Right now, the freezing winds are battering the face of Karolis Mieliauskas. The frigid temps are chilling his body. But on he rides across the east Siberian tundra.
Mieliauskas is making a seemingly impossible motorcycle trip between the two frost-bitten cities of Yakutsk and Oymyakon, the latter of which is considered the coldest inhabited place on earth. He’ll have only his Yamaha XT660Z Ténéré and ample protective layers to separate him from the elements, which regularly plummet to life-threatening levels of cold during the winter.
Although the 621-mile journey across the R504 Kolyma Highway—a.k.a. “The Road of Bones“—sounds daunting, Mieliauskas is shockingly serene. In 2017, he rode his bike across the entirety of Russia’s Lake Baikal in the dead of winter. He’s waged other mental and physical battles with Mother Nature.
What motivates him to take such death-defying motorcycle trips? We asked the man himself.
Popular Mechanics: Why ride a motorcycle across such extreme environments?
Karolis Mieliauskas: Good question. Basically, the reasons make sense when I push out of my comfort zone, and especially with a motorcycle, but it also can be during morning meditation or something when I’m just sitting. When I’m driving hard with my spine straight, then the energy flows right up, and from that point I can very clearly see the reasons to stop. It’s too hard, too cold, too difficult, too whatever. Seeing all this, an understanding comes that I’m not this body, I’m not this mind, and I’m not really these thoughts.
Then a question comes: Who am I? During this discipline, I constantly ask the question ‘Who am I,’ and at the same time I reject all possible answers, all of them—father, human, whatever—all the answers are rejected. While all the answers are rejected the truth comes, and from that truth, I say everything is possible.
PM: So is it really about riding a motorcycle?
A motorcycle is only a tool in my situation. Maybe someone else has another tool, maybe someone climbs Everest, maybe someone enjoys canoeing or jogging, or whatever.
Why did you choose this particular route, known as the Road of Bones?
A couple years ago I rode on Lake Baikal, the deepest lake in the world. On the ice of the lake I was riding for one week, nearly 800 kilometers with no support, no camping gear, no satellite phone and things like that. I was doing it in Siberia already. One thing is, I like Siberia. We have this unique place called Oymyakon, which is known as the coldest inhabited place on the earth. So it’s something very interesting to experience, geographically.
So it’s something very interesting to experience, geographically.
What kind of supplies and provisions are you taking with you?
For this trip I’ll have full support. I’ll have a backup truck with me with a local fixer, as well as a journalist and a cameraman. This time I’m going with a team.
What’s your favorite part of taking a motorcycle trip through such an extreme and treacherous environment?
It’s being present in the here and now. If you think a little bit about the driving in that kind of cold, you immediately start having negative thoughts about it being cold. Your mind is always worried about the future. When I’m driving a motorcycle in such an environment I have to be absolutely right here right now and not one step further. Otherwise, it’s impossible, it really will become too cold. It’s the same as with the river analogy. As long as you’re able to be right here right now, it will not be too cold. If I’m starting to follow the thoughts … then you are gone. I like the now.
Has this particular journey ever been attempted before on a motorcycle?
I don’t know.
Does that matter to you?
It’s nothing about being the first. This is something journalists and other people around me are maybe sometimes saying. I was looking to see if someone had done it before, to get some information, especially on technical parts. I couldn’t find anyone on Google who’s done this exact route. I can’t claim that no one’s done it, but couldn’t find it anywhere. The same thing happened with the journey over Baikal a few years ago too.
Is this something you’ve always wanted to do?
No. This thought for Oymyakon appeared in my head maybe a year and four months ago. Straight speaking, I was trying to avoid that thought, and trying to avoid the trip. Was it my dream forever? Definitely not. I’m not that crazy.
What kind of motorcycle are you riding? Are you very particular about the equipment that you use?
Basically I’m riding my daily motorcycle, which is a Yamaha XT660Z Ténéré. This is a single-cylinder Enduro-style motorcycle. We did a small number of modifications to it. One of the most important mods is covers to the engine with some insulation inside, so it can keep warm. If the engine isn’t warm enough it won’t work, so this is exactly the same as with the body.
I will wear six sometimes maybe different seven layers of clothes. Starting with heavy wool, somewhere in the middle, some motorcycle gear for protection on my shoulders and head and knees. Then I’ll have electrically heated clothes and another layer of motorcycle clothes.
How fast do you anticipate riding your motorcycle during the trip? And what was your average speed when riding across Lake Baikal?
Due to the conditions on the lake I had to be quite slow. But when the ice was more forgiving, I had some times where I was going 90 kilometers per hour. When the ice is perfect you can drive as you would on a road. The temperatures were around minus 20, sometimes minus 30, which I of course don’t know what my speed was relative to the temperature.
In this situation, I’m curious to see how fast I can go. Obviously, the feeling of cold increases depending upon how fast you’re going. So is it possible to drive when it feels like it’s minus 80 degrees? I don’t know.
What’s the lowest temperature you’re expecting?
Around this time, when I start, I think the temperature will be around minus 40 degrees. And locals say that in Oymyakon it should be around minus 60. If I would be interested in milder temperatures, I could choose a different time of year. I don’t go in the beginning of January, because it might be too intense, and I don’t go in March, because I think the temperature might be like minus 25 or 30.
Is there anything you’re worried about with this trip?
No, not really. I feel more curious than worried, as I said before. If I think of worry or danger, then it’s something about the future. At the moment, I’m sitting on my sofa in my own apartment, so why should I be worried? So being here, I’m not worried, but I’m curious.
A normal person might say it’s impossible to ride, because of many, many, many reasons. Your body isn’t able to do that, pedals break at minus 50, engine won’t start. There’s a million reasons why it might not work. But this is only a theory. But all in one, we don’t know.
Originally posted on Popular Mechanics