Archive for June, 2011


Cycling through the Gobi Desert – an overview

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

Most of you reading this will not even be contemplating cycling through the Gobi, yet there may be a few ‘adventurous souls’ (read: crazy people) out there who are now tempted by the idea. Not cos it’s easy or fun, but because of the challenge involved. So here is a quick overview of the route and our journey to give you an idea. If you want more detailed info, please contact us directly.

“The Gobi measures over 1,610 km (1,000 mi) from southwest to northeast and 800 km (500 mi) from north to south. The desert is widest in the west, along the line joining the Lake Bosten and the Lop Nor (87°-89° east). It occupies an arc of land 1,295,000 km2 (500,002 sq mi)[2] in area as of 2007, making it fifth largest in the world and Asia’s largest. Much of the Gobi is not sandy but is covered with bare rock.” (From Wikipedia)

Cross the Chinese border at Erlian by train or jeep and you will arrive in Zamyn Uud, Mongolia.

Zamyn Uud is a well stocked town and you’ll be able to buy vegetables, chocolate, fresh bread and vegetables, toiletries, tuna, milk, fresh cream cakes, potatoes, rice, pasta, sausage meat, tins of beef meat and of course water. In the building left of the train station there are ATMs and  a mobicom shop where you can buy sim cards and phone credit. There are a number of hotels, not much of a water supply for showers though, and places to eat. In fact coming from China we were pleased to see food that we hadn’t seen for ages, like cheese and pasta sauce. We stocked up with 8 days of food here and 30 litres of water. Leaving Zamyn Uud you’ll be on tarmac, however after the first kilometre it rapidly turns to sand and dirt track. It is very flat and quiet though.

There is a new road being built all the way to UB, and you will see it as you go. It is not sealed yet (June 2011) and ends abruptly or has big mounds of sand and dirt every few hundred metres. However it does go all the way to UB, so you can use it as a guide.

Ulaan Uul (102km north) – make sure you change the bearing on your compass in order to find this town. We missed it completely as we were headed for Sainshand and we heard reports of other missing it too and having to get a lift! There are NO road signs or markings of any kind and people you ask give very vague waves of the hands in one or more directions. Ulaan Uul is a place to stock up on water and food supplies, and fuel if you need it. If you do miss it and end up going to the west then you will see a small settlement about 20km after you’d hoped to see Ulaan Uul and you’ll be by the new road. You may be able to buy water from the people living there, we did, but it depends on their supply. They didn’t have any fuel (petrol) though.

If you see signs outside yurts or makeshift buildings saying ‘XOON’ that means food, so you could stop for something to eat and some milk tea if you needed to.

As you approach Sainshand (100km north of Ulaan Uul) you’ll reach a 20km stretch of new road that is tarmaced. It goes up and down and is a nice respite for the bumpy road. You can’t see Sainshand as you approach as it is just over the top of a ridge and well hidden from sight. The climb up is really quite steep, however there is a road going off to the left that is more gradual and takes you a more direct route in Sainshand too! Sainshand is the provincial capital and a strategic town historically and now. It has lots of small shops and supermarkets so you’ll be able to get whatever you need there. We can highly recommend the Dornogobi Hotel, although it’s not cheap, it has hot water and all mod cons – ask to put your bikes in one of their garages. The restaurant is great and has a menu in English too. As you enter the town you’ll see Best Restaurant on the right hand side. This is also good and the staff speak some English. Good mobile phone reception and wifi in the hotel. ATMS here too. Watch out for power cuts!

The road out of Sainshand is very sandy and bumpy. Tsaagandorv is the next stop, about 110km north of Sainshand. This town appears after you climb up and down for a while and then cross the railway track. The small centre has various shops and a butchers where you can buy big hunks of fresh meat. You can buy most things here and the locals are very helpful and friendly, if a little surprised! Couldn’t see anywhere to stay here. Good mobile phone reception.

About 20km on from there is Tsomog, a very small settlement that has a shop. It is just after the mine/industrial site. The shops sells fresh bread some veg, water, coke, chocolate etc and the girls there speak some English. You’ll see a sign for Ulaanbatar saying 300km as you leave. After this a you climb for a while, the the route is very up and down, not steep just rolling.

About 40km before Choyr you will see the new road like a scar across the landscape. Eventually you’ll see the tarmac road going up a reasonably steep hill. Once you reach the top, Choyr is about 6km from there. At the petrol stations turn left up the hill and follow the road into town. It’s not a very nice looking town but there is a nice hotel by the station. It’s not marked but ask and people will help you, particularly the kids as they can speak English. There are no showers or hit water in this town form what we could find. There is an ATM at the station and good mobile coverage. There are shops and places to eat.

From Choyr the new road goes all the way to Ulaanbatar, 230km north. The first 160km is all flat or mostly flat. There are several very small towns along the way where you can restock and get water or food, although not all shops were open. Then the following 30km is up and downs some spectacular hills. Not too bad though, and the scenery is a welcome sight after the desert. Once you reach the military compound at the top of a hill you’ll see a town to your right and UB is ahead of you. It is pretty much all downhill to UB for the next 30km.

The road into UB is busy and trucks and cars don’t have much idea about giving bikes room, that said they are ok and most were pleased to see us. As we got nearer the centre into the heavy traffic we found that behaving as if you were car was the best tactic – just sit in the centre of your lane and stay behind the car in front. The traffic moves slowly so this was fine. We wore our reflective jackets though and used our bells a lot, particularly for the buses, to let them know we were there. Plus we have a mirror each. Head for Peace Avenue to find beer, nice food and guesthouses! Look for the big blue sky tower, shaped like a half moon at the top.

Relax and enjoy!

Oh and by the way…  in May the wind is very bad and blows constantly. Apparently in June it is better. Some recommend going at the end of winter, early spring as the ground is still hard and easier to cycle on, however the weather can be very changeable and you’ll still get extreme temperatures and snow. In summer it is very hot, despite the Gobi being called a cold desert, it’s still flippin’ hot by most people’s standards!

On the whole route, there are no bikes shops or places to buy anything vaguely bike related – come prepared! Don’t leave your stuff unattended, possession is 9 tenths of the law here in Mongolia and a handful of people think it’s ok help themselves. That said, the people are lovely and will help you out without any fuss!

Top Tip – Bring a toothbrush for the zips on your tent – the sand trashes everything and you’ll need to brush your zips each day if you want to keep your tent doors working! And bring baby wipes… need I say more!

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Now we are three (temporarily)!

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Reaching Choyr was a milestone in itself and I was very pleased to be there even if the town itself wasn’t much to write home (although I appear to be doing just that!). At this stage our journey gets a little bit complicated as our visas were due to expire in about 4 days, so we really needed to get to the capital Ulaanbatar (UB) to get a visa extension. UB is 230km north, so although we could get there in 3 days, we might not and we couldn’t take the risk. So we left our bikes and jumped in a taxi so that we could get it sorted quickly.

Our taxi driver was a bit crazy and I feared for my life several times. There isn’t much traffic in Mongolia so drivers tend to think they own the whole road and can drive wherever they like, overtake on the brow of a hill or blind summit, talk on their mobiles, drive very fast and play music really loud.  But after a few unscheduled stops we made it to the outskirts. Thankfully with google maps and gps on our phone we were then able to jump on a bus and make our way the remaining 8km into UB central. The bus system here is very good and very cheap, but busy and nothing is in English so we had to keep looking out and watching where we were going. The roads are pretty chaotic here, even by Asia’s standards!

By 9pm we were in the centre and looking for a guesthouse or hostel. We had the name and location of one, but couldn’t find it. After an hour of looking and going round in circles, we finally called them and they gave us directions. It turns out that many guesthouses here have no signposts or signs on the front to tell you where they are. Many are simply a 3 bed apartment turned into a hostel, with 2 private rooms and a dorm room. So it’s up 4 flights of dark stairs in an unmarked building, through a  keypad door… in something resembling a small council estate. No wonder we couldn’t find it! However when we did, it was very nice and cosy, and we had a great nights sleep.

To cut a long story short, we managed to get our visa extended for another 30 days, unfortunately they wouldn’t give us 60 days despite our reason – that we travel by bike. We returned to Choyr, with a much safer and calmer taxi driver, ready to get up and cycle the next day.

One other feature of our trip at this point, was Sukhbat, the Mongolian guy we met in Zamyn Uud on our arrival in Mongolia. He was also cycling to UB and caught us up in Choyr. He said he had got to Choyr in 5 days. Wow, it took us 15 days!! He’d text Chris on the night we arrived and we’d our left bikes with him and his family friends. They put us up for the night when we returned and gave us a meal. Sukhbat was very keen to cycle with us so we agreed. I was a little nervous as he could obviously cycle fast and was well adapted to the Mongolian roads and climate. Maybe I would be too slow? Oh well.

We set off the next day after a quick visit to a nearby solidarity statue and posed with old Russian bullets cases, scattered nearby.

The road was smooth and flat, and it was so nice to be able to go fast. I raced off and before long, Chris and I seemed to be a long way ahead of Sukhbat, so we stopped and waited. After that we were on and off, having a few breaks and things. Sukhbat seemed very pre-occupied with the time and kept checking his watch. He also wanted to keep checking the route and where we were. There is only one road to UB and having just travelled there by car a couple of days ago we were pretty confident that we didn’t need to check anything, all you need to do is cycle. However everyone is different and we gathered that he hadn’t done any cycle touring before. I had to remember that when I first started cycling I also wanted to check where we were every five minutes and know where we were going.

After 50km, Sukhbat was obviously unhappy, he was tired, the sun was too hot and burning his skin, his legs ached and he wanted to stop. For someone who had cycled 100km a day through the desert, this seemed a little odd. He asked what time we would stop to camp and we tried work out what he wanted to do, as he wanted to cycle 60+km but also wanted to stop. Being deaf and not speaking English/Mongolian, plus any cultural differences made communication quite challenging. When you travel like this communication is key to everything.

At 60km we stopped anyway and set up camp as the wind was pretty strong and it was exhausting cycling in it. Sukhbat didn’t have a tent, but a clever system where he used his bike and a big army jacket as a wind break, using his trailer to balance the bike.  He then rolled out a mat and sleeping bag and slept next to his bike.

Chris and Sukhbat at the start of the hills

Chris and Sukhbat at the start of the hills

He was carrying a small gas stove and pans, but not very much in the way of food. We were carrying heaps of food, as we always do, so that we can be self-sufficient and not get caught our if we are delayed. As you probably know from our previous blogs we also enjoy cooking and eating nice things whilst on the road. I cooked up some pasta, veg, salami and tomato sauce, cooking enough for 3.

For the next 4 days we cycled together and it was pretty hard at times. Not the cycling, although the wind didn’t help much, but just being with another person. It’s all about dynamics and when you are together 24/7 eating, living, camping and cycling together it can be a little intense. Chris and I are used to each other and we have our own routine and know what each other likes to do, and perhaps after so long together on the road we were less open to another person joining us than we would have been earlier on in the trip. However it was just one more challenge to face, first we had the sand and wind, now this. Hopefully we would learn some lessons about ourselves from this whatever happened.

On day two we discovered that Sukhbat’s trailer had broken not long after he left Zamyn Uud and so he took a truck to Sainshand (200km north). When he set off again for a second time, he found that it was too hard in the sand and sun, and once again got a lift in a truck, to Choyr. So he had got there in 5 days but not by cycling. Now it was all starting to add up and I felt a bit better as I couldn’t believe he did it in 5 days without feeling totally inadequate! No wonder he found the first day with us a bit tough then.

Chris reaching the top of a hill

We cooked food for all 3 of us at most meal times and bought a lot of the water as we travelled. Sukhbat didn’t stock up on food when we stopped at shops and after a few days we couldn’t help but feel a bit taken for granted. However we weren’t about to sit there and eat without offering him some of our food, it wouldn’t be right and by now we’d set ourselves a bit of a precedent. He did buy sweets and offered us big handfuls, so I think he wanted to contribute but perhaps wasn’t able to? Although he planned to cycle for 50 days so who knows…

We had talked about getting to UB and he was keen for us all to stay in a hotel and celebrate our arrival together. We had a place to stay with friends, but decided it would be nice to stay in a hotel together for one night and go out for a meal or something. On our final evening camping we broached the subject and checked what his budget was for a hotel. He didn’t seem to know and shrugged a lot. We explained that we would have a double room if we could, so we asked would he like a dorm room or a private room, as the cost differs. He suggested that he would simply sleep in our room on the floor. Chris got creative and managed to find a way to explain that we didn’t really want to share a hotel room with him when we got to UB, not after so many days in a tent or sleeping out!

You might be reading this and thinking that we were being taken for a bit of ride (no pun intended) and that we should have just told him to go away, but he is a really nice guy and quite naive really. For 23 he seemed very young and lacking in experience. So I guess we felt partly responsible for him and wanted to make sure he was ok. We both made a lot of effort to communicate with him via sign language and writing or drawing pictograms in his note book. It isn’t as easy as it sounds and perhaps other people are generally less patient with him, Chris has a seemingly infinite amount of patience and spent a great deal of time with him. I think he appreciated that.  It was a good experience for us and made us appreciate how well we get on together when it’s just the two of us and we realised that we are good at communicating.

The last 50km of the ride was through the mountains and hills. After 600km of flat nothingness, it was a joy to see green hills and big majestic landscapes again. Chris wants me to put this in writing “I was pleased to see hills”  – even if I had to ride up them!! Ha ha.

Up and down we went and it was really good. I enjoyed the cycling and knowing that we were close to UB made it all the more rewarding. The photos don’t really do it justice…

Sunlight and shadows

Sunlight and shadows

We arrived in Ulaanbatar on the 6th June and it was raining. The traffic was solid and it took a lot of energy and concentration to navigate the three of us into town safely for the last 10km. We cycled aggressively so that we were very visible to the cars, buses and truck, ringing our bells and making eye contact with as many drivers as possible so they wouldn’t run us over – hard to drive into someone you’ve just smiled at. The Mongolian way is just to push your way through and to drive as close as you can, or find a way round, whatever it takes. However it was ok and we stayed in one piece. But in the centre it all came to a standstill and it was quicker to get off and push, so we did. Arriving at the bank we stopped and asked Sukhbat if he needed to get some cash, for the hotel. It became clear pretty quickly that he wasn’t going to withdraw any money and then said he would go and sleep at a friends house. We were a bit surprised (and maybe we felt a little bit mean) however after 5 days together we were ready to be on our own again and we agreed to text him and meet up in a few days. He seemed happy enough with that.

We headed for Cafe Amsterdam, time to celebrate – we’d made it 650km through the desert, sand, hail, wind (and more wind), bumps, heat, tears and hills all the way to UB. That could only mean one thing: BEER! We both ordered a cold draft Chinggis Beer.

Reaching Choyr was a milestone in itself and I was very pleased to be there even if the town itself wasn’t much to write home (although I appear to be writing about it now!). At this stage our journey gets a little bit complicated as our visas were due to expire in about 4 days, so we really needed to get to the capital Ulaanbatar (UB) to get a visa extension. UB is 230km north, so although we could get there in 3 days, we might not and we couldn’t take the risk. So we left our bikes and jumped in a taxi so that we could get it sorted quickly.

Our taxi driver was a bit crazy and I feared for my life several times. There isn’t much traffic in Mongolia so drivers tend to think they own the whole road and can drive wherever they like, overtake on the brow of a hill or blind summit, talk on their mobiles, drive very fast and play music really loud.  But after a few unscheduled stops we made it to the outskirts. Thankfully with google maps and gps on our phone we were then able to jump on a bus and make our way the remaining 8km into UB central. The bus system here is very good and very cheap, but busy and nothing is in English so we had to keep looking out and watching where we were going. The roads are pretty chaotic here, even by Asia’s standards!

By 9pm we were in the centre and looking for a guesthouse or hostel. We had the name and location of one, but couldn’t find it. After an hour of looking and going round in circles, we finally called them and they gave us directions. It turns out that many guesthouses here have no signposts or signs on the front to tell you where they are. Many are simply a 3 bed apartment turned into a hostel, with 2 private rooms and a dorm room. So it’s up 4 flights of dark stairs in an unmarked building, through a  keypad door… in something resembling a small council estate. No wonder we couldn’t find it! However when we did, it was very nice and cosy, and we had a great nights sleep.

To cut a long story short, we managed to get our visa extended for another 30 days, unfortunately they wouldn’t give us 60 days despite our reason – that we travel by bike. We returned to Choyr, with a much safer and calmer taxi driver, ready to get up and cycle the next day.

One other feature of our trip at this point, was Sukhbat, the Mongolian guy we met in Zamyn Uud on our arrival in Mongolia. He was also cycling to UB and caught us up in Choyr. He said he had got to Choyr in 5 days. Wow, it took us 15 days!! He’d text Chris on the night we arrived and we’d our left bikes with him and his family friends. They put us up for the night when we returned and gave us a meal. Sukhbat was very keen to cycle with us so we agreed. I was a little nervous as he could obviously cycle fast and was well adapted to the Mongolian roads and climate. Maybe I would be too slow? Oh well.

We set off after a quick visit to a nearby solidarity statue and posed with old Russian bullets cases, scattered nearby.

The road was smooth and flat, and it was so nice to be able to go fast. I raced off and before long, Chris and I seemed to be a long way ahead of Sukhbat, so we stopped and waited. After that we were on and off, having a few breaks and things. Sukhbat seemed very pre-occupied with the time and kept checking his watch. He also wanted to keep checking the route and where we were. There is only one road to UB and having just travelled there by car a couple of days ago we were pretty confident that we didn’t need to check anything, all you need to do is cycle. However everyone is different and we gathered that he hadn’t done any cycle touring before. I had to remember that when I first started cycling I also wanted to check where we were every five minutes and know where we were going. After 50km, Sukhbat was obviously unhappy, he was tired, the sun was too hot and burning his skin, his legs ached and he wanted to stop. For someone who had cycled 100km a day through the desert, this seemed a little odd. He asked what time we would stop to camp and we tried work out what he wanted to do, as he wanted to cycle 60km but also wanted to stop. Being deaf and not speaking English/Mongolian, plus any cultural differences made communication quite challenging. When you travel like this communication is key to everything.

At 60km we stopped anyway and set up camp as the wind was pretty strong and it was exhausting cycling in it. Sukhbat didn’t have a tent, but a clever system where he used his bike and a big army jacket as a wind break, using his trailer to balance the bike.  He then rolled out a mat and sleeping bag and slept next to his bike. He was carrying a small gas stove and pans, but not very much in the way of food. We were carrying heaps of food, as we always do, so that we can be self-sufficient. As you probably know from our previous blogs we enjoy cooking and eating nice things whilst on the road. I cooked up some pasta, veg and sauce, cooking enough for 3.

For the next 4 days we cycled together and it was pretty hard at times. Not the cycling, although the wind didn’t help much, but just being with another person. It’s all about dynamics and when you are together 24/7 eating, living, camping and cycling together it can be a little intense. Chris and I are used to each other and we have our own routine and know what each other likes to do, and perhaps after so long together on the road we were less open to another person joining us than we would have been earlier on in the trip. However it was just one more challenge to face, first we had the sand and wind, now this. Hopefully we would learn some lessons about ourselves from this whatever happened.

On day two we discovered that Sukhbat’s trailer had broken not long after he left Zamyn Uud and so he took a truck to Sainshand (200km north). When he set off again for a second time, he found that it was too hard in the sand and sun, and once again got a lift in a truck, to Choyr. So he had got there in 5 days but not by cycling. Now it was all starting to add up and I felt a bit better as I couldn’t believe he did it in 5 days without feeling totally inadequate! No wonder he found the first day a bit tough then.

We cooked food for all 3 of us at most meal times and bought a lot of the water as we travelled. Sukhbat didn’t stock up on food when we stopped at shops and after a few days we couldn’t help but feel a bit taken for granted. However we weren’t about to sit there and eat without offering him some of our food, it wouldn’t be right and by now we’d set ourselves a bit of a precedent.

We had talked about getting to UB and he was keen for us all to stay in a hotel and celebrate our arrival together. We had a place to stay with friends, but decided it would be nice to stay in a hotel together for one night and go out for a meal or something. On our final evening camping we broached the subject and checked what his budget was for a hotel. He didn’t seem to know and shrugged a lot. We explained that we would have a double room if we could, so we asked would he like a dorm room or a private room, as the cost differs. He suggested that he would simply sleep in our room on the floor. Chris got creative and managed to find a way to explain that we didn’t really want to share a hotel room when we got to UB, not after so many days in a tent!

You might be reading this and thinking that we were being taken for a bit of ride (no pun intended) and that we should have just told him to go away, but he is a really nice guy and quite naive really. For 23 he seemed very young and lacking in experience. So I guess we felt partly responsible for him and wanted to make sure he was ok. We both made a lot of effort to communicate with him via sign language and writing or drawing pictograms in his note book. It isn’t as easy as it sounds and perhaps other people are less patient with him, Chris has a seemingly infinite amount of patience and spent a great deal of time with him. I think he appreciated that.  It was a good experience for us and made us appreciate how well we get on together when it’s just the two of us and we realised that we are good at communicating.

The last 50km of the ride was through the mountains and hills. After 600km of flat nothingness, it was a joy to see green hills and big majestic landscapes again. I was pleased to see hills, even if I had to ride up them!

Up and down we went and it was really good. I enjoyed the cycling and knowing that we were close to UB made it all the more rewarding. The photos don’t really do it justice, but here’s a few to give you an idea…

We arrived in Ulaanbatar on the 6th June and it was raining. The traffic was solid and it took a lot of energy and concentration to navigate the three of us into town safely for the last 10km. We cycled aggressively so that we were very visible to the cars, buses and truck, ringing our bells and making eye contact with as many drivers as possible so they wouldn’t run us over – hard to drive into someone you’ve just smiled at. The Mongolian way is just to push your way through and to drive as close as you can. But in the centre it all came to a standstill and it was quicker to get off and push, so we did. Arriving at the bank we stopped and asked Sukhbat if he needed to get some cash, for the hotel. It became clear pretty quickly that he wasn’t going to withdraw any money and then said he would go and sleep at a friends house. We were a bit surprised, however after 5 days together we were ready to be on our own again and we agreed to text him and meet up in a few days.

We headed for Cafe Amsterdam and ordered a Chinggis beer each, time to celebrate – we’d made it 650km through the desert, sand, hail, wind (and more wind), bumps, heat, tears and hills all the way to UB!

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A very welcome sight

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Over the last few days our main focus was reaching Choyr. Despite the heat and the wind and the tears, we eventually made it there, cycling 47km in one day to reach the town.

We had limited water and we both knew that we needed to get there regardless of the wind or how we were feeling, so we ploughed on, following the new road. It was like a scar across the landscape, but as far as I was concerned it was a very welcome scar at that point. It was very windy, but today instead of crying I was trying to laugh and smile at the wind and not let it get the better of me. If it blew hard I would simply change down a gear or stop, and then start again. This seemed to work well on the whole. We reached a section where the road was just tracks over a grass moor and it was too windy to cycle so I pushed for quite a while.

Once we reached the top, we could see a long downhill before us. Great stuff. Only it was so windy that even going downhill was tough. I had my ipod on and was listening to my ‘fun’ playlist which starts with ABBA Gold. About halfway down, ‘Does your mother know’ came on and it was so windy it was ridiculous so I stopped and has a little boogie to the song, singing all the words and laughing at myself, dancing to ABBA in the Gobi!!

Eventually in the distance we could see the road snaking  up ahead of us. It was black rather than yellow. That could only mean one thing, tarmac baby!! Our pace quicken as we hurried to reach the smooth, friendly road surface (specially designed for crazy cyclists). Before we approached it, we had one last biscuit break and considered ourselves lucky to have had the opportunity to cycle through the desert in this manner. I know I haven’t enjoyed it much, but very soon future cyclists will be greeted by a new tarmac road running all the way through and the experience will be somewhat different. Although they can still ride off road of course, if it’s tough going, I imagine the new smooth road will be hard to resist, unless you are a complete sadist. So when I’m old and grey (well more grey – this bike ride has given me some grey hairs already!) I’ll be able to look back and know that I cycled 430km of  it on the dirt tracks, with the sand and the bumps.

But for now I’m delighted to be pedalling on to the new road and I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t great to have hit tarmac!

We cycled about 6 or 7km into Choyr, arriving early evening, both hungry and tired. We found a place to eat and had some great mutton ribs, sizzling on a platter. Now all we had to do was find a hotel. First one was ok, but had no shower or hot water. We found the only other place in town where they were very friendly, and again they had no shower or hot water. Oh well. I was too tired to care now and just wanted to fall into bed and sleep, so we took the room. I literally undressed and fell into bed and could feel my eyelids closing on their own. Sleep was coming whether I wanted it or not! Everything else could wait.

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Where do Chris and Liz sleep at night?

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

If you wondered where we sleep at night, this might give you an idea.

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One day too many!

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

This is my journal entry from the evening of 29th May…

I’m close to be defeated by the Gobi I feel. Right now I have had enough of the wind, the sand, the sun, the bumps, the weight, the endlessness of the empty barren landscape. How can I escape? “I’m a celebrity get me out of here!” Only I’m not, so I’m going to have to keep on pedalling.

It’s one thing to cycle through the desert, quite another to pedal, push and haul your own body weight in bike and luggage, along corrugated, sandy tracks, in wind you can hardly stand up in and hot, unforgiving sun!

Today we woke late, despite having gone to sleep at 10.30pm, we woke at 8am, that’s a long old sleep, we must be more tired than we realise. As we were packing up, tow men in a van pulled up and got out to see what we were doing. they were very friendly and helped us pack up our tent and our bikes. They pulled out a bottle of something and poured a small cup for Chris. They also gave us a mug as a gift. It was great having helpers, I could get used to this. Maybe we need to get a house-elf like Dobby, he’d be free to come and go of course….

We set off, windy again today. I feel like a broken record.. windy? really?!  8km an hour, not gonna break any land speed records with that one Lizzie. Chris stopped with yet another puncture but told me to carry on. I said I’d go but stop in 5km to wait for him if he hadn’t caught up.

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I stopped and waited, having climbed a big hill so that I could see him coming. No sign of him. I waited and waited.I got the stove out and boiled some water so that when he did arrive we could eat noodles. I was getting a bit worried as he’d been ages. There were quite a few vans and trucks passing so i knew he would flag down one of them if he really needed help. I decided to finish boiling the water, pour it into our thermos, and then go back and see where he was. Just as I thought this, he appeared as a tiny dot on the horizon. Phew. Turns out he had 2 punctures one after the other and then an accidental 3rd one as he put the tyre back on. Hence the delay. It was about 3pm by now. I really don’t know where the time goes, it feels as if someone keeps stealing the day from us.

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We ate and set off again. By now it was even more windy. We really wanted to do 40km today, but the road was so bad and I kept coming off. I couldn’t keep my balance and slipped, we had to push through lots of deep sand at one point. I could feel the grumpiness rising up inside me, combine with anger. I was spiraling into a bad mood and was losing patience with all this. My stomach was hurting, cramping up as it had done for 2 days already, the two cold sores on my lip were hurting and kept splitting, this was just all too difficult. All I want to do is cycle. After one slip too many, despite being on firmer ground, I totally lost my cool and shouted at my bike, the wind, the desert, banging my bike in frustration. I threw my bike down on the ground in anger and stormed off. “Enough of all this, it’s nonsense, it’s stupid and i just want to get out of the desert. I want to go home!”

After a good cry, Chris came over to me, having rescued my bike, and brought me a mars bar and some coca cola, then gave me a few minutes to myself. I ate the mars bar and drank and felt a bit better. Chris came and sat with me and gave me a cuddle and told me how proud he was of me. He said there were not many girlfriends who would cycle round the world, let alone through the Gobi desert! That made me cry more, but he managed to cheer me up a little.

We weren’t doing very well today at all, but if we could just managed to actually cycle we’d be ok. I got my act together and set off. The road improved and we were hopeful. However on the horizon we could see a big dust cloud forming, blotting out the landscape. Great that’s all we need. We cycled on but it was clear as we cycled towards it that it wasn’t going to miss us and the wind began to pick up to the point we couldn’t cycle. So once again we stopped and took shelter by the bikes.

We ended up abandoning any more ideas of cycling that day and pulled off the road and went to camp.

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It was hard to find any shelter from the wind and sand, so we just got the tent up as quickly as we could and got in.  The wind calmed down eventually and it was quite a nice evening.

Chris is now cooking dinner as I write this. It’s nice to be still and out of the wind. It’s exhausting being outside all the time. No wonder we built houses!

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So we only managed 20km today which is pretty pathetic and it’s still 50km to Choyr. I wish I could just click my heels and be there now. I really want a shower and a rest. I really hope the wind stops blowing so we stand a chance of getting there. We are low on water and really need to reach the town.

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I hope I feel more positive tomorrow, I hate feeling like this. I guess after 15 days in the desert it’s ok to feel like crying. After 15 days I feel like I live in the flippin’ desert!

…because hindsight is spectacularly rose-tinted!

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