Day 81: Cell Tower to Dalanzadgad , Dalanzadgad

Snow is smeared in all directions on the asphalt highway.
Ornate wind patterns.

Wow, I had a the best sleep last night.

The Mongolian mattress was the comfiest yet and I wasn’t at all cold, nor too warm. I dreamily floated along on a fluffy cloud of white noise, the gentle hum of the server farm constructing a matrix-sized room to fill with my dreams.

They were, of course, vodka dreams. Dreams of flooded buildings and my old flat relocated next to a pool the size of a lake. I swept floors for money, the cheffing being less appealing when my fellow chefs were more concerned with their appearance.

Back in the real world, I have no flat, no job, and only 15 days to get to China. Tweaking my map’s waypoints removes 135km of errors and brings Dalanzadgad ever closer. Soon, Pinky.

Knowing that it will be cold outside, I preemptively stash a bottle of water inside my backpack then put this on underneath my jacket. Except that it doesn’t fit. I make a mental note to buy smaller bottles that will better fit in my frame bag.

Well rested, an early start is in order. At 9am, I wave my phone friends goodbye and ride out into the snow.

Following the mantra, there’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing choices, I’m well prepared for the cold.

Dressed in my puffer jacket, rain jacket, balaclava and goggles, I’m nice and toasty, if a bit sweaty. I stop every ten kilometres or so to reheat myself with biscuits, chocolate and tea.

The steady snow transforms the dull road into an interesting challenge. Passing cars and wind whip up snow flurries, creating ornate patterns on the road. Sometimes my lane is completely blocked, forcing me to ride up the middle, as if I own it. In the distance, hardy cattle graze on low hills, apparently oblivious to the biting cold.

Three breaks and 30km later, the snow begins to thin, until the steppes are once again revealed in their browny autumnal hues. Stopping to pee, I accidentally reset my distance counter, erasing my delicate sense of progress with it. Are we there yet?

Eventually, Dalanzadgad’s town limits drift into view.

Several oversized pieces of 80s art stand in a barren paddock. There are seats to sit down, but it’s cold and I won’t be stopping. In the distance, a pall of mist or smog hangs over the town, and, as I enter, it starts snowing again.

Navigation is a nightmare in the poor visibility. With block after block of suburbia, I can’t find a direct way to the town centre.

Eventually I arrive at the main shopping centre and sit down outside a supermarket entrance, on a covered bench. Fumbling with my phone, I try to use with frozen hands. People look at the bedraggled cycle tourist and seem to laugh. After last night’s curious welcome, Dalanzadgad feels decidedly unfriendly.

Ditching the phone, I pull my goggles off my face and resume cycling the streets, hoping to spot some quality accommodation through my sleet stung eyes.

Eventually I spot a place with nice signage and nothing obviously broken. No-one is hanging out the window, and no fag is hanging out of their mouth. Looks good.

At ₮ 35,000 (NZD 27) a night, the Altai Hotel & Restaurant is over twice the price of my motel in Tsogt-Ovoo, I guess I’m in the big smoke now.

The deciding factor is the attached restaurant, but after paying for the room I’m told that it is closed for the off-season – I should have known better! All is not lost though, as the hotel maintains a small shop. Soon I am hauling a high-energy load back to my room, including a plate of defrosted buzze, some creamy chocolate eclairs, and two small bottles of water.

Logging into Facebook, I get a message request from the cyclist from Mandalgovi. We chat in sign language and smiles, our eyes hidden behind snow goggles. Their mirrored, wrap-around lenses signify a rite of passage, a willingness to wear weird clothing items to achieve elective ends. His camaraderie is encouraging and almost makes up for Dalanzadgad’s shitty welcome.

Still on Facebook, I see pictures of relations whose lives are catching up with them. Wrinkles abound and it’s sobering to realise that time doesn’t stop just because you leave to do your thing.

It makes me realise how fleeting life is and I wish I’d done this when I was 30. But I feel much more confident now. It’s a good thing, but over-confidence can lead to false assumptions. I need to be a bit humble and think of the future too. There’s still time to start a business and try a few other things before I hit 50.

Fearing that the days ahead will be more challenging than those behind, I download some Kiwi classics before logging off and jumping into the shower. To my surprise, the water starts hot and stays that way, a first for Mongolia. Perhaps Dalanzadgad isn’t so bad after all.