Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Mongolia X Journal 6 // Desolation Angels // What will I do with a broken rack? // Cycling connections in Mongolia

If you read Mongolia X journal 5, you would have already learned about the Ovoo [photos above], these large stone cairns or sacred piles of wood timber in the northern protected areas are cultural features marking important mountain divides of this Earthly landscape. These spiritual markings are placed on most bald mountain passes (high passes, or "Davaa") and this will familiarize you to the kind of terrain that is still ahead of me here. I have been excited to hear news about the Mongolia Bike Challenge 2012 (you will love the film, I promise) sponsored by Orbea bicycle of Spain, both the event organizers including logistics from Fawcett & Company, of Canada - all have put together an honors world class endurance event across what is one of the most beautiful, rugged and wide open landscapes on our planet. This location is not to be missed, if you go, bring your mountain bike and prepare for something incredible after every pedal crank, every river crossing, every moment between yourself and an immensity beyond descriptions (you and all the flies, bring DEET). 

Out in the wild grasslands I believe you will feel peace, feel humbled, and understand where it all started for the human race, once living unsettled, nomadically on the land before we divided and conquered it. The Mongolians historically were conquerors of Asia during the ages of Genghis Khan, and that spirit and revival is renewed today in one of the most hospitable cultures to get to know.

Today's journal is short and reflective. I left Ulaanbaatar with three Korean cyclists, all whom are university students with perhaps an ironic mission for their summer, to mountain bike across Mongolia as part of their attempt to publish a Korean language guidebook and storytelling fable about the experience. I use the word "fable" as a descriptive term, just as words describe the landscapes, the weather and the people or animals as I see them. The Korean trio were prepared to do as I was, to ride as far as humanly possible and experience what is so amazing about Mongolia - the emptiness, the natural landscapes and dirt tracks stretching out for thousands of kilometers in every direction. They had their Lonely Planet (Korean) guide to Mongolia (2012) and printed pages from a popular blog about cycling here (read my book, I will tell you all about it then), and they had limited time on their visas to do it all. Perhaps, the Mongolia Bike Challenge would of better fit their time schedule, according to their report, they had 20 some days to experience mountain biking in the country before an important meeting back in Ulaanbaatar with their publisher, who promised them 10,000,000 KRW (Korean Won, about $9500 American dollars, not too bad for amateurs with this guidebook!), these cyclists offered  their story, route, map and photography in exchange for the one-off payment from an unknown publisher in Seoul, South Korea. They have a very sweet deal lined up for themselves. But there were some slight technical problems with all this, let me fill you in on some of those details below.

We all came equipped with mountain bikes of different makes and models. They were all riding what I had used in the Himalayas, aluminum hardtail frame mountain bikes, basic Shimano Deore components and simple racks that either clipped to their seatposts (one rider had this) or mounted to the rear of their seatclamps and directly above the wheel axles. For equipment, they each carried large internal framed backpacks over their racks with small nylon panniers, and they had a cook stove and bought bottles of butane gas from a store outside Ulaanbaatar. They had a large bag of rice, and loads of ramen noodles, even instant coffee. Their cube tent was spacious for 3+ except it took a beating in high winds on the first few nights we traveled together. 

We met in UB, at the city center crossroads of Seoul Street on the 27th of June. After having fallen into a hole in the flooded road, I limped back to find a bicycle shop with spare parts to cure my mechanical failure -day 1. When we met, they explained their plan, to take a bus as far West as was possible, and then to cycle return to Ulaanbatar. The distance is some 2500km and they had 20 some days to do all this. I knew, for the equipment they were using and the time allocated, and the lack of paved roads, it would be impossible to complete their goal. I suggested they ride with me, or northwest - there is an important reason for doing so. You ride against the northwest winds, it cools you in summer, this is a good plus. Another reason is primarily it is better to leave from the developed city, however chaotic it might be in Ulaanbaatar, it has all the supplies and importantly here, the bike shops to help you. Starting from UB leaves options to repair kit, or replace it. So, with this lead in I presented my route to them for overlanding Mongolia. They smiled, looked at my map, and said their "goodbyes".  I was off alone to find a bicycle shop to do some necessary repair to replace my bent rear luggage rack, replace it if I can, and then try to relaunch across country. And that is exactly what I did, well, not exactly.

After pedaling around UB for a few hours, I find excellent help at this music store around the corner from Peace Avenue, (this was hours after cycling 70 kilometers out of the city and into the mountains around Nairamsdal, a beautiful area too), but there were already more casualties of bike touring Mongolia, I now lost my communication - iPhone 3GS to the flooded roads and a wet pocket in my Arteryx Gore jacket and all of a sudden as I walked out of the music store, I was suddenly "bumped" by a street person in business for himself, lifting only my cycling gloves, how fine is that!? Although, I needed them they would easily be replaced with my old spares from 2011. 

So I am still good, no phone, have gloves and will find a bike shop. I received directions, cycled across town, over a large bridge and into an industrial area. From here, I find help, get directions and cycle my way through a labyrinth of dusty tarmac roads, gravel and dirt to follow a Mongolian carrying my rear load, as the rack clanked and shook now, broken right off it's original mounts when we tried to realign it. You can't bend aluminum for repair, you can only replace it, thus steel is real and I am now in seriously deep shit over all this. Well, I am not alone, at least not for too long. 

I found ATTILA BICYCLES behind TREK today, the business is run like a tight ship at sea and this ship is behind TREK bicycles in the garage spaces, many mountain bikes, many replacement parts, and technicians there who are 20 year+ veterans from their many cycling experiences in the Mongolian racing circuit. I worked together with one of Mongolia's former national champions in mountain biking. After 4 hours of fitting bolts and teflon coated lock nuts, countersinking and tightening again, we replaced the ill-fated and now departed Topeak Supertourist DX Disc (although I would still recommend it to others on a tight budget, for all of western China and the Himalayas, it was reliable when mounted directly to the wheel axle holes in an aluminum frame). I wasn't using aluminum for Mongolia, I was using a titanium LYNSKEY frame without eyelets for racks, so I had to depend on aluminum adapters on the seatstays, and the trekking rack from China that I purchased in Mongolia, fit snug for less than $20. 

At 2200 hours, it was time to go and find a place to crash (sleep) for the night. The shop is now long closed and Mika Baaska, a shop builder, mountain biker and sponsored rider helped me out, leaving the shop open while he tuned his new bike, and I finished the final turns of the bolts to secure the ride for MongoliaX2012. Right when I started putting all the tools away, we look up and see two Korean friends I met earlier, riding in slowing looking for some help. I asked what they needed, "We need racks, one broke and the other isn't good, not strong enough..." Of course, I had a plan to fix that problem and help them, I didn't second guess, and although the solution required no engineering genius, the racks we put together were made of simple (cheap) aluminum parts, but the connecting steel rods from one separate rack became the reinforced support for their aluminum stays (which on their own would snap, if you taste Mongolian roads you will know this). I fixed, drilled the steel to allow larger bolts, Miga had the owner Naran's permission to help us with extra bolts, washers and teflon lock nuts. We had an electric drill as well, and I sat in the dirt outside their shop, this parking lot now my workspace for the past 6 hours. By 2400 hours, I completed the second rack repair and they asked me to do another - but I was very tired now, my day started at 0730 in the morning, I cycled 70 kilometers into offroad mountains and back again, and I worked with Naran's mechanic for hours, and here I am ready and exhausted, I needed to call it a night and let the adventure begin tomorrow. Of course, I will offer them my skills for free, nothing in return except a safe place to sleep for tonight.

Morning came early at the Seoul Hotel, we slept on the upper floors carrying all of our bikes and equipment up the switchback staircase. The employees were watching us from a distance, and GoGo dancers were shaking the tables on the main floor, we had no time or energy to look around, off we went into our shared room. The hotel suite was spacious, we cooked up some pasta and shared figs, and other simple energy snacks, showered, it would be morning soon, I need to get up and fix that second rack. All this work is for free. I would do it for anyone, anyone in the global cycling community. But these three amigos from Korea were the Desolation Angels, after I help them here the story takes an interesting twist....

Thanks for reading my Mongolia X journal, my private thoughts while over landing by mountain bike across Outer Mongolia. More adventures are coming soon! 

To find out what happens next, stay tuned to this space!  Thanks for reading! 

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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.

Thanks for visiting my Journal from Asia

I hope you enjoy the updates!

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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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