Mountain bike across Mongolia … sure… how tough can it really be???
Sooo, in my naivety initial thoughts about biking this unique part of the world were, I’m surely run fit, biking will be no problem!
After minimal contemplation I booked with a company called bike asia (who i would highly recommend-they do various bike tours around China and numerous other places. Check out there website if you get chance http://bikeasia.com )…. and after minimal training (I’ve since discovered 20 miles along Wirral way doesn’t really cut it), off i globe trotted to the Asian continent.
The first few days of the trip we were eased into Mongolia living by spending a few days in the capital Ulaan Baatar, experiencing the Naadam Festival – Mongolia’s National Games. This was followed by a 2 day drive out into the vast Mongolian planes to Bayanhongor where our 485km biking journey through the Arkhangai mountain ranges would begin.
Essentially the cycling part of the trip was spread over 9 days. The terrain was like nothing I could have prepared for. In our entire journey the only paved track we rode was 4k worth. Throughout our trip we were completely isolated riding through absolutely beautiful mountainous terrain. We left civilisation behind, partaking in nomadic living and meeting the charming, affable Mongolian people dotted about the vast Mongolian countryside.
It would be too difficult to relay in words just how amazing this trip was (sincerely) So figured id have a shot at a touch of reflective summary on what the trip involved, and try to refrain from banging on too much!
Our journey commenced at Shargaljuut Valley, the top of which allowed for truly breathtaking views. On to riding through Tuy River Valley which essentially involved tackling ridiculously rocky riverbeds and endless river crossings. This part of the trip I found to be incredibly challenging; both mentally and psychologically. The weather generally stuck to driving rain storms, wind and sub 0 temperatures. I fell off the bike countless times; my legs were battered and bruised and my leg strength for biking (or lack there of) became increasingly apparent. We were constantly drenched right through and after river crossing number 30 I lost count….i even almost got swept away during one crossing – thank god for lanky frame which left me able to find the floor after a rather scary underwater trip down stream! I confess I just wanted to call it a day and curl up in the support truck but my dam stubbornness wouldn’t let me and I dug in best I could.
Our route then led us to Bulgan and Tamir Valley leaving the river rocks and beds behind – for a while atleast… but onto epic hill climbs instead. I think we reached altitude of 2900 at one point! We dropped down to the outskirts of Tsetserleg which meant we would have the opportuninty to visit the Aimag (provincial) Museum in the temple Zayayn Gegeenii Sum. And pick up some essentials (tiger beer will heal my damaged limbs?!). Onward to Tsagaan allowed a descent towards Orkhon Water Falls and a welcomed swim…a welcomed sight if only for a cheeky way to bag a full body wash!!
The final days saw us follow the Orkhon River all the way to Kharkhorin, the ancient capital at the time of the Mongolian Empire. Think we all found ourselves on a high for the last day that we got to Kharkhorin at record pace which allowed us time to visit the Erdene Zuu Khiid, the first Buddhist monastery in Mongolia dating from 1586.
Sadly my knee gave in towards the end of our biking adventure after pushing my self too hard. I discovered I am not a comfortable quitter and was extremely frustrated to have to sit out for part of our adventure – the fact I struggled to even walk kind of left me with little option! On hindsight I know it was a wise decision to stop when I did, there are too many fell races I hope to run in the future to give it all up for a days biking. Fortunately some rest allowed me to get back in the saddle and finish the final leg of our journey and experience the sense of achievement and satisfaction that came with this.
I found Mongolia to be a vast and picturesque country. Mongolian people (certainly the nomadic population) were incredibly friendly and welcomed us into their homes offering food and drink without question. Mongolia is quite unlike anywhere I have ever visited before. I feel incredibly privileged to have experienced all that I have over the last few weeks and guess I wanted to bestow my findings on this little bit of the world with you all. If anyone is up for a spot of cross training I reckon this is the perfect place to go do it.