I was nervous as I was preparing the first leg Bulgan to Altai into western Mongolia, a leg of 600km with very little supplies and people, mind I say the Gobi desert.
The photos Bulgan to Altai
The morning came and I was as ready as I could be with a small cold coming along. I cycled out of Bulgan, people were getting ready for the days trade at the central square. As I cycled past they looked as they couldn’t believe what they saw, as always when I get these looks I wave and smile and instantly people where cheering at me, was a nice boost to leave Bulgan like this. First section was paved so went pretty wel but after 30km the pavement stopped and turned into a road under construction, this was okay only the bridges were not finished meaning I had to cross the rivers. At first I did not think it was a frozen river but more a large pond due to the building of the bridge, half way on the ice I thought “shit shit”, this is a lot bigger, deeper, might still be flowing underneath and I did not check it before riding onto it and then it happend as I rolled over a hump of ice the ice gave in, I was still 1,5 m from the shore! I was lucky as the ice was in layers and it could just support me and Mojo I pushed through the ice with my feet in the water hoping that my boots could handle it. Yes, no wet feet as the water just froze in the leather before it could come through. Lesson learned: have a look around where did the people cross the frozen water/river and check first!
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: