Day 68: Ulaanbaatar to Hotel , An isolated incident

The rear rack of my touring bicycle is piled high with gear.
The Troll had put on some serious winter weight.

Fact, I’m leaving today. Finally.

At breakfast, eggs on toast is replaced with a hearty meal of noodles and meatballs.

I’m unsure if everyone gets this, or if it’s a special menu just for me.

After settling my bill, Gan puts the fear of God into me by warning me about thieves on motorbikes. He advises me to stay on the main road and camp near gers. I should also avoid drinking from lakes ringed in green, as that indicates that they’re salt water. He gives me his work and cellphone numbers, in case I get into trouble.

Gan and his wife Ayona watch me pack the bike. This is less awkward than at the start of my Russian tour, but I still feel guilty about making them wait while I double check that everything is where it should be.

They oblige for a group shot with the Troll. Gan seems especially attached to her. I sense that he’d quite like to go off on a tour of his own, if his past experiences hadn’t made him more cautious about such endeavours.

With the camel blanket and full water reservoir loaded on the rear, the Troll is taller and heavier. I hope that she’s still rideable!

The Troll is, in fact, quite unwieldy in its present state.

When I hit the busy four lane Yarmag bridge, things quickly escalate from unwieldy to downright scary. The Troll starts to weave of her own accord. Speed wobbles!! As the weaving self-amplifies, it feels like I’m riding a bucking bronco. I’m petrified that I’m either going to wipe out in the middle of the bridge or collide with the southbound traffic and cause a painful pileup.

When I make it to the other side of the bridge intact, I pull over immediately. With so much weight over the rear wheel, the Troll’s tracking is seriously out of whack. The bulging water reservoir is the obvious candidate, so I unstrap the solar panel and set about redistributing the wet weight around the bike. The reservoir itself appears to be faulty and when I recall the gravel intake incident from Lake Baikal I realise that it’s got to go. I strap a 1.25L bottle on top of each pannier, and use a knife to puncture the reservoir and ditch the excess liquid.

Setting off again, the Troll now feels much more manageable, although I’m concerned about how I’ll carry enough water to survive in the desert.

On the road out to Chinggis Khaan International Airport, huge billboards advertise new housing developments. A concentrated hive numbering 16 or so, the apartment blocks stand between eight and fourteen stories tall. Three or four have already been built. With such close proximity to the airport, I hope they have good soundproofing.

When I reach the airport turn off, it’s just after 5pm. The sun is setting and the temperature plummeting. Google shows a dearth of accommodation nearby, so I rug up in a jacket and scarf and push on.

But the temperature is not the only thing a cyclist has to contend with out here. The airport traffic is diabolical. Impatient motorists incessantly pass one another in a non-stop barrage of blinding high-beams. The combination is nerve-racking and makes it impossible to get a sense of camping options beyond the road. I only know that I have to get off this amusement ride as quickly as possible.

The first motel I find, the Atlas, says Motel on the outside and Hotel on the inside. The latter is more accurate, as it costs a whopping ₮ 90,000 ($70) per night. On the plus side they have both a bar/restaurant and an affordable grocery store. I’m a bit unsure about leaving my bike downstairs with the watchman, so I lock up the wheels and cross my fingers.

The hotel is largely empty, so after dinner I chat to the owner. She has lived in the States and speaks good English, providing some interesting insights into the service industry here. Apparently Mongolians see tourists as cash cows, but aren’t aware that most of them actually need to work to earn their holidays and that good customer service is key to them sticking around. She’s doing her best to educate her employees, so that the tourism industry can blossom here.

I ask her about Gan’s marauding motorcycle bandits, but she says that people in the countryside here are fine. It’s the people in Russia that you need to watch out for. Having been to Russia, I can see parallels between her prejudice and Gan’s. One bad incident can scar us for life. But continuing to travel allows us to see a negative incident as an isolated one. It’s a life lesson that extends well beyond tourism.

I have a short, tepid shower, and hope that today’s negative experiences are also isolated. I’ve ridden a measly 21km from the Town Yard. I’ll need to hit the road early if I'm to claw back those k’s.