Mongolia I have choosen for this years trip.
Ulaanbaatar I have quickly left behind and take a bus heading north to Mörön where I want to start riding my bike. But first I pay a visit to the local police where I want to get a border permit because I plan to get close to the border along my route. A local woman accompains me trying to helping me with language issues. After a promissing start, suddenly the athmosphere changes. I get no permit. Why, I have no clue. Somewhat frustrated I still leave town a little bit later on my bicycle. I am heading north towards Khövsgöl Nuur, not along the main road but following some nice and quiet valleys. At the edge of town the road quickly turns into this great track that goes right accross the meadow. Other than a few motorcyclists every now and then, there is no more traffic anymore. The meadows are full of Edelweiss. My early morning failure is already forgotten.
This years summer has been extremly hot I have heared. But just a few days ago it started to rain quite heavily. On the third day I hit quite a strong thunderstorm and when it still rains next morning, I have to change my plans to go into the mountains and close to the border already.
I quickly get used to the rhythm of cycle touring again. Having a mountain bike and very little luggage on these bumpy tracks is just so much more fun then a heavily loaded touring bike. Here in Mongolia the roads are mostly much better for riding a bicycle, the smaller they are. Where there is (even very little) traffic, the road quickly gets very bumpy. This is why I have come up with a route that for the most parts follows those little tracks. To ride here is simply fantastic. The only traffic is usually the few motorcyclists heading for their Ger. Mongolian passes usually start out with a long ride through ever narrower valleys, hardly climbing. Only at the very end the track usually goes straight up to the heighest point getting really steep.
East of Uliastay I ride towards a pass. Again and again I turn into a different side valley. Every one different, every one most beautiful. In the last one I meet two horse riders hunting for Marmots. They accompany me for a while and after they have been successfull want to give me the shot animal for dinner. I reject very politely, how the heck should I prepar a whole Marmot on my stove...?
The road has since become a horse trail. Thanks to my very light bags I can still ride and it's great fun. But at some point it is gets too difficult and so the last 250 vertical meters I have to push the bike up to the pass. When I reach the top the view opens up and I can see the snow covered Otgon Tenger in front of me. But only for a short time as there is a heavy hail strorm approaching. Of course there is no shelter up here and there is no time anymore to put up the tent. So I just crouch on the ground I wait until the ice-ball fire has ceased. Once it is over I first have to clear the ground from all the ice before I can even start to put up my tent.
From Uliastay I ride east across the Khangai mountains, of course not just simply straight across but zig-zagging through the mountain range, crossing it five times. Every one of these crossings takes about 2-4 days, every one has its very own character.
The first two are exactly what I have been looking for: a small, hardly used trail across wide meadows. In between there are always many mostly small river crossings. Of course, I love them most when they appear early morning right after the start when it is still icy cold...
When I set up my tent in the evening next to a nice stream I often get visitor from horse riders: the neighbors from the nearby gers have usually spotted me long ago with their binoculars and comes curiously over for a visit. Highlight of the short demonstration of my equipment (next to the bike itself) is usually the stove.
A good indicator of how remote a valley is, is how animals react when they see me. The reaction of horses and yaks is often very funny (they wait motionless until I am close and then totally flip out), dogs are often rather unpleasant...
At the third crossing, the surface mostly consists of loose gravel. That is most certainly way more demanding than the often buttery trails over meadows. On the north side of the mountain range the meadows are usually very green with beautiful flowers in abundance and small larch forests. On the southern side however it is remarkably dryer, often a semi desert where the grass is only very short and the surface mostly consists of sand. Of course the much feared corrugation is often not far away here.
One evening, I also get into a massive sand storm. Half the night I have to support the tent with my body in the hope it will not get ripped into pieces by the storm.
The last crossing from Tsetserleg to Kharkhorin i have already cycled once in the past. This time I want to try out another route that leads all the way to source of the Orkhon river. After a super steep pass I reach a high valley and shortly after that I cross the river for the first time. Because it has rained quite a bit in the past days, the river has risen quite a bit and is already quite deep here. Every couple of kilometers I have to cross it again and it soon gets bigger.
The river crossings are getting deeper and more difficult. According to my GPS I still have to cross is four times. The second one of these is already hip deep and I have difficulty holding the bicycle anymore in the strong current. Because of that I decide not top cross the river anymore and instead make my way somehow along the shore. That works out quite well until I see that outcrop blocking the valley. Fortunately I find a good trail climbing over it and soon have the narrowest section of the valley behind me.
Finally I ride along the beautiful Olkhon valley down towards Kharkhorin where I finish this trip.