I had woken several times during the night to hear rain battering on the ger (much quieter than a tent – but it does still tend to leak in around the bottom a bit), so it was no great surprise to open the door to a damp and misty Mongolian morning. Whilst we were packing up and sorting stuff out before our departure the rain kept coming and going. The river was even higher than last night and I must admit to some slight apprehension at the thought of our riding today. Any apprehension, though, was outweighed with excitement at the prospect of our first full day riding in Mongolia.
Even the low clouds did little to detract from the dramatic mountain scenery as we set off along the muddy track, now with many deep puddles, back to the road and into Olgiy to find fuel. There had been rumours during our time riding through Kazakhstan that there was a shortage of fuel in Mongolia. Russia had cut supplies to Mongolia and the price had risen steeply and rationing had been introduced in some areas. As a border town, Olgiy was well endowed with petrol stations, but not that well-endowed with petrol. After trying three or four stations without luck we had to settle for filling up with 80 Octane fuel. It would be a good test to see how the bikes went on lower grade fuel, as this was probably about as good as it would get until we hit Ulanbataar.
We headed out of town on tarmac, but before long we were onto a dirt track, heading off towards the hills. As we headed up into the hills the track became more gravelly and shalely. I was really beginning to enjoy myself, even though the rain was coming down harder now.
Then, disaster! I came around a corner to see people in the track and a bike on it’s side. Sam had come off. Somehow he had lost control and pitched off to the right of the track and had landed amongst some fairly large boulders. He was obviously a bit shaken and stood by as we hauled the bike out. The truck was right behind us as, we were only a few miles out of town, so Mike the Medic jumped out to assess the damage.
At first it seemed that Sam wasn’t too badly injured, but he didn’t really feel that he wanted to carry on riding so he went off to sit in the truck while we had a look at the damage to the bike. Apart from the usual bent levers and stuff it appeared to have landed pretty well, until we got it upright and we realised that the crash bars had pushed in and split the tank – petrol was gushing out. Tony the mechanic set to work on it but it looked as though that bike would be spending the rest of the day on the trailer.
Sam had started to feel a little worse and it was suspected that he may have broken some ribs, so it was decided that one of the support vehicles would drive him back to Olgiy, where there was a small hospital. The rest of us set off to catch up with the leading group to let them know what was happening
We caught them a little way up ahead after an interesting stretch of very slippery mud. After quite a while the truck caught us up. We had some lunch, wandered about and dozed. We realised we could be here for a few hours.
I took a little walk along the track and up the hill.
After about four hours, Jeff caught up with us in the other truck. Sam had broken several ribs and would not be able to complete the trip. There was actually a small airport at Olgiy and he would be flown to Ulanbataar and then back to Canada. In a way, he had been lucky having sustained his injuries so close to Olgiy.
The rain, the mud and Sam’s accident and the 4 hour wait should perhaps have conspired to dampen my spirits, but it is hard to express just how great it was to be in the wilds of Mongolia. We were certainly well off the beaten track. During our four hour wait we had only been passed by about three vehicles and a father and son team on a motorbike, who stopped for a quick chat and mutual bike examination (Mongolians always seemed particularly interested in the suspension – perhaps not surprising given the state of the roads).
We set off, now bathed in sunshine. As we came over the ridge and into the next valley we were greeted with a fantastic vista of criss-crossing tracks stretching into the distance across the wide valley floor. The riding was good, the tracks had very quickly dried out and were quite firm, with a sandy, gravelly surface. Good progress could be made but it was important to maintain concentration as the tracks weaved and crossed each other, avoiding deeper craters and muddy sections where vehicles had churned it up.
We soon reached the river.
After Mark’s little foray we decided to take a bit more time to weigh it up. There were a couple of locals on bikes trying to cross and we decided to follow their lead. The river was pretty full and had spread out over quite a wide area, with areas of shallows and gravel banks. The best approach seemed to be to try to zig-zag across using the gravel banks as temporary havens. Niall waded out and forged what looked like a reasonable route. One of the locals revved his bike and set off. To the sound of our cheers of encouragement he made the first bit and then the second section. He paused for a moment and gritted his teeth and set his jaw for final assault on the deepest, fastest flowing section. With a screaming engine and assistance from Niall he plunged into the water and powered across. We had been shown the way.
We stationed ‘spotters’ on each section to assist. Jason was our first man across and he attacked it in typical Jason style – full revs and full voice, shouting and swearing all the way across. One by one we followed. There were remakably few mishaps, and those that took a dunking didn’t get much wetter than those of us that were knee deep in the river assisting progress. The bikes that went down all started straight away and obviously had not taken any water into the engine, which was pretty good as they had been fully immersed with engine running.
Eventually we were all across.
It had taken another big chunk of the day to get everyone across the river and we were starting to lose the light. We rode a little further looking for a suitable camping spot…and what a spot we found…
What a day! I finished the day exhausted and totally elated. From the morning of rain and Sam’s accident, through sunshine, superb scenery and excellent riding and the drama of the river crossing to a camp in a totally awe-inspiring wilderness. What a day. This was what I came for – and it had lived up to all my dreams and expectations. All the trials and tribulations of reaching this point seemed petty now. How glad was I, that I hadn’t bailed out in Almtay.
Sorry Jason – just had to include this clip – courtesy of Big Al: