Posts Tagged ‘sand’

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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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.


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.

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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!

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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!

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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 3

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

Around 2am a gale force wind rolled in and began blowing the tent about. It wasn’t the best night’s sleep and in the morning I could hear the wind roaring and the sound of sand showering the tent. I undid a tiny bit of the tent door and poked my head outside. I felt like we were on the surface of the moon, no horizon, just dark air filled with sand and dust. It was freezing cold and there was no light. I really couldn’t see very much, but it was desolate and inhospitable to humans and animals alike.

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The wind and dust battered the tent for hours, there was no sign of the wind abating. Inside the tent everything was covered in a layer of dust. In the inner tent, despite the zips being firmly closed, all of stuff was covered in a layer of dust. we looked like we were camping inside an Egyptian crypt or something!

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The wind blew constantly and was so loud that we could barely hear ourselves talk. After a while it just became white noise. The zippers on the tent zips rattled and irritated me. Despite the joy of time being given to you, being trapped inside a tent, that may or may not cope with the conditions isn’t the most relaxing place to be and the noise of the wind made it unnerving. It is strange to have time on your hands yet not feel you can do anything, a bit like being stuck at an airport when your flight has been delayed for 9 hours. Neither of us could face battling with the stove in the porch to make tea or cook, we’d only be shower with dust, so we ate biscuits for most of the day.

I slept for a bit, and read me book for some escapism. We both lay in our sleeping bags for warmth and used the last of the laptop battery to watch half a movie. Chris went outside a couple of times and managed to film the storm and I will try and upload this to YouTube: but internet connection keeps timing out so may not be able to!

Around 6pm, both bored and hungry we decided to try and cook and make coffee. The wind had died down a little bit and we were able to have some dinner. After that I bullied Chris into a game of battleships and we had a really nice evening after that.  The wind continued to die down and we listened to the Travelling Two podcasts – Cindie & Tim Travis, and Nancy Vogel (Family on Bikes). It gave me a boost and having spent most of the day in a bad mood, wondering why I was here at all and wishing I was at home I the UK, I felt more positive. It was a good reminder of how lucky we are to be on the road, with the freedom and time to see places and meet people, with no pressure or stress in our lives. We fell asleep listening to Bon Iver and were cosy and undisturbed all night.

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Gobi – Day 2

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

We woke up late and had a leisurely breakfast – we had a side wind so there was no hurry, it was going to be a slow day. We set off down the hill we’d seen the trucks winding their way up and down. The wind wasn’t too bad but the terrain was hard going with loose sand in places. The road was no longer flat and we seemed to climb up for long periods with some short sharp downhills. After 8km we stopped for some food.

After about 13km the rain clouds started  to gather and the wind increased, across the horizon we could see sand been whipped up into the air forming dust clouds that obscured the land. Even the sheep in the distance were lost. After stopping to let it pass over and a  few games of I spy (including light discussion of the rules – ‘no you can’t ask additional questions for clues, it’s not animal vegetable mineral’), we carried on. There were more black clouds in the distance and more ridges to go over.

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I was struggling a bit with the wind and it was all a bit hard going, I ended up pushing my  bike for a while, then cycling, then pushing. We’d hoped to do 50km today but right now doing 20km would be great. The road turned east and for a short time we enjoyed a slight tailwind and had fun whizzing over bumps and down hills. After 22km we stopped for coffee and a snack. Probably seems that all we do is eat, but the wind saps your energy and leaves you feeling hungry. As we sat there it started to rain and we stuck on some waterproofs. I know I’ve said it before, but I really wasn’t expecting so much rain! It’s the Gobi desert for goodness sake. We’re carrying 30 litres of water because there is no water out here!!

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Finally blue sky appeared and the wind dropped enough for us to cycle. I was hopeful we might be able to get another 20km done before it got dark. Chris said ‘let’s see if we can manage 10km without stopping eh?’ yes, sounds good. We came over a ridge and flying down the other side. Chris was ahead and I saw him pulling over, “What now?”  A puncture! So we stopped yet again.

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Half an hour later, back on the road and it was almost 6pm. The road was nice and quite flat. As we rounded the corner the storm we thought was to the west now appeared to be right ahead of us. Flashes of lightning appeared and the sky was rumbling with thunder. We were high up, we think – everywhere looks like the top of  a fell or moor here – and we felt pretty exposed. Not the best place to be in a thunderstorm. We headed over to the telegraph poles – they would get hit before us, then dumped the bikes and got down into the side of a shallow dried up river bed for shelter.

We sat watching the storm. It seemed very high up but the fork lightning was all across the sky. I felt very small and at the mercy of the elements right then.


As the storm passed right over us, hail began to pelt us, big hailstones the size of marbles came raining down. So much of it, so fast; the ground was covered in seconds. I could feel the ice soaking my socks and running down into my shoes. Chris put our rucksack on my head for extra shelter and I tucked my head into my chest.

After a few minutes it passed and the wind eased up. As I looked up to ask Chris if he was ok, to my right I saw a wave of water coming towards us. ‘”Quick” I yelled pointing to the water, “move!” We both jumped up and got out of the way. The dry river bed was now flooding with water. We stood and watched before realising that we needed to cross to get back to our bikes. We ran 200m ahead of the wave and in front of it to get back to our bikes. By the time we got back and looked at where we had been sat, it was under a foot of water, flooding through at a quick speed.

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But the sun was now shining and the rain and hail had stopped so we couldn’t help but smile. All around us the grass was covered in puddles of water. We were wet and mud splattered, but otherwise fine.

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Realising that we weren’t going to make any progress now, we decided to find a place to camp. With the tarp up and dinner on the go, I changed into some warm clothes and peered out to see that our tent and tarp combo looked like Harry Potter’s tent, with roll mats, stoves, plats cups and all sorts of activity going on. With some hot food inside us we’d be fine and ready for a good night’s sleep.

The forecast for tomorrow is 50kmph wind, so we may stay here for the day, but we’ll wait and see.

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Gobi – Day 1

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

After a hearty breakfast and we met our friend Sukhbat and cycled out of Zamyn Uud about midday, stopping to take some photos, before Sukhbat turned back.

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Loaded up with 30 litres of water and heaps of food we were prepared to cycle and camp for the next few days. The road was gravel to start and rapidly turned to sand tracks, with corrugated section that ensured that all momentum was lost as you cycled. However with hot sun shining and very few jeeps or trucks on the track we were fine and coasted along nicely.

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After 10km we stopped for cream cheese and bread and a mars bar – the joy of being in Mongolia is that the shops stock cheese and mars bars! It was actually really quite hot and I applied sun cream to stop myself from burning. 3 days ago we were freezing in the wind and hail, today we are sweating and worried about sunburn. This certainly is a land of extremes.

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The landscape opened out and all we could see in every direction was flat grass and sand plains, with the trans-Mongolian railway to our east and the dirt track headed north west ahead of us. No people, no houses, nothing except nature and us.

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As we reached the top of a small rise we saw a group of camels in the distance. We didn’t get very close to see them but it was a nice moment, seeing camels just grazing as we cycled along.

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A few trucks passed by and we waved as they came along side. The road here isn’t really one road, there are several tracks running in parallel and stretching off in different directions. We had our compass and stopped to take a bearing every few km to make sure we were still headed in the right direction. We were on a north-west bearing towards Ulaan Uud and Sainshand (which i keep wanting to call Sainsbury’s).

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We came to a rocky outcrop and a group of horses were grazing. We passed them, rounded a corner and stopped for a break. One of the horses decided to come and check us out. He was a lovely horse with a long black mane and tail. He seemed a little agitated and didn’t come to close, but stopped and had a good look at us before turning back and cantering back up to the others. He was neighing and throwing his head around, hopefully telling the others we were friendly! Not long after a troupe of the horses wandered passed us, two with young foals, they stopped up ahead near a large puddle and drank. This may not seem particularly remarkable but it was fascinating to just come across a big group of horses, all just doing their own thing and roaming across the land. I have always liked horses and Mongolia is the home of the original horse, so it was a great experience to see them out in the wild like this (no idea if they are wild or belong to someone).

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Not long after we stopped for the day to set up camp and cook. It was lovely evening and the sun was setting as we sat in our chairs and drank coffee. 31km – not bad for our first day and very enjoyable. We’ll get an early night, the weather is forecast to be very windy on Wed, so we’ll make the most of the day tomorrow to get some miles done.

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