After hanging around for the whole day waiting to leave China and then waiting to enter Mongolia, we finally crossed the border just before dusk. It was a very short ride in beautiful countryside, before a few of us set up camp a little way off the road. Some instant noodles later I was ready for sleep. The next day dawned clear and bright, and we set off down the road to the nearest town to the border; possibly called Bulgan, but nobody seemed to know as a lot of places seemed to be called Bulgan. Filled up with petrol and asked for directions. We were pointed down a valley which quickly became blocked by deep water and deep, soft sand. The group quickly became separated, leaving 4 of us (myself, Nacho, Chris and Richard) to soldier on. It was very slow going, and the plan to reach UB inside 4 days in order to get the second Chinese visa in time looked doomed. It would take weeks at this rate. We ploughed on for a while when a strange site appeared up ahead; from this distance it almost looked like a proper road. In Mongolia? A land reputed to have only a few hundred milers of tarmac in the whole country. It must be a mirage? But no, a brand new paved road suddenly stretched before us, going in more or less the right direction! Made good time for the rest of the day following this tarmac for a couple of hundred miles or so to join up with the main southern route through Mongolia. The good tarmac abruptly ended at a mine; apparently a Chinese operation (hence the good road going from the mine to the Chinese border). It wasn't far to the main road from here though. This proved to be small comfort. The main road was a series of dirt tracks and corrugations slithering in all directions. I had no GPS maps for Mongolia (never expected to be here!), so I rode by compass bearing: ever Eastwards! It wasn't long before dusk crept up on us again and another wild camp was established. More of the group had re-converged by this point, and a dramatic setting for the camp with a mountain backdrop made for the end of a good day. The next morning, I set off early to try and avoid riding in others dust clouds. I was making pretty good time, pretending I was in the Dakar rally and generally enjoying the ride. Stopped for a breather, and Chris caught up. Nobody else appeared so we set off the next "major" town, Altai. Got there around lunchtime and gradually others appeared. I was keen to push on, so myself and Chris left the others to have various running repairs made to their bikes. Never use aluminium panniers; all those who had them needed repairs done; from missing bolts to welding. As we left town, the tarmac reappeared. Another new road! However as it was still under construction, they had placed big piles of dirt every few hundred metres to stop vehicles from using it. This hadn't stopped everybody, and the dirt piles were a bit lower in places where bikes could struggle over. I hit one a bit lively and was briefly airborne; at another, a van had managed to beach itself as it didn't have enough clearance. So decent progress was made again, until the new tarmac became graded gravel, which became ungraded gravel, which became dirt before finally petering out into a narrow sandy track. It seemed we were off the main route now (the new road following a slightly more northern track than the main route). Should we double back to the main track, or continue on the track we were on? As we were still heading east, we carried on. There had been no sign of the others for hours now, and we didn't know if they were behind or ahead of us, so we carried on along the increasingly erratic trail as dusk began to fall. We were getting a bit concerned as there had been no signs of life for quite a while (save the occasional Ger and shepherd, who we tried to confirm the direction with), and we had very little food and water (and no means to cook anyway, as the others had the cooking gear). Suddenly, out of nowhere a small town appeared (not on any map that we had, but then again, we had little idea where we actually were). So we restocked our supplies and set off to find a camping spot. I was a little ill by this stage and was unable to eat much and spent a rough night dashing out of my tent to answer natures increasingly urgent call! I survived though and the next day we set off east again, hoping that we were on the right track. It wasn't long before we bumped into Iain and we were more confident we were going the right way now (he had a functioning GPS). Still no sign of the others and after finally reaching Bayankhongor at lunchtime we were in no mood to wait. We aimed to get to Arvaikeer (where the tarmac started) and find a hotel for the night. Again, we were teased with a new tarmac road while leaving town. It didn't last and we were back on the dirt. Worse though, the weather was closing in. We came across a couple of mad Kiwis riding in the other direction; one of whom had his luggage secured to his bike by sellotape (Touratech branded sellotape coming your way soon........only 100 pounds a roll!!).. The rain started and got heavier and heavier. We rolled into town just as it was getting dark, frozen to the bone and soaking wet. Eventually finding a hotel with space. Iain (of course) had arrived ahead of us and nabbed the last spot in the nice hotel, still, we had a few beers with him later (purely for medicinal purposes you understand). The plan for the following day was to reach UB. The road was tarmac (reputedly) and the distance wasn't serious. However, the next day greeted us with horizontal snow sweeping past the hotel window. This was never part of the plan! It was supposed to be a trip of perpetual summer! A decision had to be made, do we sit it out or head off? This could last for days (which we didn't have), so after gaffer taping some plastic bags over my (still wet) gloves, we headed off. A whole new meaning of "cold" was discovered that day. The snow didn't last too long though and we eventually rolled into UB and into it's perpetual traffic jams and bike sized potholes. But we had made it, 4 days to cross Mongolia to UB. Well, some of us made it. We had heard nothing of most of the others for 2 days by this point. They would have stories of their own adventures in Mongolia.
Soundtrack: The Clash - Should I Stay or Should I Go