Shards of light pierce his eyes, while the wind is slashing at him mercilessly and without aim. In the distance the frost-bitten horizon blushes before exploding into a sky of blue.
Biker Karolis Mieliauskas is happy; he is an experiment.
He’s on the World’s Coldest Bike Ride, from Lithuania to Oymyakon in Russia, the coolest habitable place on earth. “One of the [reasons to take this challenge] was to experience the cold and actually to make an experiment with myself; I [wanted to see] how the mind reacts to the cold and what kind of signal it gives to the body,” the adventurer tells Gulf News over the phone from his hometown in Druskininkai, Lithuania.
It's his first trip of the year – the others will see him race across the world in 40 days and ride from India’s Goa to Kanyakumari, in Tamil Nadu, come November.
For this, he has decided to ride 5 hours a day in temperatures that range from a freezing -52-degrees C to a slightly less freezing -42-degrees C down the “Road of Bones” in Siberia. [The road was so named because of the cost of human lives it took to make the path in the era of the Soviet Union.]
“This is completely unpaved road, completely covered in snow, ice and stones,” Mieliauskas explains. It’s February 2019 and at this time of the year even the bears are shy and sleepy; it’s their time to hibernate.
For Mieliauskas, this sort of ride – where he goes through about 1,000km a day - is one of a long string of such trips. “Sometimes,” he explains, “I spend 12-15 hours a day [on a bike], sitting with a straight spine.” It’s meditative.
And it’s this trance-like state where “I go into myself so completely” that things like temperature fluctuations, food, emotions fade. “I go so deep into myself that emotions, feelings are already external circle,” he explains.
It takes Mieliauskas 5 days to reach Oymyakon; on this, the last day, he’s riding at 130km/h, to “feel the real cold”. “Basically, here even perfect gear is not enough [to protect you],” he says.
The experiment to push the limits of body and mind is right on schedule.
On this grueling journey, he is accompanied by two vans - one of which serves as a garage for the bike overnight, because “in those temperatures you can’t switch off the engine. If you stop, the next time you can only start in spring,” he laughs. The other van has his companions: 4 people from Lithuania, including his son; and 2 guides from Oymyakon.
Often this group of mismatched friends will stop and gather around on their ride.
These quick breaks are perfect to keep up morale and mood – there is laughter, bathroom breaks and perhaps, a bar of Snickers.
“[When] I have done about 500km [by the] afternoon somewhere [I stop and] I eat a little snack. I normally don’t eat a lot of food during the day. And it’s just to keep me riding, otherwise food is sometimes too energy consuming, so I am keeping it very light, drinking water,” explains the rider.
How the rider came to be
Mieliauskas’ love for riding bloomed over a summer when he was 12. “I was 12 years old and it [his first vehicle] was a scooter. I was a child in the woods and just playing around,” he recalls. Later, it became a passion, and that zest easily slipped into a career.
But while there is this intense love of travel and adventure, to see the skies from all nooks of the world, to feel the air afforded to people everywhere, in cool climes and in hot hubs, there is also a great sense of responsibility on Mieliauskas’ shoulders. “If I would not have the support of my loved ones, it doesn’t work. I couldn’t go,” he says in a matter-of-fact tone.
When on the Coldest Bike Ride, he says, “I gave a promise to my wife – if it will be too cold, I will stop riding and if it is too dangerous or if I will be too tired, whatever I [don’t] keep riding. Doesn’t matter how strange it could look from the side, but my wife knows what I mean,” he explains. “I will keep my promise.”
It's also the level of trust he extends to his three children, one of whom has been the cameraman on this journey. Support in this case is indisputable – it makes the gears that help the family run smoothly.
Jump into the cold water
Later in the day, when Mieliauskas finally reaches the edge of Oymyakon, he smiles, and not because he’s reached the end of his journey. It’s because ready to take on the next self-administered test.
Mieliauskas likes to swim – he does it often and in very, very cold water back home. “I like to swim in cold water doesn’t matter if it’s winter or any other period of the year. And especially, I like to make it spontaneous, nothing is inside of me is prepared for that and I do it on a regular basis,” he explains.
And so, he wonders, what would the difference be between wadding in water during -10 degrees back home and when it’s -52 degrees on the outside.
It’s time to find out. Deep breaths, plunge, splash.
“It’s basically the same,” he laughs. “If I saw it’s extremely cold it’s not true, if I say it’s not cold, it’s also not true. And the only chance to understand this is to put yourself in the water,” he says.
Months on, Mieliauskas is taking to Gulf News after his second trip dubbed “Around the World in 40 Days” this year - where he rode from Druskininkai, past Siberia, before heading to the US, UK and back. And he’s now preparing for his next bike ride – from Goa all the way to Kanyakumari. The prep work needs to be thorough - its about 1,266.3km. It will be a temperate winter for Mieliauskas – warm, humid and quite unlike his previous paths.
What will remain is the merciless wind and the bright skies ahead.
Mieliauskas is sure to be happy. Once again, he’ll be experimenting.