Gobi 5 Zamyn-Uud
Wednesday, September 2, 2009
1,010 miles down, about 50 to go – it’s hard to tell exactly how far when you’re in the middle of the desert without references. Lisa decides she wants to ride the last day with me, charges up with coffee and such at the breakfast table, and gets on her Gobi garb.
I give her the mountain bike, go back to the touring bike, and we set off.
Nothing to see here. Just track.
As a Gobi bike crosser warned me from across the internet, “The last 30km of track are about the worst of the whole trip!“ A true statement. About half-way to Zaymn-Uud, I can’t take fighting the sand, gravel and ruts with the narrow-tired touring bike, and ask Lisa if she will forgo riding the rest of the way so I can take the MTB and make it. She obliges. After 5 hours of riding, about 1pm, I make it to the Ovoo that marks Zamyn-Uud, the border town on the Mongolia side.
Lisa and Dimbee take the blue khadag (silk scarf thingy) that has guided the MTB 450 miles from Ulan Baatar to here and tie it to the Ovoo. I toss a rock on, and walk around three times, clock-wise. We pose for appropriate end of RAASIA part II of III riding photos.
After that, this is what the approach to the town looks like.
Zaymn Uud feels like a thriving metropolis after the desert. While the population of Sainshand (the only other town in the past 300 miles) is declining, this place is growing. It has a nicely paved main road for about a mile, leading past the train station and market to the border crossing.
The bright idea I had a few days ago, watching the daily Trans-Mongolian passenger train head north, was to take that train back to Ulan Baatar. It leaves in 4 hours, at 5:50pm. Across from the train station we find this relatively new building that is a combination restaurant, beauty parlor, day care center and hotel. We lunch there and rent a room for an hour to wash up and regroup for the train ride.
While waiting for the train, we hang around the market. Here’s two school girls in their uniform, and Lisa by one of the many sellers of Chinese fruit.
People stock up on boxes of fruit and bring incredible amounts of luggage on the train- much of it bought at low cost in China to be sold at a profit in Ulan Baatar.
Lisa and Uka played some billiards out front of the train station.
And then we started what turned out to be a 4 day/4 night journey to get back to the United States. Some details on that below, but first a bit about the train. It had two engines, a baggage car, and 21 passenger cars – quite long and the cars quite old. We thought we had a private compartment, here’s Lisa in it, but as it turns out, we were to share it with two Mongolian guys who Lisa did not want to be around. She changed compartments with Uka, who was with (we thought) two women.
The TMRR train only makes a lot of smoke going uphill, which is good. Harkening back to the era in which it was built, the train still uses burning wood cook the food and warm the water for the radiators and bathrooms.
We had a half decent dinner on the 15 hour (which turned out to be 17 hour) overnight train ride. Here’s the last ‘couple’ shot – us waiting for our food.
Our roommates for the night turned out to be snoring Mongolians. You can’t hear it when the train is moving – lots of clickty-clacking going on, but during the three longer breaks during the night (waiting for a train to pass on a side track, stops at Sainshand and Choyr) the noise is quite irritating. I hit the guy on the top bunk twice with my towel to wake him up.
Turns out, Lisa’s 2nd choice in compartments didn’t suit her either, and when Uka and I got out of our crowded room at 7am, she was waiting for us, sitting in the aisle. The Mongolians left the compartment to smoke, and Lisa checked in for a nap while Uka looked out the window.
Then, in one of the more startling coincidences of the trip, we see Dimbee driving the van back along the road about 100 miles south of UB. I take off my shirt and attract his attention. We wave and are mutually impressed and happy. He was faster than the train in spite of all the desert track, at night.
Lisa, in this last photo of the journey, is happy. She’s pointing to the front of the train on a curve. We are only 20 miles, about 40 minutes, from the first destination in a series (UB) that will eventually get us back to the US of A.
Thank you all for coming along. It’s been a heck of journey over the past three weeks. Special thanks to Boojum Expeditions, especially Alexsey in Russia and Uka and Dimbee in Mongolia, for providing the support. Thanks also to Lisa for coming for the last week and brightening up the trip considerably.
I now have to ride from Moscow to Irkutsk, and from that border town we just left across China to Tianjin, the port city of Beijing. I’ll try to both in the next year.
I will do two more postings, one on the capital city of Mongolia, Ulan Baatar, one with a ‘summing up’ and rider’s notes for anyone who follows my route – only way to get from Lake Baikal to China.
Finally, a word on the way home. Our Air China flight out of Mongolia was 12 hours late, leaving at 10pm vs. 10am. (There are only 4 international flights a day out of this country.) This of course screwed up all our connections. In a marathon 100 hour trip home we spent one night on a train, one night in a hotel in Ulan Baatar, one night at the airport in Beijing and one night on a plane. But we made it.
7SEPT09 4:39P EST