Day 1 - Fly to Gobi desert
An early start as we picnicked breakfast on the bus, heading for the airport for the 1 hour flight to Dalizangad
Our bikes were waiting laid out, and we took an hour to change the pedals and saddles whilst strapping on the paraphernalia for carrying anything we needed for the day.
With low mountains to the left and endless green to the right we set off along tracks in the dessert created by the cars and buses that travelled these parts. The Gobi is hard packed dirt, but being July was festooned with short plants which herds of camels, horses and sheep grazed.
The tracks were wide with multiple wheel tracks. The biggest hassle though were the corrugations that were to be with us all day, worse on the main tracks. The base was firm however
After 14km we stopped for a snack. With 12 days stuffed into a single Russian van the choice was incredible, almonds, peanuts, even chocolate biscuits as we admired the views all about
The northerly wind now started making things a bit trickier.
The main note of the day was the pure relentlessness of the terrain, up to a summit, once there, up again and again, all day!!.
Lunch of soup then pasta under a sunshade fuelled us for the last 17km to a fixed Ger centre.
2 – Gobi -
Breakfast in the circus Ger. Large variety of anything that wasn’t Mongolian aside the sweat corn soup and beef/onion soup but the pastries were pretty tasty.
It felt like everyone had bumped their heads on the Ger door frames as we packed and said goodbye to the young lady in ethic dress.
After yesterday, slight trepidation as longer and twice as much climbing, but the paths were smoother and the wind had gone to bed, so the climbs felt fine.
We continued north with expansive views all about, mountains to the left, distant plains to the right. The greenery was shorter due to several farmsteads littering the areas with goas and sheep. We passed many more permanent buildings, low roofed and built with stone that housed the stock during the harsh winter. Huge long legged dogs loped about as we gradually climbed crossing dried up stream beds.
Herds of horses ran across the path making for further fabulous views
Lunch was soup and a fajita wrap and afterwards we had a trickier section picking our way through a dried river bed past purple flowers and a smaller delicate ground covered type that accompanied us all the way.
I felt a few spots of rain that turned heavier in the final 20km, but it dried up nicely to camp in a huge meadow ringed by low stony hills and an enormous sky.
Dinner in the mess tent of fish and potatoes in cumin having had a beer in camp chairs finished the day of nicely especially as the falling sun lit the hills and herd of cattle ambling through the meadow.
Day 3 -
Breakfast was amazing. Porridge, cheese on bread,scones, all done on a small camping gas unit in a tent. However the chef was one of 2 Mongolians who judged international cookery competitions. ‘He’s been to Korea, Slovenia, all over the place’ Bat proudly told us.
We’d pitched 3km short the previous night due to rain, so the trudge up the river bed was delayed a little after a spot of climbing. Gravel and stone under wheels, we tried to follow the vehicle tracks, but many chose to ride the narrow banks.
There followed a quite glorious section. Low stony hills either side, a smooth track and far reaching views along the plateau. The odd yurt and goat herd merely added to the delight.
A morning stop at the usual 1100 saw cafetiere, tea, nuts and a granola bar before the terrain changed again. Lots of small but occasionally steep ups and downs as we headed for the distance sand dunes painted yellow amongst the green.
A final descent along a river bed and lunch where I admired my sunburnt left leg, because yes it was hot.
As we tucked into soup (keeps us hydrated?) followed by vegetables with meaty bits we learnt that Mongolian cuisine was a teenager’s delight. Loads of meat but no vegetables as being nomadic, no-one grew anything. When asked the difference between a green and barren area on the border, the reply was the difference was because the Chinese sneaked out at night to plant the trees.
We bussed to the Ger to avoid the sandy surface with the worst corrugations in the Gobi, a result of being so close to the dunes. Our night ended at a Ger with on suite showers!! However, our trip to the dunes needed to be cancelled as the wind was so fierce you could see a sand storm over the top of them and everyone’s washing was trying to join them.
Day 4 - Cycle to Arts Bogd Mountain Range
Pancakes, eggs and bacon, not a bad start for the day that would set us up for the 20 minute drive to the dunes. Created by the ranges of mountains behind, the prevailing winds create a vacuum and the sand falls. At 600 metres it was going to be some climb. 20 minutes was somewhat optimistic, in reality it took 50 and was one of the hardest things I have ever done. Kicking into the sand, or on hands and knees was the only way and we spent more time looking at the views (resting) than climbing. However, 5 of us made it and practically all of the Mongolian back up crew as well as Tool’s bike which he rode down to much applause from the Koreans on the lower slopes.
We drove the 60km to a start point in a water shaped ravine, where beetroot soup set us up for the 5kmclimb to the cairn on the high point. Round that 3 times clockwise and down we went along a spectacular ridge followed by another ravine. A few motorbikes passed us as shepherds preferred these to horses before other ravines and the grand reveal of a view that went on for ever across the grasslands.
We camped under an extinct volcano, drank a beer and supped in the red sunset having had an incredible meal of beef, mashed potato and vegetables by our fabulous cook
Day 5 - mountain range
Gone at 0830 and headed up and left along a yurt filled valley, but not before we had crossed two streams coming in from the left where we skipped across the stones and carried on our way. School holidays and the valley was a hive of activity principally turning Yaks milk into curds. Using a hand cranked machine milk was poured in the top and the whey and cream extracted into separate stainless steel bowls. We were offered a large plate to try, but I took just one and shred it between the paparazzi who were clicking the yurt, cheese and horses passing by, but not the children as we’d been asked not to. 1kmdown the track Keith popped his head into a yurt and we did it all again except this time we were invited in to view the minimal existence of a yurt with 2 beds, a fridge, TV, holy area and a small kitchen. We left thanks to everyone with the children supplied with a year’s supply of pencils, paper and scissors. One 9 year old girl was particularly pleased with a ream of A4 and colouring pencils. After a mid-morning break it was up a wide valley to climb to an extraordinary view of granite outcrops with a green and purple hillside, stuffed with tiny summer flowers of blue, yellow and purple. The climb to lunch was tough and at 2800m the altitude seemed to play a part. Having negotiated a steep rocky downhill, it was back along the grasslands before another river crossing and another harder climb up a grassy hillside to descend back to the river and our camp for the night. All safe and sound aside Rachel who decided to take a dip at the end, bike and all though saved my camera at the expense of her passport that remains somewhat sodden.
Day 6 - mountain range
Setting of across the grassland, we headed for the first climb of the day under a cloudy sky that would continue for much of the day. Folks walked the first part of the climb, but as we turned the corner it was far easier to get to the cairn at the top.
A lovely descent took us to our first river crossing of the day, which our cycling guide Tool managed even though it was thigh deep. Everyone safely across we passed a no littering sign surrounded by vodka bottles after which a climb led to a coffee break in the shelter of the vans parked close to keep the wind away.
The scenery wasn’t as spectacular as the day before, almost a monochrome green with a distant range looking like Skiddaw in the Lake District. We gradually climbed, passing and visited a fabulous granite carved monument on lean, dedicated to an unknown person. Atop was the sun, whilst underneath were carved deer with long bodies, a shield and an axe.
Several smaller river crossings and the road became rocky about 4km before a climb where everyone pushed to reach our highpoint at 2850metres. A wonderful descent to the campsite and we passed the only 3 vehicles that we had seen in 2 days. One a 4x4, the other 2 lumbering and struggling lorries carrying wooden fencing posts to the farms above.
In the evening the black kite circled and the local children visited bring Yaks milk and butter (akin to clotted cream) Another fabulous evening meal followed by a Global Warming discussion over a half bottle of vodka
Day 7 - mountain range
I set off first, quite determined to get a picture of a ground squirrel as they were shy little critters and following 12 other bikes always meant they were blowing raspberries at me from their burrows. We were heading along the twin valley, livestock and Gers all about as this was a pretty verdant area. There was even a bunch of permanent buildings used as a summer vacation retreat for children.
On our left appears a man riding a yak, somehow and I don’t quite know how they were enticed over, the result was that John and Muriel have an interesting picture for the family album.
Numerous river crossings, we were getting good at these now, before morning coffee and a final 10km as the track petered out to follow a rough rock strewn river bed that we van transferred across.
We picked up the riding when the track rea-appeared to encounter a scenery change, trees started to appear and we ended the night camped by the river to be served with sirloin steak cooked on hot rocks.
Day 8 -
Four climbs today, getting easier as the day progressed. Across the Steppe and its herd of yak we tackled the first which rewarded us with soaring black kites and the first summit with a stone monument on the top. It was also the first day that we had cycled past anything that resembled a village as we skirted the edge of a town. Fast cycling to the next climb to finish at Tsetserleg which was our first dose of civilization for many days. Bat our guide had mentioned a café in town, opened by an Englishman, managed by an Australian, serving coffee and cake, who were we to refuse? Good job we did as the heavens opened just as we arrived, and as the rain lashed the building we were safe and sound with lattes and as much free WIFI as we could stomach.
It was getting late so we packed the bikes on the van and after a late lunch transferred to the Tsenkher valley, where a Ger Camp and Hot Springs awaited us.
Day 9 -
We lined up to have our pictures taken at the start but it wasn’t us that the ladies wanted a selfie with, it was our 26 year old cycle dynamo Tool and he seemed quite content to play the part.
Away we went heading across the scrubland searching for the second valley on the right which climbed really steeply through woods along a track that even our Russian 4x4 trucks found troublesome, but the top with its wigwam religious marker (more wood in these parts) provided a point to admire the view and the inevitable descent along a firm track.
The inevitable river crossing, and another climb over a lower climb led us to a coffee stop at 20km. This was to be one of our longer days of near 80km, so we decided to shorten the route a little by taking in one climb rather than the planned two, so we a delightful gradual ascent passing blue flowers as far as the eye could see, before swinging right past the picnicking South Korean tourists to top another climb. A fast descent to lunch within sight of a gathering of black kites after which we traversed another small climb to descend a particularly sticky section of black dirt to come in view of the river in the Orkham Valley.
Bat pointed to a cluster of trees maybe 4km away and signalled that we would camp by the river that night and so we did for our last night in a fabulous spot
Day 10 -
Our last breakfast with Baggy and we were away. Bat had described it as a fast day, mostly downhill, so it was a bit of a surprise to be faced with 2-3 short but really steep climbs, but as he said it was ‘mostly’
The tracks were hard and fast through the red dirt. We were in the Orkham Valley, cradle of Mongolian civilisation in the 6thcentury. Little was left from this period, but we were to experience two of them. The first to our right would have been missed had we not seen one before. Laid out in rows were small boulders with the centre depicting a square within which was a raised mass of rocks with a central depression. Investigation had revealed bones with jewellery and bows, the ends (ears) of which had been deliberately broken off as they had souls as well.
The scenery along the valley was dominated by the river and along this half of us cycled enjoying the bathing horses cooling themselves from the 30 degree heat. The other half took the climb over the granite tor like landscape. Their reward should have been a swoop down to lunch, but the sandy conditions made things a little trickier.
At Gumbiin Denj, the second part of distant times. Here a shorter deer stone along with sun and belt stood and we dutifully admired it before heading out again with a respectful distance from mares being milked because the bikes would spook them.
Karakorum drew closer and with it a reminder of some of the tracks we had witnessed these past 11 days. We entered on the other side of the river along a track where cars would fear to tread, short ups and downs and a final uphill to our finish that even Tool failed at first time.
A final picture before we tasted a tarmac road and a Ger. where we celebrated with an ice cold beer and reminisced about the great time we had all had.