Motorcycling to the Coldest Place on Earth: Part 2
Here’s what happened on the White Wolf’s 7,000-mile motorcycle ride through -52°C Siberia to the coldest city on earth…
The Mission: Motorcycling to the Coldest Place on Earth
The plan was to ride 7,500 miles from Poland across Siberia to Oymyakon in winter, which is the coldest inhabited place in the world. It’s a tiny settlement with around 250 people and holds the world record for the coldest officially recorded temperature in the Northern Hemisphere at -67.7°C. From there, I planned to head to the coldest city in the wold, Yakutsk, before making my way home. Unfortunately, it didn’t go quite to plan…
Welcome to Siberia
Siberia is an endless white abyss. Riding my 1987 Honda XL600M through it felt like battling through the outskirts of an apocalyptic ice world. The road through the empty Siberian Taiga to Yakutsk was nothing but deep snow, fierce wind and freezing cold.
Moisture in your nostrils freeze and cold air forces you to cough at -20°C. At -35°C your body numbs in seconds and frostbite kills the skin in minutes. At -45°C, eye glasses rip the skin off your face when you take them off. And on the last stretch of road my temperature gauge was reading -52°C… so I had to be careful.
The last 745-miles of ‘road’ were the hardest. There were no people or buildings, only wild animals, the occasional insane trucker and extreme frost.
The dangerous wild animals in Siberia are bears and most of them hibernate through winter. But not all of them. There’s 6,000 in Yakutsk and the ones that are awake wander, sleepy, hungry and angry, attacking people and cars.
Luckily, I didn’t have any run ins with bears – only truckers. The truckers were my biggest threat (other than the cold). They’re a law unto themselves. There are no police on the roads outside the cities and the truckers don’t respect any rules anyway.
And for some reason they didn’t want me on the road and even tried to run me off it. The closest I came to it all being over was when a giant log fell off the back of one, but I managed to swerve and avoid being crushed by a tree!
Getting to Yakutsk and the kindness of locals
But everyone else I met was very kind and helped me along the way. Even the police would escort me through the city to find a warm garage for the bike. I had planned to ride through one section for around 1,860 miles without switching off the engine.
I haven’t needed anything extra to start the bike in the morning on any of my previous trips. A small fire would usually do the job if I couldn’t get it going easily. But it’s a different story in Siberia. There’s no way I’d get it running, so it had to stay on from the morning until I found another warm garage to park it at night. If I couldn’t find one, then it’d have to stay on during the night too. Fortunately, people would always find a place for me. Even though the Siberian people live modestly, they would still give everything they have to help. I was expecting to camp along the way too, but the locals wouldn’t have it.
I believe people are very helpful towards each other out here because of the extreme conditions. They know it’s very common to freeze to death as 10 people freeze in their cars every year and are later found in spring. The conditions are serious, there are no people for long distances and it’s easy to get caught out if you’re not very, very careful.
Locals were surprised to see me as they had never seen a motorbike there in winter. I was happy to see them too as there were so many long and lonely stretches. Russia has very few petrol stations, especially in the deeper remote regions. The only way to get fuel is from the locals, but humans disappear after Baikal, there’s no GSM from that point onwards and it’s not the sort of place you want bike failures.
Riding in the cold
Metal and plastic started to crack and my front suspension froze solid. Riding over the ice-covered roads was extremely difficult with two rock-hard icicles for forks – even with my homemade motorcycle skis and tyre ice studs. And then the throttle cable froze and snapped as we neared -52°C Yakutsk.
When riding in seriously cold temperatures, you don’t actually focus on the riding itself. One hundred percent of your concentration is fixed on the motorcycle’s behaviour. You need to observe and feel every little change. Below minus 50, the entire frame could snap in two if you’re not constantly checking and feeling for tiny changes.
As well as constantly checking the bike, I had to pay extra attention to my body and how cold it was. To be honest, I don’t feel the cold like most people and actually wear less cold weather riding gear than most so that my body can get used to the temperatures. I also put on extra weight before the trip so that my body can burn it as surplus fuel for energy – I lost 10kg on this trip!
For gear, I wore a Klim suit and had specially designed merino underwear beneath it. Both garments allowed the humidity to pass through them, but the problem with that was it quickly froze and encased my outer suit in an icy shield. I could only ride like that for three hours max before stopping to defreeze.
The Road to Oymyakon
The aim was to get to Oymyakon by the end of January as that’s when it’s coldest. But the support vehicle froze to death only 621 miles from the finish line.
The diesel engine Toyota couldn’t cope with the frost below -50°C at all. I tried to hire another car but nobody would rent one to me. The Toyota had joined me halfway through the trip and immediately suffered serious problems with fuel, heating and suspension. It’s one and only job was to get me out of there if things got serious. So, attempting to ride the final stretch through the most dangerous part of the journey and without support could have easily ended in death. I made the decission to stop the ride in Yakutsk after 6,832 miles.
It’s like a never-ending adventure. The cold drags me in further and deeper every time. If I manage to find a sponsor, then the next ride might be from Alaska to the US-Russian border where I almost finished this time. That sounds likes fun!
Read more on Cold Weather Motorcycle Travel
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