I made it to the mining road, a paved road made by the Chinese to excavate the mine and transport the materials not sure what kind of mine it is, at 85km I came by a small ger camp I still had an hour of daylight so on one hand I could push on and camp or I could have my first experience in a Mongolian ger. As I am not here to be a wild adventurer and survive on nothing everyday, no I am here to experience Mongolian life even in winter, by the way it was -14c and I was ready to stop. So I went in to the first ger 3 children were playing they invited me but I would rather speak with their parents first so with some hand signals I said I would go to the next ger. Here a Mother and 4 children were cooking and they invited me in gave me tea and some fried bread pieces called boortsog , felt so natural to them of course not every day a westerner walks in their ger but I think every day a stranger would walk in. As I sat and drank my tea a Mongolian guy came sat down drank a cup of tea and left, this is apparently the custom that you can just walk in and have a sit. After a while I asked if I could stay the night this they did first not understand as 40km ahead there would be a village Bartlag where I could ask. I explained that by bicycle I can not go so fast and it was getting dark. Okay I could sleep on the bed no questions asked. Well a lot of questions but not to the fact if I could sleep there or not. Had a special evening with the family, the mother cooked a great meal that we all shared. Time to sleep and beds where made and the small solar lamp turned of.
It was such a special experience to stay with the family and I left the next morning with a smile on my face. this day would be the mountain day GPS said 2300m and the map 2800m hmm what to believe. I cycled and cycled met some Mongolians on their way to Altai we talked and they gave me new directions than what I had planned. I wanted to reach the top of the pass but at 2100m it was getting dark and a van had stopped me saying that there would be too much snow I should go with them and I almost agreed but had a strange feeling so said no. I camped was tired climbing all day in -12c and now it was getting dark and windy in the gorge. I found a spot, set the tent and started cooking. Then I found out I had lost my spork hmm what to do ohh yes Susanne gave me 2 Chinese sticks as a small gift when I left Urumqi, well dinner was noodles so perfect fit.
Next day I topped the pass it was 2800m hmm GPS… well no problem had a great down hill to 2200 and there was another ger camp just for lunch time I went in the ger that turned out to be a small shop so bought some instant noodles and had them for lunch! Perfect 🙂 I asked of the road to Altai and they also gave my directions of Tonhil and Sharga we looked on the map and I had looked on the GPS the night before and it looked like a good route. Through the desert though, hmm will there be snow?
I took the chance and went off the paved road in to the mountains down to a plain 80km, that day a small ger with an old lady appeared and she said I could stay there. Great I thought and I unpacked and she cooked dinner just for me, different I thought, she had some left over meat. Of to sleep after smsing with Susanne as there was mobile reception. Of course 2 hours later a mini van stops outside the ger and the lady jumps out of bed turns on the light and 7 people come into the ger. Now I understood that this was a Hotel/restaurant ger :/ well the people were surprised to see me there sleeping in a sleeping bag. First I stayed in the sleeping bag hoping they were just coming for tea but no the lady started cooking. I got up and tried to interact with them but they mainly found me very strange and shaking their heads and laughing 🙂 well one guy from Altai confirmed my route choice and gave me some km distances to the next gers. This turned out to be good advice.
As I had gone down to the plain of Lake Tonhil all snow had disappeared and I was worried about water as I cycled further in to the desert it became apparent that the 3 liters I had was all I had till next ger. I cycled past camels like I have never seen before big and hairy! At the 60km mark where the guy had told me there should be a ger! No ger hmm okay he said there would be a ger 50km after this it was 13.30 and still a bit of down hill so I set goal I will make it to the next one. At 75km the ger was there at an antenna in the desert, should I stop and have the same issue tomorrow with water or push on to the 110km mark? I pushed on this was hard going down hill had stopped and track was becoming sandy. The sun was going down and car came by I stopped them and asked for water and the next ger they said 30km which was a bit further than I thought it would be but I was still on track. 18.00 I should be there meaning 1hour of cycling in complete darkness in the gobi desert by the way 🙂
A track less used looked good and on the GPS it would be a shortcut saving me 3-4km okay lets do it, I thought it would be 10km of the main track but hey a track is a track I thought. Soon I thought different as half way it was deep heavy sand had to push sections of 200-300m sun was now under the horizon and I was sweating mind me in -10c hmm did I make the right choice? Well I said to my self i can always stop camp and use the 4 liters of water I have refill tomorrow at the ger, this calmed me down and I got on the main track which was smooth for a part I was now at 101km almost dark a mini bus passed I asked where is the ger, they said 5km “puu” I thought almost there. Now it was dark I had the light on Mojo and head lamp mounted in case of extra light. I could only see the track every thing was dark, I saw lights coming behind me a 4×4 just passed me in high speed dust everywhere. I pushed on no ger at 5 km mark okay I thought looked at the GPS and there was an intersection of tracks 10km further ahead it must be there I thought. Keep calm and cycle I could not really feel how fast but it felt slowish, there it is I thought lights in the distance, no that was the 4×4 a bit lost they asked if I had a map but we agreed that they should just follow the track as well as they where on their way to Ulaanbaatar, a husband and wife they gave me some food and asked if i wanted to join them to Ulaanbaatar. 2 sec I had to think but no-way Altai was the first leg! They drove of in a dust cloud again and darkness was back. Now I realised that I would never find a ger in the dark as it has no windows and little light inside. Hmm nice one Martin! Well now I did see lights in the distance maybe 10km maybe 4km hard to say they where moving so cars! Must be the intersection. I cycled and cycled it felt maybe 45min locked on the lights then 4lamps appeared not moving and a saw a car stop there! Yes, that’s it got there and a car was parked I asked which ger I should enter to pointed at the first.
Warmth and light a family preparing dinner again they gave me tea while shaking their heads as I was pulling ice out of my beard! The where lovely and took care of me and I could sleep there as well 🙂 So nice! As I sat there different people would enter the ger to have a look a the stranger 🙂
It was nice and many laughs were shared. Had a nice meal and a good sleep. The next morning the man of the ger was getting dressed to go out so I asked if he was going by motorbike he shaked his head and made an noise, I didn’t know the noise so shook my head, he then made sign of a camel. Okay he was just going to check on the camels, on his camel. After he had a go on Mojo he left on his camel in the sunrise! What a morning 🙂
90km to Altai and 1200m climbing on tracks I decide it was a today job and it was a hard cycle 60km of mixed tracks camped in a riverbed out of sight in the wind?? Had a good sleep and was ready for ALTAI!
I made it to Altai, found a hotel and called Byron a guy who lives in Altai and has started a pizza shop! Had a great evening with pizza and coke, nice chats. Sadly the next morning I woke with food poisoning 🙁 not the ideal way of rest! Now on day 2 I am better hope to be able to leave in a day or two 🙂
The route I rode from Bulgan to Altai passing by Tonhil and Sharga see the gpx track below: