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Sunday, July 4, 2010

Frequently lost in the Gobi

Finally, we rode out of The Oasis. It was 45 degrees, I was tired, had a cold, the runs, a hangover and felt like shit. Rode like it as well. We had said gooodby to The Oasis in style. Six bottles of Chingis Vodka over 2 nights. The Gobi Desert causes carnage to Man and Machine. Of the 15 bikers at the Oasis the first night, 2 had broken legs, and were still riding, although they were heading back to Europe via Russia and the black top. My new best mate Seppo had been riding for 10 days with his, he only had 8,000kms to make it home to Finland! Bloody Superman. My other best mate from Finland is Sakke. He rode over1,600km in under 24 hours, over snow and ice .Are these Finish riders a tough breed or not!!

After 5 days in Ulaan Baatar we had collected our Kazakhstan visas, done a few touristy things, serviced the bikes and found a bar that served OP Bundy. It was time to hit the tracks again. Ron, Whitey and Dave headed off back to Russia via the Central Mongolian route, Adam and I were going to see a bit of the Gobi Desert. Val and Jason were still in Irkutsk, Russia,having their bikes welded back together after riding the Bam. Hopefully we will catch them down the track.
Only 20kms south of UB and the asphalt ends. The road becomes a rough as guts track. Try riding a 260 odd kilo bike down that crap when all you want to do is die! Sometime later Adam took pity on me and we camped beside a lovely cool river. Nomadic herdsmen and their Ghers (in Aus we wrongly call them Yurts) scattered over the plains. A couple of young blokes rode up to talk to us, one on a horse and the other on a bike. Most nights, as we make camp, a horseman or 2 rides up to check us out. No problems, most of the people are lovely. At first we headed south, and for the last week or so we have been meandering in a roughly westerly direction. At first it was incredibly hot, we had trouble drinking enough water. The damned water was at least 35 degrees. One day I bought 17 litres of fuel and we bought 18 litres of water! We have to buy water as there are not any creeks or rivers to filter it from. If we do find water, there is no known to man I would even think of trying to put it through my Katadyn filter. It looks like shit. At present we have not bathed for three days. Today we crossed a 3,000m pass and tonight have camped at 2,500m, so it is cool. Actually bloody cold. Before dinner we hiked up a 3,000m hill to check to view. A 360 degree panorama!
The Gobi Desert is amazingly, incredibly, fantastically beautiful. We have ridden through, across, around, over or past sand hills, mountains, cliffs, plains, dried lakes, swamps and mountain passes. Down dry river beds, along and across rivers and creeks, got bogged in the sand, ridden up and down near vertical slopes, some 1 metre high, some a lot higher. Two of the rivers were so big we had to walk the bikes across. The riding has been some of the most challenging I have tried. Some I didn’t like, some I hated. Most I loved. We ride between 9 and 11 hours a day and do a max of around 200km.The bikes love it. We love it. At the end of the day we are stuffed
We needed water and could see the town we needed to get to. It was on the other side of a dried up swamp. No problem to us, we have ridden through many dried up swamps, not quite this big though. Eventually we are at full throttle in first gear, and the bikes are sinking and slowing. Not such a dried up swamp in the middle as it turns out. My bike bogs first, and falls over, Adams does the same. It is around 40 degrees. My old motto comes to mind. Bite off more than you can chew, then chew like all fcuk. Right now we are chewing pretty hard. Eventually we get water from a well, filter it and make camp. All is good. That night a local rode up to our camp, must have like the cut of our jib, went home and told the family. They all came up to see us, on motorbikes and horses, brought us fresh milk and cheese. How good is that! Later one of the boys rode over to tell us something. We thought he was saying it was going to rain. No way. I think he was trying to say a dust storm was coming. Christ! Blow! It had to be over 100kph. I thought if I went out to check the tent guys, without my weight in it, my tent might disappear over the horizon, with all my gear inside. The wind was so strong it kept sending my burglar alarm off, even kept me awake for several hours. I worried about my little Vaude tent. But she is a ripper!!

The towns are like you would imagine those of the American wild west, circa 1850. Except with mobile phone coverage! I don’t know what they all do for a crust. Most towns are shit fights and probably should have been nuked long ago. But, good people call them home. This morning we needed fuel and water and called at Sharga, probably one of the better towns we have found on the Gobi. The people, brilliant. One guy gave me a badge, and pinned it to my jacket and invited us into his home for a cup of tea. Everyone went out of their way to make us welcome. I hope they don’t nuke Sharga.
The navigation is bloody hard. We have a GPS each, I have Garmin’s World Map and Smelly Biker’s Wander West World Map in mine. In this part of the world they are both WOFTAM’s (Waste Of Fcuking Time And Money) In addition I have a Mongolian map from International Travel Maps. Pretty bloody lousy as well. These maps are dangerously inaccurate. We bought The Mongolia Road Atlas in Ulaan Baatar and it is not bad. Without it we would be lost all the time. What we see on the map is frequently not what we see on the ground. We have to take our Lats and Longs from the GPS and plot on the Road Atlas with a pink school kids ruler. We are never lost. We always know where we are, we just don’t know how we got there or how to get where we want to go. Outside of UB there are not any road signs at all! The towns do not even have signs with their names on them. Our 3 maps can have a name spelt 3 ways and there can be 2 towns in the same are with the same name. There were 2 Chandmani’s and there are 3 Hovds. A total shitfight.
Yesterday we stumbled upon a carnival in aid of the Mongolian national day, at a joint called Darvi. Kids parades, horse racing, wrestling, the lot. Fantastic. I didn’t do a “Charlie Boorman” and join in the wrestling. These bastards were bloody fit. Darvi is the end of the Gobi Desert region.

After 3 attempts to find our way out of town we hit the main Southern Highway. Fcuk me!! What a mess. Corrugations! We had to go about 80 or 90kph to ride them. That was to fast as we could not slow down for the corners or washouts . This was 260 kms of hell. It shook the shit out of the poor old Rooney, and me as well. We took every side track we could find. Anything to get off the main road. We stopped for fuel. Some drunken Mongolian men rode up and into the Rooney. Hey, nobody hits my Rooney!! They wanted stuff for nothing, then they tried to steal things, then they wanted to fight us. What steps did we take? Fcuking big ones, in a westerly direction. Did those silly pricks think they could race the Rooney on a Chinese no name brand 125? I had to do the “old kick the front wheel away trick” at one point. I don’t think he expected that. Fcuk them!!
Today we hit Khovd, stopped in the main street and stole an internet connection, great to Skype family and friends. We checked into a Gher camp for R&R and to clean up, as we had not been able to shower for several day, must have stunk like pole cats. Swam in the river, spread our gear all over the Gher and relaxed. A bit special after 10 of the hardest days riding I have ever done. After 110,000kms on the Rooney I have finally damaged a front rim. The Gobi was hard. Damned hard. . I am really pleased we are rode the Gobi and would love to come back, in a “Troopy” though!
Our front door is 18 metres from the river and our table and chairs are about 1 metre from it. The locals are friendly, it is so good we will probably sit back and spend 2 or 3 days here. Food is not to foul either. Adam tells me his cold id nearly better and he is taking me rock climbing tomorrow. Fcuk that!! Tonight will be a Chingis night.
I think, my friends, this is as good as it gets.


    Are you fcuking mad!!
    All is well this end, and we have a new prime minister, though I assume you know that by now.
    I doubt that the Hindenburg would get through some of the country you are traversing.
    Not to mention my poor, tired old body.
    We are well, and still moving to the mountains.
    Take care my friend.
    Regards to Adam.
    Cheers Errol

  2. Hey , Wish I was there. Think I'll catch the first flight to Poland and head south. Who knows we may even catch up one day.
    Rob MV