Friday, June 11, 2010

Mongolian Wrap-Up

Total distance: 1765km
Distance on unsealed roads (of varying quality): 1276km
Nights spent camping: 20
Maximum number of consecutive days camping: 8
Days spent cycling: 31
Maxmum number of consecutive cycle days: 11
Rest days on the road: 8
Average distance per day: 57km
Longest day: 99.7km
Shortest day: 23km (deliberate half rest day)
Maximum speed: 54.2kph (downhill following dogchase)
Most difficult section: Several contenders, see below for details
Longest downhill: 45km after Solongotiyn davaa pass
Largest altitutide displacement in one day: 2060m (1500m to 2560m to 1500m)

Best coffee: While the best quality coffee was from Michele’s French Bakery in Ulaanbaatar, there were several brews that would rate as our the best coffee experience. These include: our only espresso machine coffee over the 1750km at Fairfield guesthouse accompanied with cinnamon rolls; the imported Starbucks coffee at Kristen’s ger during our lazy weekend mornings in Kharkhorin; several of our own filtered coffees in spectacular campsites and the thick Turkish coffee in Olgii marking the end of our trek.

Favourite convenience store snack: Initially the ‘Sandvic’ biscuits (2 wheat biscuits with a sandwich filling of chocolate) at about 90cents was a clear favourite. A similarly produced biscuit named ‘Windy’ lacked the structural integrity of the Sandvic and named seemed to carry bad karma. However, as the kilometers passed by we grew very attached to the Russian imported ‘Alpen Gold’ chocolate blocks which came in a variety of delicious flavours. They were still good when melted after a hot day in a pannier and given they became our mandatory post-dinner snack they get named our favourite.

Favourite Mongolian traditional food: Banshtai shul (Boiled meat dumpling soup)

Favourite alcoholic beverage: Middle of the day roadside vodka shots from a passing Altai Kazakh and his Mongolian entourage when were feeling rather defeated by mountains.

Most difficult section: Ohh boy, so many contenders.
The 76km corrugated leg along Hyargus Nuur where we pushed on so we could reach a lakeside hotel….that was closed. This section was where Ali’s front fork gave in.
Pushing our bikes for the most part of a 9km stretch where we climbed 1000m over Bairaam Pass. This mountain took 4 hours to get up. Yet we did enjoy a delightful downhill afterwards.
The 15km track of 10-15cm sand south from Naranbulag. We dragged the bikes for a good portion of this. Camped. Decided the next 190km of predominant pushing would be too much and so turned back the next day for an alternative route north of Naranbulag.
Yet we think the day we spent battling fierce headwinds through sand accompanied with frequent dust-storms, some bike falls and a lot of pushing takes the prize. During this section from Ikh Uul to Tosontsengel we travelled 40km with an average of 6.9kph when actually moving….it took us about 10hours.

Most enjoyable section: Lovely alpine campsite with fresh campstove pancakes (binh) set us up for an invigorating, steady climb over the 2600m Solongotiyn Pass above the snowline in clear weather followed by the start of our 45km of descent through a lush green valley lined with trees.

Average distance between coming by motorbike or nomad on horseback stopped by roadside waiting to inspect our steeds: 40km

Top 5 songs for steppe riding:
BBC world service and ABC 360 documentaries – not really music but keep the mind occupied while the legs keep spinning
I remember a time when once you used to love me – Dirty Three (A perennial favourite, and one which captures the mood of riding fast downhill on dusty corrugated roads)
Bucky Done Gun – M.I.A. (Moving beat that feels gritty and when the chorus starts has the goods to get you to the top of the hill “Get crackin, get get crackin!”)
Uprising – Muse (Big stadium pop-rock power ballad seemed to suit the steppe. This song allows you to feel like you can conquer the corrugations “They will not control us…we will be victorious”
One more cup of coffee – White Stripes (actually, anything with a Jack White vocal seems to work)

The cycle tourist verdict:
We’re still not really sure why we rode across Mongolia. There is something rugged, remote, challenging, wild and untouched about this country. It is cyclist vs steppe. This unknown attracted us to Mongolia. It would be a logistical trial. 

It turned out the conditions on the road made this a very difficult endeavour. The headwinds were horrendous and at times soul-destroying. The sand and corrugations were painful and relentless. Days were long and towns few and far between. Snow, dust, rain and desert heat all took their turns.

HOWEVER, sitting here in our hotel room (out of the wind) having finished our trans-Mongolian trek we think the rewards definitely outweigh the pain. The scenery is indescribable. Every day is surreal. Almost every campsite is breath-taking (it sounds clich├ęd, but it’s true). The land feels untouched. The nomadic culture is open and friendly to a couple of cycle tourists passing through its domain. A large part of living in Mongolia seems to be about surviving and with a (long haul) truck-load of western goodies we survived the self-induced challenge. It feels good. But we are still not quite sure why we did it.


Huw @ Commuter Cycles said...


If nothing else, it brought out the MacGyver in you both. Also, the rest will seem like a walk in the park now! Incidentally, how is the gearing working out? I notice you still did a lot of walking even with the MTB crankset.

Take care,

Anonymous said...

Dear Andrew and Ali,

Thank you for your time and energy to show "unclear" Mongolia to the World!

And you know, you showed us how to puzzle the World by 500 pieces, like this, you successfully puzzled western Mongolia.

Have a good trip around the World,
your MONGOLIAN family

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