Posts Tagged ‘gobi’

Mr Davenport, I presume?

Monday, August 15th, 2011

Ripley with Molly Brown © Ripley Davenport

Ripley Davenport is a desert explorer, originally from the UK, and I was fortunate enough to have the chance to meet him recently, in Ulaanbatar.

We started following Ripley’s adventures in 2010 when he walked across the Gobi for 52 days, with no support whatsoever, pulling all his supplies and equipment on ‘Molly Brown’ – his purposed built trailer.

Molly weighed in at 250 kgs and Ripley hauled this huge weight across the Eastern Steppes and through the desert, breaking the world record for the longest solo, unassisted crossing. Having got our attention, we continued following him. Thinking of Ripley pulling molly, provided me with inspiration during the hard times, as we cycled or pushed our bikes through the Gobi.

In May this  year, Ripley undertook a second Gobi expedition, this time leading a team of 12 people and 12 Bactrian camels, walking west to east across the desert for 1000 miles. They passed through the north of the Khongoryn Els, the largest and most spectacular sand dunes in Mongolia, from Bulgan a sum district of Khovd Province in the west, to Sainshand the capital city in Dornogovi province in the east. The camels took the weight of the kit and the team were free to walk, and they went at a pretty swift pace too, covering over 30km a day, for 51 days! (That’s more than we managed on our bikes some days!)

On July 15th, 7 of the team made it, and arrived in Sainshand having completed the 1000 mile trek. I managed to meet with Ripley a few days later before he flew home to Ireland.


Ripley and his team at the finish line! © Lauren McLeod

I asked Ripley about the differences between a solo expedition and leading a team. He said that the solo expedition in 2010 has been considerably more challenging physically and was one of the hardest things he has ever done. However this year was also ‘tough’ and  leading a team of people of different ages, levels of experience and  a variety of nationalities comes with its own set of challenges. Some team members withdrew due to injury, whilst others struggled with the pace and distance, or had different expectations, and were sadly asked to leave the expedition. I sensed that Ripley had found this decision a difficult one to make, but ultimately he had to put the rest of the team first.


Chris sitting in the shade of the camels © Sucheta Kadethankar

However, he had great admiration for many of his team members.  When I asked Ripley to tell me about some of the highlights of the expedition, he told me of a day when they had stopped for lunch and he looked up to see Christopher, the youngest member of the group at 18 years old,  galloping up on his camel with such confidence and ability that he looked as if he had been riding camels for years.

In a short space of time Christopher had learnt to ride and manage the camels, helping look after them, alongside Mongolian camel expert, Alvek. Chris threw himself into this with relish, although not always without risk (see Christopher’s blog entry). For Ripley, that was a pretty special moment seeing him galloping like that, and he couldn’t help but feel proud.

The desert presents a unique set of conditions, from sand storms, electrical storms, heat stoke to bolting camels and of course dust that gets everywhere. Ripley’s team also encountered a lot of rain which was most unexpected and unwelcome, believe it or not. Dust combined with rain equals sludge, and damp heavy, kit is a pain to dry out. We swapped stories about seeing storms looming on the horizon and the vulnerability that you feel, seeing this huge weather coming towards you with nothing standing in the way. Like us, they also had nights inside tents wondering if they would stand up to the force of the winds.

Walking anywhere for long enough will give you blisters, but in the desert heat, it seems that blisters can be especially painful and as I sat chatting to Ripley, as if on cue, one of his blisters began weeping and I heard about some of the more painful and gruesome blisters that the team had endured. Ripley’s ankle was also swollen and having carried him 10000 miles, it seems that once you stop to rest your body goes into recovery mode and says ‘enough!’.


Ripley Davenport, Gobi 2011 © Emmanuel Berthier

One of the team members was Emmanuel Berthier, a fantastic photographer and filmmaker, who captured the journey on film, with some amazing shots of the team and the camels walking through the Gobi. To see some of the photos and learn more about the Gobi crossing visit:

The expedition was a great success, raising several thousand pounds for Edurelief and giving the team an amazing experience in Mongolia. The desert is harsh place to be for 51 days, and walking for 1000 miles is a huge achievement by anyones standards; combining the two is not to be underestimated!.

I was delighted to meet Ripley, and he, unlike me, genuinely likes the desert, and plans to continue going to deserts around the world for many years to come, hopefully with more beasts of burden in tow.

Ripley’s next expedition will be to the  Namib desert in 2012. Watch this space.

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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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Wild gazelles & purple flowers

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

After going nowhere yesterday, we were keen to make some progress and get on the road again.

zeer_332318As we rose over the top of the hill we could see a huge valley below us. In the distance we could see some animals moving across the landscape as a group. They were well camouflaged against the shrubs and sand, but we could just make them out. They look like small deer and we’d seen them before, well fleetingly, but they don’t stick around long. We weren’t too sure what they were, but we now  think that they were wild gazelle

(photo by

We managed to pick up the new road again and the road surface was quite good. I was pleased that we cycled 10km so quickly and were doing well. Then the road stopped abruptly and we were back to dirt tracks again. It was quite flat and all we could see was the horizon ahead. We knew there was a small town near here so we headed for that to get more water. Cycling side by side, it was quite quiet and we were both lost in our own thoughts. Then out of the blue I slammed on my brakes and jumped off my bike. By the side of the road was a single purple flower.

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In every country we have cycled, along the roadside we see purple flowers, mostly wild, sometimes planted. I love purple flowers, so much so that we will be having them at our wedding next April. And wherever you get flowers, you also get butterflies, which flutter along with us as we cycle. So far in the Gobi we have seen no flowers of any kind, so imagine my delight to see a purple flower, just sitting there! I took some photos and resisted the urge to pick it and take it with me – the poor thing has made it this far, last thing it needs is me plucking it from the ground.

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We arrived in Tsomog and managed to locate its only shop, buying a few snacks and water. The two school girls there both spoke some English and another lady with a young baby appeared. We chatted to them a little and the baby had a go on Chris’s bike seat. Not long after an English teacher turned up and we had a chat with her too. Funny how in the middle of nowhere you can find people speaking English so well!

Leaving this small village, we saw a sign saying 300km to Ulaanbatar. That sounded like an awfully long way still. Oh well, better get on with it then.

The new road was too patchy to cycle on so we reverted back to the bumpy side track. It was hot and the sun was fierce.  A big 4×4 stopped by us and 4 men got out of the car. One of them spoke excellent English (again!) and it turns out that they were the contractors for the new road. They insisted on giving us water and coke and a tin of meat. Then a bottle of whisky appeared and a shot was poured for Chris. Then one for me. I’m not a big whisky drinker at all but they were so keen for us to drink it that I managed to sip a little of it. After a photo we were on our way again, this time climbing up up up. As we went I could taste the whisky. It reminded me of my Grandad who always like a glass of Scotch of an evening. I cycled on thinking of my Grandad, wondering what he would make of me doing all this!

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We managed 35km that day, not as much as we’d hoped but the daylight doesn’t last forever, and I’d been having some funny stomach aches for a couple of days so wasn’t feeling 100%.

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We stopped to camp that evening up on a rocky hillside and watched an impressive sunset, from our tent.

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As I cooked dinner I could see lightning in the distance, it looked like storm was heading towards us. I cooked as fast as I could and served up the food, then we quickly did up all the tent doors and moved everything inside. Safe inside out tent we ate and then fell asleep. The storm must have missed us, either that or  we were too tired to notice it!

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So much for the winter thermals!

Monday, June 13th, 2011

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Having left the friendly people in the yurt, we cycled on to the town, crossing the railway and passing a stop sign that looked like it was from Middle Earth! (Lord of the Rings reference there, Orcs??)

Anyway as we cycled into town, I couldn’t help feeling as if we were in Africa, the makeshift houses and colourful roof tops reminded me of the shanty towns.  The wreck of an old car greeted us as we cycled in.

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However as we got to the centre of the small town, it was quite nice and stopping outside a shop in the shade we quickly gathered quite a crowd. It was baking hot so Chris went off to find coke and ice-creams for us. Whilst he was gone a group of young lads gathered round and fired questions at me, some of which I answered. They were keen to have a go on my bike, so I let 2 of them have a go. The bike is about the right size for them, but with 30kg of weight on it, balancing can be a bit tricky, especially if you are not used to it. The first boy was fine and looked liked he’d been riding my bike all his life. The second one was a bit younger and found it pretty hard, coming off twice. So I rescued him and my bike and decided that it would be best to end that game. Not so worried about the bike, more about their limbs and skulls, last thing we need is Mongolian mums chasing us out of town!

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After doing some food shopping, including going into a room where big slabs of meat are just laid out on a table and you choose what you want, we found a small cafe to eat in. Once we realised that, despite there being 20 items listed on the menu, they only had one dish available, we ordered that and sat back to relax. The two young girls serving, about 10 or 11 years old, were really excited about us being there. I guess not main foreigners pass through their town. When the food arrived i was very happy, hot mutton ribs, a bit like lamb chops, mash potato, rice, cabbage and salad, and it all tasted pretty good.

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We plugged our laptop into the powerpoint in the restaurant to charge it up. However when we opened it up the screen was flickering and wouldn’t display. Hmmn, not good. So we abandoned that idea and packed up, ready to leave town and camp for the night. We found somewhere just a few kms out of town, still close enough to the mobile phone mast, so that we had full reception on our mobile phone. That night, determined to get a blog post up on the website, I had a go at fixing the laptop.

As we’ve been in such a sandy environment and on very bumpy terrain, it’s hardly surprising the laptop wasn’t feeling too well, and I could sympathise completely! It appeared that the hinge between the screen and the keyboard was a bit loose and i decided this might be the problem. After removing the battery, I carefully removed the 13(!) screws on the back with our trusty penknife and revealed the inside of the computer.

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i was surpirsed and relieved at how clean it was. No dust or dirt in there. The wires all seemed to be ok and there were no obviously loose connections. So I put it all back together and clipped the hinge back together, and turned it back on. Nothing. Hmmn. I spent some time wiggling the screen back and forth, sometimes getting a stripey images. Finally frustrated at the situation I simply plonked the laptop down, ready to give up. It suddenly sprung into life and the picture was perfect. We were back in business!

Pleased with the lucky result, I tentatively began typing, trying not to move an inch or bump the computer in any way, in case the display should disappear! All was well and I began uploading the blog post. The internet connection was sooo slow and the images wouldn’t upload. Finally after a torturous 2 hours it finally published. Talk about a labour of  love!

Next morning Chris got up and got on his bike. The previous day he’d left his bike lock by the side of the road whilst fixing a puncture, he really wanted to go back (15km) for it. Having stayed up late wrestling with the computer, I was happy to have a lie in and do some jobs back at camp, then cycle in the afternoon.

It was an absolute stinker of a day, really really  hot. I was sweltering in the tent, yet it was too hot outside. Chris returned 3 hours later, very hot and empty handed, no luck, no lock. Oh well, at least he tried. After a 34km round trip in the heat, he was a little tired and hungry. We agreed that we would wait for the heat to subside before cycling anywhere. Lethargic and sweaty, we ate cheese sandwiches and kept out of the sun. With the tarp rigged up, we had some shade and Chris set about fixing some of his punctures.

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Our tyres are meant to be very tough and resistant to punctures, however some of the thorn bushes here have other ideas. Chris was not impressed when he found a whole cluster of thorns lodged in his tyre…  “Hmmn these tyres are meant to be tough…” I had to point out that these little thorn bushes have had to work really hard to survive out here in the desert and are pretty tough too – they’re really not going to let a couple of bicycles get in their way!

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At 4.30 pm we checked our thermometer and it said it was 37 degrees! No wonder we were hot. Phew, so much for all our thermal underwear, balaclavas, ski gloves and winter jackets! At 7pm it was 20 degrees and I felt cold. Crazy stuff.

You’ve probably worked out by now that we didn’t cycle anywhere today. I don’t think I can stress enough how much we are at the mercy of the elements out here; wind, hail, sand storms, now heat! So with some time on our hands I decided to cook up a really nice stew for us. I’d bought a big slab of meat in the town and set about cutting it up with our penknife, then threw in some onion, pepper, potato and carrot. After browning the meat and frying the veg, I covered it all with water and crumbled two oxo cubes into the pan. With a spoonful of tomato paste, some salt and pepper, i left it to cook…

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After half an hour it was looking good! One thing’s for sure, we may be in the desert but we’ve not done to badly on the food front and I think we’ve done well to cook up some really nice meals. It doesn’t all have to be hard on the road and i do believe that you should eat well, that way you have something to look forward to at the end of the day! With dusk arriving and some cooler air, we sat down to enjoy our stew, with some thick slices of bread to dip in the gravy, it tasted great!

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Things can only get better, they say…

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Well after a horrible day the day before I was pleased to wake up to a bright sunny day with little wind. Today was going to be much better. Chris had found a beautiful feather lying on the floor the night before, by our camp spot and gave it to me. I decided it was going to be a good omen for us.

We picked up the new road again which is a bit easier to cycle on. After 8km, making good progress uphill, Chris got a puncture. He does seem to be getting a lot of punctures, 1 or 2 a day – it must be the weight!? As it was hot, I decided to carry on. Chris cycles faster than me so I knew he would catch me up. The town of Tsaagandorvj couldn’t be too much further now.

After Chris joined me again, we arrived at the top of a hill and in the distance we could see a number of yurts. I wondered if this was the start of the town. Excited, we pedalled in that direction. As we got closer we could see a yurt near the road and headed over to say hello and see if they could tell us where the town was. As we pulled up, a small family came out to greet us, Mum, Dad and a little girl. They told us the town was 7km ahead, hurray. But first they wanted us to come inside and have some tea with them. So, delighted to be asked, we stepped inside our very first yurt!

We had tea and were impressed at how big the yurt seems inside. It was also pretty modern and had everything from a little dressing table, a teddy bear, sofas, rugs, TV to cooking utensils, cups, plates and of course a wood burner. It was very comfortable and the family were very welcoming.

The little girl was playing with her kitten and then brought a puzzle over to Chris for him to try and solve. It was too hard for him, but a good icebreaker and sweet to watch the little girl giggling when Chris got it wrong. The Dad told us he mines precious stones and he had a handful of small stones and insisted on giving us each a stone as a gift. Rocks from the Gobi!

We were both taken with the yurt, and the decoration on the roof slats and the door was very pretty and flowery. Quite similar in style to Romany Gypsy caravans. I asked if I could take a photo – they were more than happy for us to take photos and proud to show us their home.

After a few group photos outside and some questions about our bikes, we said goodbye and cycled off to find the town.

It’s so nice to meet local people and as most cycle tourers will tell you, the best thing about travelling by bike is the people you meet and the welcome they extend to you, despite you being a foreigner, unknown, dirty and smelly (not always but quite often!) and unannounced. It really is amazing and I can’t help wondering if we would be as welcoming to foreigners arriving in our country in the same manner, as we are generally more fearful of ‘strangers’. I hope that in the future we will have the opportunity to welcome people in the same way to our home; this experience has certainly made us much more open-minded and less judgemental about other people we meet.

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