Archive for May, 2011


Bikeabout school challenge – deadline extended!

Friday, May 27th, 2011

You may be aware that several schools around the world are following our bike adventure and so we wanted to say a big hello to some of them. Firstly hello to Mr E’s class at Hawes and also to Mrs M’s class, in North Yorkshire. Hello also to Miss Leakey’s class in Invercargill, NZ and hello also to Miss Sprunt’s class at St Swithins. Really pleased you are supporting us and we hope you are enjoying our tales from Mongolia.

As you are hearing so much about us, we thought it would be nice to know about you. So we are running a competition. We would like to know where in the world you would like to travel to and why, and how you would get there and back. We would also like to know what you would miss most about home.

You can be as imaginative and daring as you like. And you can answer the questions using any media (writing, photos, comic strip, video etc) so long as it can be uploaded to the internet.

Anyone can enter so if you are from a school not mentioned above, home schooling or a big kid we would also love to hear from you.

The winning entries will be published as guest blogs on our website. The deadline is 15th June 2011. Please include your name, age and school when you enter.

You can email your entries to hello@bikeabout.co.uk

We look forward to reading, watching and seeing what you come up with. Good luck!

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Leaving Sainshand

Thursday, May 26th, 2011

On our last day in Sainshand we decided to finish blogs, reply to emails and use the electricity at the hotel until the last moment, before packing up and cycling out of town to camp. However as we were about to leave the hotel 2 things happened, Chris got a puncture in his front tyre as he pushed his bike over the hotel floor, so we had to stop and fix that. Then as he was doing that I notice my water bottle was missing, and then noticed that my front bike light, which was a Christmas present, was also gone. I was pretty gutted as the bikes and been locked up under the stairs in the hotel for a few days and every time we’d walk passed them they were fine. However in hindsight we should have taken everything off the bikes that was worth nicking. I guess in all our time travelling we haven’t really had  a problem with people stealing stuff, so perhaps we had been too relaxed on this occasion.

As we wheeled the bikes outside, I then realised that my bike helmet was also missing! At this point Chris really felt we should say something to the hotel staff. I had been reluctant as I didn’t really think there was much they could do about it. So we told them and asked if they had cameras of that area, they didn’t. As it was now late and had gone dark outside, I think they felt quite bad about it and they offered us a free nights accommodation. They also said we could put our bikes in the garage! This was good, only I couldn’t helping wishing that they’d mentioned the garage when we’d first arrived! So we stayed the night and then set off the next morning. I was disappointed that someone had taken my stuff and also puzzled, no-one here even wears a helmet when the ride a bike, what were they going to do with it!

It was a bumpy sandy track out of Sainshand and it seemed to take a while to actually get out of town. A guy in a jeep waved and stopped as we cycled. He was keen to chat, I was keen to get going, our morning had been slow and we’d faffed too much for my liking, and i was still in a bad mood about my stuff being taken, However as we cycled on towards the railway crossing, he caught up with us a second time (having stopped) and got out. We stopped, he obviously really wanted to chat. But no he’d gone and bought us two big 1.5 litrs bottles of cold water and came to give us those. I felt bad for being so impatient and his kind gesture restored my faith in humanity again!

Our bikes were fully loaded again and mine felt very heavy and wobbly. the road was sandy and bumpy and I kept losing my balance and coming off. It was easier to push at times. We continued on and my concentration on the track was immense, assessing every bump and constantly thinking that the other side looked better, only to swap and realise that it was pretty much the same. Finally we joined up with the new road and we hopped onto that. It was immediately much faster and I was glad to get away from the sand for a bit. After 20km we stopped for lunch and sheltered from the sun in a drainage pipe under the road. Not longer after lunch Chris rode over something and we heard his tyre going down whistling with air! Fixing the puncture was straight forward enough however the loading of the bike is a big job with all the water, bags and bungees, so it took us a while to get sorted and get going again.

We weren’t getting very far today and I’d hoped we do 50km, ah well it was just going to be one of those days. We carried on and over the mounds of dirt bumps in the road, Chris lost the trailer in what looked like a magic trick.

The sand was too loose to cycle over so it meant stopping and pushing over the bumps which was exhausting. I could see Chris getting more and more frustrated with his heavy bike and the trailer. The weight was extreme, I couldn’t fathom how he was even managing to move the damn thing.

Going over one  bump awkwardly I hurt my knee as the bike fell over to one side and I landed heavily on my right leg. Chris started to ache too, with back ache and wrestling the bike. Around 6pm a side wind arrived out of nowhere and both having had enough we decided to stop for the night. Before we did we met a man on a scooter who drove over to see us. Dressed in a traditional deel and cowboy hat he was about to round up his animals, albeit on a motorbike rather than a horse.

At 40km we stopped to camp and I could see Chris was tired and low. I quickly got out the stove made coffee and bog the biscuits out. Hopefully that would help a bit. It did and there was soon a smile back on his face.

As Chris set up the tent, I decided to cook us Pizza and Chips, desert style. We’d talked about this a few days earlier so I decided that tonight would be a good time to try it. I washed the 2 potatoes we had and chopped them up into batons for chips. Then I chopped onion, red pepper and the new sausage meat, and fried this in a little oil.

After slicing some bread, I toasted this before spreading tomato paste on it, followed by the meat and veg. Finally the pizza breads needed cheese. I spread the cream cheese on top of the tomato and meat mix, then using the pan lid, tried to heat the whole thing up, using a little oil to fry the bottom of the bread. Then I flipped the whole thing.

The chips went into some hot oil to fry for 5 mins.  It was pretty good and the chips came out very well. Probably as close to pizza and chips as you’ll get in the Gobi desert!

After dinner we sat out under the sea of starts above us, in the dark, and listened to some podcasts with interviews of other cyclists. It’s like having your own personal radio show to listen to! Despite our plan to get an early night it was about 11pm before got to bed. However it had been a nice evening and we both enjoyed the downtime.

Next day we got up and got back on the road. It was calm and so still, no wind at all. For the first time we realised how hot it was and with sun hats and sun cream all over us we set off. The road was great and I was doing 20km an hour at one point. It was so nice and I was confident we’d easily get 50km done on this. However after about 20km the road ended abruptly and turned back to sand and gravel.

It was ok to start with but gradually deteriorated into sand and dirt tracks with little in the way of a hard surface. It was slow and frustrating, and the contrast between cycling and the morning and now was apparent.. The sand kept stopping me mid flow and skidding all over the place and could feel myself getting cross. I tried to relax, keep my weight and not fight the bike, let it go where it needs to go. It remind me of riding horse a little where you let the horse find his way over difficult ground. However the bike isn’t as clever as a horse.

I wanted to stop and sit down now and it was so hot, much hotter than I was expecting and my head was throbbing. I kept drinking my water but was constantly thirty. This is really due to how dry it is and I didn’t think I was dehydrated. As you cycle passed bones of animals, you’re reminded of how harsh this environment can be.

Having done 30km, I was starting to feel funny, too hot and cycling over corrugated road was making me nauseous. We finally stopped about 38km and I needed to lie down. Chris got a wet cloth for my head and I lay on a roll mat in the shade of the bikes. I was sure I would be sick, but really didn’t want to be – I knew that would be a slippery slope. I sipped my water and then once the tent was up lay down and rested. It wasn’t long before I was cold and needed to  stay warm. Chris cooked and by 9pm I was able to eat something and my headache had subsided.

I’ve always been susceptible to the sun and over heating, I’ve had sun stoke in England and in Malaysia I really suffered with cycling in the heat. I guess I just got caught out today after several months of mild and winter weather. By the time I went to sleep I was feeling much better.

So we’ve done 80km and it’s still 140km to Choyr the next big town. Let’s hope tomorrow is good and we reach the half way point of Tsagaanvojoili, 45 km from here.

(not many pictures sorry, as internet very sloooow!

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Millican and the ‘Gobi Coolers’

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Before embarking on our Gobi adventure, it occurred to us that with the cold temperatures and the sand, we might need some insulation for our kit, fuel and water. With temperatures below zero we were concerned that our drinking water might freeze, particularly overnight and perhaps when cycling due to the wind chill. Fuel for cooking is essential and cold temperatures can mean that it doesn’t pressurise and pump very easily. In fact when we toured in England on our John O’Groats – Land’s End trip, it froze one night in the peak district and we were unable to boil water or make porridge the next morning! We are also carrying laptop, cameras and our V4 battery packs for our bike dynamos. Neither of us were very sure how well they would cope with the cold, and most electrical items dislike sand!nicky_jorrit300

Millican are a client of Liz’s and she designed their website, and even works for them on the road, internet permitting. Jorrit and Nicky are based in Keswick, near our home in the Lake District and whilst Liz was back in the UK she met up with them and happened to mention that we were thinking about some insulation for the Gobi. Jorrit and Nicky offered to make us some custom bags and covers, and the ‘Gobi Coolers’ were born!

Millican produce organic cotton canvas bags and accessories, with a high attention to detail and design. Some of their products use locally sourced, Herdwick wool, which is a fantastic natural insulator. Our Gobi Coolers would also be using Herdwick wool and would be handmade by Vera the Dame of Sewing.

Liz left the UK to return to China and meet up with Chris again. Shortly afterward a package arrived for us in Beijing, containing our Millican Goodies.

2011-04-06 004 

The box contained 2 fuel bottle covers, 1 laptop cover, 1 camera bag, 1 battery cover,  Derek the Drinks Holder, with Andy the water bottle including a new sports top. We were delighted! Now that we have been in the Gobi for two weeks, we wanted to share our thoughts with you all and tell you about our Millican Gobi Coolers.

Fuel Bottle Cover

Stove with Millican fuel bottle cover (1024x768)These are great, robust and compact, and our MSR fuel bottle fits inside perfectly, with a neat drawstring at the top to prevent dust and dirt getting in. So far we have been keeping the fuel bottles in their covers the entire time, even to fill up at the petrol station.

It has dropped to –5 degrees overnight and we have had no problem cooking porridge in the morning and the stove has lit first time! We are very pleased with these indeed!

2011-05-12 061

 

We strap the fuel bottles to our bikes, in a water bottle cage, both for easy access and to keep the fuel away from everything else.

 

Laptop case

2011-04-06 006 This case is a sturdy, nicely padded cover that fits our 10” notebook very well. Chris carried the laptop in one of his back panniers and if the bike falls over, we don’t have to worry much about it being bashed as the case will protect it. Some people use jumpers to wrap around their computers, but out here we’ve been wanting to wear all of our jumpers!

The pocket at the back is excellent for a dongle, cable, pens, maps and a little notebook. We’ve used it as much off the bikes, in the cities, as we have on the road. However the best feature is the protection from the dust, it really does make a huge difference.

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Millican currently have Joe the Ipad Cover if you are interested in a similar product. But if you like the idea of a laptop case, why not email them and tell them.

Camera bag

2011-05-12 066 We attach our small Panasonic camera to the front of the handlebars for easy access when cycling. The Millican bag has a roll top design, with a press stud style fastening. There is room for a spare battery, a cable as well as the camera.

We are finding the roll top design to be excellent at keeping the dust out and superior to design with zips as the sand can break zips pretty quickly. The stud fastening is more secure than it looks too, which is great.

2011-05-12 065

Liz likes the roominess of the bag and the fact you can just drop the camera in and take it out with ease. Chris would prefer a smaller, more compact version of the case longer term, as our camera is only small.

Millican are looking to release camera bags as part of their range in the future, so we hope than any feedback we can give them at this stage will be useful! What do you think, big, small or both?

Whilst it’s not been as cold here in the Gobi as we had expected, due to us being delayed in Beijing, it’s been great to have the Gobi Coolers. We really value the support of Nicky and Jorrit, and appreciate all their efforts to help us on our travels.

flashhomeharry

If you are interested to find out more about their product range (or perhaps you need a more original Father’s Day gift than last year!), please visit their website: homeofmillican.com. It is now the season for summer shows, so if you are interested, see where they will be over the coming months.

A big thanks to all at Millican!

p.s. check out their cool and inspiring blog for more travel ideas!

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Gobi – Day 8 Reaching Sainshand (and a shower!)

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

We had a leisurely morning drinking coffee and tea and using the last of the fuel for breakfast. Despite missing Ulaan Uud, the town where we had hoped to resupply, we still had some noodles left and the water that we had got from the yurt was just enough to keep us hydrated till we reached the town. We set off mid morning, and got back on to the tarmac road and started to climb up the hill. We were glad of its safety as the track to the side was steep, narrow and very sandy. Not enough room for a bike and a truck to safely pass. We reached the top of the hill and tried to get our bearings.

Into Sainshand

There were a large group of buildings and yurts to the west and the railway line was infront of us. I was convinced that this was not the town and just the start of it. My research indicated that the place would be much bigger. Liz assured me that this was it.

Sainshand

We cycled on a bit further and checked our position on the phone. We were right on the outskirts of town. We cycled up the small hill and the town opened up. Much better I thought, we cycled into town and stopped at the first shop to celebrate our success with a couple of cold cokes. We were soon surrounded by locals, young and old, interested in our bikes and which direction we were going.

Local kids (1024x768)

We explained as best would could then waved good bye, in search of a shower and a bed. After about 15 minutes Liz had sniffed out the nicest, most expensive hotel in town. I couldn’t say no, not many girlfriends would leave home and cycle across the world, and make it half way through the Gobi desert!

2011-05-20 001

To be fair the room is lovely and it’s nice to have a desk to work at. We have been here for a few days now, catching up on the blogs and resting. The last two days there has been no power, so it has been a little frustrating. But when I reflect that we are in a city the size of my home town, that is literally surrounded by desert for miles and miles in every direction, having any power in the first place is amazing. The power is back now and we have taken a gamble to stay one more night to try and get on top of our jobs. Yes jobs, it’s not all one big holiday you know!

2011-05-17 002

The wind should be in our favour on Monday and Tuesday and we hope to make great progress to the next big town 200km away called Choyr. We hope to give you the odd Tweet or Facebook update if the mobile waves stretch across the sand, but if not then have a look back on the blog. I have posted some new blogs about my time in the mountains of Sichuan, China. Snow, ice, altitude and bears!

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Gobi – Day 6 & 7 Cooking with camel poo!

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

We got up early as planned around 7am and there was no wind. Moving fast so we could get on the road we packed up, ate and loaded the bikes. Two camels and their babies were in the distance. We left and climbed a small hill before enjoying a long long downhill. In the distance we could see buildings and yurts. That must be Ulaan Uud. Through the monocular it did not look much, but hey it’s Mongolia! And we headed that way.

I Spy with my little eye...

As we got closer the road did not seem to go there and it looked like we would have to turn off the track to reach the settlement. Now up close, we weren’t really sure if this was the place, but we needed water and fuel so we had to go and see anyway.

Ulaan Uud or not (1024x768)

As we approached, we saw that it was just a few yurts, some unfinished building and some animals. We went to the yurts with the animals, asking if this was Ulaan Uud, they said no and pointed to the east and behind us. How far we asked, 18km was the answer written in the sand. 18Km wow, we must have totally missed it coming two far to the west. We asked if we could have some water and they turned on a big hose for us. I filled up our four litre water bladders and a water bottle, we gave them some money. They did not have any fuel though, the water was probably rain water, but we would need to boil or pump it to be sure. They told us Sainshand, the next town was 100km away.

We left and cycled up the hill behind their settlement, then stopped to regroup. Looks like we will be cycling straight to Sainshand then. We had hoped to buy bread, veg, meat, chocolate, cheese, rice, water and fuel in Ulaan Uud. But the thought of going back 18km was too depressing. We got the map out and the compass and with our Nokia phone got a GPS location. 110. 8 by 44.4 We then plotted our location on the map. (Our phone has no stored maps on and without a mobile phone signal we can’t see google maps. Chris is working on a free way to get maps on the phone for us. So for now it’s the old school maps with a bit of modern GPS technology.) We were west and slightly north of Ulaan Uud, however our bearing had been right for Sainshand. Ans now as the crow flies we were only 70 or 80kms away. We decided to set off and try to cycle 40km on the same bearing of 315 degrees. This would take us half way, with low fuel and food we felt that we should push ourselves now.

Onwards (1024x768)

The wind was very low and it was actually nice cycling, we ate chocolate and raisans to keep us going. For the first time we cycled side by side and were able to talk without shouting over the noise of the wind. The road was more sandy in places and coming down a hill fast, I almost lost it as I hit the sand at the bottom, skidding all over the place. I managed to stay upright and come to a halt, but I certainly felt my adrenalin pumping!

After 25km we stopped for food, it was 4.30pm and we had cycled 40km in total with just breakfast inside us. I needed food. To save our fuel, Chris collected dry camel dung and built a fire using the dung for fuel. It was all very Bear Grylls and I filmed Chris doing a spoof of us surviving in the desert!

Boking water for dinner Bear Grylls styley! We're cooking on dung! (1024x768)

We cooked rice, sausage meat and boiled water for tea. It was slow but the food was delicious and the black sweet tea gave me a boost. We needed to cycle another 10-15km, it was 6.30pm and I was tired now. A side wind blew in and it would have been easy just to stop and camp there. But with the sun still shining we knew we should carry on and use the last of the daylight. We managed 10km more before it was dark. We pulled off the road and pushed our bikes over the bumpy sand. There were jeep tracks criss-crossing the land, where to camp? We were both very tired and a bit cold now, trying hard not to be grumpy. We found a spot eventually and it was too dark to see properly, so we had to hope for the best. As we were setting up a motorbike camp over and two guys stopped to say hello. Chris chatted with them briefly, they were camped over the last small hill in their yurt. Not much was said but I think they left, satisfying their curiosity and perhaps knowing that the two lights moving slowly across their land were of no threat. We got into bed and pretty much passed out.

I woke up to Chris telling me that there was an amazing sun rise then promptly went back to sleep, it was around 5.30am. I woke later and lay snuggling in my sleeping bag. I was very tired and aching all over. Yesterday had been a long day, we did 50km and did not really stop until 9.45pm. Today the sun is shining and the wind blowing from the north west, not too bad but a bit gusty. I lay in my sleeping bag drinking tea that Chris made for me. It was a lazy morning.

We just finished our porridge when a guy on a horse turned up, it was one of the men from last night.

Visiting horseman (1024x768) Semi wild horse

Chris sat and drank tea with him, while I tried to sketch his horse from the tent. He was interested to know more about what we were doing, despite the language barrier Chris showed him our bikes and route across the world on a small map we carry.

View from the tent

I wanted to say hello to his horse but he waved me away. When the time came for him to leave I understood why. His horse seemed to be trying to bite him as he attempted to mount! Once on top, Chris managed to get a great shot of the feisty horse and his rider as it reared up, before taking off down the hill.

 Feisty one!

We set off and enjoyed day dreaming together about the strawbale house that we would like to build, discussing each room in turn.

Surveying the land (1024x768)

After 10km and a break for noodles, we picked up the new road, which at this stage appeared to be fully sealed with smooth tarmac. It was still unfinished with mounds of dirt every few kms, enough to deter the big truck but not some adventurous 4×4 and us. Our speed increased from 8km an hour to about 15km an hour it felt so fast. To our delighted a 4×4 stopped and gave us an ice cold bottle of water each, which was lovely given the heat of the day. Not long after we saw a group of camels being rounded up and were very close to them, giving us our first proper look at them, up close.

Poser! (1024x768)

We stayed on the tarmac and whizzed along clocking up 30km without much effort. It was a completely different experience to be on the tarmac and I suddenly felt apart from the desert. We now came alongside the railway and from our map we could see that we must be near to Sainshand.

On tarmac (683x1024)

The mounds of dirt were getting closer together and bigger, riding over them was becoming harder. We spent the last hour having fun trying to ride over them in unison, like synchronised swimmers, until eventually we had to admit defeat and go back to the sandy gravel track to the side of the road. We could not see Sainshand and there was a big hill ahead of us, so we pulled over to camp for the night. On our mobile phone we were able to get a signal on our Mongolian sim card and Chris soon worked out, using Google maps, that were were only 10km from water, food, fuel, and hopefully a hot shower, hurray, roll on the morning!

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