Waking to a colder morning would have been far preferable to waking up with the sun, to rain and an almost balmy zero degrees. Trying to keep our layers of clothing dry beneath our goretex, we packed up a very damp tent and set off amidst a steady downpour. Keeping warm in temperatures hovering around freezing is generally easy on the bike, always with the exception of our toes. On this day, slowly….sweat and dampness built up, a creeping and nagging discomfort, seeping droplets entering around the neck, between gloves and sleeves, eventually onto gloves and around the ankles. And my feet became increasingly cold. I wiggled my toes as we pedalled…..if not wiggling I tried to ignore my feet as I ignored the rain. Eventually I realised that to return the frightening lack of feeling to my feet and we had to stop and would make a cooked lunch. As the water boiled I paced up and down, up and down, and as my feet started to hurt I relaxed….pain a sure sign there was no frost bite. Putting on more layers of clothes, jumping up and down, quickly eating with hands wrapped around steaming hot pots, then layers off again, dry clothes back in our panniers and we were pedalling again.
The temperature did not rise and feeling rather soggy we imagined the luxuries of a hotel. Late in the afternoon it began to sleet and nearing Uzynaghash……we decided we definitely wanted a hotel. It was time to seek shelter, the only thing keeping us warm…..the constant workings of the pedals……and it began to snow…..thick heavy flakes…..flakes I generally love….and would so, if not for our wet predicament. We should be inside our tent, but…..so close to habitation.
A sign indicates…..4km off the main road. Turning off, the road becomes an obstacle of gigantic pot holes, mud, snow and ice. We are worried as we are now too wet.
The best we can manage with nil Kazak or Russian, we ask a lone farmer if there is a hotel……..No…..back on the main road…..a few kilometres further…..constantly scouring the landscape for a place to camp we come to another intersection and a different turn off for the same town. We spy a parked vehicle, the driver says yes there is a hotel 2km further on….another 4km…..yes, no, yes there is apparently a hotel. Covered in snow I realise it insulates and keeps me ‘toasty’ far better when I don’t brush it off……plus…..I feel…. if I ever survive this ordeal my metamorphosis into a snow man will make a damn good photo.
Very white, wet and very, so very cold in the moments we stop to discuss our options, we continue to cycle the slippery road circling the streets for about an hour to the alternate directions from various people. The snow becomes a foot deep…..the roads….puddles of slush and ice.
It is with relief that we finally find the hotel…..and stand in the falling snow for requested photos with a group of soldiers all wanting to shake our hands…..and then….stand….still…..in the snow…..pondering what on earth we are going to do? The hotel has absolutely no vacancies……It is full of soldiers done taking photos. It’s really dark….even colder ….. We are wetter and should have found shelter hours ago. Li begged a place on a floor, store room….anywhere?
We spy an undercover car park…..it would do….Li goes into the attached….heated…..very warm restaurant…..desperately requesting shelter and we are directed to another hotel.
We push the bikes through mud and slush…..wet wet wet feet…..and another hour…..no vacancies……directions to another hotel. I am the most frightened of any moment on our biking adventure.
Another hour…..we contemplate a park….the next hotel does not appear to exist and we are nearing the outskirts of the town. A car pulls over….not the first…. But finally….indicates we shoild follow….off the main street, no signage….the driver goes in side a building and talks to the occupants…..and we have our room.