Khatgal, Khankh, Khatgal, Moron – ~550km
(can’t be sure – speedo and odometer stopped working in Khankh)
Moron – Khatgal – just 98km or so of tarmac. Got there early, dithered, and eventually decided to just rent a yurt/ger, and drink a couple of beers in the sun.
Next day – figured I’d ride up the East side of the lake, finding some nice views, and picked an offical Mongolian “Camp” to perhaps stay the night. Started riding, fairly early start. Pretty rough going, but a nice change after the tarmac.
(After referring to this wee jaunt as a “road” a few times below – I realise I should explain… this is officially, on the maps, a “road”. It is the equivalent of a farm-track on any NZ farm… just the wheel tracks of an oft-used track. And when things get wet, and there’s room to avoid the ruts which have become muddy – just go around. But imagine such a thing with scores of people doing this each day, often in heavy vehicles. The points where you can’t go around – become massive, deep, mud-pits. The point where you can go around – because you’re in the middle of a massive plain – become hundred-metre wide marshes of tyre-tracks. On a bike, neither of these things is cool.)
A couple of water crossings. Then a water crossing I got wrong… chose the wrong route, and stalled with the bike in very deep water about 2/3 of the way across the 2nd stage of a river. But – got out of it easily enough, albeit with soaked boots/jeans. (do have that on video)
Later in the day, crossed paths with a couple of other bikes, and a truck. At one point, we all stopped for a breather at the same point, at which point chocolates, raisin-juice (? how does that work?), and home-made vodka were shared around.
And then – chose the wrong route again, this time through a fairly large section of mud… getting very stuck. Ended up needing the help of the other two bikes, when they arrived, to help lift the bike out.
Oh, and then, another mud section… the only way through it was really to skirt it… and while I was doing so, got to a point where I had about 6 inches of solid ground, a tree to the left, mud to the right, leaning over to the right to get around the tree, and then – can’t remember if I stalled or just came to a halt due to the ground/lack-of-momentum – stopped. With a pit to the right, nowhere to put my foot, and just… toppled. Luckily the mud just there was solid enough to be nothing more than a firm mattress, and nothing messier. Neither the bike nor I got more than a little dirt on the side… and easily picked up. But still… my first (only… touch wood) drop of the trip.
Oh… and then… got to the point I’d decided I’d just get to the “campsite”, and spend a reasonably comfortable night, before heading back over what had become a little longer and more brutal ride than expected… to find they had no beds available. Or were closed. Or something. Anyway – no rooms at the inn.
By this point, I’d become fairly familiar with one of the local bikes riding the same route – and they insisted on me following them all the way to the next town… where they were going. We’d gone 110km, and it had been hard, hard work. The next (and closest) town – only another 70. But I figured – if they were doing it, so could I.
So, I did. And mostly kept up… which I was proud of – considering I had a heap of luggage tied on the back, while the other rider had none. Zero luggage. Just the 2 passengers. (To be fair – my luggage was actually slowing me down a fair bit – as one jury-rigged pannier fell off at one point, leading me to stop, swear a fair bit when I realised it was the one with my laptop in, and then spend quite some time over-engineering a re-roping of it. And – his passengers could/did get off at any difficult mud/water crossing – my extra weight, including luggage, stayed on)
At some point, it started getting dark. Then, it finished getting dark. And some time after that – that time including riding at relatively high speeds over very rough terrain – we arrived at the signpost welcoming us to the town of Khankh. The other rider, and passengers, insisted I accompany them to his “house” – for a spot of food, which I couldn’t refuse. So – some more cross-country riding in the dark, some food in this nice chap’s yurt, meeting the extended family – and then off to find me a place to sleep. The local over-priced tourist “camp” for russians had one room available, and some beers, and a hot (warm…-ish) shower. I was happy.
Next day – it seems that this close to the Russki border, I was supposed to register myself with the local authorities, before getting any sort of accommodation. Instead, I found some petrol – and headed back down the road I’d just come in on. (Apparently – there was a road down the other side of the lake, so I could have done a circuit – but this road was much much worse than what I’d just done. I couldn’t imagine such a thing, and at the risk of being called cowardly… I coward-ed out of seeing what that might look like).
The “road” back… the very same “road” I’d just done… was worse. Much worse. Maybe it was just being sore from the previous day, but there were extended periods where the constant, brutal, incessant, please-stop-this bumping made me pine for the gently corrugations of the Wukhan Valley.
There had been more rain, presumably, as there were points where I had to go much, much wider around the official “road” to feel anywhere near like I was going to make it through.
The muddy points I had issues with the previous day – no problem. One other one though… another bad choice of route through it… and, very, very stuck. Had to walk to the nearest yurt, ask to borrow a shovel. Knowing full well a shovel wasn’t going to cut it. Luckily, as I started digging, a van turned up with some locals, and again helped me lift the bike out, put back on a sensible path, and off I go.
Later on – I saw them stuck in the middle of the very same water crossing I stalled in the previous day… having taken the same route. I smugly took the route I now knew to be the better one, stopped, and tried to help. But – rather difficult to return the favour, when we’re now dealing with a van wheels deep in the middle of a river. They assured me I should “don’t worry, go on”… so I did. Feeling a little guilty, but also relieved, as it was already looking doubtful I’d get back to town in reasonably daylight.
But – I did… only 30 minutes or so after sunset… so no need for the lights to ever be turned on (as I’m rollin’ like Mongolians do).
Got back to Khatgal, and stayed the night in another yurt, at the same place as two nights ago. Just happy to be there.
Today – a short and quick ride to just get back to Moron, where I decided I’d splash out for a decent hotel – to get wifi to watch rugby, and hopefully a hot shower. And – spend two nights, as after the brutal road up the side of the lake… I don’t think I could spend another day on the bike.
It turns out – the shower is disappointing, the rugby was disappointing, but at least I’ve got a day off, and can finally do some laundry.