Sainshand, Mongolia (Gobi 3)
Monday, August 31, 2009
Note 1: Thanks for the all the comments and good wishes, they help
Note 2: I’m going to do a consolidated “Riders Notes” at the end of the trip, so no more daily details at this point.
Today was a day of flat tires in the “Valley of Thorns” (literally). The van had two, the MTB four. Of the 91 miles traveled today, I walked about four, and Lisa and Uka rode maybe 10 or 12. We started with the usual breakfast (see yesterday). Lisa helped take down the tent under cloudy morning skies, and I set off.
For the most part it was nothing but vast, open Gobi Desert as far as the eye could see, but I did pass one nomad with his ger and herd this morning.
The two carts next to the ger are what he uses to haul his home around from season to season, pulled by horses or cattle. I’m not sure what he used for water and food for his herd of goats. The only other animals I saw today were camels. A few wandering groups, one of 25.
I provide the close up again because I am impressed by the design of camels. Weird. As for the team (Lisa, Uka, Dimbee) it is almost punishment to have them sit in the van all day while I ride, so when I took the morning break, Lisa rode for a bit.
There is no paved road across Mongolia. They are in the process of completing one from Russia to China – my route. The section north of Ulan Baatar (thanks to Russian dominance until 1990) is paved – no shoulders, but a moderately good surface. South of UB, it’s paved until Choir (first 200k), but past Choir – the last 240m/400k the road has no paved surfaces at all. It looks like a highway on the Mongolia maps but remains mostly a wandering dirt track. Part of this section though is in various stages of road building. Lisa’s riding on a graded part.
Today by mid-morning, the sun was burning through again. It’s so hot that I shed my helmet maybe for the first time in 4.3 continents. With no cars, cliffs or pavement, what’s the worst that can happen to you?
Dimbee, our truly excellent driver, took this break opportunity to try riding the bike too – just a few hundred feet up and back on the sand.
Meanwhile, amazingly, the Dimbee/Lisa/Uka support team managed to find a circle of rocks about 500 feet off the track truly in the middle of nowhere. They set up for lunch there. Uka talked about how, a child, they would put a circle of rocks in the sand and play ger (yurt), much like we played ‘house’ when we were kids. Lisa cooked.
Then it was back on the road again, trying to find the best track. All afternoon. And I came across this sign explaining the road that wasn’t really there.
You can’t read the sign at this resolution, but it says that this 131k section of road was funded by a $24 million loan from the Asian Development Bank, and that it was started in January 2007 and was completed in October 2008. It is incorrect. Not an inch of it is finished yet and there is no sign of anybody working on the road at all.
At this point into a long day, I suggested that the team go ahead and see if the could find a hotel in Sainshand. It’s the only town with restaurants, shops and a hotel in the 674k between UB and China. I would ride the last 12, maybe 15 miles unsupported. Somehow we lost track of each other. A few miles later my front and back tires went flat.
I didn’t know if they where behind in a busted van, or ahead in the town. Did they need help more than I did? I set off walking around 5pm. There were no cars that passed in either direction until around 6:15p, when Dimbee came driving back from the Sainshand to find me. Saved! We drove the last few miles into town. Here’s the ‘welcome’ sign, a view of the town, and our hotel!
After a happy reunion, we washed up in the hotel, washed 3 days of desert dusty, and in my case sweaty clothes, walked around town, took a few photos, and settled into dinner at the hotel restaurant.
It was bad to passable track all day today, with a good tail wind starting mid-day. I covered a lot of ground in 11 hours on the road. Here’s the elevation and distance chart.
Two more days, about 150m/240k of riding until I get to the Chinese border and the end of this segment of the Ride Across Asia (RAASIA).
9/4 11:47p Bob