Uvs Nuur to Nowhere!

The next day was a boring and frustrating (for me at least) one. In hindsight it was good though as it gave Paul’s knee more time to heal.

We’d been in touch with Dam and his brother by text message telling us to wait till 10am and they’d pick us up.

So we patiently waited on the roadside outside of our hotel room. Interesting traffic

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Dam’s driver never arrived and further texts just said he was busy and we should enjoy the city. Dam is obviously an important man and came a long way for this festival so we understood and left him to it. I spent the day loafing around the hotel and sleeping really. It’s amazing how much you can sleep when you’ve got a day off.

Something to mention though is that all of Paul’s treatment was free. The hospital apparently has some sort of budget for tourists. So the x-rays and scans and Dr were all paid for! The medicine was paid for by Dam’s brother who wouldn’t accept a thing and it turned out the bike transport was all covered too. What a great bunch of people!

In the evening we decided to go get some food, however everywhere was closed due to the festival. We tried to gatecrash a private party at the upmarket hotel accidentally but that didn’t work So we found a supermarket, bought lots of snacks and two tubs of Kimchi and boiled some water outside on my camp stove before relaxing.

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This curious young lad was always peering over the fence and coming around, but not quite close enough to speak to.

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In my tank bag I had 2 big multibags of Haribo. Always good for energy. I offered him a bag and he accepted and ran off but not before I told him to share it with his sister.

An hour later he was back and shyly asked if I had any more. I gave him a second bag (The bags were those with the small bags inside) and off he went again. I heard him getting shouted at by his mother a few mins later. Oops.

He was full of energy for the rest of the day, I wonder why

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Paul and I had also discussed our route to Tsangaannuur. We were going to wimp out and take the longer, but easier way and head south first to Khovd and then back north. It was probably twice as long and a day longer too but the idea of the infamous water crossings scared us a little.

We are now in Ulaangom (Top right of the map) and the short but up to 15 water crossings route is the purple route West. Our proposed route would be the longer green route south and then north.

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We had no idea of where Paul’s bike was still though and at about 9 or 10pm when we went to bed we were wondering when we’d get it. We’d been told it was at “AutoService Badar” but even asking a Policeman for directions wasn’t any good.

Anyhow, at 12:40am (Yes, past midnight) there was a knock at the door. It was Dam in very fetching posh traditional dress. He’d had a great day at the festival and was in super high spirits. “Come Paul, we fetch bike …. now” and that was it. Paul left.

45 mins later Paul was back, with his bike. AutoService Badar was just a mile away. The bike was sound but we’d give it a proper checking over in the morning. It was now about 1:30am and it was a struggle getting back to sleep but hey, our journey was back on track! Happy days!

Uvs Nuur to Ulaangom

The next morning was great, I was hoping for a lovely sunrise but there were a couple of low lying clouds on the horizon which was a bit of a shame, but still a lovely start to the day.

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Paul and I had a chat about what to do. His knee was sore and swollen but he thought he may be able to limp on but we weren’t convinced. Ulaangom was about 70km away which even at our normal pace would be well over an hour and a half. As we were weighing up our options we had a visitor stop, it was Dam (The Mongolian chap living in Moscow who we met yesterday). He was on his way to Ulaangom and stopped to say hello. He noticed Paul’s bad knee and had a look himself. He declared Paul unfit and in need of an ambulance and a truck for his bike. “Wait here, I will be back in 2 hours” and off he went!

So, our decision was made a whole lot easier and we did what we were told. The cloud from the morning has come over and was actually providing us some nice shade. We watched massive rain fronts come in and go across the plains just a few hundred meters away from us at times.

Here is one such rain front on the right hand side.

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So we lounged around, ate breakfast night and slowly and packed out stuff up. Paul removed all the kit from his bike in preparation and we waited for our saviours!

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We waited and waited and waited…. We got a bit bored so I took some random photos.

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Eventually Dam returned. He was about 5 hours later than planned but who cared, he was here and brought with him an ambulance. Paul had said an ambulance was a bit over the top but Dam was insistent and you never turn down this kind of hospitality or genuine helpfulness.

Bye Paul!

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A few of the guys hung around and waited for the truck to come to take Paul’s bike. Ironically they got a flat tyre too so ended up changing their one.

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The truck then arrived and we loaded on Paul’s bike.

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They headed off on the sandy road and I doubled back to the fork by myself so that I could ride the decent road. It was now about 4pm and I had some of the best riding so far. It was a good surface and I was flying .. literally at some points when I misjudged dips in the road. After about 30 mins though I came across the chaps in the truck, they’d got stuck in sand. So I spent 45 mins in the baking heat helping to dig them out.

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Anyhow they got out eventually and off we went. I had no mobile reception but as I came into Ulaangom I checked my phone and messages had come in from Paul. I headed to the clinic (GPS POI) and txt Paul. He came about 20 mins later by foot, limping along. Poor lad. Dam’s brother had found us probably one of the last rooms in Ulaangom. It was a massive festival and everywhere was booked out. Our room/hotel was basic, 2 beds, shared toilet and no shower. But it was clean and we were happy.

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We walked around the town a little that night and got some dinner. The restaurant was an upmarket place but it was a bit of a joke, everything they had on the menu was not available and they spoke zero English so we resorted to charades as normal Eventually we told them to bring us anything, literally anything. We got chicken and rice and it was pretty good.

I wasn’t feeling great at all, not enough water drank and was suffering. So we got an early night. Dam came to the hotel at about 10pm to check on Paul. What a splendid guy, absolutely great. What we would have done without him I do not know.

We called it a day and went to sleep. Tomorrow we’d hopefully get Paul’s bike from wherever it was being kept and continue our journey. We still had to discuss the route though as we had the option of river crossings (15 deep ones) or a much longer detour.

What an adventure today had been.

Altan Els to Uvs Nuur

Apart from rolling out of bed a couple of times due to the slope, I had a good nights sleep. Paul wasn’t watched by an Eagle again as he performed his morning routine so the day was off to a good start.

We got back on the tracks and headed towards Ulaangom. The surface varied a bit from hard pack tracks to sand again and everything in between, but at least we were fresh and full of enthusiasm.

Who needs satnav, just follow the signs:

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It was flat, really flat as in nothing to see for miles around, then bizarrely we came across this crop field. I still need to look it up on Google Maps and see what it is or what they were growing, it was odd to see.

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We soldiered on though, towards the town of Baruuntaruun, which despite being a humorous name, was not a fun town. I think Paul summed it up very well

“Unfortunately, despite being before 11:00 in the morning, the local town drunk decided that I should provide him with the means for his next fix. Mongolians, in our experience, are a warm and friendly people but steer well clear of a drunk Mongolian; he was highly persistent and, when it became clear that I was in no mood to subsidise his habit, he became aggressive, kicking the motorcycle and me. I fended off the first kick but I regret to admit, I placed a well aimed motorcycle boot as I rode off.”

So, as you can see, we rode off and this actually worked out quite well as we rode 500m to the town edge and there was a glorious stream (and more eagles) which was quite picturesque, so we enjoyed our water and snacks there in lovely sunshine and scenery. 30 mins later again we exited the town proper.

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Off we went, and a few km later we came to a small water crossing where a herd of horses had gathered again to keep cool.

Paul tried to stare down a horse again and this time he won, so the horse fell over instead

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Then we rode through, we had earned right of passage, even if the herd didn’t give us much room.

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We stayed on the tracks and they got progressively sandier the closer we got to Uvs Lake and Ulaangom. It wasn’t too much fun and hard work in the heat as I’ve said previously. Paul was being extremely cautious, his confidence was dented due to his couple of off’s, however it needn’t have been as when he put his mind to it then he was fine, but still, slow and steady does it.

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Lots of rests were called for. Wrists were sore, shoulders were sore and concentration was taking it out of us. Can anyone spot Paul’s new addition to his bike here and my new headwear?

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We were hoping to make Zuunguv shortly in order to get some water and snacks. We needed a rest, this sand was ridiculously hard work for the two of us given our skill level and attitude to risk.

Zuungov was another one horse (and 2 motorbike) town. However if I were to be a believer in fate then it was fate that we ended up here with these people. One of whom would be a Guardian Angel soon.

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Paul and I had rolled into Zuungov for a food stop. A few bottles of water, coke, Fanta Grape, Mars bars etc and a well deserved rest. It had been hard going all morning and we were suffering. Paul found a bit of shade in the corner and plonked himself down. I don’t know what he does or how he manages it, but 2 minutes later a young girl brought a stool over for him to sit on. He certainly has a way with the ladies.

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I took a modern (But old fashioned?) Polaroid camera with me along with my digital camera. The Polaroid was the type that prints photos in a few seconds. I’d taken 90 sheets of paper with me and by the end of the holiday had almost used them all. The kids, and even adults, loved having their own photos in print. It did mean however that stops with kids could turn into hour long affairs but it was a pleasure.

Here is a photo of my Polaroid camera printing more photos out of the children.

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If anyone goes on a holiday to a place like this I would recommend this over almost anything else. The children were super fun.

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As we were relaxing we met this Mongolian called Dam. Dam was a Mongolian but lived in Moscow and was back in order to attend the festival in Ulaangom. We had a nice chat and photos taken with him and he was obviously quite important, this chance encounter was amazing as you’ll see later. Here are Dam, Paul and I.

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We relaxed for a bit longer and then decided to push on after bidding farewell to the kids and their Mum. What a lovely bunch of people as always.

Along the way there was yet another fork in the track. Paul and I had our GPS’ loaded with OSM maps and although we weren’t reliant on them it was nice to glance at them occasionally to make sure we were still on a main track as sometimes it wasn’t obvious. This time however I think we took a minor track off the main one although in 30km or so it would meet back up so we weren’t too bothered. The main track was only a mile or two south of us and running parallel.

We started seeing camels. I think they had the hump!

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It was ridiculously sandy on the track. Often about 15cm deep, probably more and no fun at all. We were about 5km from the “fork” but didn’t really realise at the time. As I stopped to get my breath I noticed Paul have a tumble behind me about 100 yards away. He was stuck under his bike. The sand where my bike and I were was just too much to turn around and get back to Paul quickly, so I jumped off and started to jog towards him. A few seconds later a big 4×4 came past me (The first vehicle in hours) and sped towards Paul. A few chaps jumped out and helped get the bike off Paul’s foot but it wasn’t looking good. Paul was in noticeable pain and his foot had been facing the wrong way under the bike.

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Paul had explained that as he was ‘paddling’ in the deep sand his calf had caught the rear pannier and his toes then dug into the sand and twisted his knee in a bad way as he went down. Thankfully nothing was broken we didn’t think even though Paul decided to keep his boots on, just in case. He couldn’t walk and things were looking grim. It’s awful seeing your mate in pain (Even though he was quite manly about it) and not knowing what to do. It wasn’t bad enough to hit his SPOT’s SOS button thankfully but it was about 4pm and we were on a rarely used track.

We decided to call it a day, rest, relax, regroup and have a think of what to do. Even getting the bikes off the road, up a small lip on the road was a chore. Everywhere was sandy.

After setting up camp at the side of the road and waiting for the sun to go down so it’d be cooler, we had some dinner. I even made a sign for help.

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My sign for help must have worked even though it was pitch black when these chaps decided to join us for some coffee and biscuits. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Small bikes and local knowledge along with riding techniques and they were fine on the surface that was really hurting us.

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Paul and I were going to see how he felt in the morning and decide what to do. There were options of turning around to go back to the fork, the Mongolia biker lads had said it was a better route. There was also the option of me riding to Ulaangom and getting a truck to come back or even flagging a truck down. Also of course there the chance Paul would be able to ride, albeit slowly.

We stayed up until way past midnight, the sky was amazing clear and you’ve never seen stars like it. No light pollution and we spent ages enjoying it.

Bayantes to Altan Els

Once again, another great night’s sleep hidden up behind a hill. It still felt bizarre just being able to camp anywhere. Paul ate more of his baby sick food I can’t be too hard though as I broke my trusty plastic spork and had to bribe him with hot water for his coffee so that I could borrow his spoon for my dinner.

We got underway in the morning and in a relative short time we made it to the town of Bayantes. When we got to towns and it was still in school time it was a slightly different feel as there were often no kids around. I guess it has its advantages and disadvantages. Advantages being that you’re left alone and can just relax, disadvantages are that kids are just great and always full of smiles.

Paul and I once again stocked up on water and had a rest for a bit. Another scorching day.

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While we were there we watched the Eagles circulate in the thermal updraft, once again, the picture does it no justice but there were about a dozen of them just floating around and around, amazing!

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We got underway and realised we had quite some distance to do before the next town. We got off to a great start, not 100 yards out of the town Paul decided to get his daily fall over and done with.

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In Paul’s defense, the road was horribly off camber, on a slow section and a moment’s hesitation to put his left foot down and there was just no ground there. We had a laugh and picked it up and if I remember it was bloody hard work due to the ridge of the road.

I mentioned earlier about the horses and there really are quite a lot of them. This herd of horses were protecting their young foals and trying to get some shade at the same time.

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The riding conditions yet again were brilliant. A bit of a breeze to keep you cool and not too many technical sessions at the time so no more offs … for a while Spot Paul, he’s there somewhere.

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This photo I was really proud of and illustrates so much. The vastness of space with nothing. You’ve got Paul making his way towards us, a Yurt out there and then there are the telegraph poles. The poles are a great way of keeping your bearings due to the amount of parallel tracks. They always went to the next town and so if they were in view then you were kind of on the right track.

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I need a yurt in my life.

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Through a series of random events, we never actually ended up going into a yurt although I did read up on it one evening while we chilled and cooked dinner. You should not step on the yurt threshold when entering, always walk into it clockwise and men sit on the west side and women on the east side. Or at least it was something like that, I would have probably got it wrong and ended up a dead man!

As the day went on the surface became harder … or you could say it became softer really as we found more and more sand on the trails. We hate sand, in fact I hate sand more than I hate Russian bureaucracy, and that’s saying a lot.

We tried all sorts to get out of the sand and were often swapping from one set of tracks to another to try and get a nicer surface.

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Some sections were just awful and we both ended up waddling through. In the heat, getting no wind through your clothing it was hard work.

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We were rewarded with awesome views though every now and again to keep us sweet. Spot the tree!

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Speaking of trees, when we did come to parts of Mongolia that had trees they would often only be on one side of the hill or in a ravine of a hill or mountain. I assume down to the wind which at times is pretty damn ferocious.

Just as we were getting fed up of the sand and slow progress, we came across washboard too, argh!

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You can ride over it at about 50mph and it was kind of bearable, but the bike was floating at that speed and coming off would have been nasty. Any slower though and the bike just rattled itself to buggery. My bike was bad enough but I often just closed my eyes and hammered through it at 50mph and was stopping every 10 miles or so and waited for Paul to catch up. I felt really bad for him though and his bike, the metal panniers were shaking like mad and everything inside too which made a right racket. It was probably not much worse than my soft pannier setup but it sounded horrific. It’s the same as anything though, you learn to deal with it and adapt accordingly, but they went on, and on, and on ….

After a while we passed these chaps and they waved us over to have a chat (Or charades!). I was fed up and contemplated a swap of bikes.

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We made our way into the town on Tes shortly after and walked into this cafe that was 2 tables in an otherwise empty room. We didn’t have a clue what to expect but a flask of the worlds best tea was brought out for us and we hear some cooking going on the kitchen. Up until this point I hadn’t eaten too much local food in the hope of keeping my digestive system in order. Don’t think we had a choice here though.

We were brought out these fried things with meat in them. For those of you who have met Paul or I. I’m 10 stone 2 and Paul is a bit more (Sorry Paul) but Paul couldn’t eat his and I wallaped through all three, they were delicious. Although Paul may have filled himself up on the tea, he must have had half a dozen cups.

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We paid for our meal which was a ludicrously low amount and headed next door for water, chocolates and I was even tempted to buy a spare tyre that you can see in the corner here.

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Kids are awesome, this little girl started off being horribly shy but after 2 mins of playing peekaboo she was quite happy to have her photo taken.

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We came outside to find the local kids enjoying our bikes again. It actually suits him I think!

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We said our goodbyes and headed out of town, back onto the awful washboard which seemed to be at its worse 10km either side of towns where all the tracks come together. I did my usual thing now of whacking it up to 50mph to make it bearable and headed off.

Just as I stopped after 10 miles to wait for Paul I pulled the clutch in and there was no resistance on the lever at all. I was still moving and was just kicking it down the gears as I slowed down, but I was annoyed. If my clutch cable had snapped it would be a pain in the arse. I had a cable repair kit but I’d never tested it. Annoyingly I had even lubed and checked all my cables prior to the trip so I was annoyed at myself for this. All this went through my mind before I had even stopped.

After all that it was a simple case of the adjuster on my adjustable lever having fallen out with all the vibrations! Happy days.

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So a quick bolt later and it was ready to roll. I didn’t have a nut so 3 strategically placed tie wraps and that was it. It held for the rest of the trip fine. Phew.

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We’d barely got going again on the sandy washboard road when we met a couple of riders coming the other way. Jan, a Belgian(?) and an Austrian guy. Jan was on a F800GS and the Austrian on a Africa Twin.

Jan had been held up for a few days as he’d blown the seals on his newish F800GS front forks. He, like Paul had the Hyperpro progressive springs in too. Goes to show how nasty the washboard can be.

They also gave us some tips. The main one being that the direct road, that they had done and that we were planning to take, to Ulaangom was hard work. Fifteen river crossing and high ones. Reports of a guy drowning his bike too. This wasn’t the news we would have liked. Paul and I were a bit worn out after a hard days riding and we hadn’t done a great distance despite hoping to.

We waved our new friends off and wished them well.

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It was about 6pm and Paul and I were hoping to have done more, but we’d had enough for the day and decided to call it a day. We headed over to some hills just a few hundred meters away and set up camp hidden from the road.

I’d realised that I’d soaked all my spare money due to the cap on my water bladder leaking, so I laid it out to dry. I like to tell people it was payment from all the women who visited me in the tent during the night, but we weren’t visited by anyone.

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It wasn’t completely flat though and we both ended up rolling off our mats during the night Paul posed for Mr. July for the Mongolian version of Sports Illustrated.

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So, what should we do … 15 river crossing in a few days sounded like fun, but it also sounded risky. We had a couple of days to decide until we came to that section.

Sharga to nr. Bayantes

Every night we camped was great. Most nights there was a breeze which cooled it down a little to be bearable and the silence was amazing. We never had any dew or rain of any type so everything was always packed away nice and dry which is always good. Nothing as bad as packing up a wet tent … and then unpacking it that evening.

Anyhow, we got underway to clear blue skies yet again. Horses are everywhere and run wild a lot of the time it appears.

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This particular horse was trying to stare down Paul

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Paul was having none of it and was staring it down too!

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Needless to say, the horse won and so Paul fell off

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It really was a low speed, almost stationary fall over, lapse of concentration but no harm done. We picked up the bike and carried on. Just before a small water crossing we stopped at this yurt and had a break while watching these two chaps fix a problem with their bike. They really are amazing and can fix virtually anything, I guess it’s a case of necessity in their world. Nice guys too even though language was a problem like normal.

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The small water crossing was just that, but it was fun. Here’s Paul going through it while adopting the correct pose. Good man.

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We made our way nice and steadily towards Tsetserleg which was one of the nicest town we came across. They’re all pretty nice really but the people we met here were especially nice.

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One of the few things we had that would always spark common interest and advice were Paul’s maps. I even learned the Russian word for them “Karta” which if you think about it is quite obvious. Anyhow, the guys came over and gave us advice on which routes to take and just for a chat and have a look around the bikes. Mongolian people are great and I keep comparing them to inquisitive children, they want to touch, prod, poke sit on the bikes etc and mean no harm at all. It’s nice. I think the overall greater attention grabber was the F800GS with it’s adventurous looks and cool angles but little did they know, they were on the best bikes out of us all. Their little Shineray bikes were brilliant.

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We left the town after stocking up on water and chocolates, our new staple diet. Paul had also found he had an affection for Fanta grape, it was very popular.

The scenery was spectacular still.

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It was also roasting hot, I reckon it was 40 Degrees if not more. These horses had the right idea.

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It was so warm in fact that Paul decided he’d have a lie down for a bit.

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On a serious note though, you can see it was starting to get a bit sandier again and it’s a pain to ride in for Paul and I. Neither are overly experienced or confident in the sand. I know you’re supposed to give it throttle and “If in doubt, flat out” but when you’re already a relative amateur and subliminally you know that if you come off in a big way then it could be a potentially serious issue. We’d rather fall off lots at 5mph and be ok rather than once at 40mph and be in a spot of bother.

We rode on for a bit, quite slowly as we were struggling with the sand and confidence. It seemed that every time you got up to a decent speed and were making progress then a massive sandy patch would come into view and you’d panic and slow down again. Like I said, slow and steady, the middle of nowhere is no place to be a hero.

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We met some Mongolian lads at the side of the road. They were coming back from an event with their horses and one horse had a lot of medals and the lads had a framed certificate for something. They were extremely proud of this and insisted we got a lot of pictures with them. Once again, the nicest people you could meet.

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They even wanted a photo with me for some strange reason. I didn’t have time to sort out my helmet hair, look at the state of me.

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Then they contemplated swapping for Paul’s F800GS. I think that the minute he took it off the side stand he realised his little 125 was more appropriate for sandy roads.

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While we were having our little party three more people pitched up. Two Germans and a Brit. The Germans were on smaller bikes, an X-Challenge and something else, the Brit (John) was on a fully loaded R1200GS LC. The thing was huge and like the starship enterprise.

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The German (I’ve forgot his name) was explaining how John’s mate had got home sick in Bishkek so simply dumped his bike there and flown home and leaving John to fend for himself. John had then come across the Germans who noticed he was pretty damn talented on his R1200GS and wouldn’t be a hinderance and they all decided to ride together.

A real nice bunch of people too, I wish them well on their trip.

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No matter what I did, I couldn’t get the Mongolian chap to smile for the photo. If the camera was away then he was all smiles, the minute you pointed it his way he was Mr. Serious Lovely guy, wife and son.

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Not long after this we decided to call it a day. We’d spent a long time at the lunch stop and again with the other bikers so didn’t go too far but it was a brilliant day with fantastic people. We setup camp for the evening and had something to eat before doing a bodge fix to Paul’s satnav as the mounts had failed.

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The sunset that evening was amazing as it set over the hills in the distance. I had a little play with the camera to try and get some arty shots. They look ok on a computer, this forum software doesn’t do the scenery justice. I’ll leave you with these just as we did before we called it a day, possibly the best yet!

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Murun to nr. Sharga

We left Moron the following morning after a sausage and egg breakfast at the hotel. I don’t know what it is about Mongolia but whenever we had a meal in a cafe or hotel, you don’t get knives. It became a bit of amusement as I’d have to get my Gerber knife off the bike.

Sure enough, 2 miles out of the town the tarmac ended and the dirt began. I still couldn’t read the signs without really using my crib sheet that was in the tank bag. The second one looked a bit like “Fart” though

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It was nice going, the surface was good and the tracks were nice. We were the first on these for the day I think and the light overnight rain hadn’t yet dried. Unfortunately this caught Paul out though as what looked like a hardpack sand berm was actually just soft sand and it didn’t do any help on getting him around the corner when he used it. I was right behind Paul at the time and it was quite spectacular as he was going at a decent speed and launched himself off the bike into a quite elegant roly poly. He later mentioned this was all on purpose to protect his shoulder and arm as he didn’t want to put them out and risk breaking them. Sensible man!

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While I was having a laugh at his expense and getting my camera out, a chap coming the other way helped Paul lift the bike up. The horses didn’t seem amused, what long faces.

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The scenery and riding conditions this day were great. Nothing too technical and good tracks. We passed yurts, green valleys, streams and rocky hills. This was brilliant and we were having a great time. At one point, still learning that tracks mostly all meet up somewhere, Paul and I got split up. I’d taken the southerly track and him the northerly one. There was nothing to worry about but since it was the first day I was a bit concerned that in a perfectly flat place, with nobody around, that I’d lost Paul. I backtracked a few km and even paid attention to the tracks at the forks to see which way he had gone. Eventually found him about 45 minutes later. He was parked up having a rest after racing 2 local kids on their Shineray. They beat him fair and square. Local knowledge, small bikes and the gift of youth (The kids, not Paul )

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Here are some photos from the awesome riding condition that day.

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We stopped for some water in a little town. Most town had a couple of shops and perhaps a cafe. They often doubled as people’s houses too. I think this one was a cafe but they sold us some water. I didn’t fancy the meat dish.

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The monuments where the blue ribbons are tied to are everywhere. I believe it’s a prayer ribbon and symbolises the blue sky. This one also had money placed under rocks so Paul and I did our part and hoped it would perhaps bring us good luck.

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There were a few of these little critters hiding around in the rocks. Quite amusing to watch.

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One thing I never got a good photo of were the eagles. There are plenty of them everywhere. Later in the trip I saw about 18 all in the sky at once. Magnificent, shame about the photos.

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The riding was absolutely brilliant. What a great country (and X-Country)

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This family called us over as we were riding past. People would often do that and they just wanted a chat and to meet you. Fabulous people. He even fancied a swap I reckon.

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We’d covered about 100 miles which really was good on our first day offroad. Mongolia is that type of place where around every corner, over every hill, down every valley and in every town you want to stop and take a photo and we’d been doing just that. It takes up a lot of time but it’s worth it.

We left the track and went up behind some hills so we weren’t visible from the road and set up camp for the night. We weren’t scared or threatened but we just wanted to chill out and prefered not to have curious passerbys waking us up too early.

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We set up camp, cooked our food, had a coffee and chat and called it a night. Paul’s food was amusing, he’d bought 2 types and one was “Mountain House” freeze dried food. He wasn’t keen and I must admit, it looked like baby sick, even if it did taste ok apparently. I’d stick with my “Look what we found”, not many calories and heavy, but delicious and mixed in with some rice.

We hoped every day would be like this, it was amazing.

Erdenet to Murun

We woke up, went through the morning rituals and faffed around for a bit. It was raining so we weren’t in any rush to get going and in the end it worked out well as the rain stopped and the roads started to dry up in the heat. We’d locked our bikes up the night before around the back of the hotel so they were out of harm’s way and dry at least.

I don’t recall us having any hard and fast plans for every day (As they’d go wrong anyhow). Today was going to be some off road as I’d offered to deliver some photos to a Mongolian family who live in a small village about 150km south of us. The photos were taken by a bike rider in 2010 and they really were nice snaps of the family. I guess that just the same as in the rest of the world everyone stores their photos digitally and we rarely print them anymore. For us it’s a case that we’re lazy, but I suspect that going to a “Kodak Booth” in the middle of Mongolia isn’t quite possible so giving them photos is a lovely gesture.

We headed out of Erdenet on more tarmac. We stopped in the town of Bulgan for fuel and snacks. Fuel stations in towns and even villages now seem aplenty with only one town only having 80 octane for our journey. I’m not a big plain water drinker, but I was going through the recommended 2L each and every day easily. In the towns we saw the digital temp displays around 37 degrees.

I stayed with the bikes as Paul went in for water and he treated me to a Twix, what a guy!

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We filled up with fuel, all 4 tanks which always amused the petrol attendant. I have the HotRot Welding 9L aux tank and Paul has the Cameltank which we always kept full. Giving us each about a range of 300 Miles at 60mph. The lowest I got on the entire trip was 250 miles.

A normal sight in Mongolia. We’d see 3 on a bike, 4 on a bike, newborn babies in their mothers’ arms and even one newborn being cradled in their father’s’ left arm as he rode and throttled with his right!

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35 miles later and the dirt beckoned. We needed to head south to the village for the photos and leave the tarmac. We turned off the road and onto awfully slimy dirt. The top 1 inch was slimy, gooey and horrible to ride on. I hadn’t been on the bike for about 2 months so tentatively headed off while slip sliding away. A few seconds later I heard a lot of revving and commotion behind me and I turned around just in time to see Paul drop his bike at about 1mph. The revving was him catching his throttle rocker as the bike went down, so the throttle rocker was promptly removed after that.

We picked the bike up and carried on, but it was clear that the trials were going to be like this all the way. We crested a hill just to scope it out about a mile later.

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We know you can ride off road anywhere and create your own tracks if you want, but I wasn’t that desperate. It was still early in our holiday too and I didn’t want to risk breaking anything either. So after a brief discussion we decided that we’d give it a miss and head back. The 1 mile had taken us about 10 mins and we had another 50 or 60 to go for the photos. The decision was made easier by the fact that there was a backup photo guy coming a few weeks later anyhow on his own adventure.

Back on the tarmac mostly we headed to the town of Murun, Meren, or whatever other translation you’d like. I preferred “Moron” because I’m a child! The weather was damp still but drying up. The off road was still quite damp in this region though. We’d heard that they’d had 20 days of rain prior to us arriving.

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Another hotel in Moron and a decent dinner of fried beef in the restaurant before retiring to the hotel pub and oogling the Victoria Secret fashion show that was on the TVs there. We spent some time listening to a tour groups’ dinner conversation, Aussies and Americans mostly and all I can say is that I’m glad I don’t do organised tours with strangers! Paul and I are a much better combination, plus if I want to be left alone then I can just turn up the music in my helmet

We got a relatively early night. Today’s false start into offroad wouldn’t be repeated. Tomorrow really would be offroad as the tarmac road ends in Moron!

Irkutsk to Ulan Ude into Mongolia

We managed to leave our luxury of the Marriott in Irkutsk on Wednesday morning. The Marriott is a great place to stay, not cheap by Irkutsk standards but the staff were great, a real fun bunch. A young girl, Arina took a shine to Paul and was always full of smiles and happy conversation.

Paul asked her recommendation for dessert one evening after eating in the hotel restaurant and she came back with the biggest ice cream I have ever seen. She needed two hands to carry the bowl. I wish I had a pic of her face as she came towards us and said something along the lines of “A big ice cream for a big man”, it was priceless!

Anyhow, enough with the luxury, we were on the bikes and heading towards Lake Baikal. The world’s largest freshwater lake. It’s so large it’s almost a sea! The views of it coming in from the road were nice.

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Our target for the day was Ulan Ude. It was all tarmac with a few roadworks so a nice introduction to riding in that part of the world. We had a few hotels lined up in Ulan Ude and ended up meeting a few other people at the hotel that evening for a meal together which was nice. We managed to park our bikes in the garage along with a couple of other BMWs. It was a proper BMW Fest with 3 of them being yellow

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Ulan Ude I am sure would have been ok to spend an afternoon or day there. In fact a couple of the people we met were spending a week there I think. Bike repairs and maintenance and just relaxing. Paul and I however needed to get moving as we’d “lost” 3 or 4 days so far due to weekends and customs.

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The plan was to get to the border with Mongolia early in the morning and get going. We weren’t that early though and decided to hit the border when it reopened after lunch. I can’t remember if it was 1pm or 2pm, but anyway we got there 5 mins before it opened.

The roads to the border were empty and quiet. It was pretty warm, over 30 degrees c I reckon but as long as you were moving it was ok. The bus stops are all quite nicely decorated and we found one that wasn’t full of cows taking refuge in the shade.

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The formalities crossing into Mongolia were painless enough. It’s weird being a brit and you tend to queue for everything. However it’s not the way it works with forms and offices and things, so it takes some getting used to.

Paul had gone on a weeks’ intensive Russian course and I know about 10 words. The problem though are the signs, I can’t get my head around them, so thankfully there was always someone who spoke a few words of English and pointed us in the right direction.

Once into Mongolia off we went. Happy days!

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We headed for Erdenet and enjoyed the lovely views and monuments. The monuments are quite common with the blue material tied to them.

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Of course, we now start seeing yurts as well.

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I can’t remember what time it was, but we found a hotel and checked in. We had lost an hour so it was pretty late and we took a walk into town to try and find somewhere to eat. Everywhere was closed and the only “Fast Food” place we found was not pleasant so we gave it a miss and raided the mini bar, nothing like a sugar rush before bedtime. The nights where we did sleep in hotels it always seemed we got the top floor rooms and lugging our luggage up and down all the stairs became tedious after a while. I guess it’s a downside to having soft luggage as it looks an easy target, especially in a city. Saying that however, we didn’t have a single incident or feel threatened anywhere. Apart from one chap who was quite harmless really, will come to him later.

Anyhow, our first full day in Mongolia, roads were perfect, life was good. Surely it was too easy?

Asia – The beginning

Being employed and having limited time off does restrict your big trips somewhat, however with some careful planning, mostly by Paul, we managed to get 3 weeks this year riding our own bikes, mostly around Mongolia. Paul and I did Iceland back in August 2013 for a few weeks. We get on great, sure there are some different talents when it comes to riding, interacting with the locals and things like that but we work well together. What I lack, he makes up for and vice versa.

Paul was on his F800GS which he’s had since new. It had a full service, new HyperPro front springs and oil along with a few other bits and pieces. I had sold my F800GS last year and had a 2009 650 X Country with Hyperpro rear suspension, X Challenge forks with Marzocchi internals all done by Hyperpro. An Excel 21 inch front wheel and normal other mods.

So the plan was simple. Ship the bikes to Irkutsk then on 11th July pick them up and make our way to Bishkek where we’d fly home from on or around 2nd August. The planned route was the Northern route through Mongolia as shown here.

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It wouldn’t go quite as planned though.

We’d shipped the bikes there a few months before hand, and unfortunately due to a bit of naivety we’d assume they would clear customs and we’d just pick them up. As you can guess though, Russian bureaucracy knows no bounds and it ended up taking us 2 full days to get them. Paperwork, more paperwork, duplicates, stamps, lunch hours and photos took up 2 solid days. But we got there in the end.

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As you can see, the bikes shipped with no front wheel and my poor G650 X Country doesn’t have a centre stand. Unfortunately everyone except the foreman had left for the day, so we had no muscle to help with the bike and promptly broke the front mudguard while laying it on it’s side to refit the front wheel. I was hoping that would be all the damage we’d have.

First job, while riding back to the hotel, was to get the front mudguard bodged. I couldn’t ride with it off as even the 10km ride back to the hotel in the rain had me covered in road grime being flung up. I pulled in, at about 7pm, to a auto-service garage and found a true gem in the machine room called Viktor. He spent about 2 hours meticulously making brackets and rivets and my front mudguard was perfect. Best of all is that he wouldn’t accept a penny. It was a “Present from Russia to England” What a fantastic guy.

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Paul and I spoiled ourselves at the hotel again that evening, 2 days of horrible customs, but we were ready to leave Irkutsk first thing on Wednesday morning and get going.

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