Day 78: Field to Tsogt-Ovoo , The coldest day so far

My orange tent in a vast snowy landscape peppered with small shrubs.
Winter wonderland.

I wake at 7am. It’s cold and I have cold hands.

In light of the sub-zero snow, I’d slept in extra layers and a balaclava. But the balaclava covered my ears and blocked my peripheral vision. I couldn’t see or hear my way around my sleeping bag’s adjustment system, so I’d just slept with my hands outside the bag.

More strange dreams. Another breakup scenario with my ex. Then a senior colleague staying in an nth story hotel room with a mutual friend. He showed me his view of a big city skyline and said that he had to ignore that to keep focussed. Then of a couple. The wife was a vampire and her husband was frustrated that he couldn’t stop her from sucking their child’s blood. Then of a famous retired actor selling a location based on corny Cheers associations.

It sounds like it’s still snowing outside. I need 3G so can I see what the weather is doing, but, regardless, I need to push on as I have limited time to make the border. The track to the road will be hard to find, but there are pylons to follow. Once I’m on the main road, it should be easy riding all the way down to Dalanzadgad - where there will hopefully be a sit down toilet!

Poking my nose outside the tent, I’m greeted by a winter wonderland of snow, extending as far as the eye can see. The white carpet is messily punctuated by small clumps of grass, the vast landscape begging for more. There’s snow and ice on my tent, and the Troll’s frame bag and chain rings are caked in snow.

Collecting clumps of the stuff with my Russian camping spade, I set up the Korean butane burner in the tent's vestibule and set about cooking up some breakfast and hot drinks.

Once my porridge is boiling I turn the control dial to bring it to a simmer, but the flames suddenly jump up – the damned thing’s gone mad!

All my senses are suddenly laser focussed on the mortal predicament in front of me. If the flames touch my nylon tent, I’ll lose my shelter in seconds, perhaps my life with it. Screw that! With no time for objective decision making, I quickly frisbee the flaming burner under the vestibule wall. It lands with a sizzle, the freak flame extinguished in the wet snow.

Yikes, what a sobering start to the day! Retrieving the miscreant burner from the snow I inspect the dial. Unless it moved in flight, it looks like someone turned it the wrong way..

The landscape sparkles in the late morning sun, and the killer-wind-from-the-North-which-burrows-into-your-eye-sockets is, thankfully, gone.

I eventually pluck up the courage to leave the safety of the power pylons and cross the Great Expanse separating me from the main road.

After pausing at the familiar pylons for sentimental reflection, I pick up a pair of tyre tracks and follow their lead.

Once back on asphalt, I realise what I’ve been missing. The smooth surface makes speeds of 30 km/h normal, three-to-six times faster than the bumpy track. The breeze is much colder on the road though, and before long my hands are aching again.

Rolling into Tsogt-Ovoo in the late afternoon, I check into the only obvious motel in town.

At ₮ 15,000 / NZD 11.50 per night, the Napan is pleasantly affordable. After dumping my gear, I head into town to stock up for the trip ahead. Unfortunately none of the shops sell my beloved porridge oats, but the journey is not a complete waste. The dark haired lady at the small grocery store has travelled here from the city, to help out during the holidays. She is super cute and reminds me of my second college girlfriend. I’m madly in love with her and it’s clear that extended solo camping makes my heart grow fonder, and not just my heart either.

With her help I buy the rest of my groceries, another bottle of gift vodka, some sweet bread rolls and a congratulatory beer. A mother and her child wait at the counter. I smile at the kid, who in return makes the universal that person stinks sign to his mother. Thankfully the mother is more restrained, and I skulk off into the night without any further confrontation.

Out in the refrigerated streets, I find myself dawdling. There’s no haste to make camp tonight and the apricot sunset can be enjoyed rather than feared. An American English expat teacher says that it’s the coldest day so far and the first snowfall in these parts. He’d thought that last year was cold, but manageable, but this year might be a different story! His frosty concerns magnify my mojo several fold.

A bit down the road, much excitement and chatter precedes a performance at the town centre. I’d love to go in and meet the locals, but the kid’s disapproval is still fresh in my mind. Smelly man carrying vodka is never a great ice-breaker.

Thankfully my room is warm and I spread my gear out on its myriad surfaces, for a sort out, dry out and throw out. The internet access is good, so I stay up much later than I should, putting together an invoice and doing a massive Facebook update.