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While I’m sure a lot of you readers residing in China got out of town and maybe enjoyed some beach somewhere near Thailand, I ended up venturing out just about as far as I’ve ever been, hundreds of miles from anywhere, to Western Mongolia. Your diet of Margaritas and finger foods was a stark contrast to my steady intake of Powerbars and Cheerios, your sandy beach was replicated in my sandstorms ... the list goes on. You may ask why on earth would anyone embark on a bike trip described by the Lonely Planet as suitable for “masochistic bikers?” Well, why not?
Read on after the jump ...
A friend from London and I were itching to do another big bike ride after Kyrgyzstan last year, and he suggested Mongolia. After a few weeks of planning, and months of training, we landed in Ulaanbaatar for a 2 week “vacation”. We then flew out to the western part of the country on Eznis airways (which is sadly not bookable on Ctrip just yet). With minimal luggage fees, we crammed our bikes in the back of their tiny plane and arrived out in the middle of nowhere ready to ride. Catastrophe set in after about 10k when my friend’s fancy bike encountered gear failure after gear failure, while my 1500 RMB Decathlon Rockrider was problem free (go figure). After stopping at an under-construction airport staffed with Chinese welders, we were able to reassemble and get back on the road with about a 4 hour delay. The trip took us over high mountain passes, through Kazakh villages, where we spent the night in Yurts, and eventually spit us out at a giant Eagle Hunting festival held in Olgi. We met up with a great tour company out there run by Dojshan, called Kazakh Tour, that helped us with all sorts of things including figuring out how to see the amazingly impressive Altai Tavan Bogd National Park. We’re not ones to endorse other travel sites (do they even exist?), but this one is worth the risk … if you ever find yourself in Western Mongolia, make sure you head over to see Dojshan.
All in all, this trip was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Pushing a fully loaded bike up a 1,000M pass while battling headwinds seemingly sent from Hades to disrupt our journey was only the beginning. Having to ride across dusty plains with minimal water sources was probably the most intimidating aspect, but luckily we stocked up whenever we found a stream or lake. I would recommend this trip, or the countless number of similar trips to be had in Xinjiang or elsewhere in China, in a heartbeat. Seeing a country and experiencing a culture by bike is one of my favorite things to do, and Mongolia reaffirmed this.
That being said, I’m looking forward to a string of beach vacations where the only suffering felt will be when my MP3 player runs out of batteries.
Check out more of my pictures here.