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Old 01-05-2010, 01:30 PM   #587
Tony P
Doddery Old Fart
Joined: Jan 2008
Location: Moscow, Russia.
Oddometer: 205
MY Vitim Bridge!

I was again riding about 4 or 5 minutes behind the other two when I reached the river bank/bridge. I was confronted by a chilling sight of a very, very long bridge with no sides, just a platform of old railway wooden sleepers laid side by side stretching endlessly into the distance. Not only was the river wide but it was a very fast swirling mass of water (look at the videos).

I was too late for the ‘team discussion’ of tactics as the other two had set off and were about 50 metres/yards across the bridge either walking or pushing their bikes. I had little choice. I had to work out for myself how I was going to attack it. It was too long to attempt to ride it being that narrow – evidently they had agreed the same!

I was fully aware the luggage boxes made this difficult restricting stride length to short paces but before starting I had two additional problems to decide how to deal with.
  • My right boot with the ‘crocodile’ sole, flapping and catching the ground on every footfall. The boot was wet from the earlier rains so the duct/gaffer tape would not stick so I decided to ignore it.
  • My side stand had had its sprung retracting mechanism knocked off in rocks some weeks earlier and was kept up by ‘octopus’ elastics. This made putting it out to support the bike difficult. Thinking I would need rests at intervals I opted to let it hang dragging along the bridge, in readiness for such rests (in hindsight probably a life saving decision).

So there is only one thing to do – just get on with it. I had decided to walk the bike (using the engine and clutch) rather than push it. I set off.

The initial 100 metres or so were particularly difficult as there were ‘running’ planks of wood for 4 wheeled vehicles and a further plank in the centre. All very awkward, as this made positioning of the bike and therefore my flapping feet a difficult decision. I was acutely aware that I had to keep the bike in control all the way. If it went out of balance to the right I knew I had to let it go and walk home. If it was to the left it would have pushed me into the river far below. And that would certainly have been my end, weighed down with full touring suit, boots, gloves and helmet, because even if the temperature had been warmer the swirling water would have taken me down.

I just walked the bike foreword, engine ticking over, letting the clutch part way out from time to time for a little momentum. Thumb on the kill button, should there be the slightest slip, to keep the bike near.

Approaching mid way (1m 47s on the in-car video the other way) there was a series of very loose uneven sleepers either side of a strange metal topped ridge. I though this was the make or break bit. But no!

I went about it very carefully and slowly to be stable and after a couple of minutes got over it. Just afterwards I stopped, I kicked the hanging side stand forward, pulled the gear lever into neutral and took a rest, stretching my twisted back and arms. I saw far, far away the others had reached the other side. I was sweating profusely with the effort and tension and was thoroughly wet inside the GoreTex.

While standing resting there I looked around (not down!) and was alarmed at the dense back clouds to the right. As soon as I saw them there was a rush of wind, a crackle and hiss of nearby lightening and less than a second after the loudest clap of thunder that shook me, the bike and the bridge. Colebatch later said he saw the lightening hit the nearby rail bridge. A downpour of heavy rain followed with more lightening and thunder. Mindful that I was holding the only metal object above the wood bridge surface I really did not know what to do. Move away from the bike and lay on the floor? But the wind gusted stronger and stronger in no fixed direction – it could easily get blown over. I decided walking to Moscow or London with no bike was a worse option than being struck by lightening (a grandfather had been struck once and survived so there must be reasonable insulation in my genes!) so I draped myself across the bike saddle to weigh it down.

To make matters worse the rain turned to large hailstones – the size of peas. Lying there I opened my mouth to let some in for refreshment as water seeped up my wrists into my arms, inside my gloves, down my collar and also up my neck into my helmet. This storm was so low out on the river that the cloud obscured all vision and I could not see either bank of the river, nor even the river. I couldn’t see my buddies either. I actually hoped they were all right.

After 10 minutes the storm abated to steady rain. By now I was shivering with cold. I plodded on, thankful to be able to. The additional problem of the oily/tarred sleepers being slippery with the wet seemed hardly a major issue after the previous period.

As I progressed I saw the two bikes parked up at the end of the bridge but no sign of the riders. I also saw some people sheltering under the eves of a control hut at the end of the rail bridge- I assumed it was them. Finally with 10 metres to go I heard sounds from below the bridge.

I was so, so relieved I was no longer alone!!

Like the train incident before, I felt no fear – just a calm but quick reassessment of every possibility at every change. Again, it is the thinking back that frightens me.

I know I could so easily have not been here any more, but I would have gone out my biggest ever challenge in my life – the BAM road. I’m happy and personally proud of myself for even starting that.

Throughout the trip I was eternally grateful to everyone I spoke to along the way, and to my riding buddies, for all their assistance without which I would never have even reached the Vitim Bridge – but this bit was just me, on my own!

(Sorry for the length!)

Tony P screwed with this post 01-05-2010 at 01:48 PM
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