Archive for August, 2011

Rain, hills and oh no!

Sunday, August 28th, 2011

It was still raining when we woke up and we both knew that sooner or later we would have to get up and put on yesterday’s wet clothes. I made coffee and porridge and we slowly packed up, hoping the rain might stop. It did eventually and we were able to pack up in dryish conditions although not for long. By the time we were ready to leave, the rain clouds were poised, ready for action.

Before we left Chris took it upon himself to check my brake pads, dunno why, but we both saw that they were very worn and needed replacing, we agreed to do it that night rather than stop now to do it.

So we set off and knew that we had a climb ahead of us, about 7km, the top of the hill was covered in low cloud and mist. As we cycled, two herdsmen came passed us with a group of horses, they came over to see us and we stopped briefly to chat. They were friendly and clearly thought we were mad. They rode up the hill keeping the horses in line as they went and we followed, more slowly on our bikes. We finally reached the top an hour later and had a short rest.

P1050890 (2)

It was raining more heavily and we both had on waterproofs. As we came down the hill we realised that there was another big one to go up in the distance. The mist and rain was hiding  most of the landscape and had we been able to see, we would have realised that what lay before us was simply rows and rows of mountains, with hills to go up and down!


We continued and were pretty pleased with ourselves, after the last few days of rubbish slow cycling on our part, we were doing well today despite the rain and hills (or maybe because of them?). We climbed one last huge hill and came down the other side looking to camp. We hadn’t seen anywhere to get water, so we filled up from a small pool of water near the road.


Finally as the low sun peeked out from behind the clouds, we pulled off to camp in a grassy, lush spot, full of colourful grasshoppers. It was quite  a nice evening now that the rain had stopped and it was nice to see the sun once again. Both damp, and with lots of soggy wet kit to get dry, we set about hanging everything to dry on our bikes.


Chris was going to give the bikes a once over and change my brake pads, while I cooked dinner. As I sat down I heard ‘oh f*#%!’ and I went over to see what was wrong. While cleaning his back wheel, Chris had discovered that the rim had a huge split in it. He’d been whizzing down those hills at speed today, he could have easily come off if it had given way. Thank goodness he’d found it now.


Unfortunately it meant we couldn’t ride on, Chris tried to see if he could swap the extra wheel for the back wheel, but they are too different to be interchanged, so that plan was abandoned. Looks like we will have to get a ride to Kharkhorin or Tsetserleg and try to buy a new rim there. Shame as we just got our mojo back today and were keen to keep going.

Hey ho!

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The Three Musketeers

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

We woke up to the sound of rain pattering on the tent and the wind still blowing outside, not the most inviting of  sounds for a cyclist.  However we started to get up and got the stove going to boil some water. It wasn’t long before we saw a small hand print pressing on the door of the tent. I opened up and there was a young man with his horse. It was still raining and all of our bags were piled up i the porch, so there wasn’t much room, but he managed to sit in the doorway. I made some coffee and we dug out some biscuits. he was very quiet and shy. We gave him our phrasebook which has pictures and Mongolian and English, he flicked through it but didn’t seem to know what to make of it and handed it back to us, as if he’d only looked at it to be polite. The rain eased and Chris and the guy moved outside to smoke a cigarette. Chris asked him if he was a herdsman and he said yes, we explained what we were doing and where were were going. He left shortly after and galloped off on his horse across the countryside.

We packed up and got on the road, feeling positive about the day ahead and the cool conditions…

We climbed a hill slowly, with a string side wind and then turned hoping the wind would be a tail wind now. It was, although very gusty and blowing hard. We were glad to be on the move and hoped to get at least 50km done today.

We were going along when suddenly two little puppies appeared on the other side of the road and started barking at us. As soon as they saw us moving they ran across the road to meet us. We stopped as they were in the road and there were cars coming, and we didn’t want them to chase us. As we stopped another one appeared. They were very cute and friendly, barking and running excitedly around the bikes. We cycled off slowly hoping they would stay behind, but no they were running right after us. So we carried on, surely they will get tired in a minute and give up. But no they were running alongside us now, in the road, keeping up with us. We were worried that they would get run over, so we decided to move onto the dirt road running alongside the main road. That way they could follow us without getting squashed or mashed.

We carried on a about 2km and they were still running behind us…

Hmmn what to do? Oh well they must get tired eventually. As we came to the top of a hill, 4 big dogs appeared ahead of us and started barking. We stopped. We weren’t sure if these dogs would be friendly to the three puppies and we didn’t really want a dog fight on our hands. Chris suggested we take them back to were we found them and try to get one of the gers to take them, they must belong to someone. Before that I tried leading them through a drainage tunnel that brought us out on the other side of the road. The puppies followed but I couldn’t get them to stay on that side and they just ran right after me back to where we started. So Chris unloaded his bike and left me with all his kit, then cycled off to the gers with the puppies. It was an hour later and I was still sat waiting. Then I heard a little bark. Hmmn, that sounded like one of the puppies! Then Chris appeared in the horizon with the three little ones still in tow.

None of the gers knew the dogs or wanted them. They must have been abandoned. Chris sat down for a rest and the puppies too, they were exhausted. The little brown one curled up between our legs and closed his eyes. Chris said the little black one had been yelping and crying ‘wait for me’ as he cycled back. Aw, they were only little and pretty skinny too. They all came up and cuddled up to us as we sat there, wondering what to do with them.

In the end we decided to cycle up the hill again and one of us would deal with the bigger dogs. We were both hungry and cold now so we needed to move. If the pups followed us then we would let them, but if we could find someone to take them then that would be better. As we reached the top, we saw there was a restaurant/cafe stop and the  dogs immediately ran over to the rubbish pit to start scavenging. The big dogs didn’t seem to be around. We went inside and had a really nice meal and milk tea. I scraped the left overs into a bag and gave them to the puppies before we left. There were lots of people around and they were distracted enough not to see us leaving,so we cycled off without them.

Bye bye puppies!

It was mid afternoon by now and we hadn’t got very far at all. We came to a small town called Lun and stopped to buy some more food. The shops didn’t sell very much through and we couldn’t find any vegetables or tins of met or tuna. This is the kind of town where people just ride up on their horses, tie ‘em up and go inside to do their shopping… feels a bit like the wild west!

We carried on for a bit longer, with the wind and rain in our faces. Both of us were feeling tired and Chris was really low on energy now. It seems that Chris has what I have and after every meal he has to dive in the bushes to go to the loo. I’m pretty sure whatever is making our stomachs ache is also sapping our energy. Despite the medication, I don’t seem to be getting any better. Our days seem to consist of us  talking about poo and how we are feeling (you can actually hear our stomachs making strange, gurgling noises!)  – you sure get to know each other well on a bike trip!

We turned right at the junction after the river crossing and pulled off the road to camp, amongst bushes and sand. There was a big climb ahead of us and neither of us had the energy to face it today. We stopped just in time, as the heavens opened and we rushed to get the tent up and get inside. We were asleep by 9.30pm, cosy inside the tent, as the rain continued to fall.

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By Iron Horse

Saturday, August 27th, 2011

P1050851So we set our alarm for 5am, determined to get up early and avoid some of the heat. Not sure what happened but we woke up at 8am, both oblivious to the alarm! Oh well so much for our early start. We had porridge and coffee for breakfast, checked email and then cycled back to the main road for a couple of km.

We got on the road and amazingly we had a tail wind, soooo exciting. We were whizzing along and the countryside was beautiful. It didn’t seem too hard today, there was quite a bit of down hill, little traffic and we were both enjoying the cycling and the scenery.


We stopped to get petrol at the lonely petrol station at the top of a hill. The woman there didn’t really understand why we wanted it and Chris did lots of miming of us cooking. Finally she understood and let us have some petrol.

After about 11km we saw two figures in the distance, were they on scooters, horses, camels or bikes? As the got closer we recognised the outline of the panniers, they were cyclists! They pulled over as we stopped and Tom said ‘Hi, you’re from the Lakes aren’t you?’ we said yes, how did you know that! Turns out Tom’s mum had seen the article in the Westmorland Gazette back in August 2009. Tom is from Windermere and his wife Emily from North Yorkshire. They just got married a few weeks ago and then flew to Ulaanbaatar to start their year long bike tour.


So far they have cycled about 1300km around Mongolia and are heading to China next.

We sat by the roadside in the sunshine drinking coffee, eating biscuits and cake for several hours. It was great to chat to them and really nice to meet people from home. They seem really excited about their trip and have really enjoyed Mongolia so far. Check out their blog, cleverly called By Iron Horse:

We finally all got back on our bikes, realising that it was getting quite late and waved goodbye. Our tail wind had gone and a storm seemed to be rolling in so we only did another 20km (waving at two men on camel along the way) before stopping to camp for the night. But despite planning a nice long day in the saddle, neither of us minded, we really enjoyed meeting Tom and Emily!


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Back on the road, the road to Tsetserleg

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

We had a few false starts trying to leave Ulaanbatar, we were all packed and ready to go last sunday, then when we woke up on Monday morning, I had really bad stomach cramps and bad diarrhea again. I had this on and off for over a week, but it seemed to get better, then would come back again. So knowing that were about to head out into the wilderness for the next 45 days, and knowing that the only hospitals were in UB, i decided to get checked out and make sure it wasn’t anything serious. Diarrhea I can handle, we all get it form time to time when travelling and at home too, but the stomach pain was acute and made me want to curl up into a ball. I was also worried it might be Gardiasis, which several friends have had whilst on the road. So after a trip to the hospital, where the doctor was very thorough and sent me for various tests, it turned out to be gastroenteritis which isn’t serious, just a bad case of  food poisoning really, but she did say the blood tests showed small levels of ‘toxic hepatitis’, which sounds a lot more dramatic than it really is. She was keen to reassure me that it’s to do with the food poisoning and is not the same as the more serious viral hepatitis. Phew! So armed with pills and tablets I went home and felt glad to know that it wasn’t anything serious. The doctor didn’t say anything about not cycling or resting, so the next day I felt ok and we decided to get back on the bikes., agreeing to take it easy…

We knew the roads around UB pretty well by now and so it was simply a  case of dodging potholes and holding your own in the traffic. We headed out towards the airport and after 10km stopped to have a final look back at UB.

Down the hill following a rather industrial, dusty, bumpy road we then joined the main road out of UB. After 20km we bought some ridiculously expensive water and stocked up on a few more luxuries, bread, cheese, bacon and coffee, before turning onto the road to Tsetserleg.

Tsetserleg is about 500km west and we hope to be there in about 10 days time. The road climbed and we both realised that 8 weeks off the bikes meant our fitness levels had dropped. We knew this, but it is always hard when you realised that what you previously found easy is now a bit of a struggle. At the top of the hill we stopped and rested, watching people buying and selling sheep. Chris got up and back on his bike, i wasn’t to far behind him, but faffed about for a minute or so. A drunk guy from the ger opposite made a beeline for me and started asking me things. I didn’t really want to engage him in conversation as I could see he was quite drunk. I didn’t understand what he was asking so just said Tsetserleg and goodbye, got on my bike and pedaled fast to catch up with Chris.  Mongolian men are very friendly and polite generally, however when they’re very drunk they can behave quite differently, being unpredictable and aggressive so I am quite wary. This is probably the first country where I feel vulnerable around men, in SE Asia and China I always felt safe. Chris and I have agreed that we should stick together as we cycle, especially if we stop somewhere and where there are groups of people.

We cycled on and climbed what felt like lots of hills. It was hard going and I felt a little light headed and wanted to stop to camp, however we kept passing through villages and couldn’t see anywhere suitable to stop. We finally zoomed down hill and we in open countryside surrounded by hills. We pulled off the road and followed a track down the hill for 500m or so and then found the perfect camp spot.

I was glad to stop, we had only done 40km, but I was obviously still not 100% better yet! That said it was nice to be back on the bikes and out of the city. We set up the tent had a lovely dinner. We were both very saddle sore and I’d forgotten what that feels like.  We had a really, really good nights sleep, Chris said it was the best sleep he’s had in weeks. It was very peaceful and dark. We were woken up by a man about 7am, he was saying ‘Benoo, benoo’, which kinda means ‘hello, are you there?’, Chris went out to see him and he was friendly and  just wanted a cigarette and then went on his way, he was probably just curious to see who we were. We think we saw him later as he rounded up his horses and rode across the hills behind us.

There we an amazing number of grasshoppers and spiders where we were camped and when we packed up we had to be careful not to take half the wildlife with us too.

We were going to try and reach Hustai today, which is a national park with the rare Tahki horses. We reckon it should be about 60km away. The road was good, with lots of up and downs and we both enjoyed the cycling. Trucks and cars all beeped  and waved at us as we cycled, and pretty much everyone gave us room or waited to pass us, so that was great and we felt safe, allowing us to relax and day dream a little. We stopped for lunch at a road side cafe and were surprised to find that the guy running it spoke brilliant English. We chatted to him for a while and with full mobile phone signal managed to check emails and internet before getting back on the road. We cycled another 20km and could see a long climb ahead of us, gradual, but maybe 3 or 4km long. We ploughed on, but it was hot and the sun was getting lower in the sky. Half way up we stopped, my bum was sore and I kept readjusting my position to get more comfortable, but really stopping was the only was to relieve the discomfort! We made some shade with the bikes and ate mars bar and pringles by the side of the road, with hot coffee. We didn’t think it was too much farther to Hustai, maybe 10-15km, so we would push on.

Not long after we sat down another cycle tourer came from the opposite direction and stopped. He came over and joined us, his name was Remo, from Switzerland and he’d been on the road for a year and 4 months. He has a very cool Swiss army bike…

After standing by the roadside chatting for over an hour, we realised it was getting late and so Chris suggested we camp together.  Turns out we had matching Staika tents, although Remo’s looked a lot newer than ours – the sand storms in the Gobi took their toll on ours.

We cooked dinner and sat chatting together until late. This is probably one of our favourite things about cycle touring, meeting other tourers and sitting out under a sea of stars, swapping stories and finding out that they met or know the same people you do! Remo had also met and cycled with Marie and Nico, and met Emma and Justin. It really is a small world when you are on a bike!

The next morning we were woke up at 5am by a man on his horse. he was pretty determined to wake us and once again Chris went out to see what he wanted, Remo got up too. He just wanted water for himself and his horse. Chris was surprised that he would wake us up when there were gers not too far away, that he could have stopped at. But perhaps he just wanted to see who was camping here. Chris gave him half a litre of our water and he went on his way. Out here in the countryside it is acceptable to turn up at a ger at whatever time of the night or day and be given food and water. It isn’t so much an etiquette more a necessity for survival. With the remoteness and distances involved in travelling across Mongolia, people will give you what you need without a second thought and don’t expect payment.  Chris was a bit cross that he had woken us up and that the guy was a little aggressive, but who knows he may have been riding for hours and was thirsty. We have been given so much hospitality by the Mongolian people, that I feel it’s only right that we should expect to share our food and water in return.

We all went back to sleep and then woke again around 8. By 9am it was baking hot. I wasn’t feeling too great and had stayed in bed a bit longer, but the heat made me move and get up. Chris rigged up the tarp to give us some shade and I cooked eggs and bacon for breakfast as a treat. Remo packed up and got on his way, he had 80km to do to get to UB, before getting on a train to China. We said our goodbyes and he left.

It was so hot I couldn’t quite grasp how we would cycle in this heat. Our thermometer said it was 41.8 degrees (celcius). Blimey, it’s only 10 o’clock in the morning. We procrastinated for a while and then the wind forced our hand. It began blowing hard and started pulling the tarp around, so we had no choice but pack up and go, without shade it was too hot to sit still.

We climbed the second half of the hill that we had left yesterday and it wasn’t too bad at all. The saddle sore had eased a bit and the wind made it cooler to cycle than to stand still. We didn’t have much water left and the water in our bladders was hot and didn’t quench the thirst very well. I was imagining glugging down ice cold water. At the top of the hill was a small settlement with a ger or two and some small huts. As we passed we saw that they were selling water and drink and sweets. Chris went in and brought out 5 litres of cold cold water and 2 oranges juices, also cold, heaven! We downed some of the water and juice, it was sooooo nice.  Then we set off down a long downhill that last about 7km. This is when cycling come into it’s own. You are gliding down a hill, surrounded by glorious countryside and mountains, the wind rushing passed you and a long road unfolding before you. You can see for miles and right at that moment you are happy, feeling alive and free.

We continued on and then saw the signs for Hustai, hurray! We turned off the main road and the sign said 13km to Hustai park, 3 km to tourist ger camp. Cool. The road was a dirt road and fine to start with but then became very very sandy. It was too hard to cycle and I kept coming off. It was like the Gobi again. It was my idea to come here so I couldn’t complain. I pushed my bike for a kilometer or so, Chris managed to cycle some of it, in-between skids. The heat was intense and I could feel my head throbbing and I felt sick. I knew it wasn’t far to the ger camp but it felt like miles, I was just too hot.

In the end I stopped and had a rest, drinking as much water as I could. Above us the clouds were gathering and turning black. I wanted it to rain so badly, ‘please rain on me clouds’ I said silently in my head. We sat there for a few minutes and then I felt a splat of water on my arm, then another on the ground in front of me. It was raining!! Chris said, that’s the second time you’ve asked for water today and your wish has been granted. As we say ‘ask and the universe will provide’! I stood in the rain and big splodges fell on me and the ground. It cooled us off a bit before passing over. We continued on and eventually got to the ger camp, which was about 5km away not 3km. Chris helped me with my bike in the sand and my head continued to pound.

Maybe I should have stayed in UB a bit longer to fully get better. Over the last few days every time I exerted myself or tried to push hard, I found I had no strength to draw on and lacked the energy required. Combined with the heat today, it was all a bit too much.

We arrived at the camp and Chris organised a ger for us, while I sat on the ground wishing my head would stop hurting so much. It was $18 a night each, which is pretty expensive, $48 each with food! However i didn’t care about the cost right then and we went for the no food option and moved into our 4 sided ger, which was lovely. I was so relieved to stop and lie down. A storm rolled in and the temperature dropped which was  a relief. After a shower, shade and some food I felt a bit better and had managed to cool down. I had been so excited about coming here to see the horses and to celebrate being together for 6 years, I was disappointed to be feeling so ill. So we took it easy for the rest of the day and agreed to take the next day off to rest more and go to see the horses. Hopefully by the time we were due to be on the road again I would be feeling well.

We did received some great news though once we connected to the internet (via our mobile). My brother Chris and his wife Sarah have had their baby girl, Ellie Rose, so we now have a beautiful little niece! Congratulations Chris and Sarah and welcome to the world Ellie.

Ellie Rose Wilton. Born 19th August 2011.

Ellie Rose Wilton. Born 19th August 2011.

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Alpkit great outdoor equipment at reasonable prices

Wednesday, August 17th, 2011

Liz went back to the UK over Christmas while I carried on cycling in China. At this point we had been travelling for 15 months. We knew we needed to replace some of our equipment that was either worn out or broken and we also wanted some extra bits to keep up happy and comfortable whilst we cycled through the Gobi desert. Money was an issue, despite Liz getting a good job in the UK, we needed a lot of this money to fund the rest of the trip, so we wanted to find some good quality outdoor equipment that was not going to cost a fortune.

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There had been a lot of talk on the internet about Alpkit, we had never heard of this company before but it seemed that a lot of cyclists, travellers, explorers and outdoor enthusiasts were buying this kit and really liking it. From the reviews we read, Alpkit seemed to be well made and priced reasonably, so we contacted them to see if they could help us out. To our delight they were excited about the trip and were willing to offer us a good discount on their equipment. So we trawled the website and started to look through what they had. This is a list of what we settled on how we have found it having used Alpkit for the last 5 months

Alpkit Gamma Led Headtorch £12.50

Alpkit head torch

Fixing the laptop in the Gobi Desert

We decided to replace our broken headtorches with the Gamma. The Gamma has one main white beam and three smaller beams in white, red and green. The smaller beams use less power and the main one and the main beam has different brightness setting. The battery pack is at the back of the torch and also has a small red LED that can flash or be constant. This is great for night time cycling, as it adds an extra light to the back and we tend to use both our bike lights, and our headtorches when we cycle at night. The main beam is great and is good enough to spot pot holes on the road or camel poo if you are in the desert. The one down side is the torch only take alkaline batteries not rechargeable, however we did get over a month of every day evening usage out of one set of batteries. Overall though the Gamma is a great piece of kit and we really like them.

Fredd £4.50 and Clippers 2011-08-17 005£2.50

No not another cyclist, but some utility cord or ‘string’ as Liz calls it. Tumble dryers are hard to find on the road, not to mention unnecessary. We use this cord for a washing line and always find a way to hang it up in a hostel or hotel room to get our clothes dry. It is also good to have a bit extra, to replace broken guy lines and create interesting dens with our tarp.

The clippers are just small karabiners, we love these as they have all sorts of uses from helping to rig up washing lines to clipping our solar panel on the back of the bike.

Airlok Drybags £3.50

2011-08-17 003We use these lightweight dry bags to separate our clothes, electrical items, journals wash kits and so on. They provide an extra layer of protection from all the elements. Panniers can leak and when you want to grab something in a rain storm is nice to know that the rest of the contents of your bag are going to stay dry too. These come in a variety of different colours and have been a brilliant in the Gobi at keeping the sand out. They are probably not waterproof enough to withstand prolonged exposure in the rain or on water in a kayak, for this the heavier duty Alpkit dry bags would be would be better. But as a cheap lightweight packing solution to keep light rain, dust and sand out of our ipods and toothbrushes they are the bees knees.

Snapwires £6.50 

We tried several different types of camping cutlery, and ended up using heavy metal KFS as it was the only thing that did not break in a few weeks. Alpkit sork and icecreamWe had some plastic sporks but they melted when we stirred our pasta sauce and broke when we tried to mash potato or eat ice cream with them. Folding Titanium seemed to be a good alternative. Lightweight and strong and very difficult to melt. Our first test with the snapwires was in a Beijing hotel with a tub of vanilla ice cream and some fresh strawberries. We managed to eat the whole tub and all the strawberries with our Alpkit Sporks, they did not bend or snap as we devoured the lot. Five months on the Sporks and Knives are still going strong they are easy to clean and will remain in our camping kit for years to come.

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Pizza in the Gobi Desert


Hunka Bivi Bag £30

Alpkit bivi2

Gobi Desert Bivi

2011-06-04 072 I didn’t think that something this cheap would actually work, but it does. I love having a bivi bag for camping under the stars or nipping off the side of the road and finding the smallest of clearings to make a home for the night. We also have them for in the tent as an extra layer over the sleeping bags when it’s really cold. Our first night in the Hunka Bivi Bags I was excited to try them out. We sent our original Rab bivi bags home over a year ago as we had not used them much, mainly because they were too small.  I wriggle a lot in my sleep and I also like to have my sleeping mat inside my bivi bag. So the Hunka XL was the obvious choice. I had a good nights sleep, no condensation and plenty of room to wriggle. Liz got the normal Hunka as she is smaller. Without her sleeping mat it’s perfect, but if she puts it inside, then it’s a tight fit. All in all though I was very impressed with the Hunka. For the price there is no excuse not to get one. Try some lightweight cycle touring or the 24 hour bivi challenge.

So a big thanks to Alpkit we are really glad that we have some of their stuff to keep us happy on the road. Check out the Alpkit site and see their down jackets, sleeping bags and other cool stuff. Oh and if you are thinking of asking for sponsorship read this first.

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