Mission Statement

Moron to Moron: Two Men, Two Bikes and One Mongolian Misadventure is written by Tom Doig, with photos by Tama Pugsley, and is published by Allen & Unwin. You can buy it if you want!

NEWSFLASH: Tom and Tama are extraordinarily pleased to announce that Allen & Unwin UK will be publishing Mörön to Mörön in the UK on May 2013. Know whamean?!
*  *  *
It has long been an obsession of ours to cycle from Moron to Moron. Back in 2000, we first noticed that there were two towns in Mongolia, both called Moron (or Mörön, or МӨРӨН).


… Ever since then, a single question has burned in our hearts and minds. How could we not cycle from Mörön to Mörön? It has to be done, and we are the two morons for the job.

If this is your first time here you should start at Day 0.

2012.11.21 Moron_to_Moron_final_cover

Allen & Unwin is Australia’s leading independent publisher, has been voted “Publisher of the Year” ten times including the inaugural award in 1992 and eight times since 2000, and is generally awesome.

Zang!

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Day Twenty-Seven – some remote field, to … MORON!

“This isn’t a sugary drink place -it’s a scabhole” – Pugs

I’m awake before sunrise, happy not to be vomiting, excited enough by the gorgeous light to set up the tripod and shoot a few seconds of footage, even though the HD Flipcam is broken and I only have the ghetto-Flipcam to use. It’s a strange feeling at breakfast, only having 40k’s to ride … the final couple dozen k’s to Moron are as flat as anything we’ve seen in Mongolia. Low hills on the horizon, but all around – an American road movie of nothingness. Easy Rider keeps looping through my head. We take it relatively easy, stopping to film a couple of last shots, confident there’s enough material for some kind of doco, though how long and how manic remains to be seen … the Moron Gol comes into sight. “Moron” means “river”, and “gol” means “small river” or “stream”, so this translates roughyl to: “the river of tautological riverness”. It really is nothing much, this Moron Gol, and I’m very glad we decided against cutting north then following this pathetic trickle 70ks south-east into the town of Moron.

The town of Moron. It comes into sight around midday, and it is – nothing much. Almost indistinguishable from the dozens of other depressing small towns we’ve ridden through as fast as possible, stopping only to insult the locals and buy the first grocery store we see out of its entire supply of Mars Bars, “tom uus” (big bottled water), instant noodles and canned fish. This is what we were expecting, so it’s not a surprise. But it is weird, seeing the end of our journey after all these days (and the months, years behind them), nd there being absolutely nothing there of any note. Luckily, there is a roadsign saying “Mopoh”, so we can film some shots of us arriving.

Then, we arrive.

It’s weird.

I don’t know what I was expecting really – fireworks? Freak lightning hailstorms? A parade of dusky maidens on moonlit stallions? Piles of broken Chinggis bottles?

Is it really over? Do I want it to be over? Maybe it would be nice to just keep on riding? We start planning our hitch-hike back to UB, ASAP. Tama doesn’t even necessarily want to go into the town proper, but I have enough currency left over for sugary drinks and Chinggis, so we head up the dusty roads into a dusty, abandoned town. It’s midday on Sunday, 1 August, and we find out later that either the first of every month or the first Sunday of every month is an alcohol-free day. Which may or may not explain why the lady shopkeeper was so grumpy and refused to sell us Chinggis, shaking her head as she added up our sugary drink purchase on an honest-to-god abacus. I kind of feel like we should film something, but there’s nothing to film, except Tama handing over our bag of un-given-away treats – little toy koalas whose heads fall off if children try to play with them; felt tip markers and notebooks – to a woman and her four ragged children, who can hardly believe their luck. And then lunch, and then it’s hitching time, which seems easy yesterday, not so easy on a dead Sunday with no trucks heading west, those that do already filled with stinky goats. But within twenty minutes we’re helping a nice middle-aged businessdude load our bicycle frames and wheels and paniers into the back of his soccer-mom van, and thirty minutes after that we’re sailing past the morning’s campsite, an hour or so after that we’re passing our vomity ridgeline campsite, dozing off in the spectacular luxury of a CAR, with SEATS … the drive back features a bunch of camels, a massive wolf-hunting eagle, a giant statue of Chinggis Khan that puts every other oversized kitsch statue of anything I’ve ever seen in my life to shame, some potholes near UB, the obligatory UB traffic jam – and that’s it.

He drops us at the door of LG Guesthouse, asks for more money than we were expecting, and we stagger inside, done.

The bikes are still downstairs in the basement, I hope. but gosh it’s been good not to ride them.

This morning at breakfast, a british couple over here doing aid work heard about our trip. “Congratulations,” they said. “Fourteen hundred kilometres? you’re mad. That’s really an incredible journey. you should be very proud.”
And I am, I guess. We are. Bloody good. We made it, it was epic and random and we bloody rocked it. And like the Irishman who hits himself in the head with a hammer, god it’s good when you stop.

The end … or is it?

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Day Twenty-Six – remote ridgeline to the final remote field

My stomach feels a bit queasy, but not that bad, but not that good. I manage to sleep on and off till sometime in the middle of the night, at which point I struggle to open the tent. Tama stirs.
“What are you doing?”
“Throwing up,” I manage.
“It’s cos of that filthy shit you ate,” he replies, then falls back to sleep. “Oh yeah,” I think, “all that filthy peasant boy shit.” I vomit prodigiously, like a teenager drinking white cask wine on a bellyful of fish-and-chips. It amazes me how many litres of barely-digested rice and cabbage can pass back up my throat and out onto the moonlit field. There are sharp stabbing pains in my guts – I’m worried that the puking will be joined by spray-shitting – so I struggle into my warm clothes, put my jacket on back-to-front over my head, and stagger out into said moonlit field, stumble around retching, take my pants off, find out that’s not necessary, I’m still constipated, thank christ.

A couple of hours later, there is a loud slurping and gulping noise, practically in my ear. “Bear?! … horse,” I think. The noise of a prodigious horse piss slamming into the tent, confirms my hypothesis. i unzip the tent – not one of my smartest moves – and it’s a delirious nightmare of voimt, horse piss, stallion whinnying in the moonlight. fucked iup.

I wake up feeling less than refreshed. I’m not in the best shape to cycle 90ks down a main road, but we don’t really have a choice, so I just “get back on the horse”, as the saying goes. And after three weeks in the saddle, my bike practically rides itself – not fast, but fast enough.

We stop for lunch at a depressing truck stop diner, Tama than me are blessed by a Mongolian motorcyclist-monk, who places his hands on each side your face, breathes onto your forehead, then runs his hands down your head and shoulders. It’s great, just what I need. A couple minutes later, some drunken peasant tells Tama he’s a monk, and demands money. This is slightly less thrilling, and encourages us to bail out of there.

This day is hard, I can’t really remember much of it, presumably I look pretty seedy in the photos. During one particularly rugged uphill, Tama takes off ahead, trying to outrun a big dirty benzine truck. I keep to my slow pace, and curse. Loudly. I don’t have the energy to summon any of my comforting “happy place” fantasies (Happy Place One: I’m lying in a field of wild-flowers, naked, watching Laura float down out of the sky towards me, a triple-X Mary Poppins wearing a bell-shaped dress and no panties … Happy Place Two: I’m lying on my parents’ couch, with a beer, watching The Wire … Happy Place Three: Baltimore. Thinking about poor Omar, and that crazy McNulty – will he ever learn?). My saddle is sore, my stomach is sore, my hed is pounding. “FUCKING CUNT!” I yell at the top of my lungs, at the hill, at Tama, at myself, at Mongolia, at nothing. This kind of helps, so I do it again.

We make it to within 40kms of Moron, and camp out in a nice rocky field. The trip is almost over, and I’m ready for it to end. By some miracle we were sold fresh eggs in a diner, so it’s burnt fried eggs on toast for dinner. Heaven.

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Day Twenty-Five – remote meadow to remote ridgeline, via an obscure town or two

The next morning, we ride past fields of stunning wildflowers in brilliant pink, some of the most Hans Christian Andersen flowers yet. Tama goes off to snap them while I do my morning bike yoga, and comes back reporting that all the trees around the flowers are covered with bear-scrape and bear-claw-sharpen, well. A peasant boy on horseback rides up and offers us dried milk curds – Tama doesn’t want anything to do with it, so I take his share, and crunch this weirdly gross sour milk stuff in my mouth as we roll out of the valley heading south. We’re not exactly sure where we are, but we know we’re close to the tom zam (big road). The track leads to a big fenced-in holiday house, then stops. It’s a strange few k’s of following sandy, rocky tracks that just end, past the odd goat carcass and overly territorial pair of ger dogs. At the main road, we hit the tarseal again, and after that – it’s full tit for Moron, 230 kms to Ondorkhaan means about 203 kms to Moron, it’s getting close … the urge to dawdle and detour is dwindling …

So we ride, and riiide, and riiiiide. The hills go up and down, the little kilometres-from-Ondorkhaan signs tick down. We spot the first (and, as it turns out, only) sign to Moron – it’s 172ks away.

Just over the hill. Or, over the next twenty hills. It turns out to be a rather big day, especially as we try to ride about 120kms, I wouldn’t say “to get it over with”, but, kinda … but we baulk at attempting a 400m uphill pass at 7.30pm, especially since we’ve already ridden for ten hours. And we consider, then baulk at the prospect of rocking up to some random peasants’ ger and staying with them. Making three or four hours of phrasebook small-talk is a bit much, when you’re riding this much, and are this crap at speaking Mongolian, and have this (holds thumb and forefinger close together) much energy left for an authentic cultural exchange. So, we slog our bikes up a cunt of a hill and push em across a field. The field opens up onto the most unexpectedly huge expanse of gorgeous bleak hillness – this is real Chinggis Khan country, and I can almost feel it, almost see a young Chinggis riding his horsey armies across the plains, a legendary ghost army and attendant plume of legendary dust, raping and pillaging and reforming the Mongolian taxation system. No one knows where the great Chinggis was buried – people have searched, no one has found his grave – but sitting up there as the sun sets, Chinggis feels close. I wolf down a hearty serving of rice and cabbage dinner, and go to sleep feeling a touch bloated.

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Day Twenty-Four – Terelj to a meadow lacking in bears

What a lush luxurious euro-breakfast of cheese and fresh warm milk and dutch quark, fried eggs and yeah almost like a holiday! It’s a good encouraging start to the day, we’re feeling good, ready to blaze trails east, make the cold springs on the hill, continue east … Bert’s wife Kana wishes us luck, and says: “After cold springs, there are no people, just bear.” Bears, shmears – we’re full of cheese, anything is possible. The riding is good, we resist being invited into anyone’s ger for salty tea of vodka, find a great lunchtime swimming hole, sleep under a tree … sorry guys, today was pretty nice, kinda boring to write about really!

Late in the afternoon we elect to not push on to the cold springs and the bear country beyond, so instead we head south, aiming to connect with the main road from UB to Ondorkhaan (and just before that, Moron). As the sun gets low, there are some whopping marmot holes, then some whopping marmots, marmots the size of beavers, probably not marmots at all, god knows what they are. It’s picturesque and rugged and manageable, the rocky churny roads are manageable, the friendly locals by their broken-down car who give us a slug of Airag then a bowlful each of vodka for the road are manageable, it’s all good, the choice to camp below the treeline seems sensible, the choice to drink more chinggis is brilliant, Tama’s Chinggy Chef efforts with potato and cabbage and fish are champion-grade, my marmothole tentsite is manageable, hanging all the food in a panier in a tree so the bears won’t get it – or us – is a charming joke. Tama falls into snores and I lie there drunk in the dark, hearing bears with every nylon rustle.

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Day Twenty-three – UB to Terelj

The morning starts “early” (7am), with breakfast toast that the well-meaning, long-suffering LG Guesthouse girl prepared for us the night before, and left in a plastic bag outside our door. While Tama does some IT work on his iPhone, I re-heat the toast over a gas burner in the communal kitchen, trying not to burn it too much, or putting extra chocolate spread on over the burnt bits and giving them to Tama.

On the grind out of UB, Tama is tired, grumpy, ill – probably just underslept, although possibly suffering from chocolate spread and charcoal poisoning. The traffic is hell – but it always seems to be hell in UlaanBaatar, they have a million or so people living there and only four roads into / out of the city (one to each major compass point), not nearly enough. We bustle past potholes and smoke-spewing buses for half a stressful hour until we make the turn-off for Gachuurt. As well as a “shortcut” to Terelj, Gachuurt’s valley is where the money’d set of UB build their holiday houses – no humble gers here. Plenty of outrageous ostentatious three-storey McMansions though, which must be a dream to heat on a minus-35-degree winter’s night. There is also a cemetery on the hill, which glints like a massive smashed chandelier dropped from Jupiter.

We struggle up another on of those slow, steady uphill valleys, past holidaying city folk until we’re in a fairly bleak, thoroughly deforested Cormac McCarthy landscape – No Country for Fat Men. Huff and puff our way to the pass, not bothering to film too much, and after a few minutes of just straight-up pushing our bikes up this unrideable hill, it all opens up, it’s all verdant conifers and enthusiastically yellow wildflowers, haughty eagles, no humans – we could be back in Hosvgol. And after some salami cheese sandwiches, everything seems manageable again. Have great times filming close-up reaction shots of us pretending to ride, pretending to see haughty eagles, pretending to outrun lightning storms etc. We roll down and up through the piney ridges, after a while the road splits – we opt for the high road. The hillside is really steep, the low road further and further below, the path on this tricky diagonal slant, I’m struggling not to lurch towards the low road when a horse whinnies at me. I look around, look up, and fall off my bike. The hill – it drops down and out like a curved ski ramp to the burning blue sky, and all these horses are standing sideways, upside down, on the bottom/top of this hill, eating the clouds … it’s impossible.

A few hundred metres on, Terelj and its tourist ger camps pulls into view. And just before Terelj, behind a ridge, there is a whopping scar of rubbish, dumped for a couple of hundred metres up this “pristine” valley in Mongolia’s most central National Park, just out of sight of the tourists. Charming.

We hurry past this marvel, Tama snapping away, and when we get to the river, it’s gorgeousness is complemented by piles of rubbish (mainly vodka bottles and plastic bags) under every third tree, while quaint Range Rovers smash through the river and churn up mud on its banks thrashing their way out. This sweet, spaced-out young French dude walks up to us, chunks of sunburnt flesh peeling off his nose and shoulders. He’s been wandering around in the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area north of here for five days, meeting not a soul, not even a smashed Chinggis bottle. He looks wistfully at our bikes. “This walking, it is so slow,” he says. “No shit,” we say, and cycle away from him at top speed, looking for somewhere to swim without wearing protective footwear.

We are on a mission to find Bert’s Cheese Yurt. Bert is a Dutchie who came to Terelj a decade ago, met a nice Mongolian maiden, and never left – now he makes cumin gouda in a tourist ger camp. The best answer to the question “Where my cheese at?”, then, is: “Gert’s House of Gouda Gers!” And thanks to the LP’s handy set of GPS co-ordinates (and Emlyn Hughes’ GPS unit), we find it pretty quickly. Gert is away in UB, his round-faced green-eyed son tells us in good English, but we can see Gert’s cheese through a window, so we stick around. The sun is out, the horses and children are frolicking, it almost feel like … we’re on holiday? Outrageous. Tama lounges out on the grass, and I head back into town to get some food and benzine for the coming days. This ends up taking ages – first I take a Mongolian shortcut and get stuck between about twenty little swampy delta branches of the Terelj Moron (river), and end up navigating back to Terelj by the sound of a PA system pumping out Mongolian disco for some gangster’s overpriced wedding. Once I’m there, there are no petrol stations (one woman encourages me to go “three kilometres” away, though she gives no idea of in what direction). I find a dude who says “no problem” when I ask about Benzine. It takes eight of his friends one relaxed hour to siphon a litre of cheap Russian 14-octane petrol from a car into our fuel bottle. During that time, I make seven new friends, let seven new friends have a ride on my bike, have a little ride on a big horse, meet my first Mongolian muslim (who DOESN’T drink Chinggis – incredible!), have my bike repeatedly “searched” by the other Mongols for terrorist bombs planted by my new Al-Queda friend, make lots of jokes about blowing up Americans, notice that the whole “terrorist” thing feels utterly irrelevant, relics from a bygone age, like jokes about communists, or catholics.

Back at Bert’s Cheese Palace, we eat and drink with some nice-to-boring Dutchies, tell a few stories of our travels, kind of realise how extreme some of the stories are with a mixture of shock and pride. Night falls, and fireworks from the wedding boom across the National Park, beautiful and discordant. Drinking Chinggis in our ger, there is a lull in the conversation, and Tama falls asleep sitting up in bed. He looks comfortable, so I brush my teeth and pass out.

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(rest day)

We met Batbot at the UB markets. He wanted our cellphone number. We give him our number. These are our correspondence:

5.58pm

Batbot: How do you do good evening tomatom name bat

6.09pm

Batbot: I am glad to meet you nice to meet you what can i do for you leave it to me i don t doubt it okay

7.21pm

Batbot: What is your purpose tomatom in visiting come to mongolia

7.25pm

Tomatom: No comment.

7.31 pm

Batbot: I m so happy to meet you what a pleasure it is you made me overjoyed that is sheer luck

8.54 pm

Batbot: It is said that if you have friends you are like an open steppe

8.57 pm

Tomatom: Are you drunk like a winding river?

9.03 pm

Batbot: I am tond of travelling okay

10.40pm

Batbot: I have get heaties is the countryside

10.51pm

Batbnot: My friend has got a car

11.18pm

Batbot: I talked with you do you have anythin to say don t go without me

Posted in Beer, Kind of like The Wire, Peasants, Vodka | 1 Comment

Day Twenty-One – Bayanchandmani to UlaanBaatar

We make it back to the big city! A nice light breezy 66km jaunt south, our first two proper encounters with Mongolia’s fabled wild dogs (actually:overly pavlov’d dogs) who come fuming onto the highway snapping at my heels, I’m trying to kick it in the head and keep pedaling, Tama gets a rock thrown while riding and weaving all over the road, fun times. From about 20k’s out the industrial and suburban sprawl is intense – real Arthur Rimbaud stuff:

“Nothing rich. – The city! From the desert of bitumen, flee in headlong flight with the sheets of fog spread in frightful bands across the sky, the sky that bends, recedes, descends, formed by the most sinister black smoke that Ocean in mourning can produce, flee helmets, wheels, boats, rumps …”

etc. Lots of trucks, traffic, signs in english, white people, steaks, fresh fruit, a room with mattress’d beds and a toilet that flushes, a (zombie voice) Maaattt Daaamon DVD where Jason Bourne kills baddie Americans in Iraq, apple juice, drinking and actually pissing rather than just sweating and sweating, good times. Fall asleep with UlaanBaltimore in a heatwave outside our window, the sounds of kids playing basketball slowly crossfading with the noise of drunk men smashing bottles. I dream that me and Tama have finished our trip, which is the same thing as Nic finishing his novel, we’re on a pointy island in Halong Bay, Laura is complaining that Nic hasn’t actually finished his novel, which means that we haven’t actually finished Moron to Moron; sitting in Tom Phat cafe with Laura and Shell, Shell is astounded that I can laugh and joke and make small talk, that this trip hasn’t permanently frazzled my brain. Wake up feeling nice and refreshed and ready for five or six more days of craziness on the way east to the final Moron. But first: a rest day. oh yeah …

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Day Twenty – Bayangol to Bayanchandmani

(this is going to be short for now – there’s been a whole phalanx of Euro tourists through the hostel’s free internet, I haven’t been able to monopolise it as I’d like)

As if to make up for being so burningly hot for the last couple of days, Day Twenty consists almost entirely of rain. This is a great change, at first, for the first two or three hours. “Just a bit of garden-variety suffering,” I say to myself. “Just like summer in Invercargill.” After the fourth hour, though, when we can’t stop for lunch, when the vodka shot from the nice man at the top of the second pass has worn off (plus I offered him some of our energy peanuts and he took the WHOLE PACKET, jumped in his SUV and hooned off – bloody Mongolian hospitality!), after the small town of Bornuur just isn’t turning up and it’s too wet to get out the map and check how far and there are no truck stops, none, it is no longer fun.

We hastily erect a New Zealand ger – piece of blue tarp draped over our bikes and leaned-to against a power pole in a paddock – and chow down on noodles and salami sandwiches, speaking not a word. We ride through Airag Valley (airag is a Mongolian drink made from fermented horses’ milk, 3% alc. vol. and not so good for your stomach lining) without stopping for a tipple, although the kitsch signs with lusty mares frolicking in photoshopped fields are somewhat appealing. Have a bit of an argument a few k’s out from Bayanchamandi – we’ve biked perhaps 95k’s by then, we’re not sure were the town is, whether we should stop at this ger village, it’s all a bit much – but finally we pull into Bayan(etc).

It takes just 45 minutes to get clear directions to a bed for a night, most people shake their heads and mutter “buko, buko” (not have, not have), but their is indeed a bed, plenty of em, all empty. It’s certainly not a “hotel” though, which is all the Lonely Planet can help us ask for. It’s a truck stop slop with mattressless beds, hard, but less hard than hitching a ride on the back of a truck into UB, which is meanwhile seeming less and less silly. (although less romantic than hopping a boxcar south from Sahir hobo-Kerouac style, which was our dreamy notion of a couple days earlier.)

Gorge on Huushuur, point at anything on the menu, don’t complain when it turns up. easy.

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Day Nineteen – Orhon to the wrong side of the tracks, and beyond

“No such thing as a Mongolian shortcut” – Doiggus Khan

In the morning we opt not to have a refreshing cow-dung swim, and roll out past stall after stall of picturesque peasants hawking big ugly smoked river fish, what species I’ll never know. We start asking locals if there is a shortcut from Orhon direct to Bayangol, to avoid a massive switchback up to Darkhan then straight back south again. People aren’t too enthusiastic about our plan; although, one fat man is very enthusiastic about some of the restaurants along the way, it seems, all he offers as directions is a straight line from his house to UlaanBaatar, drawn onto our topographical map in pen and crossing all manner of impossible country.

We stop for sugary drink and strange “strawberry” yoghurt snacks at a grocery store in Khotol. I squeeze my plastic cup too hard, and the frozen yoghurt lands in the dust. The kid who sold it takes pity on me, and gives me a second one. I do the same thing, then kick it into the wall in rage. Tama gives me his treat. The kid takes out a mobile phone and covertly take photos of the strange beastly hairy sunburnt yuppy peasant who can’t handle his yoghurt.

So after our third or fourth set of conflicting directions (and many sets of shaking heads and crossed hands – “don’t go”) we turn right just after HO7MOH, or Nomgon, and blaze a trail through the paddocks, hoping to connect with the path running next to the train line taking coal from some mine off to Erdenet. Only, there isn’t any path. So we decide to ride along the train tracks for a while – a train has just gone past, not fast, the next one must be hours away.

Or, it turns out, three minutes away. It’s a real Stand By Me moment – I’m singing “Stand By Me” at the top of my lungs at the time – when the big dirty slow coal train comes around the corner and bears down on us, but so slowly that I have time to get my bike off the tracks, get out the flipcam, consider climbing back onto the tracks and simulating a mad scramble to safety to spice up the blog, decide against that, just shoot the train rolling by.

Then we continue along the tracks, except really it’s bumpy and lumpy and overgrown and hellish, so we cut back through the paddocks, sweat our way into some out-of-place sand dunes, stop for lunch under some out-of-place sand dune pines, have a nice sweaty afternoon nap on the tarp, then finally, finally roll into I think it’s called Sahir or Sahig, where there are all these metrosexual UB teenage boys swimming in the river in their fake Calvin Klein underpants, yelling greetings at us in English, trying to get us to come swimming. (Which we don’t.)

And the road out of town heads due north, which totally defeats the purpose of our Mongolian shortcut, but luckily this lovely double couple in an SUV take pity on us and act as our support party, leading us a few k’s down this lumpy bumpy road to the “shortcut” direct to Bayangol. Which is stunning, but hellishly steep, but stunning, but hellishly steep. When some ger dogs bark at us from a few hundred metres away, my overtired brain imagines these ultraviolent scenes in which the dogs get close and I jump off my bike and grab the fuel bottle and smash and smash it into their canine skulls until they come apart like butter, at which point my immense feeling of satisfaction is replaced by immense guilt, so I leave a 10,000 tugrug note sticking out of the dogs’ collapsed skulls, and ride on.

Some tortuous hours later we see the main road, paved and all. And what’s more triumphant, there’s a big beautiful guesthouse on the horizon … we head for it at full speed. And it’s closed. For years, it looks like. Boarded up, no sign of life … except this shadowy flicker of movement behind a broken window. I call out for “Uus” (water), and this hand reaches through a gap in the window like the Once-ler in Dr Seuss’ The Lorax, takes our empty uus bottles, fills them up without a word. I leave a packet of Marlboros and we roll on down this serene paved downhill in the late afternoon sun, cursing the sun. We’re not going to make it to Bayangol, so we drop off the road and make camp in a marmot-hole infested paddock. I collapse, Tama makes instant noodles and fishy rice for dinner. It starts raining. We light a bunch of Marlboros like foul incense sticks to keep the mosquitoes away, and fall asleep in light rain and a hot tent.

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Day Eighteen – Erdenet to a sandy mosquito-ridden field near Orhon

“Where my cheese at? Where my cheese at?” – Chinggis Pugs, 11am

We roll out of Erdenet bright and early, remembering to dispose of all our nice hand-picked bush-weed (out of respect for the Mongolian police and the terrifying dungeon that is UlaanBaatar prison) but forgetting our precious stash of cheese! We bought some cheese, agonised over whether to store it fridgeless and sweaty in our room, or give it to reception and risk forgetting it. Sheeeeit. (Can’t even blame the Mongolian bush-weed for that, been way too busy and tired for that stuff.)

So we roll out of Erdenet bright and early and cheeseless. The city sports a fine variety of industrial hell, highlights including a bunch of cows grazing on plastic bags in a carpark, and a doom-laden power plant with giant letters on the smokestack that read not “1984” but “1986”. On the edge of town there is a scattering of depressing gers and unsmiling peasants (the first we’ve seen in Mongolia), and a horse with a broken leg dying in a ditch while an unsmiling peasant demands money off some guy with a very dented front bumper on his car.

Apart from that, the day is quiet – too quiet.

Actually, it is our first, and possibly only, relaxing day’s riding. We ride on tarsealed road for the first time on this lumpy bumpy trip. There are some great smooth ripping downhills – Tama clocks 59.9km/hr at one point – and at those speeds, the kilometres just fly by, especially since every kilometre there’s a little numbered roadsign telling you how far you’ve come from the big bad city. We get to 100 in a few hours, the most I’ve ever biked in a day, and are at 108 by the time we pull into a derelict truck stop for dinner by a nice-looking river.

We manage to bully and scare the two timid teenage waitresses into making us soup with noodles and mutton in it – and nothing else. (While Tama kept saying, in English, “You choose” and “We’ll eat anything, whatever you think is good”, I kept pointing to “noodle” and “meat” in the phrasebook. I guess they were too worried about getting it wrong to add anything else.) This was the worst meal on the trip so far, until we doused it with Indian chilli sauce and Chinese sweet pickled garlic, after which it was chilli and garlicky. A kid rides my bike around and around in circles in the carpark, and we get a bit tiddly on Russian beer. The truck stop owner finds the word “mosquito” in my phrasebook.

When we make camp by the river, the guy is right about the mosquitoes.

And when we finally make it to the river, it’s almost dark, and the river looks – and smells – not so nice. Just muddy and sloppy and full of cow shit, mainly. We have a short swim that definitely doesn’t count as a wash, and sleep deeply in our little mesh cave.

Posted in Amazing Landscapes, Beer, Dirty Scamming Beasts, Drunk, Shonky, Stupid Tourists | 1 Comment