Day 79: Tsogt-Ovoo to Rock Garden , Tsogt-Ovoo

At the edge of town, houses and roads disappear and there is only a great expanse which looks like an ocean.
Town stops at an ocean of sand.

In the morning, a preflight stocktake reveals that my Platypus bladders are now seriously compromised.

Barely three months old, their failure is discouraging and perhaps the repeated freezing and thawing of their contents is to blame. But if it’s an excuse to head back to The Supermarket of Love, I can’t really complain.

Unfortunately my ex’s doppelgänger isn’t there today, but I do manage to find four reindeer branded 1.5L water bottles, their hourglass depressions fitting neatly under the pannier straps. I also note that there is an oversupply of plastic razors on sale, an odd concession to the complete lack of deodorant.

After dropping my bounty back at the motel, I go in search of breakfast, the hunt taking me all over town.

Tsogt-Ovoo is a sprawling affair, large chunks of it wrapped in a wooden fence.

It seems reasonably modern and well cared for. Concrete and brick feature heavily in the one and two story buildings, and shallow roofs seem sufficient to ward off the winter snows. A modern yellow digger is parked next to a construction site, and a proud army of street lights point their solar panels skyward.

A few people drive around in Japanese SUVs, passing a low-key police presence and crumbling farm animals standing guard. There are no tented gers in sight, but motifs provide a nod to the traditional tent’s centrepiece.

At the outskirts, the town abruptly stops as it encounters a great ocean. It is in fact the desert steppe.

After walking all over town, a man with an SUV offers to drive me to The Restaurant.

Worried that the drive might extend past my checkout time, I enlist the help of four random passersby. We finally determine that The Restaurant is only three minutes drive away!

Situated on the outskirts of town, the interior of The Restaurant is light and airy and before long I am enjoying hot tea, Tsuivan and buzze. I’m mostly on my own and I wonder if the rest of town have rushed off to work, or simply seen the snow as an excuse to climb back into bed.

At the edge of town, a split road beckons, but my iPhone has chosen this exact moment to die.

It’s 2:30pm, and, unwilling to commit another Mandalgovi, I head to the service station to ask for directions to Dalanzadgad. On the station forecourt, my request is met with much amusement by the two attendants and their customers. They must think that I’m such an amateur!

The correct road out of town is flanked in snow, but otherwise clear. I ride until the sun is setting, the sudden plunge in temperatures a scary reminder about the need to get the tent up before dark.

I set up camp off the road on a low hill strewn with bike-size boulders. The tent’s wide footprint doesn’t fit in my preferred spot, and I have to drag its bulky frame around in the wind until I find another tent-sized hole. Thankfully the wind drops shortly after.

Aware that it is only going to get colder, I place my empty Ortlieb panniers under my air mattress. The result is a little uncomfortable, but it makes me a little more confident about sleeping in such cold weather.

Dinner is cut short when my special -20C gas mix abruptly cuts out, leaving me with no cooking facilities. I’ll deal with it in the morning.