And then there was the bridge ... or rather THE bridge. There can be few if any bridges anywhere in the world to compare with this one for terrifying intimidation and fear generation. Fifteen metres (50 feet) above the freezing swirling Vitim was a very narrow strip of roadway made of railway sleepers and odd strips of timber. The roadway was barely 2 metres wide, very uneven, and 15 metres above certain death.
There was perhaps one chance in 100 that you would survive a fall into that river, laden down in motorcycle gear.
It was clear that we cant ride it. One slip on the controls, one tyre catching the side of a plank and its curtains. The only option was to push the bikes over. Terry didnt want to think about it and just started walking his bike across the bridge without looking down.
I am a hard man to faze, but I was weak at the knees and my whole upper body was tense. I tried not to look at anything but the edge-less roadway and also began pushing. With almost twice the luggage as Terry, my bike was more top heavy, but a similar overall weight due to the lighter basic bike. But Tony had the combined weight of the heaviest bike and the heaviest luggage. This, having to push a bike over 600 yards over a narrow frightening platform, was the wages of heavy metal boxes.
Terry was flying across. Perhaps 15 minutes was all it took him. I was still only about 60% of the way over when I saw Terry's bike park off to the side of the embankment. I looked behind me and saw Tony struggling perhaps only 20% of the way across. 'Those damn boxes could kill him' I thought. I was in no position to do anything. My upper arms were burning and I was beginning to feel light headed. I stopped for a minute or two. This was no place to feel faint. The uneven sleepers made it impossible to put my sidestand down and even as I rested I needed to balance the bike. I continued on, over a raised expansion hump. I fired the bike up and power walked it over the 30 cm rise. The energy to push it up the hump wasnt there.
I stopped to take in the view and see where I was. I shouldn't have taken in the view. It only made me realise I was still very high above the icy swirling waters on a rickety platform of wet, oily timber.
I reached 80% of the way. I saw Terry smiling 120 metres ahead, and Tony still just a faint dot hundreds and hundreds of metres behind. I wondered if he had even moved since I last looked.
Finally, with triceps about to give up on me, I was just 20 yards from the west bank and Terry came out brandishing a camera to take a few snaps and then help push me the last few yards. I parked up the bike and looked back at the bridge. I felt an amazing sense of achievement just for having made it across that bridge. Anyone who has crossed that bridge is worthy, truly worthy. I want to shake the hand of anyone who has pushed a bike (or ridden) across that bridge. That bridge is truly Sibirsky Extreme.
None of our pics convey how high above the water the bridge was, so I am borrowing a couple of video-still images from Michal Rej, a hardcore Polish 4WD adventurer and former 4WD rally champion who we would meet a few days down the line, and who also crossed this bridge this summer. The image above shows how narrow the bridge was, the images below give some context as to how high above the river it was.
Nothing we have conveys the awesome power of the river or the incredible speed and volume of flow.
Not surprisingly, I was humbled and exhausted by that crossing. The scale and power of the river was so intimidating. I cant put it into words, the sense of relief at having made it over. I almost collapsed with exhaustion, as much from nervous tension as the physical effort I imagine. Before I had much of a chance to take stock of where Tony was, Terry yelled out to grab my clothes, which I had strewn over my bike so I could cool down, as a storm was on the way.
I grabbed my things and we ran under the bridge as the storm moved in at 50 km/h. The rainfront sped across the river and drenched me as I ran to join Terry beneath the bridge. Within 30 seconds we had gone from good light and high cloud to low cloud dumping rain. More of nature humiliating us. The skies were almost black within another minute or so and in the near black skies I saw a huge bolt of lightning smash into the railway bridge 200 hundred yards to our right. 3 seconds later probably the loudest thunder crash I had ever heard. I hoped Tony was OK up there somewhere half way across the bridge. Movement was impossible in this. Terry and I, now cowering under the bridge as the storm picked up intensity, could only hope Tony had laid the bike down and had braced himself.
The wind picked up faster and faster until it must have been a 80 - 100 km/h (50-60 mph) wind. Poor Tony. It was freezing cold and super windy where we were, on the shore, underneath the bridge, but he was out there, 15 metres above a 600 metre wide river in and incredible burst of wind that lasted at least 3 minutes. I tried to stare down the underside of the bridge, seriously expecting to see a bike and rider blown off it and into the Vitim River, but the rain was too think and visibility was too poor.
As the wind died down it started hailing. Nature was making us look like idiots and imbeciles. We could hardly have looked smaller. After about 15 minutes, the extremes died down and it settled into just a rain storm. No more lighting, no more thunder, no more hail and no more gale force winds - just rain.
Terry and I waited for the rain to die down before we came out to search for Tony but before we could emerge from our meagre shelter, I heard noises coming from the bridge above. Terry ran around and up and there was Tony. Drenched from head to toe, but his bike and himself had made it across the Vitim.
I have seen balls in my time, but never anything like that. That river, that bridge, that storm, and Tony made it across by himself.
The guy has nuts of tungsten.
I would very much like to invite Tony and Terry to add their thoughts on the Vitim River Bridge crossing.