Dated: 19 JUL 18
1. Disbelief, dear lord its still raining. Looking at my watch, all burry eyed, I see that there are a few more hours left before I have to get up. Perhaps by then the heavens will have closed the flood gates. My tent is a mini amphitheatre the acoustics perfect for making things sound terrible beyond the thin film of plastic which is, despite all the holes, protecting me from the elements. It sounds bleak out there. All will be well in a few hours I’m sure.
2. Denial; I wake to the sound of rain, on goes the snooze button. After all the sound no happy camper wants to hear when waking up is rain, it makes for the not so happy camper.
It was on my third day post Naadam things begun to look a touch grey, the clouds lowered to lick the hill tops but later when I am crossing a vast grassy plain they are so low I can almost touch them if I really reach; until I can touch them or more precisely they are engulfing me. Visibility drops to a hundred feet and the rain begins. Its a cold shivery luncheon that day. I find myself eating my biscuits huddled at the base of a pylon well off track. In my defence it’s my first navigation cock up so far and there was actually only one track to choose, from what I could see that is. But after a few hours and a lot of rain I find myself at the base of a pylon 15 miles south from where I was meant to be. That’s 15 miles away from a village with a nice warm cafe in which rests an empty seat and more than just a few soggy biscuits. If I wanted to cycle in this I would have gone on a summer holiday to Scotland.
3. Anger; “this is bullshit!” I mutter as I stuffing the sodden tent into its sodden bag. Its the fourth morning. The rain makes for a good shower but its utterly shite for camping, everything gets wet, sandy mud plasters my bags and it doesn’t matter how careful I am water always gets inside the tent. It would be so bad if it wasn’t accompanied by the sort of cold that aches the knees and numbs the extremities. Together the wet and the sand make a terrible soup of cocktail. I’m guessing that the entirety of Mongolia used to be one vast Gobi Desert. A thin layer of soil dusts the surface but beneath is sand. It explains why nothing but grass can thrive here.
4. Bargaining; I don’t buy in to the tripe that an all omnificent divine deity lords over us so there is no wasted breath praying for this wet stretch to dry out. But I do bargain with myself, make this town and you will be rewarded with a nice warm ger and a bed for the night; but when I roll on by in the late afternoon I never seem to stop. What’s the point in paying for a glorified tent when I have a perfectly adequate bundle attached to my handle bars, albeit far less comfortable, spacious or warm?
5. Guilt. The last few days in the northern reaches of Mongolia have been character building and yet some of the most rewarding days of the trip. Mongolian roads are not roads at all. Each driver thinks he knows a better route so the grass is scarred with tyre tracks, think of them as a braided road which probably meet up later down the way. Over the last few days I’ve past a dozen or so motor bikes and just the odd car. Its an isolated region, I’ve been passing through maybe one or two villages each day. Village might be a generous description. Day one of rain and I’m already sick of it by the afternoon so when one of the few people in a hundred mile radius comes gleefully over late in the downpour, I’m not overly receptive. When I reflect on it from the warmth of my sleeping bag, I’m feeling bad at my response; the cold shoulder was well and truly presented and I believe I muttered “bugger off” under my breath.
6. Depression. My chin is to my chest, head down, water dripping from the rim of my helmet but that’s not the worst of it, like my skin I’m a touch blue. The sand is my current nemesis. It creaks and squeaks as you pass over it like skiing on powder snow. But unlike champagne powder its not joy to behold. It reduces me to a jerky holt threatening to buck me from my saddle. A vast sand dune rises out of know where and yet amongst the green hills it doesn’t seem out of place with the back drop of mountains in the distance. Day two of near constant rain and it takes be four hours to trudged just twenty miles through the sand with water streaming down my face and the back of my neck. Its more like Lambrini than champagne. Competitive me doesn’t do well accepting slow days.
I reach a small hamlet and take a perch near a wood burning stove. I must have looked a washed out state for as the wife is plying me with salty tea the husband pops to the shop to buy me some biscuits. I’ve decided to throw in the towel for the day I cant take this rain anymore. Before setting out I was advised that before making any rash decisions get warm, get dry, and get a hot brew, then if you still feel like stopping, stop. Some sound advise, I’m back on the road and out in it an hour later…..it will be raining again in the morning anyway.
I was forewarned that Mongolia would be dangerous, there are rumours amongst travellers that one campers are harassed or even attacked in the night and to avoid these rascals its best to camp at gers rather than in the wilderness. Sounds like the childish horror stories we used to listen to in boarding school, all huddled around wrapped in our duvets with the narrator holding a torch to his chin ominously lightening his face.
Yesterday however, in broad daylight no less, I did run into a spot of bother. I turn to be greeted by a motor bike or a man astride a hog I should say, who flags me down. After a minute of failing to communicate I apologies (in English) and totter off. Moments later the sound of the bike reappears I don’t even have a chance to roll my eyes before he clatters into me. This all happened at the break neck speed of about half a mile per hour, I shove the cretin to the floor and go about my errands; I see him weaving away down the street, drunks make the worst kind of inquisitors and drivers for that matter.
That night I am given a fright though. I’m awoken by a howl off in the not to distant distance. Then the unmistakable howl goes again, its followed by a barrage of rasping barks from all the sheep dogs in the area who might have their work cut out for them tonight. The dogs have their ears cut of so that the likes of wolves cant grab them, with their teeth of course. Me, I still have my ears so I check that the zip of my tent is securely zipped but not before a quick glance to check its not a full moon; no childhood horror stories will be coming home to roost tonight.
I cant seem to pick a tranquil camping spot these last few damp days, the following night I seem to have pitched next to the one pylon out of thousands that the herd of cows in the area use as a scratching post. I bet that if I poked my head out to have a look they would be formed into an orderly queue waiting their turn. Not only do they make a right hoo-ha all night they seem to produce a near constant steam of urine which sounds extremely close to my tent. But more unpleasant is pungent fug, it has a real Saturday night dirty pub urinal tang to it and it doesn’t matter how many different noises I make they wont bugger off; its to cold out there for me to leave my sleeping bag to scuttle them. I could do with those wolves coming back. The following evening, that makes three on the trot, its horses which scupper my dreams. Everything is always louder and closer from inside the bubble of a tent but these old nags sound like drums building to thunderous levels as the gallop past; they were probably just trotting by minding their own business thinking, “who is this tosser who has camped in the middle of our patch?”
7. Acceptance; On the fourth I can only muster a sigh, on goes yesterdays soggy clothes, sandy socks and all. There would be no point in getting a fresh set soaking wet though I have no choice in the matter as I’m down to one set anyway