Day 71: Field to Hill , The motorcycle men

Two men in motorcycling gear pose with our three loaded touring bikes.
Tim & Lloyd.

6am, time to get-the-hell-out-of-dodge!

Or at least, that was the plan. But somehow I slept through my alarm and woke up at 9am instead. Luckily no-one has bothered me, despite my pitch being more exposed than I realised.

My plan was to ride further, by riding longer. I’d ride from 8 til 6, with an hour off for lunch. But now it seem that I won’t even get going until lunchtime.

It doesn’t help that my trusty iPhone is flat. I’m using the new Samsung, and while it’s good to have a backup, the camera sucks, the GPS is slow, the alarm doesn’t wake me up, and most of the apps I use don’t have Android versions.

Charging my gear is proving challenging. My Voltaic Fuse 10W Solar Laptop Charger isn't charging the 20,000mAh V72 battery as fast as I'd imagined and my dynamo hub isn’t helping much either. I’m wishing that I got the more expensive German SON, rather than the cheaper Chinese SP hub. I read somewhere that the latter needs a minimum speed of 15km/h to generate enough current to charge an iPhone, and that this was the norm for touring. I’ve decided that this is actually B.S. I’m usually travelling far slower than that, and when I do manage to get up enough speed, the phone's screen lights up, instantly wasting the extra power.

Anyway, live and learn.

Looking forward to a quick brunch of eggs and chocolate before I break camp, I’m disappointed to find a second shell of ice around my hard boiled eggs.


Even though it feels warmer out of the wind, water and food tends to freeze in the tent, and I’m hesitant to share my sacred sleeping bag with anything wet or messy.

To combat the drop in temperature, I’ve been experimenting with my bedding arrangement. Even though my mattress is great, I’m finding it difficult to get comfortable in bed. Perhaps that's from cold spots, or because my legs are aching from so much riding.

Through trial and error, I’ve gone for the following bottom-to-top layered approach:

  1. First up is the tent footprint. The first night I put this under the tent and pegged it out, which was all good, except that when the wind came up there weren’t enough pegs left for the tent. Luckily the wind died down. Since then, I’ve used the footprint doubled over, as an extra floor for my tent.
  2. On top of this I have the camel blanket. It extends to the edge of the tent and no further, so that there is enough length for the roll, see below.
  3. Next is my inflatable down mattress. It’s supposed to be pretty good, but by itself it’s not enough.
  4. Then I’ve got the orange SOL survival blanket, as a layer to reflect heat.
  5. And finally my sleeping bag, containing my Thermolite liner.

My head doesn’t fit on my medium length mattress, which the salesman recommended as an easy way to save space and reduce weight. So I lay my head on a dry bag full of clothes instead. It works well, but when I roll over my breath/drool make the nylon outer wet and cold. I’ll try wrapping it in something more snuggly.

In the ger yard, I tried to triangulate the blanket, so I could wrap it over both my head and my feet, but I when I inevitably rolled over into my side sleeper position I ended up losing both ends.

So last night, I cocooned myself like a small e, in the roll. First, I secured the blanket under my down mat, then I wrapped it over my body, and finally I secured it under me, wrapping my feet in a cashmere scarf. This arrangement gave me some flexibility to roll while keeping me toasty, though my feet were, and are, still cold.

There are a number of reasons why this might be:

  • My sleeping bag’s foot box uses a drawcord system. It’s probably some designer’s attempt to make the bag three season, but it definitely feels like we’re entering the fourth season now.
  • I went to bed in damp riding socks, losing the dexterity to do things like change socks when the temperature dropped at sunset.
  • I'm six feet tall and my feet almost touch the tent wall.

I read somewhere that the Eskimos use something like animal fat to insulate their tootsies, so maybe I’ll experiment with applying Vaseline, to block out the cold, or perhaps Deep Heat, to stimulate the blood flow.

Suffering aside it is beautiful here and I’m enjoying tweaking the recipe as I go. As they say, a change is as good as a holiday.

It’s a cold, stiff headwind out on the road.

The next town is about 30km away, but I’m already thinking about all the stuff that I’ll buy when I get there.

First up, I need to get some more water. My awesome water management plan had me carrying 20L, but since ditching the wobbly bladder on the bridge and mysteriously losing my 3L Camelbak, I’m down to about eight and half litres, which doesn’t leave much for cooking.

Next, I was trying to be healthy but I think I’m going to try and find some more Snickers. They’re good to chew on in the cold tent, nice and crunchy.

And some internet access would be great too. I’m carrying two smartphones loaded with three SIM cards, but as I have to stop to check whether I have a signal I only bother to do so at camp. The last two sites have been black spots and the hotel was pretty marginal too. I did investigate satellite data before I left home, but it was horrendously expensive. It would be seriously difficult to work as a Digital Nomad out here.

In the late afternoon, I stop to shoot some silhouettes beneath the arched gateway to Mandalgovi.

While deciding whether to stay in town or camp on the steppe again, a couple of motorbikes pull up.

Are these the infamous wolves of the steppe?

But no, smiling faces emerge from beneath helmets and googles. They introduce themselves as Tim and Lloyd and they are excited to find me riding a bicycle way out here! I try to contain their enthusiasm by telling them that I’ve only been on the road for a couple of days!!

They, on the other hand, look like the real deal. Ex military and on a mission to cross the steppes before heading back home to England and Wales, they have travelled far to get here. They have a can-do attitude and their heavily laden bikes look powerful enough to defy any sand storm, worm, or dune.

Like me, they’re also aware that sunset is not far away. We decide to make camp on the nearby hill.

While I set up my spacious two-and-a-half person glamping palace, they throw up a small one man tent - and a camouflaged bivvy!

But won’t Lloyd be cold in his bivvy, I ask? Maybe, it’s an experiment, Tim replies. Not expecting tonight to be any warmer than the past few, I’m seriously impressed by their bravado, and slightly concerned!

But I have absolute confidence in their cooking skills. With some pork which ‘needs using’, they put together an awesome risotto, and promise fresh coffee for breakfast! In lieu of any firewood, we start a dung fire to keep warm. I pass around my bottle of vodka, my sole food item befitting of such an occasion.

We sit on top of our hill and survey the steppe below. The landscape triggers memories of their military tour in Afghanistan. Their recollections raise difficult questions beyond their rank, reinforcing their shared decision to leave. They're nice guys and I hope that civilian life is much kinder to them.