Riding Mongolian Dirt Roads
‘Shaken not stirred’ was the way Kiwi rider, Steve described the riding on dirt roads since Ulaanbaatar. After being thrashed by winds in the Gobi desert, the Silk Route riders now faced the challenge of loose gravel, rocks, and worst of all – sand. The combination of difficult riding surfaces and heavy climbing made for long days in the saddle under increasingly hotter weather. The physical aspect of the ride was only one of many challenges of the dirt. Navigation became a tangle of different vehicle tracks all leading in diverging directions. Sometimes they would rejoin in the same direction, other times going off on a tangent completely. Luckily for those riding at the back, they could use the tyre tracks in the gravel as reassurance of their navigation. Fortunately most of the routes took us through sweeping valleys with only a single possible direction, but a multitude of different tracks to choose from.
Despite the hardships of the ride and the difficulty of navigation, this section in Mongolia has provided breathtaking scenery every single day. Wide open valleys flanked by hills and mountains, lakes and rivers twisting alongside the road, numerous Gers and countless livestock were the backdrop each day. The upside of the low population of Mongolia is the distinct lack of vehicle traffic. Riders could spend hours on the road and only encounter a couple of vehicles at most. Something that really makes a difference for safety and enjoyment of the day’s ride. The landscape was both empty but at the same time welcoming, with rolling green plains as far as the eye can see in every direction. With the occasional Ger and flock of sheep to punctuate the serene vistas. The openness and calm of the landscape is reflected in the local people. Every passing vehicle or sheep herder we meet gives a big smile and a wave. Nobody comes to give trouble, only to say hello and then continue on with their day. Even the Mongolian children have shown riders great hospitality, going so far as to buy sweets for the tired mysterious cyclists from foreign lands!
However in these quietly spectacular landscapes, it is very easy for the weather to turn from peaceful and calm to outright terrifying. Camping one night in a valley, a storm rolled in almost without warning causing tents to collapse and both rider and staff helping people to safety in the support vehicles and to a shelter in the nearby town for the night. Mercifully the storm stopped in the night, and riders were quick to regroup for the next day’s’ ride – albeit with very little sleep! Only a couple of days remain of our time in Mongolia, before crossing into the Altai region of Russia. It has truly been one of the most beautiful countries to cycle and travel through. I’m sure many will have it high on their list for return visits!
It does seem like a long time since we last wrote about our adventures in Ulan Bator.