lays out the table with chai, soup, bread, cucumbers, tomatoes, sauces, cheese, and homemade baklava just coming out of the overn! It’s after midnight!  Are you all eating this?  She didn’t, but the boys did of coarse.. I would have loved to have more, but the soup was all I could do..

Turns out they still have a night ahead of them, there is a disco nearby and after they ate, they got styled up and left..  How weird is that?? I am in a little pocket of houses, with no accommodation or shops, but there is a disco? 

Anton, Anya’s son, gives up his room for me, and I go to bed.. I must have looked horribly pathetic, but I was darn grateful.

They ask me before they leave what time I will go in the morning, and I say 7.

Next morning, after nearly 5.5 hours of sleep, I am quietly packing up and putting my wet riding clothes on again, and I hear the alarm.  Young Anton, who went to the disco until 4, wakes up and makes me a cup of tea.. oh the guilt!! But what a good boy!!

We have tea together in the kitchen along with Anya’s homemade baklava.  I thank him and I go to my room to give them money.  He says no, It’s free.  I insist and pay.. They took in a stranger in the night, fed me so well, gave me big warm bed, and never have I been so grateful for that.  I get to the shed and ready the bike.  Anya wakes and comes out to see me off.  What a blessing these two were to me.. I got so much out of my short stay with them.  And that young Anton.. who gave me a whole stash of his mother’s baklava for the road... I could bottle him up and take him home!


3 comments:

  1. That was a truly epic ride... Showing guts and determination... Thank you for sharing so honestly.

    I can relate to what you wrote about. I had a day (which seems tame by comparison now) in The Yukon when all it did was pour on the most mind numbingly boring stretch of The Alcan (God I hate that road and did all I could to get off it whenever I could !). I'd set off with my heated jacket at the bottom of my bag and didn't stop to put it on... And ended up a bit like you did...

    My saviour that night wasn't a welcoming family !! It was my Amex card !! I found a decent motel instead of the planned campsite and stood under a shower until I stopped questioning "why was i doing this stupid ride" !!

    Having read your report I now feel even more ashamed of how I felt that day !! Self indulgent fool !! I wasn't suffering at all...

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  2. Rain and cold are a brutal combination, add wind and it becomes a nightmare. You fought your way through some brutal conditions and knowing when to stop, when you've hit your absolute limits is a smart thing. Hypothermia creeps up on you and robs you of your reason. You did the absolute right thing here and to top it off, you met some fantastic people as well. Any problems I've hit on my trips (not as gnarly as yours by any stretch) it been because I pushed on past the point of exhaustion or sanity.

    I've been following your progress on Walter's ADV RR. I think what you're doing is great.

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  3. Oh, my, goodness. I bicycled this road last summer, and I've just been randomly glancing through some other travelers' posts... Is this little save-your-hide moment in the tiny village of Razvilka? Based on your description and the distances, I have to imagine it is. I have a similar tale of redemption there.

    I had not bought food since Ust Nera (on a bicycle this is slightly more than three days' ride) aside from a good meal and four piroshki to go at the roadside "cafe" in Kyubyume,and I was nearly out, had been eating less than I wanted to for a day rationing. I was delayed in the very narrow section with the nice new bridge in your second to last photo, by construction for a couple hours, and made some friends with the construction workers who had no food nearby and told me there was no store until Tepliy Klyuch, some 80km farther. I was prepared to ride as late as necessary to get there, and bum food off whoever was still up, as I didn't think I would sleep while that hungry. As I rode out of the construction area, the very last person I talked to, who I almost just waved to and ignored, informed me that there's a little store at Razvilka, 10km away! I didn't really believe him but was encouraged. I stopped to filter water at a side creek after a while, and as I got back on the bike and passed a tin driveway I saw a large cabin in the woods with real windows! I thought, this must be it, and doubled back to the driveway to find a tiny village hidden in the trees! I asked a boy who was tooling around on a bicycle if there was a store, and he ran inside his mother's house and came out with a key and an older brother dressed in hunting clothes (they were Uzbeki, probably not the same family), then escorted me behind some buildings ostensibly to rob me but actually to a tiny pantry with a counter where they sold me sugar crackers, canned meat and sardines, and an assortment of nonperishables that added up to nothing like a meal but was one of the most cherished food finds of my life.

    Good times in Razvilka! I hope you find this and get a laugh.

    Sidenote: About 20 km later, just around when I would have been totally out of food and hungry, I came upon this surly crew who fed me tons of kolbasa, grapes, and vodka: https://docs.google.com/file/d/0Bz-diREnIUsDUlQzOUx0YzEzUHc/edit?usp=sharing

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