Thursday, 18 September 2014

big country

we're easily distracted
Descending from a steep climb over a pass at the end of the day we come across some camels.  The three of them run off awkwardly.  Within minutes they are almost out of sight.  I'm not sure about the track we are on and ask Gayle and Gabor if they noticed that fork back there, just before we came down this slope? No, they didn't.  We hum and haw.  We haven't seen a vehicle since we crossed the pass and were so enthralled with the view on our descent that none of us thought much about the route.  After all, there were about eight parallel tracks going in our direction.  Now there's only our track.  Happily a man turns up on his Mustang motorbike.  We ask if the track is heading to Naranbulag.  He frowns. No.  He points across the wide hillside to a distant white dot - a ger.  We think he's telling us we will find a track over there.  He looks worried.  Have we got water?  We head off cross-country, pushing and riding as the sunlight softens in the late afternoon.  Gabor has a big grin on his face as we ride across the valley.  Where else but Mongolia would you just head off into oblivion like this??  Gayle is humming the theme tune from the Magnificent Seven again.

the right track........or is it?
Finally we get close enough to the ger to realise that there is no obvious track here.  But we have crossed one along the way - heading towards other gers in a different direction.  This track is our only hope.  Gabor's GPS indicates a 'road' about 15 km further east - that would be too far cross-country.  The light is fading.  We hurry back to the only track there is.  Gayle is trailing when a well-dressed couple ride up on horses out of nowhere to see if she's okay.  It's rare to see a woman riding here.  Happily, they confirm we're on the right track.
We are tired and mentally weary after a week. Our average is 45 km a day and we've reached the large Kargus salt lake which sits in a huge depression.  It's a bleak grey day.  Ahead there's a long waterless stretch of over 150km and we are wondering how to approach it.  In Naranbulag we ask about getting a ride.  A man is fetching water in a small Hilux minivan.  He looks interested.  We discuss price.  He gives us a number.  We look horrified - not just acting, but truly horrified at the asking price.  We must look as desperate as we feel.  He laughs dismissively at our counter offer.  We finally agree.  We are on the verge of offering anything to get out of here and away from all this sand.  We set off on our 300km journey with the bikes and panniers stuffed in the back.  Riding out of the village on a rough track we are suddenly shocked to see a brand new highway crossing behind the village.  We climb onto super smooth tarmac and begin cruising past the salt lake.  We are stunned into silence.  This new road was not known to us.  Why have we paid a small fortune to take a ride when suddenly the road is perfect? Nnnnnh!
Dismay kills conversation.  But suddenly, after about 100km the asphalt suddenly ends and we start lurching about in our seats as the van hits sandy washboard tracks. "Good" Gabor says quietly.  His relief is shared.  Now we'll get our money's worth.  Along the way the driver repeatedly stops to ask directions and certainly goes the wrong way at one point, although it doesn't really matter.  It's quite reassuring to know that it's not just us that struggles to navigate the myriad tracks. The 300km ride takes eight hours.  It has saved us six days' cycling and possible death from dehydration.........(okay, okay, just trying to make it sound worthwhile).
Gabor communes with nature

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