Mongolia week one (long)

Thu 7/30/2009 8:34 PM [Original Post by Elliot Mogerman]

We changed our tires at a little auto shop and used their air compressor and tire machine to save some time and it worked well, minus the little freaking mosquitoes that love their Americans. And off to Mongolia, yes we are crazy but why the hell not, we are already close. Pleasant change of riding as the scenery drastically improved and roads were nice and curvy. The end to flat land and prairies and hello beautiful green tall mountains, hills, rivers, streams, rapids, national forest type terrain like the one in Oregon but better. There are many campers vacationing around here as we pass hundreds of tents. We washed our camp pots in the natural mountain springs to conserve our own drinking water. We find a camp sight as the border is still a day or so away and discover an active farm just over the hill. Their dog came over while we cooked to see what we were up to and then went back to his family after a few minutes. I finished my book The Art and Zen of motorcycle maintenance, which Tirzah back home gave me, and it was a great read. I gave it to Mike so he can enjoy it and hopefully when he’s done I’ll ship it back home. There are so many weeds with different colored flowers like yellow, and several shades of purple, some even looked like roses. Others are little bushels of different colored flowers, and fuzzy purple ball shaped ones, wish I knew more about them, but still nice to look at. Unfortunately, there has been too many clouds to see stars yet, so we set up the rain flys on our tents, and a wasp gets stuck under mine and keeps me up most the night.

July 18th, temperature starts when we wake up around 50 degrees and reaches a high around 78 during the afternoon. We rode to the Mongolian border. Magnificent riding again and wonderful views. Snow capped mountains and green forest everywhere. Wide crystal blue rivers, sharp windy roads, and then all of a sudden steep terrain and open grass lands with rolling hills and thousands of crickets. We stopped at the last gas station before the border to top off and as Mike pressed the lever the hose from the main tank shot off and gas spew out everywhere. The one worker tried to fix it with a butter knife but it kept popping out so I had to hold it while Mike pumped. Then he tried to charge us for all the gas and Mike argued until he gave him a little money back. We ride on and finally got to the Mongol border around 3pm I think it is a Saturday or Sunday. Turns out they closed an hour ago because they felt like it. So we backtrack a little and set up camp. A huge t-storm rolled in at night and hit us a little, but mostly missed us and somehow went all around our tents.

Ok, first day of riding for me ever where I had absolutely no fun at all. And so starts Mongolia! The border crossing wasn’t too bad, took about one hour to leave Russia and one hour to enter Mongolia. As soon as you leave the border crossing the paved road ends. There was one guy who looked like a Genghis Khan relative with the clothes and his shaped beard, etc. Landscape is nice and a family in the first town we pass through stops us and takes us to their home. They give us tea and two types of bread. Then they sell us eagle feathers for protection and want us to sleep. But it’s only 2pm and we thank them and head on our way up a hilly rocky dirty “road.” While navigating up steep mountains with drop offs less than a foot from our side and huge unstable rocks and loose dirt we pass two French cyclists on those reclining bikes. They give us some tips on the towns they have passed through and tell us they are averaging about 60 km per day. We continue on through sand, gravel, rocks, mountains, and Crash. I banged up my left ankle but wasn’t going too fast. These what you would call roads are horrible. Every minute I feel like I’m falling and use every muscle to keep the bike upright. It’s a struggle and effort just to stay moving in a straight line. We only went 100k today after crossing the border. We set up camp in the mountains and Mike finds all these bones leading up a trail higher into the mountains. So we decide to find another location, set up camp, cooked while mosquitoes by the dozens land in our food. So we start a fire with cow dung as there’s no wood and Mongolians use this to cook with. The smoke keeps some of the flying bugs away but not all as the wind slows down. I’m so sugary and full of goodness, I probably have like 2 dozen bites that itch but they only last a few days until I get new ones.

We wake up extremely early and packed our gear. The scenery was phenomenal and the riding was the more challenging then yesterday. We went through more steep rocky mountains up and down, found mud I got to experience for the first time, sand, hard packed gravel, dirt, small gravel and rocks all day. I dropped the bike in sand not going too fast but smashed my ankle I hurt yesterday on a large rock. I pulled my left lat trying to keep the 700 pound bike from falling all day and also pulled my right groin muscle doing the same. Mike began giving me tips about each type of terrain, better late than never, to make my riding a little less stressful. But I’m so beat up some of the tips don’t exactly work when you can’t use certain muscles. I’m learning nonetheless. I stop myself from getting depressed from falling everyday and keep getting on and moving forward as there’s no other option. We ended up doing 180 km today. Fastest speed of around 30 mph and slowest about 5 mph. Found a camp sight next to a small lake and a stream. Lots of wind and no flying bugs, yeah! We have been filtering water all day with Mike’s pump, while getting attacked by bugs, and the streams so we have 10 liters of good water. Also I crossed my first small stream of water today about 2 or 3 feet deep.

It’s funny how curious the locals are when we stop in small towns. They all wave as we pass by and come running to us hoping we will stop to see our bikes. We wan into an Englishman hitchhiking his way across Mongolia on holiday. This was our first gas stop and not too soon as I ran out of gas about 2 miles outside of town and had to use our reserve bottles to get us there. They didn’t take any rubles and thank god, against Mike’s will, I exchanged a small amount of rubles to Mongol money at the border. Otherwise, we would have been screwed because we have not seen any atms yet. So we fill up, Mike has to crank the gas from the machine because it is so old, and we find a camp sight not far away. To celebrate a successful day with the horrible conditions and experience Mike says I’m improving quickly, we ate a beef stroganoff ration. This was the first real meal I have eaten since I got sick in Kazak about a month ago.

The stars are amazing as there are not any lights within miles. The first stars of the night was actually the big dipper. We had a nice stream feet from our tents and it was calming to sleep next to. A very cool breeze in the evening kept the bugs away, and I take some muscle relaxers to ease the aches and pains. Then all of a sudden some SUV’s and the little Mongolian Japanese 150 cc motorcycles begin to ride by at night, a few every hour, the first vehicles we have seen. Our camp was right next to the main path we were trying to find earlier in the day. What luck! Some military guys bike wouldn’t start after stopping to say hi so we push start him and go to bed. This kind of night makes you think about what is really important in life and what little simple things you should appreciate. I find out my helmet is jacked up and the face won’t open easily anymore, so my luck with helmets continues. I ride with my helmet up and my lips get sunburned and chapped from the air. So I find my chapstick and start using. We also begin to worry if we will find an ATM so we can get gas at the next town.

Our day of riding starts around 9am and we don’t finish until about 7:30 pm. We ride 183 km today! Morning was around 70 and got up to around 103 degrees in desert’s afternoon. I had cheerios of breakfast as a cattle herder came over to hang out for a while and see what we were doing. We give him some water and head off. I only crashed 3 times today. Twice in sand and once in mud. I am bruised and banged up but I keep getting on and riding on. Today we were almost ready to give up. First started good, had the road we couldn’t find and it led to 40 km of paved road outside the next city. I was so happy. Then it ended. The town had a bank and Mike was able to exchange some money so we can buy gas and supplies for a while. Then all hell broke loose. We were taking a road that the gps said was a major highway and all of a sudden it just ended. Rain rivers or whatever over time had just eliminated the road in the middle of nowhere and there was no way to get past it. Also, if we backtracked we would lose a whole day. We were lost and discouraged and I was adamant about not backtracking as we didn’t know what other path would lead us in the wrong direction. So we off road and do our best to head in the general direction we are supposed to go. Mike wanted to head to a southern trail which would increase or ride time by a few days and I refused because it was all sand and desert. I would never make it out. So we find some power lines and follow them on hard packed dirt and found a nice camp sight on top of a hill. We are supposedly about 50 km from the next “big” town. I was able to sleep decent tonight. I set up camp without the rain fly to star gaze all night and there weren’t any clouds at the time. I think I have more bug bites on my body then I have compiled bites in my entire life.

So in the early morning a storm rolls through with very heavy high winds, kicking dirt everywhere, and pouring monsoon type rain. Well I try to put my rain fly on quickly and forget to stake the doors of them down into the ground. A few minutes later the wind starts picking up my tent like a kite and it collapses on top of me and I feel it moving on top of the hill toward the downward slope and I am like MIKE I NEED HELP! It was cold and fortunately before he got out of his tent, I just stick my feet and knees into the wet ground under me through the tent bottom and prevent it from moving anymore. About an hour later the storm stops and I get out wet, covered in sand with the rest of my stuff in the tent and just look at the shitty start to this day. We get on hard packed dirt and actually ride pretty quickly through two towns. We fill up on gas, put oil in our bikes, get snacks and some more food, and things look better. The bank won’t exchange money as we get deeper into Mongolia and I think two girls wanted to cook us dinner but we decline. A cop also dropped his helmet making it hard to open and close and we ride on. On the way out of town Mike gets stuck in sand and we have to push both bikes through as the town watches. Then an old man on these light bikes speeds right through the fucking shit we got stuck in. We ate lunch at a little cafĂ© and had huge steamed dumplings cooked over cow dung. Mike thinks it was goat meat and we had tea I think was half camel piss. Then Mike makes a wrong directional error and we end up going north through the sand dunes. I crash and jacked up my right wrist. Then 5 minutes later Mike dropped his bike in very deep sand. We tried to ride until the sun went down to get out of the sand because I didn’t want to wake up in the crap but we were unsuccessful. So we rode in 100 degree weather about 180 km today. Hopefully, not too much more tomorrow or I might cry. Plus my joints, wrists which feel like I have carpel tunnel syndrome, and muscles need a well deserved rest. I get disappointed in myself for feeling like giving up so I chalk it up to being tired and decide to build up the courage to keep going. Today was the longest stretch I have gone without falling. Mike spent morning working on mapping to try and get us out of sand.

The morning was pretty windy and cloudy and we had sand to start us off in. Within 30 minutes I fall and crash again and Mike gets stuck again in the sand. I also did good by not falling like another 100 freaking times in the sandy shit from hell. Went 140 km today. Even writing these blogs are starting to become a challenge with my hands and wrists. Anyway, Mike had some navigation issues and we ended up riding in circles for close to 4 hours. From 8 to noon we ended up within 20 km of where we started in the morning. We finally find the trail we were looking for and made it to the next city. We pumped water from a river and I went to a bank to exchange money. The bank once again refused but a smart customer came over to me and exchanged money for us at a nice profit, but now we have enough money to feel comfortable for a while. The day picked up and riding and scenery improved. We stopped to ask for directions and confirm the way we were going but they had no idea how to read a map. Then we used a few liters of water filling up their radiator. We ride on and found a better camp sight then the day before. It was on top of a steep large hill with a nice breeze and not many mosquitoes. I changed into warmer clothes to get comfortable. I had to retie the extra 10 liters I was carrying as it shifter through my falls during the day. Mike worked on camp stove to improve it’s heat. I rip my shirt on my bike top case and all of a sudden I bent over and a yellow liquid just drained out for 10 seconds. Hmmm. Think it was just allergies from inhaling sand and dirt all day. Are you wondering what these paths and directions people give might look like? Take your two hands, palms down, interlock your thumbs and stick al your fingers out like shooting them in all directions in a good stretch. This is what the trails and paths look like here. Best of luck to us picking the right one all the time.

Start of day 7 in Mongolia with 60 degree weather and high winds probably making it 40 or 45 degrees and night storms. Still a little chilly so we make soup for breakfast. More sand and mud I got to fall in today, and Mike also fell in mud. We went through two towns, plenty of gas opportunity now, so not as stressed as first two days when I ran out. We stopped outside of first town to fill up water at a stream and Mike’s pump stopped working. But during the process the clouds opened up and just poured on us for like an hour. The next town we topped off gas to be safe and the guy tried to set me up with his sister. We passed by an older German couple riding an older Rv through Mongolia. Then a storm started rolling over us so we hopped on the bikes, bid them farewell, and tried to outrun the storm. We look back and it was thick and bad. All of a sudden hail started hitting us. We went about 192 km today and the capital city UB (Ulaanbaatar) is maybe 3-4 days away. My motivation now is to solely get there and rest for like 4 days before riding again. That should be enough time to feel better. Mike finds a camp sight on top of a hill around 40 degrees when we ate dinner. Like kings tonight we lived it up. Ate spaghetti Bolognese, three packets of Raman noodles, pineapple, and bread. Yummy! I was so exhausted, I didn’t even stay up to see the stars tonight. During twilight and dinner Mike was saying it got really dark tonight. I told him yeah in sunglasses that tends to happen at night. He forgot his sunglasses were still on. During the day we saw a few Mongolians riding these small motorcycles with three people on them riding effortlessly on the same trails we are on. Wow, I put 76 grade gas in my bike today and it is pinging like crazy but it was the best we found. In the morning it was around 30 degrees and cold. The stove didn’t work in the morning so no soup and Mike was pissed.