Food is provided by their animals in the form of dairy (milk, yogurt, cream, cheese, meat, fat, butter), there will be a trace supply of onion or potato traded for and brought to the Gers, along with satellite television that favored Mongolian and Russian sports (the summer Olympics of 2012 in London) or South Korean dramas dubbed in Mongolian and of course Korean K-Pop followed by Mongolian Rap music. There was a fusion of media culture brought into the Ger tent through satellite dish, solar panels and battery storage, but their food remained local and created through their own hands and care of their animals. The people, the animals and the land they live upon here, and the impending pressure of nature is all around them and these Elements as all so close to one another. Mongolians care for each other, welcoming their own Nomadic travelers and exchanging gifts, and they care deeply for their cultural way of life - the Ger as home, the 1.5 million square kilometers of open land where there is only national ownership in the sense that this is Outer Mongolian free range for their animals and citizens to live.
The rest of the country is composed of permanent settlements, towns, villages and larger cities and all of this fitting into 21 "aimags" or provinces with unique topographic and climatic changes to each one, mainly the Siberian northern borders filled with fresh water lakes and tributaries, the Steppe grasslands across the belt or girth of the entire country until the very western frontiers where Kazakh Mongolians have settled and called it home, the cuisine changes as does the cultures, but the fabric is still connected - Mongolian.
Today, I have cycled through valleys stretching 30-40 kilometers in length and 40-50 kilometers in width to the continuous belts of mountain ranges always seen in the distance. There is high visibility and other times intense sunlight beyond the cloud banks tumbling above me. As there is virtually no local air pollution out here and I sense coming from prevailing northwesterly winds. All this has a huge advantage, even a headwind is welcome from the Northwest, the Siberian winds keep me cool while mountain biking and although I am soaked to the bones in sweat traversing it all, I stand again today nearby an Ovoo, marveling at mother nature and the cultures beneath her amazing work - Earth and Cultures.
These big winds continuously turn over the land with varying velocities. As pillowed clouds roll in where you can only see the surface beneath them, and sometimes today they continued to move out of the scenery. The landscape is desolate and colored in faded evergreen, grass and sand colored soil paints the portrait that I am riding through. There is an occasional skull of a sheep, yak, goat, all animal skeletons bleached white from the UV light. I only found one half decomposed horse so far, it died and slowly the body of this departed creature was taken away by insects and predator birds flying overhead while I stopped to observe in silence. I wouldn't die, so they left me alone throughout my journey. The flies of course were the exception, they always stayed with me - how could I feel bored when I cycled to stay ahead of the swam of flies, or needed more water - two preoccupations that became rituals in self-motivation and patience.
Storms brewed and the sky ahead fell dark, turbulent and thunder cracked after a flicker of lightning touched down to my northwest. I continued the route, this was calculated by a thin yellow line on my GPS, following the northern route. Rain fell lightly and the winds howled in my face, I pressed harder into my pedals and increased my cadence. The ritual of cycling is rhythmic, repeated and like a well-tuned engine - one that keeps on when the weather gets rough. Further over the brief mountain pass, I see thunderclouds gathering and the density makes them dark grey against the swirling cloud sky. The rain begins to fall harder and faster, I cannot beat this weather moving on the bicycle, I will run straight into it. A band of horses run wild across the field next to me, six of them running in unison with a single purpose. The dirt tracks turn to mud and puddles form instantly as the pitter-patter of rain continues to dance on my shoulders. I take out the Goretex shell but there isn't time to put an insulating layer above my short-sleeved cycling jersey.
I ride further and pass a Herder on his motorcycle tearing the Earth between chunky tread tires heading in the opposite direction of the storm, he smiles to me through his big black Blues Brother glasses. I ride the rim around holes in the dirt road now filled with water, pitter-patter rain keeps coming until the decibals become so much louder like the roar of an engine, God is punishing me for traveling in his land - no man's land. Then these heavy drops of water turn to ice and start to bounce off the road, and I see three Ger tents to my left, swerving the road's holes and with a small leap, I bridge the edge of the dirt track into the green fields and continue to ride toward the Gers some 200 meters ahead. Rain and hail, wearing nylon shorts, a cycle jersey and a bare Goretex shell provide almost 0 protection, the temperature has dropped, it's cold and I ride up past the roaming goats who get caught in the elements happening around me. Inside the Ger, I peep in and see about 12 Mongolian Herders gathered and then greet them. They invite me inside and there is no room, so I stand and explain my name, my nationality and they know how I am traveling as a few step outside into the holy hail and rain to see my mountain bike.
I am cold right now, but the rain stops finally and we step outside, I ask permission to camp nearby and need my tent (my Ger) to replace my soaked clothing - I feel a chill go through my body and I am fidgeting around awaiting their reply. When "Yes" in granted in Mongolian, I strip the equipment from the mountain bike and setup the tent. Before I have a chance to cover the tent net, the heavens open and soak myself, the tent and there is nothing else, only the ground beneath the tent doesn't get a resupply of rains cleansing, so I pitch the rain cover over and stake the corners while the rain just comes down like cats and dogs, no mercy for me. I nod to the Mongolian Herders who returned to their tent after throwing me the rain cover from beside my packs, and I drag myself inside - inflating my Thermarest Pro Lite mattress to insulate myself from the wet interior and there I strip down to the buck and apply the 'baby wet wipes" for another moisture shower. Afterwards, I have 1 pair of nylon hiking pants (blue) and another cycling liner shorts for underwear, I rotate the clothing I wear and wash them in streams every few days, I also put on a dry Brazil soccer shirt and thin fleece top and get inside the sleeping bag. All this happens on the dry area of the Thermarest mattress, while the Ortieb panniers are waterproof, I open and remove the contents I need, and close them back up folding their top lids. I sleep for a few hours and later the herds of sheep and goats return from their pastures, "baaa baaa baaa....churlch, churlch....eeee! eee!" These animals make all sorts of noises to communicate, and I wake in darkness. Finding the Cygolite 250 lumen as the torch, I light up the tent and find the water in the Ortieb ultimate control bag, I have about 5 liters stored in there, so I mix up some powered protein with water and get down to dinner!
The next morning the sun rises as it should, the dew soaks everything in sight but the interior of the Northface Tadpole2 tent was warm and comfortable, the island of Thermarest mattress kept the down sleeping bag out of the water, and I positioned the Ortieb panniers to block the puddles in case I moved during the night. Dawn came with inquisitive Herders, these Nomads that accepted me the previous stormy night - we had barely even introduced ourselves. I met a few Nomads, and was invited inside their Ger.
Inside the Ger something miraculous was happening, many more Nomads had gathered and several were holding a woman who was weeping and appeared emotionally-struck by some demon. With all hands on her and different voices carrying over her, she seemed pulled from the depths of her despair as she let out wails of agony punctuated by silence perhaps in her moments of sudden relief. It was Buddhism or perhaps Shamanism and the rituals involved many in the community standing by or being there to care for her and say supportive words, I took my place silently and sipped salted goat milk tea. There was also book-keeping being made, accounting and donations all in the hands of Shaman who attended to her and also spoke and invited me to join them there. Outside, I left my water bottles laying out on the ground around the entrance of my tent hoping to find a source of fresh water from a stream nearby for refilling. Those bottles were taken away to a mound of donations under a tarp, it seems many had left offerings here, from solar panels to motorcycle parts, but I retrieved them and left some chocolate in their place. I believe the woman was healed that day, she mourned for something dear that had been lost or something deep that had afflicted her. With all these people in unison, it was a church, a temple, a spiritual zone and even I felt blessed - warmed by their pot stove, filled with warm goat milk and safe from the storms. Life is a cycle, we ride the highs and lows through it all and see where the road eventually leads us.
Thank you for reading my thoughts and reflections written while traveling across Mongolia on a mountain bike. I traveled for adventure and to learn more about cultures. More adventures are coming soon!!!!