I've left the Herder hauling dirt's lot, he had a log home build from big northern Mongolian timber adding an addition to the main building, a wooden barn used for his various equipment and welding tools, and he was industrious too - a handyman, jack-of-all-trades and well known to many in his small town. We rolled through the dirt roads between tracks of tall wooden fences, everything was painted maroon as a weather-beater paint on these divisions of permanent Mongolian settlement. It was only possible to see in with an invitation to stay from a local. Since I hitch-hiked into town with the dirt load, we toured first and caught the eye of his local friends, this was great -really rolling cool into a totally different neighborhood in Central Asia with my host. I can appreciate the generosity of being offered sheep head, onions and potatoes -this was a real treat. I ate a tongue cooked tender along with muscles from all around the lower jaw, delicious.
Camping out, relaxing, and recording. It's great to wipe away the early days sweat with wet napkins, change clothes, and snuggle into a sleeping bag on the Thermarest mattress: this is peace - even though it's just past noon and I haven't made enough progress, I am still loaded with 5 liters of water, good for the night.
Little did I know, the Korean trio that I shared my route with (Hak Jun, June and Chris) are now competing with me now to cross Mongolia, Wow, what a wonder since they are pursuing a $9500 book writing contract while I am just riding to support educational non-profit foundations and see more of the world from a mountain bike. They are riding mountain bikes, Korean models with two Chinese carrier racks I modified custom and assembled myself - to help them do it. What's amazing - helping others and having them compete with you immediately afterwards with the route map I shared with them to assist them. Well, it is worth the experience to remember who I helped, why I helped them - and that's important to me right now.
I awoke at 1200 am and decided under moonlight with a cacophony of flies now departed for their sleeping holes, I put the bicycle back on the road to complete the fastest stage of the entire expedition. 80km more pavement was waiting out there, swiftly I was rolling smooth, probably apart from leaving Ulaanbaatar, the only place I could roll without putting less than 1 horse of human power to get to the next destination, which is another patch of arid, sandy soil Steppe grassland to camp. There isn't 'development' out across here, but I do come across towns that punctuate long paragraphs of roaming landscapes. I am determined to keep moving, to make more progress to get across Mongolia solo by mountain bike.
Time and pressure, is the trepidation building before taking the expedition. I have a great deal of freedom to be in this situation, nobody leading the way except me and nobody sent me here - I roam alone supported by my wife on occasional text messages and friend support who have donated their time, interest, equipment (SFC Tim Copeland) and a donation already (Malcolm Wesley Wrest sending me off with money for the bus ride home when I return to Korea) and Don Erwin at Lynskey Performance, USA. These supports are integral to success in Mongolia. It helps if you have a team, it can have implications on how you cope, even if you cannot connect while riding through the unknown. These scattered text messages (Malcolm, James Penlington, Mi Sung) are important, I keep them on the SIM card for moral support.
I rolled for about 4 hours (80 kilometers) and this was amazingly smooth sealed blacktop heaven. At the end of the pavement the road ends, drops off into the dirt tracks which continue across Mongolia. It's crazy to be cycling in two worlds, one mostly undeveloped - just beat down dirt, rocks and Earth soil and sand and the other is one I am familiar to in North America, China or Korea - pavement made from either concrete or stone and tar sealed roadways. If you are looking for pavement, don't come to Outer Mongolia.
I camped wild eyed at a full moon washing over the rolling landscapes, I past the town in a few minutes silently, only a few dogs barked breaking total silence and no flies buzzed in my ears - heavenly. At the end of this pavement, I went to the side of the tracks and pitched the Northface tadpole 2, my home away. After a catnap for a few hours, a golden sun opened the blue horizons. I jumped up about 700 am today and look, - there were the 3 Korean amigos! It was a surprising coincidence to meet there because they had stealth passed my tent on the side of the paved road without 'hello' while the swarms of flies had driven me into my tent. I was delighted to see them again, they looked - disappointed. I sent June back into town to collect a few liters of water from the store since they have stocked up and stayed in town themselves.
In Korea, my occupation directly involves teaching adolescents in a university - and while on adventure I try and lend a hand of support (4 hours of rack drilling/modification and assembly - done!) and of course, I worked hard to travel overland in Mongolia and saved for this - without return to Canada in over 6.5 years. Supporting my family, my students, my wife and children and then following a road to a big adventure. I will turn 40 in January 2013. So, this journey is important as it is for others trying to realize the same dream.
Well, I spent a few minutes with the trio and learned about their battle through the flies on pavement (yes, I was there too, I know this!), but they never mentioned seeing a bright orange tent beside the road. They were preoccupied with making their own journey at the expense of their parents - for the Korean guidebook.
I left them behind for the last time today, following the GPS through the sparse grass fields and along the dirt tracks. The Koreans I met faded to grey specks and disappeared into the rough terrain behind me now.
Ahead is a new day. Luckily, after an hour before crossing a river with a checkpoint before the long concrete bridge, I find this amazing diner - brand new place with gleaming glass windows and Art Deco design using concrete for the the structure and wide and tall modern glass as the side of the wall looking out to a miniature desert. It was out of this world, and a good menu too. I had ridden through some of the roughest terrain and up and over the small desert to an oasis today, another Eden. Amazing. Here, I am just writing to relax, unwind and re-hydrate salted goat milk chai tea and fresh water while I sip soup by the bowl and chow these flat, fried noodles mixed with onions and potato, mutton and chunks of fat in my bowl. I'm lucky to be alive today, I'm lucky to be traveling in Mongolia unlike other travels, there are no tarmac roads pointed in this direction, you need a compass and a GPS to follow these tracks. Life is - something truly unexpected.
Lynskey titanium mountain bike performed this summer. The equipment is listed in the links above, and all details on equipment performance, maintenance and picks (what I liked, what I would leave behind, what I will bring next time) will be shared in the final print/ebook being developed right now away from these pages. Thank you all for visiting the Korean-World blog. (: