Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Mongolia X Journal 9 // Fists of Fury and Gold Rush Fever // Microadventure by Brian Peric // Outer Mongolia Expeditions

[Photo above: Mongolia X Journal 10, Coming soon!]

I am settled into a tough routine now. I ride about 8 hours a day, and set camp 200 meters away from the dirt tracks. Today, I faced a maze of dirt tracks while traced similar dust-dirt fields of grass that were selected for agriculture. I packed camp outside a Ger tent this morning, the grey haired herder and his young daughter helped me pack my bags and fill water from their blue barrels, extremely kind older man taking care of his young family on the Steppe. Thanking my generous hosts for their salted goat tea. There is usually an exchange in this custom - I give them some of my provision, Tuna and a bag of fresh toffee chocolates, he won't accept money. I leave a great place in search of dirt tracks back across the inhospitable Steppe. This harsh contrast really awakens you after traveling for hours with nothing in the horizons except white dots too far to make a difference (those are Ger tents along the mountains, miles from the National highways - also dirt tracks).
After a few hours, I am riding through a truly barren landscape of man-made destruction, I ride and meet two English Motorscooter travellers from England. We stopped and exchanged perspectives on Mongolia travel, they riding a good speed despite their small tires, I admired their scooters rigged with spare tires, extra fuel tanks, clothing and camping equipment. They must have thought I was a bit "Nutter" traveling with a mountain bike, camping equipment, spares. Actually, minus the cooking equipment and gasoline fuel, most of our kits were the same, I even carry a Topeak Alien II multi-tool and spare brake pads (2 sets), spare chain (Shimano XTR/Dura-Ace 9-speed HG7701), spare Marathon tire, spare tubes, spare spokes and spare spoke nipples, electronics - I do not carry a chain whip to remove a rear sprocket, and I do wrap my rims internally with PVC tape to prevent internal punctures should the rim split like it did previously in the Chinese Himalayas. Duct tape, electrical tape, wire - useful, as is, Crazy glue - contact glue for about any repair including shoes/soles. I have about 150ml of contact glue in my kit, indispensable in Mongolia bike travel. Anyways, I didn't chat long with the ladies from England, but they gave me tips for the rough roads ahead. We were along Zaamaar Mountain now and entering the Gold Mining camp areas above the Tuul River. They advised not to camp down near the river and be careful with the locals. Good advice noted, I wished them well and needed to keep moving - the flies were feasting on sweat and driving me forward once again - Can't get enough help from flies to complete an expedition - they are incredible teammates to have on your side! The terrain is desolate and the air is murky in the sunlight.

True to form, the stories shared in daily reflection today from the Scoots Ride the World were true in what what coming ahead of me today. What's interesting is we pass the same overturned semi-tractor trailer, and I discovered a Mongolian man waiting inside there!  I stopped in and offered water, he had no provisions. After a few minutes other Mongolians stopped as well, and some assisted the man taking him away in their pickup truck across the barren terrain.

The surrounding landscapes once lush with Steppe grass for days, has now turned into a lifeless arid mountain coastline without an ocean. Animals which were once placated and roaming around in my view all day have vanished into memory, the land now stripped bare to the bone. Dust and dirt and stubby grass for miles I can see, as the horizon slopes and rises towards the Tuul River valley.

My vision is blurred by glaring sunlight, the terrain now opening into a minefield imploded leaving trenches dug into open strip mining. The powers of man and his machines has really transforms an area from natural to desolate dirt absent of local Nomadic dwellings and their herding animals. This  transformation of a golden grassland into a hole reliable for garbage refuse deposit, is an uncontrolled Gold Mining zone in Mongolia. The area is active with both official industry mining and unofficial mining - it appears by the trucks large and small, Earth is being removed and searched through for the tiny nuggets in the ground. Since this is an active area for mining, there are a few other hazards to look out for. Drunken miners returning from long hard days slamming rigs, shaking pans, and getting dosed by amble sunshine. It's a tough life on the range, not a place I want to stay long, or camp either.

Fortunately, after riding into the void for hours on end, I jump into a Kia Bongo headed west to the Tuul River area a few kilometers ahead. I hitch-hike in this tiny pickup truck into town. Once inside the town's main dirt square, there are two miners active outside a General Store, punching the 'lights out' of each other, but one of them has the upper hand at wrestling. At first sight as the two played tango with their feet kicking up dust and dirt trying to trip one another - the street fighting looks interesting, a fight at High Noon. This giant burly of a  man grabs the other guy by the eye-sockets and with that face gripped tight in the palm of his large stone hand, he used the rest of stove pipe muscular arm to secure the other man to the ground. 

They continue to make sudden moves, twist and fumble into the dirt. It looked like a scene from one of those the Wild West movies I used to watch on Saturday mornings in Canada, some 30 years ago broadcast through American television in Detroit. At least for these two wild dukes, the local alcohol is is rich and in ready supply so they both have soaked up enough 80-proof vodka - to help kick each others faces in without feeling a single punch. 

They continue to scrape at each other for a few minutes while we pull up past them at this General store. It's exciting to watch street fights, times like this when two men kick each other and paw just like one preying mantis taking prey over another.   As they roll in the dirt in the front lot, locals stroll past without noticing these two at a heated fight. The two drunk miners rumble themselves without any audience, clearly too drunk and stupid to stop trying to knock a little more sense into one other. Good luck, glad it's not me in that kind of fight today, I have enough to deal with on my bike tour.

We dropped in front of the store, past the drunken idiots, and the rest of this tiny wooden village seemed calm and quiet on this Sunday afternoon. With the generous help unloading, I parked in front of the store to stock supplies, much needed water topped my lists, and I love the bottles of pickles for $2.
Inside the General Store, the temperature is 10 degrees cooler. Feeling relieved of flies, dirt tracks that I escaped riding through Zaamar Mountain, here I am in the interior Tul River mining area. It's hot and dry outside and the sunshine immense - so much that I need to slip away indoors to cool my head. Inside, I am sorting through my electronics box, I have chargers for the Sony cameras in a tall, retangular Tupperwear bucket, also I find my spare 2G mobile phone purchased in Urumqi, China which comes to replace the water-saturated Apple iPhone 3G which is now useless bit of $250 electronic and plastic perched in the map bag to dry some more in the sun. She's helpful inside, the store owner allows a mobile battery charge and after a bucket of yogurt, two jars of pickles, and a liter of water - my body fluid levels are back to the pre-Zaamar Mountain levels in the desert I just crossed over. It's easy to dehydrate, but water and Gatorade powder do go well together to keep up the H2O levels, I am happily addicted to hydration and keep the pulse for more mountain biking ahead today.
Fortunately, this day is a real gift of life. I have survived some terrible biting flies again, spent another night asleep on the Steppe grassland at night away from the dirt track, and came to this safe spot. I am standing inside for a few hours, I can't stand the blazing (expletive deleted) heat of that sun at least for right now, since there is no way around it and the roads are so mountainous, corrugated, or rocky in many sections, the terrain is unpredictable for riding at night, I also am physically spent covering what distance is possible right now. I give up around 2030 hours each day, starting out around 0800. This system allows for several 30 minute breaks in the day, and that is the opportunity to relax and tune out the Steppe. 

Inside the General Store, I am accomplishing some notes, speaking to the clerk and greeting local customers. Tourist Mongolians coming from Ulaanbaatar are coming into the store with sharp, clean clothing, a father and his daughter making a few purchases before they return to the road. Passerbys like there arrive in Hyundai SUVs and leave without further pause here. When local miners come in, they are either respectable women buying family supplies, others are hard working young men from Nomadic herding families who moved here for paid work. There is another type of miner, the classic drunken skunk, who is today uncontrollably stone hammered by the mining, the panning in the river, the long hours roasting in the hot sun, and the powerful hallucinations brought on by vodka soak that stenches his breath. He is towering the a hulk of muscle and tendons, carrying his fists of fury on the length of each tree branch that resembles a strong arm protruding from Gold's Gym window and wrapping itself across the oceans all the way from Santa Monica, California.

This big burly man in front of me has arms and hands chiseled of steel and legs holding the ground like skinny rubber bicycle tubes, having a hard time to balance, he drops fists on the glass counter and orders another bottle of cheap Mongolian vodka, taking the bottle in hand and opening his mouth, all he needs to do is cock the bottle back and take another shot. Slamming the bottle back onto the tempered glass counter top, the clerk jumps and other customers whip out of the store with their goods. I am left standing next to him, I smile and say, "Hello, Sainbaino!" And I have no problem with him, but I give body motion that the vodka is too much, not too healthy for him - Not sure that this passes through his cerebral cortex, but he does smile and offers me a shot. Of course, I don't want to drink - I am narrowly re-hydrated right now, tired, dirty and exhausted from the days battle fought on the mountain bike. He insists, of course I will drink with him, at least one shot for the day! (expletive deleted)! This is DEFINITELY not what I planned starting out, and these shots of vodka really hurt when I get back on the bike, bottoms up!  I take a shot of vodka and this burly miner offers another one.
I am out, and he hisses at other customers he tries to speak to in slurring Mongolian, his speech and manner is loose and unkempt. With some words from the patron at the store, he takes his bottle, I tightly close the cap for him, and he stumbles out into the dirt lot. The sun has turned it's way through the clear haze outside, this nature clock tells me it's time to retire soon for the night, must find a camp and leave town to where, after all I have seen in the last 8 hours today, there really isn't much around these parts of the Tuul River area.

Another customer is listening to my talk of
mountain biking across Mongolia, and asks where I am from in English. Refreshing right now to hear words spoken in my mother tongue, I respond Windsor, Ontario, Canada - now living in Korea. We exchange some thoughts on the area, I am telling him about the fist fight outside, he seems to acknowledge this as the "normal situation" given our location and the sense of lawlessness brewing somewhere when some disputes erupt over Gold panning claims, since nobody there is licensed, there are no police, no holds barred fights and drunkenness can accompany a night in this dust bowl. He introduces himself as Egee and urges me to depart before dark on the bike. 

We agree to meet at the bridge outside town, but first I need to dash somewhere to have a serious bowel movement, I grab some wet wipes from my backpack -the store clerk won't let me use her toilet, as there is no running water here, a hole somewhere will do! I pace outside and look around for a "hole" in the ground, she motions to the box towards the river, I want down 200 meters but the shed is locked tight, I walk back up to the store - she points to a neighbor's Ger tent fenced off from the center dirt road square, I walk up past the Ger tent and find the magic box. As in all places inhabited in Mongolia outside the urban centers, these holes fill the group with human refuse! I unload in the heat box, and then head back to the store, relieved and breaking a cool sweat in that process, I jump back on the Lynskey and ride down to the bridge, and there Egee and his security driver are waiting for me. 

We speak together for a moment, Egee steps out of his Toyota Landcruiser and points to the sign next to the bridge. He explains this is his mining company sign, one of the very few licensed operations in this area, located high up in the mountains further up the dirt tracks. What is amazing is my next question - "Do you have showers up at your mining camp?" And Egee's answer, "Sure, we do!" So from there I asked since I haven't bathed in a week, if it were possible to come visit the camp and take a shower, perhaps wash my few clothes I am wearing and carrying. "No Problem!" So, ecstatic at this invitation to civilization after riding through the void Steppe for consecutive days in the saddle, he offers a lift up there. "Nah, it's okay. I can ride. I am riding all the way across Mongolia this summer." 

I didn't know where the camp was exactly, so we continued and the Landcruiser would speed ahead and disappear over the horizon, then when I came cranking over the rolling mountain passes rising from the Tuul river, I would see them parked up a rocky patch of mountain in 4-wheel drive. We followed this pattern for about an hour, but I slowed and decided to unload the front panniers giving them to Egee to take in their Landcruiser. Once unloaded, I continued up the tracks but didn't have water in the bottles on the frame, maybe a drop, but my Ortlieb control bag was up with the panniers in the sport utility vehicle ahead with all my water supplies attached to them. It was tough cycling and the Fox shocks were bouncing at high pressure without a load over them. It was really rough cycling up these twin jeep trackes around the mountain range. Finally, I meet them and give up. We flipped the quick release removing the front wheel and tossed the bicycle into the back of the Landcruiser. 

We drive for about 5 minutes into a serene mountain area, completely untouched, no herders or animals, tall grasses growing wild, and came to the compound peripheral zone, a berm of dirt built up from backhoes with armed guards that looked like Mongolian military standing by at the gates. The two private security "Soldiers" as they were so well armed, let us through, we were the officials - and Egee, my incredible host was the owner of this entire operation in the mountains. Once we rolled into the valley between the mountains, the Ger camp appeared, clean and neat - a beautiful little Ashram community, like Yogananda's SRF location outside Escondido, California where I meditated in 12 years ago, this mountain village was pristine and the local community of 80 were all employed by Egee. 

We had dinner come from several ladies on staff, they carried in pastrami and cheese, we dined on Mongolian and western treats - bread baked fresh - this was too good to be true. His small building in the compound was central, he looked over the community and unlike the mining town I had just passed through, this community was dry, alcohol-free, which brought civility to the inhabitants. I feel relived right now, safe and clean. It's been tough so far, but there is much still ahead. It's a great help to reach civilization from the void I came through, but at the start of this day I camped out with an amazing Nomad herder, his wife and young daughter - they were truly genuine, so no matter how rough the course is, the beauty of Mongolia comes to the surface everyday exploring here. I feel lucky, truly.

More adventure journals coming soon!  These are my daily thoughts,reflections and experiences written while mountain bike touring across Outer Mongolia - Hope you enjoy them!

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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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