Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Rider’s Notes Follow
People from Mongolia have burst out of this land and taken over most of the world three times. In the later centuries of the first millennia AD, the Huns (think Attila) conquered everything between here and the Rhine river in Germany. Then starting in the 6th century AD, the Turkic tribes from Mongolia covered the same routes, leaving their European legacy in Turkey. And then there were the Kahns, most notably Genghis, who managed to conquer their way all the way into Europe, but China as well.
Now this country is 2.5 million people, half living a nomadic/herding life living in two to four gers per year (depending on season) and the other half living in Russian style 5-story apartment blocks. They are, as near as I can tell, friendlier than Russians, but they still turn their back to any camera (or wave you off if you ask) and they really don’t get bikes. They beep a lot, as if I am going to get off the road for them.
Back to the ride… first let me introduce RAAISA Team Mongolia. On the right is Ariuntulga Dorjsembe, hereinafter refered to as “Uka”. And in the middle is Demberel Batsukh, or “Dembee” for short. Uka’s the guide, Dimbee the driver.
And on this morning they take me back north about 36 miles where I offload on a crisp Mongolian morning, looking forward to a great ride.
There are 3 passes (davaas) between Sukhbaatar and Darkhan, two steeper 600 foot climbs followed by a longer 500 footer. They are marked at the bottom with signs and at the top with welcoming shrines.
In between there’s some nice flats, with semi-regular animal blockages. This one with wild(?) horses. +
And sparodically off to the side are individual or small groups (2 or 3) of gers.
About 38 miles into the day I get to Darkhan. Here’s the ritual bike/sign photo.
A this point, for some time (10 min?) I had been watching a red speck off in the distance floating back and forth across the road. Getting back on the bike after the sign shot I caught up to a young Buddhist monk, traveling the same road. He would run frantically for a couple of minutes with robes waving, then walk a bit, then run some more.
They put these ‘town’ signs miles outside of town, so the little guy had a ways to go.
Darkhan (pop. 73,000) is the third largest city in Mongolia, 1/22nd the size of Ulan Baatar. The Soviets created it from scratch in the 1960’s as an industrial center – so everything in it is less than 50 years old. There’s a shanty village just north of town, and this little girl is hauling water there for her family.
There’s a chaotic open market at the edge of Darkhan, where you can buy (among many other things) your live goats or sheep, or just their skins.
The middle shot there has the water containers. It’s like an LP gas exchange program in America. Drop off an empty, pick up a full.
There’s a big “Buddha Place” (not palace, but place) on the highest hill in Darkhan. I rode up a dirt trail to visit the deity, and looked around.
Except for the stops for the pictures, I just rode through town. The Trans Mongolian RR starts paralleling the road at this point. These kids escorted me out of town, and I got to see my first view of the TMRR.
The TMRR is not like the TSRR. It’s diesel vs. electric, and appears to use equipment many decades old – the passenger cars look like Pullman cars from the 1920’s.
A few miles south of town, Uke and Dimbee stopped on the side of the road for lunch, I slathered some bug lotion over the sweat and suntan lotion, and joined them.
They road south of town starts the first of the big climbs that eventually get you into UB (Ulan Baatar). The Khustain Davaa (Khustain Pass) goes from about 2,200 feet to over 3,200 feet.
With the three passes in the morning, plus this, I had reached just past the halfway point between the border (173k back) and UB (172k ahead). So I pulled over, waited for Uka and Dimbee to show up. We headed back to Darkhan for a night with a shower, bed and restaurant.
Just over 100 miles to UB! If it’s not too rough (hills, wind, rain, road) I can make that and be there for when Lisa arrives in 41 hours.
Here’s the actual elevations from near the start of the day, just before the summit of the first pass, to the end – the first big pass south of Darkhan. Darkhan itself is exactly in the middle of this chart, produced by my Garmin 705. I keep two computers going, the Garmin and and Ciclometer which also has elevation, grade, cadence, speed, etc. etc. There’s about 7 miles of relatively flat missing in the middle of this – the city of Darkhan. I stop the Garmin to get more accurate average speed and time ratings… but then like today I occasionally forget to turn it on.
Roads here are the same as everywhere here. Two lanes, narrow, no shoulders, ok to poor pavement. The winds, I am told, come from the north 70% of the time here. I have not experienced any significant wind though. The daava south of Darkhan just dwarfs anything before, a steady 15 mile climb.