Friday, July 20, 2007

Bakery Overdose in Tsetserleg

Friday July 20, Tsetserleg

We're here, in one of the few somewhat pleasant towns in Mongolia after a scenic and pleasant 7-day ride from Moron. We have rejoined the tourist trail, and are now passed by a few hundred jeeps every day, instead of a handful. Most are full of Mongolians on holiday, but a lot are full of Western tourists, who usually look uncomfortable, hot, bored, carsick or just asleep. It always makes us glad that we're travelling by bike and not by jeep. One byproduct of this is that there are much better-quality roads for us to bike on, and in two days' time we should reach the end of the tarmac road from Ulaan Baatar, to our great delight.

Day 21 July 14 59.9 km
A horrible day, full of rain, miscommunication, cold and navigational errors. It poured unceasingly on us from the moment we left town and got lost for the first time. It was too wet to pull out the maps, and I got us lost again looking for the road south. We were ecstatic to find a couple of restaurant gers on top of the high pass in the afternoon, and we spent a couple of hours drying out, warming up and drinking tea until the rain finally subsided.

Day 22 July 15 57.5 km
It stopped raining today, and we had great light and wonderful riding for most of the day, despite another massive climb. We had lots of forests for a bucolic lunch setting, and then had a lovely downhill (after a long wheel truing session for Serge, who had popped a couple of spokes) to the disappearing town of Shine Ider; it took us an hour and a half and two large passes to find the town, which was only 5 km away. We camped in a nice spot outside town, but were kept awake by the thunderous beat of the local karaoke joint, which started up at 11 pm and kept going for a few hours. Who would have expected it?

Day 23 July 16 68.7 km
Today was one of the scenic highlights of the trip, between Shine Ider and Jargalant. We rode through pretty tree-lined valleys to a broad, open pass where we lunched, admiring the views and the impromptu wrestling match that erupted among some passing Mongolians. The valley leading away from Jargalant was magical, and we camped in a private clump of larches beside a babbling brook. Life was indeed sweet this day.

Day 24 July 17 65.2 km
After a massive breakfast of polenta and Nutella, we climbed one more big pass, through idyllic forested valleys which made for a perfect dejeuner sur l'herbe, before descending to the wide-open spaces of Great White Lake. At first the lake was a bit of a disappointment, but its stark, open bleakness grew on us, and we decided to have a lazy morning the next day beside its fish-filled waters.

Day 25 July 18 56.4 km
Our morning off, spent playing guitar, fishing, reading, swimming and sleeping, was rewarded by a quick roll along the lakeshore, past the volcanic lava fields at the lake's end and along the flat valley to an unexpected canyon where we camped beneath endless stars. We were also offered our first taste of blowtorched marmot; we declined regretfully, mindful of the risk of bubonic plague.

Day 26 July 19 100.7 km
A huge day again, over a couple of passes on a good road as far as Ikh Tamir. We had planned to camp earlier, but there was no water in any of the rivers we passed, so we pressed on to a lovely campsite beneath bat-filled cliffs beside a crystalline stream. It could not have been a better day to be alive, and we were happy at the prospect of the Fairfield Cafe in Tsetserleg being only 27 km down the road.

Day 27 July 20 32.7 km
A short, sweet day along great, new road from Ikh Tamir to Tsetserleg (different from the previous Tsetserleg), over a very steep little pass where we met a Canadian motorcycle tourist who knew friends of mine and friends of Audie's. It really can be a very small world. We got to town just before the rain, settled into the Fairfield cafe for a massive feed, and tried to use Internet (very, very, very slow).

Peace and Tailwinds



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