Lithuanian biker recounts his experiences of riding through the coldest places on earth


Meditation on a motorcycle: Lithuanian biker Karolis Mieliauskas recounts his experience of riding through one of the coldest places on earth

Oymyakon, in Russia, is a cold place — a kind of a place where almost everything nearly everywhere, is permanently frozen. In winters, it is dark 21 hours a day. Cars usually are kept running, lest their batteries die due to the severe weather.

This little town of about 500 people in Russia’s Yakutia region is regarded as the coldest permanently occupied human settlement in the world. The Siberian Times, last year, reported that two men froze to death when they tried to walk to a nearby farm after their car broke down. You would have to be crazy to be outside on a winter day in Oymyakon. Yet, Karolis Mieliauskas was riding a motorcycle on the frozen roads there at 130 kilometres per hour in February this year, when the temperature dipped below -50°C.

“When I was six, our family went on a vacation to Germany. There, I saw bikes with huge luggage,” recalls Karolis, who was in Bengaluru recently as part of his India tour.

This sight, for reasons unknown, awed him. It stimulated in him a fascination for travel. And, it never ceased. At 12, he persuaded his father to buy him a scooter. In his 20s, he says he aimlessly rode on motorcycles.

“I rode because it was fun. For some, it is football or going to a bar. For me, it was fun to ride in the woods even if I crashed sometimes and broke my bones.”

A search for self

About 12 years ago, when Karolis was 25, he started asking himself why he did this. That question, in the hindsight, proved to be profound. For, it, in turn, led to an inquiry of the self. “I was not happy with my answers. So, if I say, ‘I am Karolis’, that is just a label my parents gave me. If I say, ‘I am a man’, that is just my gender. I figured out that my ideas, my feelings… none of it is ‘me’. So, this question led me to something much deeper.”

Karolis, like many seekers to an answer of this existential puzzle, got into meditation. Even on his motorbike.

Lithuanian biker recounts his experiences of riding through the coldest places on earth

“I started to ride consciously and travelled as many kilometres as I could. I call it active meditation and prefer to do it alone. I do not like to listen to music; nor is a phone attached to me. And, I travel in different environments. My way of riding is to see where I am right now and what to explore.”

From a boy obsessed with bikes, Karolis has become a ‘monk’ on motorbikes.

The Truth moment

A 2015 study in The Lancet, after analysing 74 million death across 13 nations, concluded that cold weather kills 20 times as many people as hot weather.

According to Live Science, a healthy person who is not dressed for winter can experience hypothermia, which results in vital organs, like heart and brain, to cease functioning well; leading to hallucinations, loss of consciousness and even death.

Karolis wanted to experiment in extreme cold and see how the mind reacts to harsh conditions. After a year’s preparation, he set off to Oymyakon on a Yamaha XT660Z Tenere with a small team.

Lithuanian biker recounts his experiences of riding through the coldest places on earth

Despite the 40-plus modifications made to the motorbike, its wiring loom cracked in the frigid weather at Kolyma Highway also known as the Road of Bones (the bodies of the Soviet-era prisoners who were dead or killed while constructing the road are buried beneath it).

“For technicians to do repairs in - 40°C was not only a physical but also a serious mental challenge.”

During the ride, his helmet’s interior often froze, his biking gear “felt like armour”, his boots, designed to conquer Everest, “felt like sandals.” But, on February 8, Karolis reached Oymyakon. Two days later, with the temperature at -52°C outside, he plunged into the Indigirka River. When asked how he felt, he says, “If I say, it was extremely cold it won’t be true, if I say it was not, it won’t be true. The only way to understand this is to put yourself in the water.”

So what was too cold or dangerous in Oymykon? And, he replies, “The mind keeps telling ‘it is too cold, stop. If you continue to ride, you will lose your fingers, your bike will break down, you will fall, your bones will be broken, you will freeze to death’But then, I just ride, experiencing all this with a smile. I call this the Truth Moment.”

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Printable version | Jan 25, 2020 10:13:48 AM |

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