The much-feared Buran wind stirs into life in the north of Siberia, gathers pace on the Mongolian Steppe, and crashes into Kazakhstan. In winter it is ice laden. In summer, in the now, on broken roads, it whips sand and soil into deadly dust storms.
Because I have no choice I ride half blinded over a hill; a burly SUV overtakes and throws more dust into my eyes. The deep sand is not gentle with the front wheel under full brake, and so to the road bed; pain shooting through my body from ribs broken five weeks earlier. Breathing is stilted; a few short gasps and new pain blossoms from my ankle trapped under a quarter tonne of motorcycle.
I turn my head and see the wheels of a giant Kamaz truck sliding towards me. “Dear God,” I beg, “Beam me up.”
The wind, my first taste of the Buran, is roaring, but the sky remains blue and I’m happy. Except I ride for four hours at a constant lean angle; more like sailing than riding. This then, is the true steppe. Semi-arid, sometimes semi-desert and nothing, almost nothing from horizon to horizon for hours and hours and hours punctuated by petrol stations and the tarmac road melting in the sun.
To give you a better idea of nothing; Kazakhstan is the ninth largest country on Earth, with a population less than that of Los Angeles. The almost nothing is constituted of the occasional lonely man trudging to who knows where. And the other almost nothings are far off yurts, and riders slowly following herds of horses through the sea of golden grass. Always though, and consistently, a friendly wave from these most isolated men.
After twelve hours in the saddle here’s High Street, Karaganda. Turn right in the gloaming at this café, then left on the pavement and stop outside this very large steel door. A call and it’s Katrina who taps down the steps and opens the door and pins me to the wall a with dazzling smile.
Katrina, thank God, is young fit and used to running the stairs. She’s been up and down twice with cases, before I’ve made it once. And then she cooks, but its late, I’m really very tired so it’s the couch and the arms of Morpheus for me.
This is an extract from an article which first appeared in issue 21