Awake in a sea of cold silvery mist, kind of in shock. Drag myself from the tent to take a photo of it, want to set up the time-lapse cam but fall back to sleep.
When I wake up again the sun is burning down, the mist seems like a dream. A horse appears on the horizon. Then another, then another. Then forty more. They all canter past our tent, perhaps 100 metres away, and from that distance we can tell that it’s all kids – all jockey kids, wearing bright-coloured jockey gear. Ten minutes later, there is a thundering horse race past our edge-of-the-world campsite.
And when we roll into Erden Bulgan, it’s Naadam. Again.
And as much as I’d like to wrestle seven-year-old peasants in my Lycra skeleton suit, we have 80 kms to bike today and it’s already almost 1pm, so instead we just wolf down four huushur each, load up on sultanas and chocolate bars, and head for the hills … the grocery store kid tells us the forest is full of wolves an bears, and two healthy hiking Frenchies confirm this (tho apparently the bears are quite small and the wolves rarely attack humans). Tama whoops with what I presume is exaltation as we ride up the valley, except he whoops quite regularly. Apparently this is how you scare away bears, which is preferable to the other option, scaring them away by cycling into them.
We huff and puff up a slow, steady, utterly demoralising valley that looks pretty much flat but in fact takes us up like 400 metres, and finish the day a couple of hours before sunset, in yet another stunning valley, making awkward small talk with this beautiful Mongolian girl on a hill, shyly flirting with the phrasebook until the sun goes down, she rides her horse back to her parents’ ger tent across the valley, me and Tama watch her leave before brushing our teeth, getting into our sleeping bags in my crowded little tent, doing our final goodnight farts, and passing out, ready for breakfast rice and another big day.