Day 85: Dalanzadgad to Tsogttsetsii , Tsogttsetsii or bust

My unfastened balaclava reveals a red nose and red cheeks.
My I'm really not having a good time right now face.

Well, as expected, I was very cold night last night.

There was lots of icy wetness in the tent, and I experienced full body chills, nasty stuff. I’d skipped the pannier layer to get into bed sooner, and I couldn’t wear my balaclava and gloves as they were damp from sweating on the bike. I’d tried to make do with my Buff, but it was seriously underpowered. My ungloved hands were cold in my bag and my top and bottom layers wouldn’t stay tucked in. I just lay there in pain, hoping that daylight would come soon.

Maybe with a proper -40C sleeping bag this would be nice, but with the gear I have it’s not nice. I don’t want to do this any more. I don’t want to sleep in these -12, -17, -18C temperatures with my 2C comfort sleeping bag. It’s just ridiculous. Don’t get me wrong, the scenery is great, but the sunny pictures? They lie. It’s hard going and I wouldn’t recommend autumn/winter cycling in Mongolia to anyone. In fact I’m having serious thoughts about catching a train from Sainshand, direct to southern China. Anywhere with temperature in the teens.

To be fair, there was one part of me that wasn’t cold last night. It was, surprisingly, my feet. I plastic bagged them, and apparently that works! They still feel a bit numb, but numb has become the norm for me. At least they weren’t painful. I’d researched VBL (Vapour Barrier Layer) gear before leaving New Zealand, but it seemed like a sweaty solution. Now I realise that the concept of comfort is relative to how comfortable, or uncomfortable, you are currently feeling. In retrospect, I wish that I’d purchased a full set of VBL, or failing that, done a bit of research and bought one of the ubiquitous insulated Mongol cloaks from Ulaanbaatar. Hindsight..

Glorious rays of sun light up the tent walls, but opening the door reveals a cold wind. My riding clothes are wet and icy. Goody. I let out two loud, snotty sneezes, groan and haul my frozen carcass out of bed. Two and a half hours later I’ve breakfasted on hot noodles and am ready to face the last 50k.

A few hours down the road, I happen about a herd of horses.

Whether they are the same, annoyingly curious horses as last night, I cannot tell. But I have more important things on my mind anyway.

No more freezing nights on the steppe, today I’m going to make it to Tsogttsetsii, make or break. And sorry, grown babies, but I really want to stay at the H9 hotel. I just want to sort myself out, get on the Wi-Fi and do my washing. People are really friendly here, but I just don’t feel like socialising. Just give me a room with a spa pool and let me post that to Facebook in all of it’s shiny green glory.

The sunshine should make things better, but it isn't. I’m really not having a good time. It’s freaking cold and progress is even slower than usual, with more gear issues compounding things.

I had to cut the right front pannier strap last night, as I couldn’t get past the DIY string repair to the pinch buckle. Planning to just cut the string, I ended up cutting both in my panic. Today I realise that I can’t ride with only one front pannier and nothing to counter balance it, so I strap stuff on to the back rack as best I can. But gravity has other ideas, and I have to keep stopping to readjust bags that are falling onto the rear tyre.

As I near a habitation, I pass a couple of guys on the trail. They’re odd looking, taller, skinnier, and more ornately dressed than the folks I’ve met so far, almost African looking. Apparently they think that I’m odd too, responding to my greetings with looks of concern and mild terror.

A shrouded trail leads past a ger farm, a few kilometres off the track, to my port side.

It’s quarter to four. I should stop, because every time I haven’t I’ve regretted it. But the place looks too big and/or organised, plus I feel like an asshole repeatedly rocking up to strangers and imposing myself on them. Anyway, it’s Tsogttsetsii or bust. I have to try. Cold nights and freeloading guilt aside, I’m just not making enough progress. Against all odds, I need to do this.

The trail has been getting progressively clearer all day, and now I’m riding on a well defined 4WD road. The hill are alive with undulating trails, which should be fun to ride, if only my crappy panniers weren’t falling onto the back tyre every 500 metres.

At a junction, a maze of trails is cause for concern, but upon checking my GPS, I realise that I’m almost at the main road. And at 5.02pm I exit the trail and am elated to find myself back on a two lane black top. It’s all down hill from here!

But, after rechecking my GPS, I realise that I’m still 10km away from the actual road. I set off at a quick pace, confident that I can still reach Tsogttsetsii before nightfall.

Nightfall waits for no man though, but when it happens I think that I’ve finally found the road into town. Unfortunately its slippery surface is caked in ice and snow, and the sketchy, skidding descent into town is downright scary, my dynamo only providing a flicker of illumination.

At the bottom of the hill, there are some big picture signs but I can’t make out what they say.

I pass a set of low buildings on my right. Situated up a driveway, they’re not the flashy hotels I expected. Meanwhile, on my left there seems to be a huge lake of ice or snow, with some bright lights floating in the middle.

Is this Tsogttsetsii?

I ride around the perimeter. The tar seal road degrades into bumpy damaged sections and then 4WD track again. The evil cold wind is at my back, but when I reach the end of the road where the big trucks are going I am told, bish, I can’t go this way, I have to go around.

I head back, now facing directly into the evil cold wind. I’m swearing loudly at being stuck in this freezing unsignposted hell hole. I fall off in the low visibility and swear some more.

Heading back to the lake of snow, I find a road across. Is this a bridge? Is this Tsogttsetsii? A 4WD comes up behind me. I frantically wave it down. A woman says this isn’t the way, but I can follow her.

We pass a group of men sitting in their 4WD eating dinner. Unsure if the woman really understands where I want to go, I stop and ask them if this is the way to Tsogttsetsii. Like the workers they also say, no, I have to go around, and point in the direction that I’ve already come.

Thoroughly confused, I decide to follow the woman instead. At a junction she tells me to put my things in the back of her van. I’ve got no idea where I am, and nothing to lose. As we pass a two or three story neon animated building, she asks if I want to sleep there, or at her place? I try to say you decide but it means nothing and so we drive on, to her place.

She calls it her ger but her home is a prefab, almost a container house.

Located on a large plot of fenced land, it’s a different kind of ger - and I like it. As we step inside, it immediately feels homely. She tells me to sit down and feeds me bottomless cups of tea and sugar while she makes buzze for dinner.

It takes me a while to come right, quite a long while in fact. I realise how cold I am and how out of it I must have been, bumping around out there in the dark.

Her house is full of Chinese appliances, many of which look like they’ve never been used. The wall features a German cuckoo clock and the ceiling a lamp styled like a jet fighter. It’s like walking into 1960s’ America.

She uses a portable electric hot plate to cook eleven buzze, taking only one for herself. Handing me the other ten, I ask her why and she points at the clock. It’s 10.30pm.

After dinner she feeds me biscuits and lollies, then lends me her big felt slippers and heavy jacket, and points out the toilet in the corner of the yard. When I return, she is putting the finishing touches on my bed. A comfy double mattress lies on the lounge room floor, topped with two thick blankets to keep me warm.

Snuggling down, I drift off to sleep, feeling well loved and very grateful.