Break a Leg

Dated: 16 JUL 18

Imagine if the United Kingdom had a population of just three million people, opposed to sixty five million how spacious and peaceful it wold be. Now multiple the UK by twelve and you have Mongolia.

I’m in the northwest reaches of the country high up in the hills. I’ve given up on roads for now and am cutting cross country. It’s just me and the occasional cold weather cow (a yak). I’m trying to reach Lake Uvss Nuur but couldn’t seem to pick up the trail. After a few hours of following my compass, where the terrain would allow I catch a glimpse of the water shimmering some way off in a basin below. It is a sheer joy to cycle at a whim through the country side, over the grass whilst watching out for marmot burrows and tussocks. I pass gers where it is apparently shearing time; mounted shepherds corral their flocks to wait their turn, piles of wool taller than a man stand beside a flock of bedraggled half naked looking sheep. To reach lake Uvss Nuur I descend through valleys through which it is most likely no other cyclist has ridden, it is a good feeling.

It is difficult to describe what makes this land such outstanding beauty. It doesn’t have towering mountains nor crystal clear waters but its just the simple beauty of wide open valleys teeming with horses, vast flocks and cattle. The smoking gers look like toy houses from a distance, almost out of place with their white hides contrasting the greens of the grasslands.

I’ve turned east towards Ulaanbaatar but it will be some days before I reach the capital and between the roads and the rivers it is tough going. I’ve watched the likes of Levison Wood travel through Mongolia, though I actually think it was the “Extreme Chef.” The Chef was driving trough Mongolia, presumably with his frying pans clattering about in the boot, and is met by a seemingly impassable river. I always assume when watching these shows that they intentionally seek out these treacherous obstacles because I’m a cynic. But on a few occasions when faced with a large body of turbid fast flowing water blocking my path I’ve been forced to slip out of my cycling shoes and into my annoyingly practical Crocs, I say annoyingly because I hate them. Damn I wish I still had my beard, this is the one occasion which would warrant such an adventurer’s accessory.

If I’m lucky they are shallow enough to wade through wheeling my bike. If I’m unlucky and I find myself on the test run waist deep before being washed a few hundred metres down stream. Once recovered I have to decant my bike and all its kit across one by one; that’s after frog marching upstream to find a section with a weaker current. You wouldnt want to fall foul of anything out here in these wildernesses I find myself in. You can go an entire day without seeing a vehicle and even the it might be on a track a few hundred metres away unable to see you. Villages are few and far between, often more than 100km apart. So the last thing I want to do is loose my bike to a raging torrent or fall off and break a leg or something. I could be waiting a long time before someone finds me if things go wrong.

Its still the Naadam festival cross the country and people are celebrating over the long weekend. I reach a saddle in the hill side and command a view across a wide valley. There is a cairn with prayer flags draped from a pole. Families gather around its edge, casting a prayer to the gods, burning incense or even rolling bones. If I am being honest, the prayer flags just look like plastic bags mounted on a pole and strewn in the rocks to me! There goes that cynic again. Below in the valley just a few hundred metres away is a group of people eyes fixed skyward. They are training their eagle or I suppose just throwing a lure for the great bird to chase, I think it is a golden eagle but I don’t really have clue. I just take a moment and watch the eagle sawing through the sky.

Between the roads, rivers, unwelcome airborne pests and the mountains Mongolia is tough going perhaps the hardest riding I have had to date. But it is a simple joy to behold and dare I say it worth at least a few of the one million bites I have received. I’m always amazed at just how many landscapes I can see in a day. In the morning I might be on a vast expanse of flat lands strewn with rocks and the realms of mosquitoes, by late morning I’m in the mountains, a few hours later contouring the shores of a crystal clear lake before reaching a desert like hill side to camp in time for sunset.

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