July 29, 2015

Videos and Photos

So I wanted to do a quick post of some videos and photos to supplement my last post. I finally found some decent internet and didn't want to overload that last post. A quick update: We escaped the desert (for now) and found some really big mountains, which means we pushed our bikes up some large mountains. This has easily been the scenic highlight of this trip thus far. We leave today for another 4 day mountain traversing adventure. Hope you enjoy! 

Unexpected camel encounter

Windy but stoked
Major Mongolian highway intersection 
Goat Nostrils
That little dot in the shade is Andrew doing some serious push biking. We didn't even try to cycle this gigantic steep mountain of loose stones 
These guys were awesome (see next photo)
Nomads with Lenovo tablet phones in their pockets
Classy Gents
Not sure how this happened. The archer from the previous post drove us to this tree that somehow embedded a goat horn.  
Andrew topping out after a hard day of riding
Here and now

July 23, 2015

Push bikes

First of all, I'd like to note that I've added a link to the right column (literally just to the right of this text) labeled 'Where in the world are we?'. You can click this link and produce a map of our current location. A big thanks to Andrew for making this possible with his SPOT device that tracks our daily progress. Please let me know if this doesn't work for some reason.

I'll start with a token moment from when we arrived at Lake Khovsgol, a massive lake in north central Mongolia that borders Russia and contains 70% of Mongolia's freshwater. We struck up a conversation with Danielle, an Australian traveler, who asked us what we were up to in Mongolia. We told her we were traveling by bike across Mongolia. We kept conversing with her about her travels until she asked where our bikes were parked. We pointed to a nearby fence where our bikes were locked up and she said 'oh....you're traveling by pushbikes?!'. Andrew and I kind of laughed at this notion, our ears never having been graced with this word 'push-bike' before. This gave way to a ridiculous onslaught of jokes between the loads (heaps as she would say) of English speaking tourists that were staying in the guesthouse. 'Pushing' our way across Mongolia (instead of cycling across Mongolia) became the running joke. A New Zealander showed up later that afternoon and declared 'oh, you're on pushies', which led to even more ridiculous push bike banter. Well....perhaps the Aussies and the Kiwis were privy to what was in store for us in the days to come. The joke and subsequent literal translation were apparently on us as we left this major tourist destination, having being spoiled with freshly paved roads for the past 600ish miles.

Andrew dropping into Lake Khovsgol after a 4 hour time travel bush whacking adventure 
   It had been raining like crazy, nearing flood status for the past 4 days, making us wonder if we would ever escape this vortex where we spent nearly 7 days making wonderful friends, sharing stories from the road and having late night Bohemian Rhapsody dance parties. There was a short reprieve from the days of socked in clouds and pouring rain, so Andrew and I made a break for it. We packed up our bags (somewhat soggy) and made it about 100 yards from the guesthouse to buy water and food for the upcoming wet ride, when we were approached by an extremely nice Mongolian guy who asked if we needed any help with anything (not an uncommon encounter in Mongolia). He offered to give us a ride back to the main town (only 60 miles away) and we graciously accepted his offer to avoid the highly dreaded wet cycle ahead (and we had already cycled the road a week earlier).

The next morning we awoke with the optimism of the first dry day in nearly 5 days. We stocked up on a few days worth of food and launched into the countryside. Again, we only made it about 5 miles out of town before running into two Americans packing their Ford Excursion near a river (not an everyday encounter in Mongolia). They were mining/mineral consultants living and working in Ulaan Batar on an extended fishing, scouting, prospecting road trip. We began picking through the wealth of information that they possessed on road conditions, sights to see, potential routes, towns along the way, etc. that they gained through their 10ish years living and traveling in Mongolia. They were drinking lemon water, offered us fresh fruits and vegetables, and eventually pointed to the roof rack and the two spacious empty seats in the back of their Excursion. Within minutes, Andrew and I were sitting in the back of an Excursion, bikes strapped to the roof, listening to classic rock and learning about Mongolian geology. These guys were a hoot....an absolute pleasure to road trip through Mongolia with. They had a large supply from the Mongolia Costco equivalent and by far the highest quality maps I've ever seen of Mongolia. The Mongolian hospitality has obviously worn off on these guys; as they fed us smoked fish, fresh fruits and vegetables, gave us their amazing map set, bought us a hotel room, cooked us a rack of lamb, and wouldn't let us leave without taking as much of their food supply as we could carry (steel cut oats, granola, oysters, apples....all organic). And these guys were complete characters. They really took us under their wing and treated us like their own. We are so grateful that we ran into these guys and decided to jump in their car. They ended up hauling us about 120 miles and gave us our first taste of the nasty washboard roads, tricky navigation, little to no traffic, and minimal civilization in between towns....the feeling of truly being in the middle of nowhere. I'm grateful that we could get our first taste from the comforts of an American gas guzzler and some Talking Heads on the stereo.
Andrew, Dave, Frank and I
Loaded with generous rations of Kirkland brand organic foods and high quality maps, we embarked into the great unknown; the Mongolian boonies, on what was to be one of the slowest, painful, remote and frustrating 5 days of my cycle touring career. The first few days were slow going but manageable, towns were conveniently spaced every 40 - 60 miles, the 'road' (somehow a major Mongolian highway) consisted of sections of hard packed dirt, intermittent sand, and lots of washboard sections. Navigation was interesting; 'roads' (I hesitate to call them roads) were unmarked and the occasional intersection/bisection with another 'road' required some help from the GPS. Every 'road' that we followed had about 4 - 6 different 'lane' options running somewhat parallel to each other, making it apparent that these 'roads' were created simply by multiple cars driving across the same path. When the previous 'road' became washed out from too many cars, a new path was created just beside the previous path.

Major Mongolian highway
We were really out there....some days only 3 cars would pass us. Civilization was scarce. Luckily the 'roads' were still in fairly good condition and we could still make decent progress. One day we topped a mountain pass overlooking a small village (Bayantes) and noticed a large congregation of cars, horses and gers (yurts) on the outskirts of town. We had somehow stumbled across this town's annual Nadam festival of wrestling, horse racing and archery. We aimed the bikes straight for the festival and arrived just as the horse games were getting started. We were definitely the only tourists at this festival, invoking some serious double takes from the locals ('Where'd these stinky white guys come from?'). One of the last competitions was a challenge to see who could grab a large stick from the ground while riding a horse at full gallop. Really exciting to watch.

Touching the ground at full gallop
This guy was awesome, he drove us around and played impromtu tour guide 
Over the next few days, we dropped out of the central mountains into the desert section that stretches across western Mongolia and connects the western mountains of Mongolia to Russia and China. In the process, the roads deteriorated from intermittent hard packed dirt and sand to mostly loose sand and nonstop washboard sections. Our push bikes finally took on their literal meaning as we accepted our new reality of intermittent cycling and a lot of pushing. Progress was slow, the nonstop washboards made me feel as if I'd been operating a jack hammer for 8 hrs. I was seriously regretting not having a fat tire bike, front suspension or a motorbike. And it was blazing hot (upper 90's). One day, we had an 80 miles stretch in between towns. We loaded up on about 9 liters of water each and forged into the desert. The roads began with the promise of hard packed sand with the first 20 miles going extremely quick. Then came the deep sand. We knew our prize was a large town with pavement  (yes, pavement) and varieties of food and amenities. That was the only thing that kept me charging, pushing, grunting and sweating profusely in the sweltering heat, over washboard jackhammers and slow, slow, slow going. I drank all 9 liters and had to rely on Andrew (the camel) who generously offered another 1.5 liters to finish off the day. I can genuinely saw it was one of the toughest days I've ever had on a bike, making the reunion with my tires and pavement ever so sweet. In total, we logged about 350 miles on this major Mongolian dirt/sand highway. After polishing off a few beers, we could maybe say it was fun (borderline Type 3 fun). In total, we're just under 1,000 miles in about 3 weeks of cycling. And as always, let there be pictures!

Never carried this much water before
Push biking
Goat action
Andrew biking across a fairly sketchy bridge in Lake Khovsgol
Some art at a local restaurant. Open to interpretation....