Day 69: Hotel to Ger , Mongolia’s Got Talent

Sunset illuminates the underside of a mottled cloudscape.
So beautiful.

I awake to a clear morning, with a dusting of snow over the barren landscape.

After breakfast and hot coffee from a tea pot, I head downstairs and am happy to find that my bike is still where I left it.

Despite leaving at nine, by 1pm I have only travelled 40km.

An average of 10km/h, half of that on the ups and two or three times as much on the downs. Unless I hit a tailwind or a long downhill, today’s target of 120 to 140km won’t be achievable.

It’s disappointing, but I’m still getting over my cold, I feel a bit unfit and one of my knees is a bit sore. But if I don’t harden up quickly, it is going to be very difficult to meet my schedule.

I pass a car stopped on the side of the road. Calling out Sain baina uu! (hello), the sole occupant responds with a happy wave.

Then I notice a second car. I repeat my greeting but this lot are far less happy. Their attention is fixated on their flat tyre and they look positively gloomy.

A bit further down the road, a car passes me and I hear a Heyyy! I ignore this, because I don’t really know what to make of people here yet, or who to trust, with all the stories of marauding bandits and the like.

So I keep going, but the car passes me again and pulls over on the side of the road. I realise that it’s the happy waving guy from the first car. I can’t really ignore him without being rude, so I stop to see what he wants.

He asks me if I want a lift as he’s heading down the road. I show him the map on my phone, which seems a bit risky, and try to figure out if we’re heading in the same direction. It looks like he is actually heading past my goal of the day, which is great, so I take a risk and accept his offer. He looks a bit dodgy, but I reason that, if things get nasty, there’s only one of him to get past - although one Mongol is at least a couple of Kiwis.

I load the Troll into his van and climb into the front seat next to him. He introduces himself as Dawadirch (sic). He’s a friendly guy, despite the somewhat intimidating scar on his face. We drive on, the hum of the engine sending me to sleep and the fear of mugging waking me up again. In between my risky slumbers I feed him lollies and cigarettes so that he doesn’t follow my lead.

120km or so later, he drops me on the side of the road. I glance at my map and see that we’re 35km from the next town. He asks me if I have lights, to which I reply that I do. But my headlight is missing the obligatory blinding high beam, and I’m keen to avoid the night shift after last night’s experience.

I soon pass a ger, but am hesitant to stop. I’m trying to cover some distance under my own steam, but, more than that, I fear that this might actually be Dawadirch’s place. When I’d asked him where he was going, he’d just waggled a finger in the general direction of the road. He hadn’t gone so far as to invite me to stay, so I reckon it would be weird for me to randomly turn up at his place with my tent, like some kind of awkward misunderstanding.

With no time to stop, I open Voice Memo and record a recap of my day. It’s my first audio diary, and it’s not what I expected. I’d hoped to make a crystal clear production with unique Mongolian foley. Instead I mumble and laugh into it, while the incessant wind blows noisily in the background. Maybe I’ll have better luck tomorrow.

After another 10km, the sun starts setting, the large golden globe firing shades of bright orange and peach into a wash of fluffy clouds.

With nervous flashbacks to yesterday, I mentally kick myself for not stopping at that first ger.

Pulling my Russian monocular out of its zipped pouch, I scan the rapidly fading landscape for signs of life. If I don’t find anything soon, I think I’ll just pitch my tent. I’m actually quite looking forward to using my burner, now that YouTube has demystified the primal art of priming.

But then a couple of gers catch my attention. Hitting the off-road button, I ride up to the first one. A couple of guys on a motorbike quickly intercept me. I greet them and ask if this is their home. They reply that it is and with that I’m allowed to proceed inside.

I step through the doorway, and greet the man who is there, asking him if I can set up camp nearby. Gan told me that this was the best way to avoid wolves, both those with and those without tails. I guessed that, like real wolves, the motorcycle raiders were after people’s cattle, and maybe even more than that.

The man replies that I can and invites me to sit down. Soon, his wife and cute 4 year old daughter arrive home, and prepare hot milk and bread, which they share with me. They repeatedly suggest that it would be warmer to sleep inside with them, but I repeatedly decline, and so they come outside and help me to set up camp in the dwindling remnants of day light.

After a dinner of milky rice and a different bread, we sit in front of their TV and watch Mongolia’s Got Talent. When I feel my eyelids dropping, I excuse myself to go to bed.

It’s freezing outside the heated ger.

Stuffing my damp riding gear into my sleeping bag, I put on my sleeping gear, scooch into my thermal liner, sleeping bag and survival bag, then burrito myself with my thick camel blanket. It feels pretty cosy, but my fingers ache as I try to use my phone.

Inspecting the rough angular route on my digital map, I discover that I’m actually only 25km from the next town. My good samaritan probably saved me 140km of riding today. Combined with the 50km I rode today and the 21km I rode yesterday, I’m on target to tick off my three day goal of 230km.

But I won’t get a free ride every day, and nor would I want one. Perhaps I can manage 70 to 80km per day? That’s going to affect some of my more optimistic estimates, and could prevent me getting to the border at Zamiin-Uud before my extended visa runs out. I quite like Mongolia, so I’m not excited by the prospect of being banned from future entry and/or of being arrested and/or of receiving a nasty fine.

But I remain philosophical. The only way to know how fast I ride is to set a target and ride towards it, and in that regard my sprint planning is providing quick feedback on how well I’m progressing. And where there’s a will, there’s a way.

I awake after a couple of hours.

Needing to go, but hesitant to get up, I scooch out of my sleeping sacks and take a leak in my new pee bottle. It sounds disgusting, but with my limited Mongol I haven’t yet learned what’s appropriate and I’d hate to offend my hosts by soiling where I shouldn’t.

I discover that my sleeping bag exterior is wet, the outer survival bag acting as a Vapour Barrier Liner (VBL). That’s by design, but I didn’t realise how much moisture I’d be venting.

Cold chills are creeping down my back, so I remove the outer bag, put it on top of my inflatable DownMat and put on the remainder of my gear. I’m now wearing no less than six top layers (merino, merino, foil, camel hair, Polartec, Primaloft) with two hoods, a cashmere scarf & gloves, two hats (merino, foil), two pairs of leggings (polypro, camel hair) and two pairs of socks (synthetic, merino). I probably look like the abominable snowman, but there’s no point in carrying around all of this gear and then feeling cold!

I wolf down a Snickers bar, the expensive Western snack that I got hooked on on the van tour. Fatty foods are supposed to kick start your metabolism and I hope the extra warmth gets me through the night.