A fickle mistress the Siberian winter. First she'll kiss you, then she'll kick you in the nuts. And fuck over one of your friends.
13th March - Sunday
Today we're aiming to reach Kharkusi Hot Springs. The thought of it is enough motivation to get moving in the morning. Along the zimnik (frozen river) the terrain is a mixture of deep snow and packed snow which is challenging but fun to ride on. By now the teams are well spread out.
I'm with Dave, Ala & Ephraim, Benny & Carl and James & Marc. We are travelling west of the route we plotted on the recce intending to fork right at some point to meet up with the planned path but right now it doesn't look a problem.
Soon after the weather closes in. Deep snow and a total whiteout. We are joined by the back-up vehicle and it seems the lead bikes did a similar thing to us, following the line of sight rather than the GPS. Given how fast conditions change it's not a silly thing to do, we took the fastest cleaners road north.
After about 10km we reach the fork. We hear that Kraken Molotov have checked into Severobaikalsk, with three other teams following them. This short cut cuts off the hot springs, but delivers them to the warmth of civilisation sooner.
We'd been fixating about the hot springs for three days so decided to push ahead with Plan A. The road is appalling. Ala and Efraim are really struggling to ride with the fake 3rd wheel, it is so far out of true it seems to go in two directions at once, pretty terrifying to watch and they have toppled over several times.
We come across James and Marc stopped and scratching heads. They have a persistent rattle which sounds ominous. We watch them drive off and listen. Dave thinks maybe it's hubcap against wheel. Though it sounds more ominous than that. Gearbox? Uni joint?
We take off rear wheel and fit new drive shaft, the uni joint is indeed shot. Great repair job in the heavy snow by Dave and Carl, with the back-up vehicles providing tea and a bit of shelter from the blizzard. Once put it back together again she still makes that noise. Shit. Final drive? Nothing we can do about that one until Severobaikalsk. They have to be towed by the back-up truck.
Now just Dave and me, Benny and Carl and Ala and Efraim riding in to hot springs. Unbelievable challenging ride, we almost flip, several times and get stuck and bogged down countless times. Everyone is exhausted.
We arrive at the hot springs at 7pm, spend a couple of hours catatonic in an unfinished cabin, with a wood burner. We eat every food item we have left and lie flat. Then hit the hot springs. Amazing. First time in a week that both my hands and feet have been truly warm. I sleep for 10 hours solid, not sure I have ever been so tired.
Dave threw up all night. I think very dehydrated. Everyone is starting to decline. Olly’s abscess has burst, at least he's a lot more comfortable. We are melting snow for water for breakfast, it's pretty hard to bother melting enough for food AND drink. No wonder we are all dehydrated.
14th March - Monday
The runners are split into three groups this morning and I am in the rearguard en-route to SB. When we arrive we can identify the issue with James and Marc's bike and fix it. We can also source a swing arm for Ala and Ephraim, it's a miracle their bodge job has held for 350km across that terrain.
Once repairs are made we hope to get out on the road to reach the second hot springs by nightfall. Though with Dave being so ill, the temptation is to stay in Severobaikalsk with its pharmacies and accommodation options.
Kraken Molotov having left the city in an assault on the Davan pass have since got stuck in very deep snow. They may turn back and wait for the oncoming snowploughs to clear a path, but they are competent with the bikes and seem keen on going independently.