Jeff went for Sunday around 17.00 – his was the earliest estimate, mind you he had to go for Sunday really as that was the day we had always been scheduled to arrive. Other guesstimates ranged from late Sunday through to midday on Wednesday! Several people had flights booked out of Ulaanbaatar for early Monday morning, so along with our glorious leader there were a number of us who really had a real interest in reaching UB on Sunday. Not wishing to sound at all smug, but I had booked my flight home from UB on the Wednesday. I had allowed one day for delays and one day for sight seeing in UB. All we could do was keep riding and arrive when we arrived.
07.00 and we were off again from our camp.
Just a little sample of the riding. Getting cocky now, shot this while riding one-handed – that’s why it is only a short clip – soon realised I was likely to regret it if I carried on much longer.
We had camped somewhere short of Tosontsengel (right on the left hand edge of the map above – it was tricky being that close to the edge, but sleeping on the edge held no fears for me after sharing a bed for many years with a duvet-snatching, arm-spreading wife and anything up to 3 cats).
Many of us had had a number of falls by now and certainly I was a bit battered and bruised, and the early starts and late finishes combined with little sleep were taking their toll (I am a light sleeper at the best of times, so camping in a flappy tent surrounded by snorers, farters and people that go pee in the night – I include myself in all categories bar snoring – is never going to the best recipe for a good nights kip). The dramatic scenery, and tricky riding conditions were enough to keep anyone awake whilst riding, but it was becoming noticeable that at each waypoint stop there was nearly always someone flaked out trying to grab a few minutes shuteye (usually me). There were certainly times when I found concentration wavering – it was around this point that I usually fell off.
The picture above shows the start of a section of downhill track (much steeper in real life than it looks, honest). I was leading our little sub-group as we started off down it and was trying to pick the route with the least sand. Inevitably, I picked the one with the deepest sand. The received wisdom of riding in sand is to open the throttle to try and gain some grip with the rear wheel and straighten the bike up. This can be somewhat disconcerting down a steep sandy hill when you’re brain is just telling you to slow down not speed up. Somehow I hung on to the bucking, weaving bike and made it to the bottom of the slope – I certainly gained no points for style, my feet and legs had been flailing about all over the place, only occasionally making contact with the pegs. This sand stuff just doesn’t get any easier.
Over the past few days our little group of Jason, Steph, Warwick, Ian and I had pretty much stayed together. Ian often disappeared off into the distance – it was just easier for him at times on the big KTM to go faster, the momentum carrying him through the trickier sand sections. Occasionally Jason just had to go for a ‘blast’ and Warwick was just getting quicker and quicker as he really took to the off-road stuff. I think by this point he was probably the only one of the whole group who hadn’t come off.
I tended to trundle along at the back of the group. Being at the back had advantages and disadvantages. No-one to see you fall off – but no-one to help you pick the bike up. It usually took Steph and Jason a few minutes to realise that I had gone AWOL, so theoretically, I could be back on the bike by the time they had spun around and just pretend I had stopped for a photo or a pee. I say theoretically, because obviously I never actually had to do it…
For the past few days we had been riding through some of the most deserted wilderness you could imagine It was not unusual to ride for many hours without seeing another person or vehicle. The valley floors were dotted with the occasional ger camp and every so often we would pass unstable looking lorries overloaded with yak skins or chinese made motorcycles with Father and son or wife aboard (or all three + baby). There was the odd small village which usually had a shop/cafe and, more often than not a mobile phone shop. The mobile phone signal was pretty good through most of Mongolia – nearly every small settlement had a mobile phone mast. Indeed, many of the Aussies complained that reception was far better than they got back home. I guess it is much cheaper for a country to develop a mobile phone network than invest in all the infrastructure required for ‘landlines’.
Mongolians must have a very sweet tooth – the shops would all have a huge array of sweets – usually displayed in the glass topped counter – together with chocolate bars and crisps and cans of Coke and Seven-Up etc. It was somewhat disappointing to find that the ubiquitous western brands were indeed ubiquitous and had a significant prescence even in the outer reaches of Outer Mongolia – but they weren’t half a welcome supplement to Kit-e-Kat Kurry.
As we headed Eastwards settlements began to get larger and there were more signs of development. Late in the afternoon, we began to hit sections of graded road, not tarmac, but the road was built up above the surrounding countryside and the surface was a little less potholed, just rutted instead! It was nice to get out of third gear although a little sad, because it brought home the fact that we were actually getting closer to UB and the end of the trip. The landscape was becoming less ‘desertlike’ and there were actually a few trees and herds of livestock grazing.
Late in the day we pulled over to wait for the trucks outside a small farmhouse. Within minutes the whole family was out to take a look. Soon dad arrived on horseback and then a few minutes later all manner of people arrived on motorbikes and soon there was quite a party! I passed out a few balloons and pencils to the kids
and that really seemed to break the ice. Before long they were all clamouring to have their photograph taken – all except dad who stayed on the edge – just a little wary of these strange alien invaders.
All too soon the trucks arrived and we had to press on. We needed to find a camp site for the night and decided to keep going for another 30 minutes or so and then try and make camp.
We dropped down and started searching for a camp site. Our luck was in as we found what was the best camp site of the trip. We chucked the tents up and set out on the quest for wood for the fire.
Once again we ate in the dark, which was an advantage for many in not being able to see properly what they were eating. Unfortunately I had been involved in the preparation so I knew exactly what had gone into it. Never mind, after a few beers, a slug of wine and some of Chiggis’s finest vodka all seemed well with the world. We were still pretty high (altitude wise) and it soon got very cold.
If we managed another full day of good progress, it was now seeming just about feasible that we might hit UB on Sunday.