just about had my fill of wordpress, total pain in the butt. I have spent 16 hours on this blog post update but it does not look like it here. My apologies about taking out images since the Mongol wifi is just to slow. We will update this post further on down the road. Again, I do apologise.
We didnt exactly wake the rooster to get out of Ulan, we had some bike repairs to do, we had a broken Shimano Bar end shifter. Also wanted to get our dyno hubchargers running. We are both so tired of the Mongolian grub, that we just decided we would rather buy food and eat in the room. This is a first for Jeremiah, he is craving some vegetables and fruit……..it is almost non existant here, and its making both of us feel like we may come down with scurvy. We keep asking each other if any of our teeth have fell out yet.
The ride out of Ulan to the N by NW is about 2% steady rise for 40km, but it is very rough black top……the sort of thing that drives a seat post thru foam…..bout like that. As we ride the country is getting prettier since we are also coming up into the mountain foothills, so the draws are filled with mostly Larch trees, and plenty of green grass. We hit a Y in the road and know our venture takes the left fork at this point and it turns into a steady 5% rise. The road is rather hard to explain, its sand, but with head sized rocks thrown in everywhere. So makin headway is very problematic. You dig your way thru soft sand, but each foot of road has a partially exposed boulders that bounces you out of a track and into a sand pit……….I felt like Tiger Woods for a time, always in the sand traps……needs to work on his short game…..just sayin. The entire hill is 18 miles, and we spent 5.25 hours on it that day till our legs felt like jello. I have been off and hand pushing for the last 1.5 miles and am absolutley knackered. Pine was hand pushing the last 1/2 mile and was beat. Its raining, the hill is steep strait up a narrow draw and no place to quit and pitch a tent.
Finally, we round a bend, and we have a tiny depression where we can set up tents, and both of us are ready to quit. The climb just dissappears on around the bend. Judging by how steep the hill sides are around us, we are not that close to the top yet.Camp is up, we have a flower bed of wild Irises all around us and the scent is just marvelous, the hillsides are deep green grass, and the rock is that deep red and oxblood color that you get with lava rock. The camp site is really nice. We sit and cook supper, almost donematter of fact. And lower down on the road we see a guy walking driving 5 or 6 skinny cows up the hill. From higher above us we hear a motorcycle coming, both guys meet at our camp. The herder, he is a little reserved…..the other fellow not at all. We do the usual hellos, and he walks right over to Pines tent, unzips and almost fully crawls in…….holy criminy, he willget stuck in that nylon culvert. Wiggle, wiggle, shrug and grunt, and he pops out like a pleased lepracauhn. He moves over, and checks out my tent even closer, since it and I are both larger. All but the soles of his blackboots are in the tent. He backs out again, very pleased and smiling.
They begin the process of ckecking every detail of the bike, the non functioning speedo, the compass, the dyno hubs, the air pump……..what, wait the shiny thing, yes pump……whats the shiny thing……..wow, big smile………whats the shiny thing. 10 minutes arespent onthe pump. Its shiny,dontya know. We finally just motion that we are crawling in to go tosleep or they never would have left. We both turn in, strip of riding clothes, and put on some sweats for thenight, nobath, and we have both ditched the bag liners. We bothfelt like they should be renamed “camper stranglers”, so thebags are getting crustier by the day. Oh well, its only me in mine so its fine. We both read for a bit, and turn in by about 7:45Its a new day, the sun is shining, we fire up the stove and cook actual oatmeal and prunes with about 8 sugar cubes because my wife isnt here. Its goes down good.
e commence packing up camp, and before long have 3 cars stopped to visit,look,watch,ask,fondle and generally get in the way. Its all fine, we are cool and polits. One rather large shouldered fellow who had stopped, turned out to be from the valley that lays ahead of us. But now, he is a oncology surgeon in UB or Ulanbator as we would call it. Real nice guy, hoping to go to USA to learn orthopedic surgery in the next few years. so, we all part ways, and we both have to hand push our bikes as the pitch is about 10% right off the start, in now wet soft sand and rock. Some 2 hours later, we finally make those last 2 miles and reach the summit…….my dear God, but my heart is just thumping in my chest. What a payoff all that work was, as we hit a huge gorgeous green valley. Over the top of the valley shone the snow capped range that holds Snow Bird Mountain. Just breath taking. The doctor mentioned earlier is also at the top, he is at the shrine that festoons every hill and pass in the country. He, and some friends are going thru some Prayer rituals and gestations we dont understand, such as throwing tea in the air, and jiggers of milk while they hold one finger on the top of thier head. We have a second good visit when all things are done. Then off we go to the west traversing this rolling huge valley.
We are in what has come to be our favorite part of Mongolia thus far, no doubt. A carpet of green and snow capped peaks is always a stunning combination. Our shortage of water has us edgy and on the hunt. We see a guy fishing water out of a spring and we decide tojoinhim. Its a poorly contrived spring box, set at like 7 feet below ground level. The ground around is hollowed out catching anything that lands within. We give it some thought and decide nowmaybe agood time to filter the water-darned glad we did, because it was sure dirty. The bottles are allfull and we are once again rolling west. Our route is on a numbered highway when you see a map, but My guess is that they attached the road signs to cattle or sheep rather than awood post, because any sense of a highway has somehow moved on. We are on a simple non-maintained dirt road. That is niether easy to ride, nor easy to navigate.Our route takes us across the lush carpeted valley and over a non threatening rocky ridge on the opposite side. Poochy Maggie, how could I be so wrong. Our/my pedaling effort ends about a mile short of the top. We are pushing a 10% grade and in the softeneing sand it just gets harder. The final assent, hits at what has to be 20% or real close to it. We are both on foot pushing, my dear God, cant you help, maybe carry a few bags to lighten my load. It is all I can do to keep the toes of my feet gripping and the bike upright as we grunt and fart our way up this brute of a hill. Its about that pretty, 2 men covered in sweat and smiles when they top out. We lay the bikes over, eat an apple and some spoon fulls of peanut butter. A small car grunts its way up, and a family steps out amazed that we lwould be here on bikes.
They give us the last 1/3 of thierbottle of Plum Tea, dang that tastes good. Our most recent spring water has a distinctive sheep flavor even though it has been filtered. From a forensic standpoint, I think sheep flavor has a longer 1/2 life than does plutonium. After a brief respit, we carry on, all the while there is huge ominous storm brewing just over our left shoulder. We are standing on the cranks and riding/dodging rocks and ruts as we zip thru a little valley. While doing so we are passed by a young Mongol, riding his 125cc motorcycle. He is wearing a Mongol Military uniform and asks us to stop. what ensues is a strange conversation of it we must take his picture, he insists. Next he is making gestures that he wants Pines water proof bag……and on it goes. But the storm is drawing nigh, and it cuts loose just as we slip our rain jackets on. But, its not rain drops that pelt us, its good sized hail. We get slammed, and just ride off leaving the fellow standing flat footed, we ride as hard as we can to try and ride out of it, and we finally get ahead or it changes course we dont know which.. we pedal on in a constant rolling valley and a rutted track as our beacon. The sand is soft near the bottoms of the ruts, and I take 4 spills, only one of any import to mention. Pine takes a pair,but is fine, they are just sliders. Ride on, as dust rises behind us, the valleys are getting flatter as we traverse this rocky ridge, undulating, but withmore downhills than up
Pine indicates that we have a heck of a cloud bank closing in on our left again. Its suggested that we throw my tent up and take shelter. We are up, inside, our matts rolled out, we are stripped off just as the shower passes by. Leaving us with a quick deluge of rain, and a threat of more to come. Lets just stay put and take a nap.We are both clad in bike shorts and sound asleep, never heard anything till the fly was pulled back and aMongol slides right in on Pines side. While Pine is trying to pry fairy dust from his eyes, the Mongol is right into what may be the most important political monologue of his life, os so it seems. He is oblivious to the fact we were both asleep. He finishes his speech with a huge smile and grand hand gesture, then looks at us, and between two of us, we get out three shoulder shrugs, 2 grunts and one resounding AHhh?Over the next 45 minutes, I got kissed on the neck, back by the ear, I think 5 times. We found out that he was the same age as am I, that made him excited. Then it dawned on him that he knew who our President was, and he was elated to keep saying Barack Obama. I was going to kick him out of my ger, but you never kick a Mongol out for stupid political reasons, they have to do something offensive like bump your feet. We are working our tails off to be rid of this guy, so we are dressing and moving outdoors. He follows along. But once outside, he begins this process of hand measuring our bikes and then doing the same to his tiny little car he is driving. We are totally puzzled. I am asked to come and look in the car, so I oblige and walk over. Holly buffalo droppings Tonto, come and look at the six or seven rocks he is loaded into this rig. They are 2foot diameer, and hes got 4 or 5 of them. How the heck does he expect us to get in even if we wanted to? Thats exactly what he wants. He gets out of the drivers seat, comes at me packin this 10 diameter rock, sort of purplish, and he is licking this thing like a kid with a lolly. Kami, Kami, he is saying, and he invites me to lick it right where he has got it good and wet…….so, I do. And these are huge blocks of salt that he is hauling. Then he goes into this wild sharad of showing us deep water, over our bikes, and wide…….he would run like Usian Bolt, strait away from us, maybe a 100 yards to prove his point, then make wave motions. Good Lord, we have no idea, nor how come we have to conclude that this is a blessing. He is a lunatic. Hes gone……opps, not so fast, he needs one more kiss, and then share a snoot full of snuff with him. We do the deal, I offer him Viagra to ward of his need for kissing other sweaty men…….maybe he can get his eyes back on the sheep. He is finally gone.
We tear down, and make some tracks out from under the next cloud behind us.We make really good time, all things considered that is. And drop down a long rough road to the valley floor, where the azure lake bekons us and we talk of maybe a swim under the bright sunny sky that we have overhead. Over a ,hillock, down a little further, and we are talking of a good spot to set the tent for the night, how about here, how about there it goes. Right here Pine, take a look at that angry cloud coming on behind us. We drop the bikes, and make for the tents, all at the same time that rain and huge winds fall upon us like a tornado. We have my tent, and my tent fly out, and it all iether of us can do to simply hold onto them. We set rocks on them to hold them down. We get the ground sheet out and curl up inside that the best we can. It is highly insufficient, and we are getting cold fast. About 2 hours go by, the storm cell is really moving around us in cyclonic fashion, a huge eye over the lake, and a wall of ominous cloud that rings that, and we are right at the center. No let up, no break, we are hoping to have the wind abate, so we can set up the tents. We take walks looking for sheltered spots, but nothing.
Finally, off maybe 1/2 mile, and closer to that lake shore, we see some tightly grouped little hills. We load the bikes, and pedal out across the rock shards and grass and make the best camp that we can. We pitch just one tent, and turn in just as it is getting dark. So , its a nicely nested spot, we get the tents up and guide ropes at the corners. I cant say for sure, but I put to work something my Prayer Warrior friend Rob Schlosser taught me years ago at Awana,s. “Why waist your time hoping, when you can Pray to living God who delivers. That,s just what I did, for quiet night with no wind trying to rip the tent down. Folks, that is just what He did.
We had an official Ger stay……no,no. We didnt opt for the comfy tourist camp affair. We done the real thing twice. Pretty rough. folks, as close to prehistoric as you can get. I have to be careful as we do have dear friends who are Mongols, and my monlogue here is not designed to offend. But those back home, I would sure desire to describe accurately, so here goes. The yurt is dirt floored, with bits or remnant strips of linoleum over the dirt. The stove takes center stage and cow pies are the fuel. Those are collected by the kids in feed sacks, and all are piled outside with a tarp over to keep them dry. While our hosts are welcoming, without any doubt, they did go out of thier way to give us the bezt that they had. Without fail, that is how it is done in every ger we have entered. We are dining on mutton carcass tonight, it has been the same recipe since we started crossing, this the 17th largest country in the world. It has been like a 1 recipe cookbook. So the carcass chunks, think huge here, are all simmering in a huge pot on the stove. The rest of two raw carcasses hang fro the wall of the get, sort of like thanksgiving decorations I thought.Large pieces are brought out of the steaming water(and thats all that is in the pot, water and meat…..period. The second pot, now containing the boiled meat is passed to men first, and the men all have waiting butcher knives, you clobber off any bone you can and hope for the best. You may get spinal cord, or you may get a leg or hey….. look at that a rib! Hold the bone with anything you can, and pull hard cause its just a little tougher than an inner tube folks. Use that knife to help saw off anything that looks like it will give up and come hither. Keep doing that till its so clean a dog cant make a meal of it. Dive in for second, be sure you tip it up and suck the marrow out. Catch all those hanging little tendrils, those elastic cords that God put on animals that give them locomotion, yup, catch everyone and pull hard till you get it loose and chew it up. Be sure to throw all the bones you have fininshed right back in the bucket, because the guy next may have better or sharper teeth than you, and he could still separate more from that bone than did you. Slurp some Mongol Tea down, and hit it again. Meantime, the chef is still sitting squat legged at the stove on her overly short stool. She spends her time skimming fat suds off the top of the bubling cauldron, and she ladels this off then throws it on the dirt floor beside the stove……over and over. Its time to add a pinch of salt, and noodles. This simmers away for maybe 15 minutes, a flotsam of stark white noodles, chunks of meat that came off the bigger carcass, glassy slickes of sheep fat congeal and skimmer around on the surface. This is piping hot, and bowls are filled to the brim and passed about. Its important to make a lot of noise when you eat, get that bowl rightup there and suck those noodles out, then gasp,and smack, what ever, its a caucophony of rude in western terms eating habits. Then out comes the Vodka, as jigger after jigger is poured and passed around, each taking drips,sips and shots as it goes round person to person. More talk, a few smokes, more talk, more vodka. The cook goes into a secret stash and finds some candies to pass around. There are dry dipping dough cookies, they look to be like a doughnut and fried in sheep fat cause it stays on yer grinners afterwards, and there is not hint of sweet usually…….just dry and needing to be dipped in tea so they will fit thru assorted internal body cavities without causing undue harm. That folks is the strait up bill of goods on a Yurt stay.
With that overwith, we now face our next “dava” or pass as we would call it. Ours is up into some nearly 13,000 footers. Gravel, not the crushed rock type, jusst plain old silver dollar sized round rock gravel forms a grey ribbon beckoning us up to the top. Some place along about half way, a jeep offers us a ride to the top. Less than a nonosecond of actual thought went into CONSIDERING, to which we both said HECK YA. To the top we went, right at sunset with a north wind building, and ominous cloud over head. We throw up one tent, with 4 good guide ropes tied off at the corners. Make camp, 2 cups of tea, and a huge pot of noodles. Turned in right at 9.30 and we were both ready to hit the sack.
The next morning, we spent about an hour, maybe ore going over the bikes. Cleaning that chains and rear cogs, the derailluers, anything that moved and slid we gave it the best cleaning we could. The grey morning sky had lost its stronghold on the sky above, and blue sky was breaking thru in places, promising us at least fleeting sunshine for our morning assent. From the door of our tent we are looking strait out at multiple snow capped peaks. This has been without doubt our favorite part of Mongolia thus far. Down we go, thru a huge grass filled valley (have to say that there is a stark lack of running water around considering we are up in snow clad mluntain peaks), riding on any track we choose that seems to be heading in a direction favorable to us. From the very top right down to the bottom we concluded 21 miles of downward decent. But allow me to explain the last 10 miles are out of the hills and onto the sloping edge of a huge lava rock plain. And I mean a plain you cannot even see across, and as flat as the table you eat on. The lava rock cuts and chews at our tires. The bikes are skipping and jumping out from underneath of us. The going is brutal. When we hit the end of that 19 miles of decent, we are welcomed now onto this totally barren rocky expanse that looks like a moonscape or something similar. Our legs are burning, we are averaging about 3 miles per hour and the wind has once again shifted to meet our advance. Every once in a while while struggling thru rock, you woukd suddenly encounter sand of 6-12 inch depth, it may be a strip 6 feet wide, or it could be 100 feet in width. No matter what, and everytime, it took control of the rider instantly. It would grab you front wheel and cause you to turn, it would bog the hind wheel, and little could be done. Grin, get off, pull the bike out, and push till you were thru. Bokmoron, its a spot on the map, just that a simple spot. And we haveto mKe it there since we are very low on water. Simple as that, we have to mKe it. We sit down exhausted, under too little shade from a thorny as heck tree and dine on a can of tuna.. while we are sitting, we spot a small band of sheep, just heck, 300 yards to our left. And we ask outloud, what the heck do the sheep eat or drink out here……..total mystery.
We get up, determined to make Bokmoron, and pedal maybe 1 more miles and hit a flooded river. So, everything comes off……..no,no, I mean off the bikes. Good God you people, sometimes you get so carried away. We hoist the bikes and wade out into the river. We cross without any problems, its maybe 10″above our knees, but very fast moving. Everything is across, so we decide to filter some water while the other takes a bath……tryst me, we need one. Pedal out of there into the swirling dust that envelopes these barren plains, and sweat our way across without even a smile. Off to our left wesee a long row of rocks, actual hills of rock. As we draw closer, the road/trail, ssems to split into 4 directions, and we can now see one road going thru a gap on thjs rocky outcropping. Pine decides that he wants to try theroad thru the hills, just to get away from what we have been on……I am not at all hard to convince. Up we go……yeah, for maybe 200 feet as the sand just bogs down to a foot deep. There are actual sanddunes all around us, and the rock is thatsoft wind shaped sandstone so it is very pictueresque. We push maybe 1/2 mile to the top. A mongolian cowboy comes down out of the rocks on his pinto ponie, and has a visit with us, as we untangle our tongues from our front spokes and catch our breath. He explains that Bokmoron is ahead, and we judge by his gestures, maybe 9 miles or so. We saddle up, head down off the ridge,and make a sharp right at the bottom to avoid running head long into an amazingly cl3ar 6 foot wide stream. The road or sand track we are following winds its way along the stream bank and in amongst huge cottonwoods……we have found paradise.
Just a mile back on the other side it is dusty, rocky crap, and here it is like the total opposite.Bokmoron, for us, felt as if we had found Shangri-la. While in truth it is certainly not paradise, it was a very wlecome break from an arduous days cycling. Round the bend, across the creek and make our way into a larger town than we expected to actually find. We were greeted on the sfreets as if we were silver backed gorrillas in the zoo. Everyone came out to greet us, in just a matter ofminutes we had 20 plus peoplestanding around us, 2 of them frying to have us over to thier yurt for supper. What we were trying to find was a store so we could restock our grocery supplys. As it turned out, we ended upaving chance to meet a local school teacher who spokequite good english. The night came off without a hitch as it regards groceries, but there was some bad news to digest aswell. Recent big storms had left the rivers so high as to impasable for those of us headed west to Tsangaanuur. His best advice, wait overnight, he would borrow a huge special Russian tractor and try to get us over. Our camp thata night was out along the creek, with cold clear mountain water running by, we had a huge kpot of potatoes and sausage fried up and added to the noodles turned in,read ourbooksfor a while and calledit a succesful day, we made Bokmoron after all…..Thankyou Jesus.
The following day however, well, wasnt quite as nice. Our teacher friend came out to our campsite to inform us that the Russian tractor was busy working on the other side of the river. And to add injury to insult, the river was too high for it to cross as well, even if it were available. The expectations were that about a week and the river would be down, just wait. A little time goes by, Pine and I, are checking the map and trying to form a plan, when the teacher shows up again. He has a broken down jeep that a friend is hauling to Bayan Olgii for repairs. If we like we can load our gear into the back of this truck and he will haul us as well. This puts us the same distance from the russian border and without rivers blocking our way. We opt for the Bayan trip, and arrive after 9 hours of serious butt thumping, into the moderate sized town of Bayan Olgii. Bayan, its the capital city of the Kazak people. Predominently Muslim, a very rough little mining and herdsmen town. The capital of the angora and camel hair markets for all Mongolia. We find a place to stay, which has wifi, and it turns out to be a yurt stay.
Funny how faces from the past collide as if we are just fate driven particles on a journey thru time. First we bump into a Israeli kid who is walking and hitching way round, nice guy. We all agree that we are hungry, so we find a Turkish Restaurant. As we walk in, there are 2 faces staring at us, there appearance takes us back to the Fairfield in Tetserleg. They are from Netherlands, and touring by Jeep, very nice couple of University Proffessors on a 1 year sabbatical. Then there is Chris, retired from British Navy, and a scuba instructor who has lived around the world. He is off on a 18 month tour of the world, and is actually closer to the end than the beggining which is causing him concern as he is not ready to grow up and get a job. We all sat around a very good supper and compared our Mongolia expieriences and thoughts. Amazing how divergent the opnions are, I would conclude that depending on the amount of autonomy given by your mode of transportation, it therefore softens or blunts the harsh edges of slower forms of travel ie:walking or cycling. My own opinion given, was thenext time I see Mongolia will be from 35,000 feet with my butt planted in an airplane seat,………..my dinner audience was agast that I could have such a harsh take on this the jewel of Asia.
Allow me a paragraph to conclude and summarize my thoughts on Mongolia. It,s not that I dont find Mongolia to be a naturally beautiful place, as certainly it is. There are 2 factors that make Mongolia a less than desireable destination for me. Those being the roads and the food. The roads in Mongolia are quite simply horrendous, they are truly beyond my ability to describe and have you believe me. My best impression or desription, is that they are the roads of America back in say 1925 or even earlier. Just the fact that every rode is designed to tear a vehichle apart should be reason enough to be wary of travel here. And after a while, all that bouncing and pothole dodging just gets…., well tiring to put it kindly. Our other dinner friends did not eat locally as did ourselves, that makes a huge difference. Non of the others dined in a real yurt , or spent a night in a real yurt, as I would define it, they stayed at only Loneley Planet approved ger camps. We had the same meal all the way across Mongolia……..as I tried to elude too by way of a joke earlier…..we found a rare first edition Mongolian cookbook, it amounts to a front cover and back cover, and a single page between. No, no pages are missing. The single page directs the reader to place whatever they wish to eat into a pot and boil it………..the end. At one point in history I have read that Ghengis Khan, the mightiest of all Mongols. Had conquered allmost all of Asia and portions of what is today eastern Europe. But stop and think about it, the Mongols left no trace of there culture as an indelable mark on those other conquered countries and cultures. It was as if it never happened. The same by the way,cannot be said of the spaniards, the Portugese,the English or the Dutch, all of whom are natiions to have taken thier presence around the globe. If you look around Mongolia on a map for jnstance, you quickly see that the majority of tourist “come see hotspots” are simply beautiful pieces of rugged landscape. Dont get me wrong, these regions are indeed beautiful. But as it regards the intinsic cultural aspect of the Mongol people, there is very little in the way of edification as to its greatness. In closing, is it even worth a visit. Yes,of course, if Iowa was completely booked up and you couldn,t get in, or if the North Dakota grain growers symposium lets say sold out due to something news worthy happening like a new rust resistant strain of winter wheat being developed…………then with a saddened heart take the family aside and consider Mongolia………but double check those Iowa bookings……..Coon Rapids is gorgeous in the spring. For myself, I cant wait to get the hell out of Dodge.