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Old 01-03-2014, 02:55 PM   #526
elron
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Beautiful photography

Hi John & Ana,

Those are some really nice fotos you have shared. Very much in keeping with and an enhancement to the style & content of your narrative. Glad to see your RR moving along again following hiatus in Cambodia. Because I have grown to appreciate your perspectives, observations, and approach of self-discovery, I look forward to your developing thoughts on the people of Mongolia as they react and reshape themselves to the influences of "modernization'.

Wishes for continued discovery and peace in this new year.
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Old 01-10-2014, 12:00 PM   #527
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happy new year the friends

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Originally Posted by elron View Post
Hi John & Ana,

Those are some really nice fotos you have shared. Very much in keeping with and an enhancement to the style & content of your narrative. Glad to see your RR moving along again following hiatus in Cambodia. Because I have grown to appreciate your perspectives, observations, and approach of self-discovery, I look forward to your developing thoughts on the people of Mongolia as they react and reshape themselves to the influences of "modernization'.

Wishes for continued discovery and peace in this new year.
Thank you friends for the heartwarming wishes. We hope you have a fine year as well. Some observations about Mogols' Mongolia coming up soon.
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Old 01-10-2014, 12:34 PM   #528
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Perfect Trails Forever

Last night the wind swirled and howled like an orphaned beast. In this vast steppe there's no tree, no mountain to stand in the way of nature's unleashed forces. Cows mooed, horses sputtered, and a toddler cried in his yurt. His grand grandmother cuddled him and put him back to sleep, making sure that his adult memories of the childhood summer holidays spent on the land of nomad ancestors will be vivid, not grim. When we wake up, our flesh is rested and our souls are primed for another day in Mongolia.

Noon finds us next to another ovoo; this time it's the grave of a famous Mongol goddess. While we fix lunch - perhaps a little disrespectful, we later thought - two different sets of travellers arrive. Vanchaa , the Mongol, is an English teacher and he is meeting here his best friend, whom he hasn't seen for five long years. The Chinese Guo Jianlong is a writer, and he has endured an even more extraordinary journey, having bicycled to here from Beijing.



Evidently we have a lot to talk with Jianlong, after all, we will soon bicycle on his almost identical route, only from West to East. Meanwhile Vanchaa is joined by his friend, and the three of them climb 100 meters up the hill, where Vanchaa starts singing. The sound reverberates on two different tones, as if we are listening not one, but two singers. What was your song about, we ask Vanchaa when he comes back to the ovoo. I was saying good bye, says the Mongol, as my friend is going again for a long time. Indeed, the Mongol art of tonal singing is much more than entertainment. Be it magical remedy, shamanic instrument or mere superstition, this ancient technique requires significant trekking to the most auspicious spot, and only then the song may flow.
The daily scenario remains unpredictable. When we plan for example a more vigurous ride to a certain place, we end up negotiating a labyrinth of trails, stumbling upon an irrigation pipe left open. So we grab the chance and treat ourselves to a free shower. The water is wonderfully brisk and clean - we refill our bottles and thoroughly do our laundry. As we finish our lunch the winds has already blown them dry. But we cannot indulge in such moments for too long, because within minutes a curtain of rain starts sweepings across the steppe. I'd say that Mongolia wants to keep us guessing, to teach us the lesson of the always ready, always on the move.



The landscapes are deceivingly monotonous, but never boring. It's just we are not used to the scale of it, as it takes many hundreds of km to transition from steppe to barren deserts and to moonlike calderas. It's an almost lifeless expanse of wilderness, except for the Chinese Decepticons fighting to turn Mongolia into another tarmac wonderland. Next year this trails we have become highways and the diminutive teahouse where we are not allowed to pay for our drinks will have to relocate, or reinvent itself into another generic bistro.

Day 80 of our Asian journey. Ana from the earlier days is no more. A shift in her riding style and confidence has become evident. She must have started to really appreciate the freedom that can only be experienced on a motorcycle.





We have descended from the highlands to an arid plateau, devastated by wind and rain, yet lined with the blue of an improbable lake. After enjoying the adjoining playgound of fast gravel we attempt a dip. Sadly the waters are again too dirty to swim, so we contend to basking in the surreal lights of the sunset.





Classic Mongolia. The landscape is so clean, so orderly. Any man who has something on his mind, should come here to think his thoughts through.



We wake up under a sky so hot that our morning brew almost needs no fire to boil.





We have the entire steppe to ourselves



And we start playing the game, all over again. We never stop to talk, but I know that she must wish what I wish: that these perfect trails never end, that we stay, trapped forever in this limbo, suspended between the real, and the imagined. A bunch of wild horses roaming about only deepens the delirium. We ride past them silent graceful beasts, wondering if we have just seen unicorns.



It happens to clock up to 25 km of straight line: the Mongolian trails can get your ears buzzing.





Perfect trails forever





We spot a hut conveniently built next to a water well. Time to refill supplies and bedazzle some camel herders with our shiny machines.











Lunch happens to find us again in the vicinity of an ovoo.





We get our mobile kitchen going: fire, three handfulls of bulgur soaked in water, two cans of smoked fish, a precious carrot cut batonette and a humble and delicious onion. A few yurts glisten in the distance and the sky hastily changes color. The unforgiven weather of the steppe. After all morning we've been scorched by sun, now we're gonna shiver under the rain. To the north-east clouds thick as wool; right underneath whitish strings of water hang like the wet hair of a Mongol virgin. The downpour advances rapidly towards us. In a blink of an eye it will swallow the valley and our hill. It hits cold as ice. It thrusts hail and thunder onto the land, but we are going nowhere. The ovoo would do for shelter, if it wasn't clogged with pigeon guano, so we pull our tent footprint and continue with our meal.





By the time we dunk the last cracker in our tea, the clouds are gone. It was more of a nuisance than a proper tempest. The real trouble is yet to be discovered down the valley, where the sandy trails has just been flooded with long wounds of mud'n'rainwater puss. I have waterproof boots, but Ana tries to avoid the soak riding with her feet up the tank. It only works for a while, as fresh mud means poor traction. With her feet wet and exposed to the wind blasting at 2000 m altitude, I bet she must be quite cold.







We ride past a solitary yurt. There's a small wooden shack nearby and a women gawking. At her feet, a little girl with her head half shaven and a nude toddler are playing, seemingly indifferent to the freezing weather. It's our third attempt of the day to fetch drinking water. The woman looks at the empty bootle, then disappears inside the yurt from where she comes back with a key to open the wooden shack. It's a store, we see, but we don't want to give up quite yet and we don't want to buy bottled water. We try in vain to make the woman comprehend that we want to fill the bottle from the enormous plastic tank sitting next to the yurt. Then Ana has an idea: Milk? she says in Mongolian (thanks Janka!) pointing to the grazing yaks and the cheesecloth dripping whey. The woman gawks again to her shelves lined with instant soup and candy and shakes her head. As Ana walks back to the bike, the woman suddenly wakes up: milk? she cries. Milk, I repeat, alienated, and the Mongol goes again inside the house, returning with a pot of milk. It will be poured for a reasonable price into our bottle, except for a few drops, spared for some mysterious and undoubtedly superstitious reason.



Meanwhile the road has become a river of dark mud, but the rain is both curse and blessing. For Ana the stretches of deep sand are not easy, but definitely easier to ride in the wet. Swamp-munching we happen upon a couple of Polish travellers on bicycles. As we linger for a chat, I notice that while we cannot contain our shivering, the cyclists are comfortable in their much more spartan attire. By now temperatures must have dropped to single digits. Mongolia is not always a joyride, but it's nevertheless magnetic. It makes our lips bleed, our bodies ache. It makes us feel alive, hating and loving her in one oxymoronic bout of emotion. It makes us question why we've come so far, where road crumbles like shortcake, where every detail of the landscape requires a confident response. I realise that for Ana it's hard. Mile after mile, she assembles her future self, an ever improved riding position, an endurance mentality of trying again even when failure is almost guaranteed. I'm curious to witness her transformation after this adventure will have ended. But already the effects of trial and error, of trial and success, cannot be denied.











Of course, there are still moments like this…



Cars suffer more. A truck axel deep sunken into the mud reminds us of DR Congo. Passengers and driver dig furiously to release the wheels. We can do nothing for them. Cold and quite miserable, we have been having difficulties to focus on the road for the past hour. We must stop, to avoid ending up stuck like those people. Tomorrow we'll ballet cautiously across the last 18 km to the next village, and we will find a hot meal and a friendly face.
As unforgiving as the weather may be, the colours stay within a subtle palette of greys and olives. We pull out the helmets to inspect the surroundings, and dark silhouettes of pine trees start sprucing out from the spine of a hill curved behind layers of fog. It smells of mountain, but the valley is a depressing tableau of metallic mirrors of stagnant water where the roads and deviations should be, with cars stuck here and there, like ships on an ocean in storm.





We climb the hill to claim a stunning bivouac. From up here we can see the entire valley swept by torrents and Ana swiftly starts gathering wood for a fire. After such a rain it takes me a while to start the flames, but the heat is soothing, the milk bought earlier quite tasty and the edelweiss charming. After taking the precaution to shovel all our gear under the rainfly, we cuddle inside and try to heat each other enough to fall asleep.





Rain wakes us up. At 7 a.m. is noisy, at 8 has stabilised to a drizzle. Fog floods the valley and no one is out on the roads. For a while we debate if we should stay put or get going, with me voting to suck it up and do what we need to do and Ana voting against. But after a filling serving of hot oats sprinkled with a final spoon of raisins and the accompanying moths, we are too bored not to act, so we pack our gear and roll downhill into Inferno.

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Old 01-10-2014, 03:42 PM   #529
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You dog.
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Old 01-11-2014, 12:20 AM   #530
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Steppe Flowers

August in Mongolia. As the summer heat settles in, the landscape is overflown with colour. The steppe is in full swing, desert flowers unfold, slim grasses thrust through the mould the colour of cappuccino. A few hours after dawn, perched on a steep hill of 45 degree cheeks, our light green tent is whining under the punitive rain.



Since days back, a dense hue of grey has conquered the sky that, pale as a cadaver, can't stop crying. Water surges across the land – in swollen rivers and ponds where hail beads linger, in soft drizzles and merciless downpours that echo the winter storms to come. Around the tent delicate stems of edelweiss flowers balance their white furry bracts. This discreet presence softens up the harshness of our bivouac. We are cold in the tent and we silently eat our morning oats. We are in no mood to gear back into suits and boots dampened by the capricious weather. We peek through the zipper cracked open: the valley makes for a terrible sight, deserted, clogged in fog, rivers of mud stemming in all directions.



Mud and tears, even if they are borne not in our eyes, but in the clouds, are part of adventure. They crawl under gear, creep into the soul. The flesh must submit to the punishment of rain before it'll be allowed the prize of flowers. So we do what we have to do.



Our household folded back into Enduristans, we roll to where we came from. Over the night the field soaked in water, and the road and its many deviations are now useless, except for few patches that appear to have been miraculously spared.



We are slowly advancing, following a cardinal direction more than a coherent track. From afar our silhouettes must resemble treasure hunters digging for some strange gold.







We are no longer alone on the road. Expensive 4x4s carrying Mongol tourists draped in nylon have joined the convoy. This week the whole of Mongolia is celebrating Naadam, the national holiday. In Ulaanbaatar the stadium is filled to capacity; people from all corners have gathered to watch renditions of their nation's nomadic past: equestrian races, archery and wrestling. The wealthier Ulaanbaataris have taken off to the countryside, to visit relatives, picnic, drink vodka, and conveniently discard their garbage into what should be world's most unpolluted place. So ubiquitous and representative of the Mongolian landscape they are, that we start to believe that soon the plastic bag and the empty vodka bottle will end up on the national flag. Alcoholism is not confined to the male community; the effects are from hilarious, to tragic: chaotic driving, obesity, domestic violence.

While fathers are "absent", the burden of household chores lay on the fragile shoulders of daughters and wives. Children herd and milk the cattle. Mothers process the milk, separate whey from curd and make kefir, cut the cheese and put it out for the wind to dry. Grandmothers, even when they are a bit inebriated, tend for the meats and distill the whey into the sour Mongolian liquor. Women's hands are rusty and worn out from work. Their coats aren't cute and girly, but lined with heavy fur to protect their slim figures from cold. Their hair, dark as oblivion, is seldom wrapped in scarves - the only spark of colour that interrupts the monotony of their strictly functional world. They are Mongolia's flowers, resilient, quiet, beautiful steppe flowers. In Numrog, in a decrepit shack, we stumble upon yet another couple.





Impossibly charming with their porcelain complexion and their pink outfits, the sisters are watching cartoons, while their dad dozes next to a pot of instant noodles and a shelf of beer. We ask for a hot meal, and the man points to the sad display of non-food. On the screen, Jerry is walking back into the tin can from where he has escaped a minute earlier and while being closely watched by Tom and a fellow cat, rolls back the metal cover over himself and up to the neck. We cannot help but follow his example and return empty-handed to our bikes, after relinquishing an edelweiss to the girls.
Downtown Numrog there's a chance we'll not go hungry today. An impressive supermarket is the envy of the village, but shelves are lined with more of the same: chocolates, booze and crackers. In the back of the shop Ana finds a few mouldy onions and a big bag of potatoes. In a place where everybody produces their staples (basic dairy and meat), shops are designed to provide a bit of sweet indulgence. The hell with diabetes and tooth decay.







My girlfriend emerges from the supermarket with a bag of pickled beetroot from Poland, tea from Sri Lanka and rusks from Russia.



She starts crossing the street, but she stops mid-distance, leaning forward to inspect something on the floor. The dismantled body of a doll. Ana picks up the pink-haired head and adds it to her tank-bag collection of oddities that contains the oversized seed of a mysterious plant, a vulture's feather and an edelweiss. Memories of Mongolia. A little boy takes notice, and moments later returns with another doll head in hand. This one has a blond coif. All these talismans at our disposal, I am hoping that the gods will stop punishing us with rain.



The voodoo seems to work: mud turns to moist hard-packed.





And tracks clear off, until the sky timidly promises a glimpse of its forgotten blue.





When we arrive in Tosutingel to fuel at the first proper gas station since Olgii, a classic steppe rainbow is spanning the wide heavens atop white stuppas.



The town is nothing to write home about. The main street is lined with hideous buildings, mostly supermarkets with the odd restaurant in between.



We search for a tasty bite and we find bitter berries sold by women with sunburnt cheeks and a crowded food joint where a bus full of vacationing students has just pulled over. It takes a good half an hour to persuade the waitresses to spare us two plates of sheep stew, rice and two spoonfuls of carrot salad. Believe me, it sounds worlds tastier than it is, but at under 3 euros a head it's cheap.

mrwwwhite screwed with this post 01-11-2014 at 03:14 AM
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Old 01-11-2014, 04:29 AM   #531
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A grand up-date. Staring at many of these photos, one gets sucked into the image. So very good.
iirc, it was colebatch that said Mongolia's coal and copper exports to China will change this Country considerably in the coming years.
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Old 01-11-2014, 05:29 AM   #532
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Stunning

I love your writing! With everything else, of course!
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Old 01-11-2014, 06:47 AM   #533
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A grand up-date. Staring at many of these photos, one gets sucked into the image. So very good.
iirc, it was colebatch that said Mongolia's coal and copper exports to China will change this Country considerably in the coming years.
Cheers, glad we've managed to convey some of the Mongolian magic :)
Colebatch is indeed a true knowledge base for adventure riding and the region, his well-documented observations and stunning photos going beyond your usual ride reports. It was really great to meet him for a pint in Moscow last summer. Funny you should mention Colebatch, as my next post references him as well. I'd only add 'gold' to his premonition, as the recently discovered veins in the Gobi are already playing a part in the inevitable change.

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I love your writing! With everything else, of course!
Thanks man!
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Old 01-13-2014, 01:39 PM   #534
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Originally Posted by mrwwwhite View Post
August in Mongolia. As the summer heat settles in, the landscape is overflown with colour. The steppe is in full swing, desert flowers unfold, slim grasses thrust through the mould the colour of cappuccino. A few hours after dawn, perched on a steep hill of 45 degree cheeks, our light green tent is whining under the punitive rain.


Wow.
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Old 01-13-2014, 08:10 PM   #535
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Wow.

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Old 01-13-2014, 10:40 PM   #536
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That pass was very beautiful. ~2500m. We passed by there 2 times :)

Safe travels !

Cristian / Bob
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Old 01-14-2014, 01:20 PM   #537
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Still at it ehhh

Still loving this RR thanks for your efforts guys ,John how's that ktm holding up? Seen a few posts of yours lately on the new improved wonderfest and thought John must have a little time on his hands ohh and Ana how's those dirt bike skills coming along? Will you be entering the Romaniacs enduro any time soon
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Old 01-14-2014, 11:29 PM   #538
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That pass was very beautiful. ~2500m. We passed by there 2 times :)

Safe travels !

Cristian / Bob
Truly it was. Quite windy tho' We are sorry that we missed each rider by a small margin, it would have been quite the Romanian riders' reunion up there. I guess we'll have to reschedule? :)

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Still loving this RR thanks for your efforts guys ,John how's that ktm holding up? Seen a few posts of yours lately on the new improved wonderfest and thought John must have a little time on his hands ohh and Ana how's those dirt bike skills coming along? Will you be entering the Romaniacs enduro any time soon
I simply love the 690. I believe this machine eventually makes you a better rider, better mechanic and a much more informed individual overall - on the topics of tech, bike development, riding skills, gizmos etc. The bike has been through a bit of pounding, and my future posts will shed more light about that. having indeed more time than usually (as we are taking a hiatus) I'm currently more active on technical threads (and forums) :)
Ana has left a rookie. The amount of experience in dirt riding accumulated during this trip was immense. Let's not forget tho' that she is a very short rider. Although she is much more confident off-road than on-road (she still hates city driving and traffic, but she is an outdoors gal) she is not likely to tackle anything really hardcore too soon, if ever (like Romaniacs). The DRZ is a fantastic dual-sport, but it's clear that it's too heavy for small Ana. We have discussed a better suspension set-up (heavier spring so that rear wheel doesn't bottom on the fender due to massive lowering and a custom-upgraded front suspension, so that the bike goes back to a dirt bike set-up than the chopper profile it has now), removing the fairing and fitting a handle so she can lift the bike when she drops it. Perhaps in the future a 250, lighter and aggressively lowered (with that it implies) would allow her to greatly improve her riding skills.
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Old 01-16-2014, 04:16 AM   #539
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Up to date

It was the Arctic explorer Vilhjalmur Stefansson who said "Adventure is a sign of incompetence," and no less than Roald Amundsen who said "Adventure is just bad planning." All of which describes, in the best possible way, your utterly fantastic Adventure.

Your RR, stories and photos, leave me speechless and my small donation to your funds is dwarfed by the pleasure your RR has given me and the admiration I have for you both.
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Old 01-16-2014, 10:57 AM   #540
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Awesome

Long time lurker here. I have been lurking on these ride reports for about 2 years now and I am just inspired to register today and say awesome. Awesome pics, awesome writing, awesome adventure. Your writing blows me away. You should seriously consider writing a book. My wife is from Romania & I have visited 3X's. We now live in Virginia near skyline drive. On your next leg around the world stop in...
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