The last two days have been cold.
Actually I need to swear here and say the last two days have been incredibly fucking cold. But that still doesn’t do it justice.
The exit from China was full of beaurocratic bullshit that took up most of the day, which left me at the 3600m Torugurat Pass at about 4pm, with a snow storm fast approaching and an angry girlfriend screaming at the guy with the key for the big gates leading to Kyrgyzstan
“open the fucking gate, it’s about to snow, we need to move NOW!!!!”
Eventually they waved us past and we rode 6km into Kyrgyzstan to be met by another set of gates, and by now the snow had started. Luckily Olivier pulled up in the truck a few mins after us, so we sheltered inside while we waited some more.
Fast forward another 2 hours and we were ready to get moving. The only remaining problem was that it was now -2degrees, and a snow storm was well and truly raging on the pass. The wind tearing through the customs inspection area was bringing snow with it, so when i arrived at the bike to get moving there was a couple of inches of snow on the seat and the mirrors were coated in ice.
I had some strong reservations about leaving.
We were still at 3600m and the road stayed at about that level for half way to Naryn, 200km away. The wind was blowing hard enough that i now needed to park the bike with the headlight facing the wind or it was going to blow it off the stand. And it was freezing cold and snowing hard. In these kind of moments I often wonder what Barton the mountain man would do. Would he tough it out or would he say something enigmatic like
“Dean… there are no heroes on the mountain” and then go looking for the nearest pub…
Olivier, (who is also a mountain man), suggested that we could all stay up there for the night in the truck, a very kind offer as I knew he needed to be in Bishkek in 3 days, that’s a long way to go at 50km/h! And as nice as that sounded, I didn’t want to put the guys out. So we put on all our clothes and went out into the storm.
I was running through all the stupid places I’ve been before on Betsy, the Congo, the Sahara, Siberia… and trying to reassure myself that this was no harder than any of that so we should be fine. Really! Olivier drove out of the shed before me, and then pulled over to make sure we were in front.
“if it gets too bad, just stop and we’ll be behind you”
It was a surreal feeling riding out into the storm with snow streaking through the air and into our helmets. For the first minute it wasn’t too bad, but then quickly the cold seeped into my hands and it started to hurt. Both hands went numb from the wrist down, so intermittently I put one in behind a knee to get it out of the wind and try to get some blood moving again.
The road was wet, and ice was a real worry. I hit the intercom
“babe can you hear me?”
“ok so if we hit ice on the road, we might fall off. If we fall off, don’t put your hands or feet out, get it?”
“if it gets too bad you tell me ok, we can stop”
Every 30sec i put a foot onto the road to feel for grip, trying to sense how much ice was on the surface, and I was wiping snow off the visor continually. At one point i tried to clear the visor, but my hand just scraped across a layer of ice. I had to really dig and scratch at it to get it clear, brilliant, ice on the visor, what next?!
A turn appeared in front of us out of the snow and I went for the brakes, but the steering just went vague and we kept moving… we were on Ice. Panic welled up inside me but somehow my now frozen brain didn’t react to it . The only way out was to OPEN the throttle and try to get the rear wheel turning at the same speed as the road again, and then brake again but more softly. Fortunately this worked and we made the turn…
I dragged my foot again, but the patch of ice was past, anyway I slow to 50km/h and we grind forward. Then the bike starts to misfire, badly, and i realise the primary fuel circuit of one carburettor is blocked. WFT? Could it be frozen?? It’s too cold to stop and look at it, so I just keep going, we still have 100km to go… and now the bike will either run wide open throttle or not at all. Not ideal.
We’re stopped at yet another checkpost where they want to see our passports again. I leave the bike running and turn up the idle to try and thaw the carbs, Sally is yelling something at the guy behind the glass…
“cold, it’s too cold, please we need to go now”
He wants her to take off her helmet…
5 mins later we’re moving and thankfully the bike is running ok again.
I regularly tap Sal on the knee to ask if she’s ok, and get the usual nod or squeeze of the knees. I know she’ll be hurting, but would never ask me to stop. We’re both freezing cold.
The temp rises from -2, eventually to 5 deg and suddenly the snow stops, we’ve punched through the storm and the sky turns blue and the sun brings the temp up to a balmy 8 degrees, we’re both pumping the air as the feeling returns to our hands and feet.
We arrive in Naryn, find a bank, then look for a room, which ends up being a tiny apartment someone is letting. It has a hot shower and a double bed too short for me to stretch out on, it also has a heater. It’s perfect! Sal heads out to buy some food while i unpack, then returns with pasta, a beer and a bottle of wine.
We enjoy a home cooked meal as we defrag, dry our clothes on the heater and rest weary limbs.
It’s been a really hard day, but one we’ll both remember for a long time. I’ve tried and failed to convey the sensation of riding into the snowstorm today, fear, excitement, cold, panic all rolled into one. I guess moments like that cant really be described, but as cold and scary as it was, these are the exact memories I cherish the most.