Thursday, February 21, 2013

Salekhard or Bust!

Our electricians finally declared Eva's battery charged, helped us reinstall it and sent us on our way. It was 2:00PM. That meant, we had convinced ourselves, there was still plenty of time to reach Salekhard, even if we took it easy.

Out on the road the weather had changed. The wind was now fully at our backs and increasing in strength. Over the next few hours it rose from light gusts to a full-on 20 knot tailwind. Snow chased us in swirls alongside and sometimes ahead of us as we pushed north. Coming out of the southwest the breeze felt warmer and at cruising speed it was calm and almost downright pleasant. Blank, shapeless clouds, white grey and blue gently settled over us, then slowly joined the horizon until the gap between the sky and the land closed and disappeared. Trees and shrubs faded away until our only directional clues were the ruts of the ice road and the gale pushing us forward. At times it felt as though we were floating. It was beautiful. Awesomely beautiful. A dazzlingly disorienting dream. 

A dream rudely interrupted every time we fell headlong into a crater filled with soft snow and bogged down. We’d swap off. Zaya and I would get stuck and, with Nick and Paddy’s help, we'd drag Eva onto firmer ground. Then it was Nick and Paddy’s turn to get stuck and we’d help push them out. All the while I kept Eva running for fear of losing her battery’s charge. And then, of course, it happened. After trudging back a couple of hundred yards to help Nick and Paddy, the snow blowing so hard I almost lost sight of both Zaya and our bike, Eva stalled and wouldn’t restart. 

Darkness was coming to complicate the incredulously hostile conditions and, oddly, none of us was worried. By now we’d learned that the worst that would happen is the police would come and shake us awake in our tents in the middle of the night. We had water, food, stoves, fuel, youth, beauty, and sang-froid. What else could we possibly need to survive a night in a Siberian blizzard? It was the moment that, for me, the adventure was complete. We had looked the harshest of conditions in the eye and stared them down. All that remained was the logistical challenge of getting both bikes to the finish line in time for cocktails. 

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