Day 19: Beach to Elga , Ageless Olkhon

Grassy steppes and distant mountains.
Big climbs and deep vibes.

Morning comes, and I still have the beach to myself – I even have my own boat!

Number 1388, it is parked with its back to the grassy beach, as if it reversed too quickly, without looking where it was going. Whether it is marooned or not, I cannot tell, but thick ropes bind it lazily to the shore, preventing it from wandering very far.

Several similar boats are moored in the atmospheric bay. They linger quietly nearby their stricken companion, but a safe distance from the twisted pieces of metal that dot the beach and the shallows.

Curious about their purpose, I clamber on board via the lowered gangway. The superstructure is devoid of people or technology, yet it feels capable, confident and resilient. Whatever its function, I’m sure there’s still life in this old girl yet.

Breaking camp, I leave behind a tidy little fire of tinder, coal, paper, cardboard and some dried beach grass.

Dormant and unlit, it poses no threat to the nearby houses, only to my ego. I seem to have mastered earth and wind, but, despite managing to summon sparks with my Light My Fire fire steel, actual flames remain elusive.

An earlier web search revealed that it was a fine art and that I should allow between 5 and 15 minutes. But I gave up after 30.

The situation is not yet desperate, but I don’t think Mongolia will be much fun without the ability to heat things or keep myself clean. I’ll look for a lighter when I hit the next shop, and grab some gas canisters when I reach Irkutsk.

On the up side I’m developing a bit of a fetish for uncooked noodles, and I’ve left the area a bit tidier than I found it.

But really, any daily concerns are far outweighed by the deep vibes of Olkhon and the sense of accomplishment for making it this far.

I am slightly concerned, however, when I start passing signs for deadly snakes, and large no-go conservation areas.

On the other hand, people actually seem to use the rubbish bins here. There’s a price to pay for perfection and I’m happy to play by Olkhon’s rules while I’m here.

As I follow the coast, I begin to climb again, willing my heavy steed up the 12% grades.

It feels like I’m riding into the clouds, and onto the rooftop of the world. But the views are stunning and it’s totally worth the effort.

Rolling green hills melt into the soft curves of the sandy coastline. They gently caress my senses, inviting me to aimless exploration. I easily succumb, but remain wary of steep drops into the watery depths below.

As I pedal across the hilltops, I get a sense of the agelessness of this place. When you get past the chaotic jumble of 4WD tracks linking the settlements, the place feels untouched, pre-historic even.

And then, in the distance, something catches my eye. I think I can make out … a figure. Watching me from the mountain top, he clenches a long staff in his weathered grip, his wild beard catching the stiff breeze. Perhaps he is an ancient time lord, a guardian, keeping a careful eye over these sacred lands. But then I look again and he is gone.

Olkhon feels pretty special and I can understand why it’s one of the five Shamanic poles. I’m really glad that I’m here.

But I’m expecting to see a town soon, Khuzir.

I wonder how far away it is, and how big this undulating island is, on a bike.

Then I happen upon a small flock of sheep, and a rustic Portaloo, which together mark the boundary of a small village. There, the houses snuggle together, presumably to keep warm. It’s not the religious mecca that I was expecting and perhaps it is just an outpost.

With no need to refuel, I press on. But I don’t have the energy to tackle the massive hill that awaits and I’m paranoid about my head torch failing me again. I resolve to set up camp while it is still light, despite having ridden for only four hours.

Heading back down to the coast, I take a moment to talk to a patched herd of cows. They stare lazily back, languishing at a safe distance in the mud.

When I reach the coast, I spot a great camping site near a sandbar.

But signage marks it as a permit-required nature reserve, and I have a promise to keep.

A small wooden hut sits on the sandbar itself. I’d love to sleep in here, surrounded by the sounds of lapping water. Alas, it is well boarded up.

A large house guards the hills on the other side of the sandbar. I nervously ride under its large windows, before coming to rest at a small bay, a few hundred metres away.

Setting up my tent and sleeping gear, I emerge to find a small herd of beautiful horses, who have come down to the water for a drink.

After some brief, one-sided conversation, I sit down at the log picnic table and set up my laptop, to capture some thoughts. There’s a small lake behind me, with the sand bar behind that and then Lake Baikal proper. The sun is setting and I can hear both the gentle lapping of water at the lake’s edge and the roar of the tide coming in.

It’s Sunday night, and my second night on Olkhon. I only left Irkutsk on Tuesday morning, but that already feels like a lifetime ago. All I’ve been doing on this trip is preparing for riding and camping, then actually riding and camping. Yet I feel tired. The cold nights, rough tracks and steep climbs have demanded more from me than I expected. The resulting laziness compounds into late starts and early finishes, which leave little time for covering new ground.

But it’s only 8:25pm here now, five hours ahead of Moscow. So I’ll go to bed earlier tonight and hopefully have more energy tomorrow.

As the sun sets, a flipped half moon appears to take its place, gently gracing the expansive sky.

It’s fairly chilly, but I’m wearing my hoody, beanie, puffer, and the long tights which I wore under my riding shorts today. Plus, I’ve enlisted the tasty help of the local vodka.

It’s nice to have something special and warming as a night cap. The mainstream vodka here is infinitely better than the mainstream ‘Russian’ vodka sold in New Zealand, and the Kak CtekAblLLIKO gifted to me by the unkempt man in Chita was surprisingly good. But it cannot compare to the smooth Taaka brand that I’m currently enjoying, and has now been demoted to sterilisation duties.

I’m not sure if it is the vodka, or the loneliness, but each night I have been dreaming of a different ex girlfriend. The 3G comes and goes and I haven’t had much contact with my new Chinese friends, who I miss. It’s a shame that Wanna couldn’t make it to Olkhon, but maybe I will see her and Mandy when I get back to China. The animals here are great, but it would be nice to have some human company.