Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The adventure begins - first 3 days alone on the steppe

On a lunch break, under a wide blue sky dotted with cotton-ball clouds, about 150km from Ulaanbaatar is not the place you'd expect to see a familiar face. As we munched on rye bread and tuna, a cyclist in full race-kit rounded the roadside rubble and headed towards us. Surprisingly incongruous, but we recognized Degi from a roadside meeting 2 days earlier.

As we left Ulaanbaatar - not unhappy to make it through the 10km or so of sprawling, traffic filled outskirts - we paused at an intersection. As we deciphered the names 'Olgii' and 'Lun', a couple of cyclists on road-bikes pulled up beside us. Degi was a cycling coach, and told is that he had previously ridden to Olgii. He pointed is in the right direction and we figured that was the sum of our pleasant enough meeting.
But, going above and beyond, he tracked us down in the countryside and brought us useful things. A mirror, some face wipes and mostly a carefully written letter of advice for our trip. Avoid rabid dogs. Beware tick-borne encephalitis. Country people are friendly, but the dzud has made them gloomy. Perhaps as an experienced Mongolian cyclist he felt a duty of care towards these two newbies. Duty or not, a 300km round trip (in 1 day) is - literally - going a bit  far.
Aside from such random meetings, we have been riding through some awe-inspiring landscapes: vast open plains with treeless wrinkled mountains on all sides. There is a gradually increasing greenness to the country, livestock are grazing everywhere and birds and small animals are busy nesting.
You can't help but notice the effects of the dzud: roadside carcasses are frequent and some of the animals that survived must have done so by the slimmest of margins judging by their prominent ribs. We haven't had a chance to see yet how people have been affected, but we hope the air of spring is helping.
The weather has been kind to us so far with sunny days, but erratic winds - a head wind one day, an awesome tail wind the next. The roads are smooth and sealed so far (except for the 13km detour around roadworks before Lun) and the long flat ribbon stretching to the horizon is not yet too daunting. We're in a small town (Erdenesant), obviously catching the owners of the hotel before the season started. Warmed with food (more on Mongolian cuisine later) and the wood-fired wall heating, we're pretty ready to crash.
Cycling summary:
Day 1 - UB to Ger camp: 47km
Day 2 - Ger camp to Lun: 89km
Day 3 - Lun to Erdenesant: 90km

UB to Lun


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