Day 82: Dalanzadgad to Field , Snow mobile

My bike's front wheel is half submerged in fresh powder.

I’m woken at 2am to loud voices, someone leaving their room then remembering Oh I Just Have To Say This One Other Thing right outside my door. Grrr.

The morning sees me bleary eyed and bitter about my crap sleep. It’s partly, mostly, my fault for staying up late on the computer, but it seems much more convenient to lay blame with my hosts. Uninterrupted sleep is the number one reason to rent a room, so big FAIL Altai.

Ger hospitality seems to be a proud Mongolian tradition, but it doesn’t translate so well to the new tourist economy. Don’t get me wrong, it’s great to be welcomed into a stranger’s private home, without notice, at some random hour. In fact, this selfless obligation has saved my bacon on numerous occasions. But once money becomes involved, it seems less cool. A paying guest doesn’t expect to be woken by loud greetings at 2am, or to be competing with extended family members for access to the hostel jug. Yet accommodation providers here seem indifferent to this.

On reflection, treating everyone the same does seem most fair, but it grates on the Western concept of entitlement. Should the conditions of the transaction be determined by the monetary value associated with it, or is money a secondary feature? And is monetary reward actually a poor substitute, a cheap substitute, for what would otherwise be a semantically laden, intra-cultural exchange? I fear that it’s the latter, a workaround for the foreign tourist who holds less intrinsic value. As convenient as it is to buy one’s way out of discomfort, it’s a far less sincere, less meaningful approach, and I yearn for something more primitive.

My foul mood continues out onto the streets of Dalanzadgad.

Everything is annoying. The un-Happy Days gift shop, a clapped-out jeep on top of a hunk of rock, even the cute Katzenzungen at the local Nomin fail to penetrate my steely exterior, as I stockpile more food for the grind ahead.

Finding the road out of town is equally traumatic.

A snow-tracked stretch of asphalt is easily navigable, but there’s a strong tail wind and snow is blowing across its surface, making it super sketchy. The shoulders are caked in ice, and pulling out of the traffic’s path inevitably finds me sliding right back into it. I’m worried about having an accident.

Thankfully, the shoulder improves the further I ride out of town. But finding the connecting trail is a serious mission. Reminiscent of the Turin Shroud, the mottled surface of the 4WD track looks like it’s been tagged by teenagers let loose with a spray gun. Four or five trips are made down side roads, each time following a flirtingly promising track. Four or five backtracks follow, as the flirt inevitably loses interest, forcing me back to the main road to try again.

Theoretically, it’s all steppe, I could take any path in Tsogttsetsii’s direction, but the past few weeks have emphasised the difference between a path and the path, and time ain’t on my side.

I pass a motorcyclist who is coming, rather than going. He asks for a smoke, while rubbing his hands together. His bike isn’t fitted with pogies and I cringe to think how he suffers at speed, because my hands get cold enough at the Troll’s slow crawl.

In the end it’s just a matter of picking a path and hoping that it will eventually line up with the GPS.

The actual road to Tsogttsetsii is therefore marked by a motorcycle track, bisected by a pair of 4WD tyre marks. X marks the spot.

And the weather agrees, soon clearing to beautiful blue skies. The reverse of yesterday, I wonder if Dalanzadgad has it’s own snowy micro climate.

The road/track is a mixed bag.

Clear of snow in some parts, and two feet deep in snow in others, tyre tracks alternate between white paint trails and thick cutouts. The variation makes riding a much more considered task.

Under my burly Marathons, the snow functions like white choc-dip. Its crispy outer makes a dry squelching noise, which is simultaneously pleasing and nauseating. But it’s the soft-serve, sandy interior that threatens to derail the Troll’s trajectory. I’ve been steadily lamenting the ice tyres that I hoped to buy in Ulaanbaatar, but perhaps they wouldn’t have helped here after all.

Whenever possible, I ride on the high or brown bits of the track, like a selective snow mobile. However sometimes the road is just one big pile of snow, and then I avoid it altogether, favouring a bumpy detour to a route booby-trapped with snowy crevasses. Sometimes I hit them anyway, and my front wheel sinks deep into the snow. I have to use all of my energy to save the Troll and drag her to higher ground.

The novelty of the snow soon wears off and the trail becomes dull, dragging my motivation down with it. There’s a marker for what looks like a well, and some offerings of bling on a small knoll, but none of the ruins that made the first half of the ride so agreeable.

After losing so much time to finding the road/track, I call it a day after a mere two hours of travelling on it. I pick a spot, midway between two rough tracks, and the persistent wind retires with me. Keen to avoid the brunt of the cold, I get the tent set up quickly, while catching glimpses of a beautiful sunset, the broad landscape ringed in pink. There are plenty of gers out here, but I feel like it would be cheeky to ask for help after my warm night in the hotel. After all, I’ve got perfectly good camping gear with me.

Snacking on a quick dinner of hot tea and biscuits slathered in peanut butter and butter, I’m in bed by 8pm. It has been a difficult day and I hope that tomorrow is more manageable.