Thursday, January 17, 2013

Mongolia X Journal 7 // Chasing dust // Mountains Rising // Desolation Angels, Part Two // Microadventure by Brian Peric


X journals continue from my base, the Northface tadpole, a tent I have called home on the road since the summer of 2011 crossing western China (Uighur Autonomous Region, Tian Shan Mountains, Taklamakan Desert, Southern Silk Road to Karlick/Yecheng into the Aksai Chin Mountains and up to Kashgar. I kept using this reliable tent on through Sichuan and Yunnan Provinces, when I shared the tent with two Chinese cycle tourer friends I met who had sleeping bags without a tent, leaving our gear outside to the unknown passerby in the mountains of Yunnan, who would you find there, right? In the middle of the night, the three of us wedged into the 2-person tent, and snuggled up in our sleeping bags, managing two heads up and one head down, voices were roaming through the nylon tent tarp. I was rustled into action, with my blinding 250 lumen Cygolite, I went outside to see what was happening, two Sichuanese men were looking over our locked bikes in unison, under them were our panniers stuffed with electronics, clothing, camping gear - unsecured, apart from looping the locks we had through the bikes and through the pack straps and loops available there to accessorize it. 

These characters were only curious and slipped away over the mountain pass where they came. An hour later, we heard a car crash, Xavier from Shenzhen rose this time and went to find a drunk driver who swerved the corner, went on two wheels and overturned his car on it's side. He asked for assistance, others arrived at the scene and flipped the car over and he drove home. About 0330am, we heard voices for the third time this same night, when we looked outside our tent, there was a coach bus emptying all it's passengers who were squatting doing their business in the field all around us. I thought I saw it all on that one single night of bicycle touring in western China! 

That memory came from a long time ago now, distances and elevations changes, thousands of hours on the saddles going somewhere - this is adventure cycling, these are the kinds of memories that stay with you long after the ride is over, the destination is definitely not the journey itself - the memories, they you can keep over a lifetime.

In Mongolia, we are chasing dust since leaving the bustling capital, Ulaanbaatar. Immediately, this immense terrain greets you in the morning with a cool sun on your back, winds mild, and the scenery painted evergreen once you track yourself on the mountain bike due West out of the capital.

One of the Korean team, from a trio I met a few days ago, has had a flat, his bungee cords are stretched and frayed, with a loose pannier carrier pack by Merida loosely holding on to his rear luggage carrier rack. I stop and tie knots all over his bungee cords in the serviceable sections of the rope, I cut away the fray rubber strands dangling like a pack of pasta. This rider is unprepared, has the latest $1000 smart phone, solar charger, but his MTB is tired and underserviced as are his attachment choices that keep critical gear from "falling away" on the ride. 

I lent a hand today, showing Hak Jun (HK) how to repair the bungee cords, he needs some education whether he wants it or not. HK is too proud, perhaps thinks anything going wrong is "losing face," this characteristic of Korean cultural mentality is ingrained and obvious from the start. Equipment choices can be a $5 bicycle purchased from a yard sale, panniers can be empty rice sacks and twine rope, anything that hauls camping equipment, the wheels don't fall off and stay true after hammering down the road. Hak Jun rides a late model Alton Mountain bike, Korean branded and built in China, this particular model has rim-applied V-brakes, mechanical cable actuated and they are basic, as are all the components on this Alton. Hak Jun has a set of Schwalbe Marathon tires, but they puncture easily and are well worn. Problems are in the wait for him, doesn't carry a spare chain, spare brake pads, spare brake/shifter cables -NOTHING. His friends have earlier model Blackcat's which are also 27-speed Shimano Deore/Alvio component mountain bikes, Korean branded and built in China. What is so different between these models then? Well, the Blackcat is a reliable mountain bike with higher grade components and some upgrades over the Alton mountain bike, namely the mechanical Shimano disc brakes and 160mm rotors. When we are together for the first time a few days ago at ATTILA BICYCLES, Miga Baaska -Mongolian-sponsored racer and part-time mechanic for the shop was assisting me, while I assisted these 3 Amigo Korean mountain bikers. When I completed the rear rack carrier and re-build them using a hybrid combination of two aluminum luggage carrier with steel connecting rods for supports, I asked for 3 sets of Shimano disc brake pads for them as well. Their brakes are as important as the wheels to move and stop moving while across the rough mountains of Mongolia. Visit the country once, ride for a few hours, you will know to think twice about bringing your spare parts along with you.

I built a reliable rack system for the student using the English name Chris.  Another rack was drilled on the night at ATTILA and assembled the following morning- June 28, 2012. I helped them prevent an inevitable breakdown, even suggesting they purchase spare brake pads. Since Shimano entry-level mechanical brake pads do wear out quickly on mountain terrain, I know this - since completing 10,000 kilometers of touring with the same model of Blackcat inside Korea before rebuilding it completely with components from a 2008 Gary Fisher Hifi Deluxe mountain bike, everything part except the frame applied to a 2008 Blackcat aluminum hardtail. (Thanks to AN DAE GI, Mechanic genius and sponsor of both expeditions in his workshop in South Korea). Of course, I know cheap mountain bikes, this is my domain for touring and general XC moutain biking too, I started out exactly that way many years ago. 

Miga Baaska provided 3 sets of brake pads for the 3 Koreans, although 2 of their bikes were disc equipped, one was actually V-brake equipped without seeing the bike, since the owner Hak Jun was already lounging carefree in the Seoul Hotel on Peace Avenue in Ulaanbaatar while his 2 colleagues were scrambling looking for replacement rear carriers at 2200 hours night! A little late for repairs! Until they met me of course, I give myself a pat on the back for helping them - thanks enough, and I found a safe place to sleep for the night. Tomorrow would be a very big day. If we can ride 100 kilometers out of the city without breaking down, hitting an open hole, or being hit by a car - we would be OKAY.

We leave UB behind, following Peace Avenue from the Seoul Hotel, since I am now in a race to keep with the group (they have telecommunications - Galaxy smartphones and we can communicate with my wife in Korea sending updated messages, I need to stick with them as long as possible until I replace my phone somewhere on the road). I knew from the short experience already in Mongolia, Day 1, June 27, 2012 - that I now need to shed as much weight as possible since the roads are horrible in the city, and rough off-road tracks will definitely be no better. In the hasty process of unloading equipment, losing the rear Ortlieb Rollerback classics and all the equipment and clothing inside (including 3/4 of my medical kit and accidentally my water purification systems x2!) I am ready to ride across Mongolia now, no matter what will stand in my way, nature, natural weather conditions and storms...basically, I had no idea (what I don't know at the start would become crucial and critical issues in the next six weeks ahead) all of the big adventure is yet to come, some say "Bring it on!" I just say, "I'm about ready, better get moving, times going, time to go!" My techniques for endurance mountain bike expeditions include: preparation with good quality components built by a licensed mechanic, solid tent/sleeping accessories, spare parts on tour, tools on tour, skills to repair or adjust as needed on expeditions, nutrition needs met, medic supplies, and a setup that I can be comfortable in the saddle for 8 hours a day - all all ingredients of adventure touring.

"Off we turned out onto the concrete roadwork, and quickly paced ourselves out of light traffic since it was early, about 0830 am and we have a whole day ahead of us, sunshine and good weather for a change since yesterday - things are definitely looking up ahead for us all."

Turning out from Peace Avenue onto the West highway, we are now leaving the dusty section of rough pavement and gravel around the factory complexes and rail yards, we are flying out of the concrete jungle into the green lush hills dotted with Ger camps on the hillsides surrounding, we are riding beneath an intensely lit sun dampened only by light dust and overcast smog on the horizon above the city. The breeze is warm and coming in from the northwest, keeping us comfortable and smooth rolling once the pavement begins. The blue skies are appearing from the dust as we ride out, a cloud behind settles down over the city of Ulaanbaatar - we have made it back to the journey.

We roll the smooth pavement and rise and fall from 1350 meters above sea level, the Great plains, the Steppe grasslands take over scenes in all directions. Sheep and goats herd together, and some scatter through the plateau as Nomadic herders ride horseback and keep their flock moving, munching and well exercised. We have a sun high above us at 1200 noon, we rest by a Tibetan Buddhist white stupa, a spiritual center of energy, we visit the memorial site and ride over broken glass, Genghis Gold vodka bottles have been consumed here, shots left as offerings, and the glass broken as prayers are sent.

We camp out riding up dirt tracks, we have grass fields in all directions, the sun slants forward West, it  sends orange glows across the landscape, as light tanned and white cows chew and grace the grassland around us. Boiling rice and ramen noodles, the Koreans set to enjoy kimchi-inspired instant noodles, I mix protein with water and snack on figs and apricots. The sunset swirls into the blue twilight, stars twinkle, coffee is brewed and shared between us, photos taken of the scene until the wind sweeps over the steppe and sends incantations and swills and moans from distant animals and passing herds through the night. The preparation to begin a long journey has now begun, irreversible dreams of the journey ahead begin to take root and rise to the surface at dawn.

Today, we awaken to fire the stove, boil rice and kimchi noodles, I take multi-vitamin supplements and protein, we pack and cycle while the air is cool, the wind is light and scenery and untouched. Across the highway we return from a kilometer away on the plains. We roll smooth and the journey is easy. 

Hak Jun descends after a large climb as the hills turn the altitude up, Mountains take the terrain higher and we speed down the other side. If this sums up the journey mountain bike touring in Mongolia - we are set to make incredible distances, it will be easy. Screeching metal comes together and wails from Hak Jun's front rim brake. We stop, we inspect and see there are no rubber pads left now. He has no spares, and those 3 sets they purchased earlier are useless to him, his bike unseen while rebuilding racks at ATTILA until 2400 hour were all disc, while Hak Jun lounged in his hotel room, I sat outdoors in the dirt with June and Chris, the Korean duo, while doing the rack replacements. In all, I spent 3 hours on their rack replacements customizing them to fit/reinforce them. However, even the foresight for extra brake pads was no use, since the V-brake pads were needed. Here, some 60-70 kilometers out of the central capital, what should we do?

I phoned Naran at ATTILA and asked for assistance. Naran needed some time to finish business at the shop, would make some phone calls, and then let us know. We were standing by the 60 kilometer "blue" marker, they are common on the first 100 kilometers out of Ulaanbaatar. Standing by the marker, I gave Naran our location - since we needed someone to send parts to us, he generously offered support - sending his wife and Miga in her new Toyota Prius on some very hard roads out of the capital. Going back to Ulaanbaatar was near-impossible for four of us, the intense traffic and roads there, it was truly an escape to finally be out - in one piece! We waited, they finally arrived and carried 10 liters of water, Shimano brake pads and extra spares, sunscreen - it was heavenly-I said a big "THANK YOU" and Hak Jun awkwardly mumbled, "thanks...how much?" and paid them solemnly. He was completely down about being rescued - I won't what was the matter with him, really???

We rolled out together, Chris and his friend June accompanied me, while Hak Jun possessed by a determination to get his "lost face" back, the hapless,  black bandana-clad Hak Jun went out to collect the sun darting away with his mountain bike, leaving 3 of us some 30-40 minutes behind. We found Hak Jun hours later, once the glowing amber sun danced it's path into out westward horizon, all the grassland was golden glow, we had survived and arrived at camp on day 3, our last night together.

On the 4th day of my 45 day expedition project of Mongolia, I would part ways with the Korean trio whom showed tremendous loyalty to their embarrassed "Dear Leader." A title of "Dear Leader" illuminates the Confucius persona in Asia, where a leader is hurt or embarrassed, his friends of the same background will continue to follow him loyally. One day he will be taught a lesson in life, if he learned nothing at all from my support and technical assistance at least we can record that the assistance of Naran, Miga, and the team at ATTILA Bicycles, Ulaanbaatar was tremendous support to our teams and THANK YOU for coming out to assist and support us all. That I do want to remember.

The Koreans were now on their own, following the route I shared with them, quite capable despite their serious technical problems. Although we came from the same society in Asia (South Korea) where I have worked for many years in English Foreign language university education, we were quite different in the way we socialize and accept help from others. I provided some skill when they needed it most. They rightly deserve the title, "The Desolation Angels" on the MongoliaX project. 

More adventure journals coming soon! These are my daily thoughts, reflections and experiences written while mountain bike touring across Outer Mongolia.

Thanks for visiting the Korean-World, a blog about Micro-Adventures, Cycling and Exploring from mountain bikes. Hope you enjoy these experiences too!






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About the Korean-World Author

Brian Perich was an English as a Foreign Language (EFL) lecturer for a decade, father, and adventure cyclist based in South Korea.

Previously, Brian has led Canoe adventures in Quetico Provincial Park, Atikokan, Ontario, Canada (1993/1999); led Grand American camping adventures (2000); lived at Paramahansa Yogananda's SRF Ashram for 5 months (see the film "AWAKE"), formerly worked in titanium welding at Agilent Technologies, formerly worked in Winery industry in Marin County with Kendall Jackson in California; Surfing and Meditation continued for several years in California, British Columbia, South Korea, Yoga training in California 1999-2000.

Between 1994-1998 - Brian completed his own adventures with motorcycles. His motorcycling marathons took him across the United States and central/western Canada, while traveling solo over an astounding 24,000km in 60 days! Brian endured 900 mile/1300km average days in the motorcycle saddle and apparently loved every minute of those adventures.

Today, he has given up motorcycle adventures altogether, but finds an outlet for his enthusiasm in outdoor recreation while bicycle touring and micro-blogging about those experiences on his mountain bikes.

While employed as an English teacher in South Korea, Brian has became an advocate for bicycle touring on his mountain bikes. The Korean-World blog originated from those small adventures in Korea, now expanded to cover his recent trek down the TransMongolian highway to the Gobi Desert, cycling 900km east through the Khentii grasslands and in 2012 crossing Mongolia in 45 days, 2500 kilometers 1553 miles. HimalayasX expedition Brian previously cycled across western China, the Taklamakan Desert, the northern Himalayas of East Turkestan Xinjiang/Uyghur Autonomous Region, the corrugated back roads and mountains of Kham Tibet. Brian successfully completed his 2011 mountain bike expedition with 3200 kilometers / 1988 miles unsupported, on/off road MTB adventure cycling.
Brian has completed his second mountain bike journey, MongoliaX expedition - Crossing Mongolia 2012, an unsupported mountain bike MTB expedition across 2500km of Outer Mongolia from Ulanbaatar to Altai Taven-Bogd National Park bordering China, Russia and Mongolia.


In 2013, as a sequel to a trilogy of cycle tours, Brian enjoyed a more leisure bicycle tour onboard his Koga-Miyata World Traveller seeing the northern tier of the United States and western Canada covering 3400 kilometers / 2000 miles in 30 days. This North American cycle tour was called Totherocktour. Enjoying the adventure of bicycle travel and every great conversation started while traveling on the road - has refueled his inspirations to cycle around the Earth. In 2013, while he cycled solo from the Great Lake State of Michigan, United States to Banff National Park in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. He weaved through local communities and reconnected with friends, family and community after spending almost a decade in Asia.


Brian is now supporting several non-profit foundations through expeditions: IDEAS Foundation of Canada IDEAS is the acronym for Intestinal Disease Education and Awareness Society which supports the IBD community, those suffering from IBD-inflammatory bowel disease, also known as Crohn's and Ulcerative Colitis.


The second non-profit foundation is ETE.ORG - Education Through Expeditions, UK which supports educational outreach programs inside schools around the world. ETE connects explorers with students in the classroom, through an interactive online program in development (Beta).


Brian is researching support for a 18000 kilometer bicycle expedition across the Americas: North, Central and South America - ONE -Arctic to Argentina
Please contact him if you are interested in helping out.

Twitter: Cycleagain
Location: Gangneung, Gangwon-do, South Korea or southern Ontario, Canada.

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Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Brian's friends have also been...Cycling in Korea!

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

Cycling in Korea, Warning: always wear a helmet! (I gave mine to my friend)

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