Oh where do I start?!
I think for now, I will just show you the photos from the last couple of weeks.
Mostly it was too cold to stop and take photos… sometimes when I did, the camera wouldn’t work anyway. When it’s -40C and colder (when I woke one morning from the bivvy, it was -50C), priorities are about keeping the blood flowing in your fingers and toes. You only stop to eat or drink or repair punctures (4 now) or sleep. Things stop working. Bike pumps and fuel pumps won’t pump (the o’seals just don’t seal any more). Plastic shatters (bottle cages and pannier clips break). Cable ties snap and duct tape unrolls – which makes fixing things harder. Anywhere there’s water or moisture freezes quickly – jacket zips freeze shut under your chin, thermos and nalgene lids freeze shut so you can’t get a drink, the thermorest valve won’t open (or shut). Touch anything that has been outside (bike, panniers, sleeping bag, trail mix…) and soon your fingers are numb (even with gloves on).
Thankfully, it hasn’t all been terrible. I’ve had a lot of help. Many drivers have stopped and offered me lifts (a few I took up the offer so I could get to a cafe or village before nightfall and so avoid camping), others invited me into their truck cabin to drink tea and defrost, others gave me food. Some people paid for lunch or dinner in a cafe; one paid for a couple of nights in a hotel, others gave me a room in their house, or a bed at the back of a cafe… anywhere inside, out of the cold. For all those people, I’m incredibly grateful. Those were the times, where I could stop and relax and sit and talk, joke a little and laugh and lot. Those were the times when I could look out the window and see the countryside in subtle light of the winter sun for all it’s beauty. It looks different when you’re outside, exposed, unable to stop moving because if you do then your feet go numb and your fingertips freeze. And your thoughts are always the same – about keeping your fingers and toes.
I don’t mind a few hardships, but in the last two weeks the good bits (and they were really good) were too few and far between to make the grim tough bits (and they were really hard) seem worth it. Although now I’m safe in Yakutsk with a few days rest, my memories are already warping and fooling me to think that ‘hey, this is really cool – totally loving this – why wouldn’t you want to bike in Yakutia in winter?’
In any case, I’m having a serious rethink about trying to reach Cherskiy. If it stays this cold, I don’t honestly think I can do it – because what would be the point? To say I survived? That’s not why I’m travelling here now. There are many thoughts going through my mind right now and I won’t even start to try and justify any decision I finally make…
For a taster of the road from Neriyungri to Yakutsk, and a few of the people I’ve met along the way, here are the pics: