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The Spanish man who insisted on biking through Siberia, and nearly froze to death

Andrés Abián was saved at the last minute by three passing Russians who pulled him out of his tent and rushed him to the hospital

Andrés Abián on his Siberian adventure.
Andrés Abián on his Siberian adventure.

Andrés Abián Pajares is a school janitor in Zaragoza and an adventure cyclist with 20 years of experience under his belt. But in Russia, he found out the hard way that you don’t mess with the Siberian winter, particularly in the far-eastern provinces such as Magadan. There, on the side of the Kolyma highway, Andrés almost froze to death, only to be rescued and taken to hospital by three Russians from the Caucasus who found him in his tent in temperatures of -40ºC.

Andrés landed in Moscow on December 3 and proceeded directly to Magadan where, as he explains on his website, he began an odyssey that involved pedaling 4,658 kilometers in unforgiving winter conditions to the city of Irkustk in the Baikal Lake area – an adventure that was being chronicled by Spanish daily El Mundo.

“Magadan welcomed me with -17ºC and a blizzard. It’s a gray day and there’s hardly anyone on the streets. The small hotel is perfect and cozy,” he wrote in his blog on arrival. To get acclimatized, he stayed several days in town, which is the capital of the province and a port on the shores of the Ojotsk Sea. The area is famous for its gold mines and its gulags during Stalin’s rule, a cruel period in history described at length by Varlam Shalamov in The Kolyma Tales.

Andrés first encountered the three Russians when they drove past him en route to Magadan from Susuman in their four-wheel vehicle. At that point, they stopped to warn him that the temperatures were dropping sharply and advised him to find a house to spend the night in. But Andrés didn’t take the warnings seriously and decided instead to pitch his tent. Later, he would explain how he was unable to get the tent up wearing the mittens he had on over his other gloves. He took the mittens off to get the pins sorted. And in a matter of minutes, the intense cold froze three of the fingers on his right hand.

On their way back home, Vajá Chemurziyev, Aslan Jabriev and Musa Mutsolgov saw Andrés’ tent and stopped the car. At first they thought he was dead, but when they saw he was still breathing, they put him in their car and drove him to hospital. Hailing from the warmer climes of Ingushetia, Andres’ saviors, whose gesture has prompted the region’s president to ask that they be decorated, are well aware of the dangers of underestimating the cold of Kolyma.

But despite his brush with death, “The Spaniard of the Snows” as he is now known, remains undeterred. It was, he says, “bad luck”, “a mistake” and “an incident” that has forced him to put his plans on hold. He will return, he insists, but next time he will pedal in the summer.

The route planned by Abián Pajares.
The route planned by Abián Pajares.

Andrés is used to navigating his way through difficult situations. He has cycled all over the world, including India, Iraq, Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Mongolia, Pakistan and, until now, he has always emerged from his adventures exhilarated and triumphant. It might prove some consolation that Napoleon also underestimated the Russian weather conditions.

English version by Heather Galloway.

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