The diaries - 6   

09 May

Altai - Mongolia

Adrenalin comes in all shades of brown....


Altai... but again what a journey.  I guess we're going to be running out of expletives soon!  The snow eventually cleared and we left  Khovd in bright sunshine, but again our cross-country speeds were well down below the estimated rate of progress!   We made 65 miles before we camped in the middle of nowhere, but were soon surrounded by herdsmen coming out of the hills to 'have a look at us'.  Sue made good use of her phrasebook and was soon chatting away.  The next day we made it to Darvi and stayed in a rather dilapidated hotel, but the 'bikes were parked inside next to the pool table!

We left Darvi Saturday 7th. The roads were again very poor and none existent, but 15km out... disaster!  Sue's 'bike ground to a halt with a loud screeching from the gearbox sprocket area... output shaft bearing!  I rode back into town and eventually found a large lorry, with trailer, just leaving for Altai... our next destination! It took several attempts to find the right track back to Sue for the only
GPS we had was still on her ‘bike! I had set off back to Sue before the lorry was ready, with the truck and its crew of two blokes and a woman following on behind.  Together we heaved, pulled, tugged and gasped Sue's GS onto the top of the lorry's load... ten foot up!

We all set off together, Sue in the cab using the phrase book again, while I rode on.  We knew it was going to be a long haul to Altai, but we needed the bikes there because there would be e-mail access and a mobile phone signal... all non-existent in Darvi.  At a lunch halt about 2pm, I decided to head off and make some progress, for I'd calculated I would be riding in the dark, in the Gobi desert, without a GPS.... little did I know!  I still hadn’t had the gumption to take Sue’s GPS off her ‘bike and fit to mine!

I rode on, it started to get dark, came to a 'Y' junction, old fashioned Sylva compass out, took a bearing relying on memory of having looked at the map... made the decision not to wait for the truck following on behind.  This turned out to be a wise move...

Darkness... thank God for the gas discharge extra headlight fitted.  For miles I paced myself, stopping every ten hard-earned miles for a drink of water and two minutes respite from the bucking and yawing of the 'bike, like a yacht in a typhoon!  Twenty miles an hour and then into sand... sometimes I'd be through it with just a twitch, other times I'd grind to a halt broadside.  I lost count of the times I nearly fell off, and reminded myself that the truck was coming up behind.  Each time I stopped, total darkness... no lights coming up from behind, just stars like I've never seen before.  I had to ask myself... what the hell am I doing here, in the middle of the Gobi, alone! 

I eventually made it into Altai at 1.15am... The place was in total darkness but a friendly police car was 'commandeered' to take me to the Altai hotel where I was made welcome, even at that unearthly hour, the police all being interested in the bike, and helping it through the front doors of the hotel into the foyer.  I expected the truck coming at any time, so catnapped on the settee so that I could help unload Sue's 'bike from its lofty perch!

At 8am it hadn't arrived so I walked outside the town, where I could see for about two miles, to see it coming into town.  By lunchtime still no sign, and Sue's words were ringing in my ears... at the lunch halt, just before I decided to head on alone, she had told me that she had to keep waking the driver up... the vodka was making him sleepy.  His mate was spark out and in another world!  I visited the police station to ask if they knew whether the truck had been involved in an accident... gone over the edge... for there had been some places where it could have left the road quite easily. No news!  I stopped lorries coming into town to ask if they had seen the truck with motorcycle on the top.... nope!

At 4pm a police car came to pick me up and took me out of town... couldn't speak the lingo... thought they were taking me to the wreckage, but stopped at the top of the hill about two miles out of town to flag down and ask anyone if they had seen the truck... from this position no drivers coming along the road could 'escape the net!'

Would you believe it... the second  4x4 flagged down remembered seeing the truck, with motorcycle, about 25km out of town... broken down!


The police took me back into Altai, for now their part was over... Sue was safe. I blagged a Kit-Kat and Snicker bar, a taxi, and went out to bring Sue in, for she had by now been in that truck for over 24 hours.  Great to see her, big smiles.  Should have taken her some water but I guessed they would have had plenty... wrong!  What water the lorry carried had gone into the radiator!  Being a true motorcyclist Sue stayed with her bike!  Me?  I went back to the hotel for a bier... she was OK after all.  Two hours later the truck crept into town... I'd had two, maybe three biers by this time!


I had left Sue with the lorry, behind me, and feared that it might have crashed.  Sue had seen me ride off alone into the Gobi desert, no GPS etc., and she didn't know, until I turned up in the taxi, whether I had made it to Altai safely! 


At the moment we've just made arrangements to get the bikes to Ulaan Bataar where I'll be servicing them etc. and meet up with a new gearbox output shaft oil seal... AND GPS!  I'd had to pull the oil seal out of the gearbox, behind the sprocket, to have a look at the output shaft bearing... it looks OK and we just hope it was a stone between the sprocket and casing causing the noise!


Watch this space for the latest from Ulaan Bataar....



The evening before we left Khovd we were in for a treat. Remember the Swiss girl and the cheese? She came to the hotel in the late afternoon (with even more cheese!) and invited us to her rooms at the university to listen to Erdenetsogt Baatarjav -  a Mongolian "throat singer" and musician of some repute.

What a fantastic evening to listen to him, he dressed in national costume and played traditional Mongolian instruments. His singing was evocative of wind-swept plains, his stories were interpreted by his daughter into German then into English by Claudia, no mean feat I might add! Thank you all.

Leaving Khovd the sun shone. The tarmac road ended abruptly after 6 miles and we were back onto sand/gravel and whatever else was handy. Filling up with petrol is always an experience in Mongolia and quite a crowd surrounds the bikes. The men ALWAYS come and help me - they probably think I should be at home milking the cows instead of sitting on this bike! They can't look at the bikes without touching, pulling, prodding and poking - and I mean the bikes not me!

The roads were so bad I stayed in the same rut for 2 hours in the same gear and managed to only fall once into the deep sand. We pitched tents in the desert after 65 of the hardest miles I can ever remember.

The next night we found a one-eyed hotel in the tiny settlement of Darvi, only to find the next morning that we had lost another hour. I wondered why the cleaners were making such a din at 7am.

Filling up with petrol again we left Darvi on the long haul towards Altai, but it was 15km later that the shit really hit the fan.

A crunch, a groan and my bike didn't want to play. To cut a long story short,  and not repeat Mick's update, I was left in the desert for 4 hours with a kaput bike, while he went back to find a lorry that could take my bike on to Altai. Seeing your pet manhandled in such an alarming fashion to get it 10ft up on to the top of the lorry's load, having to push, struggle and pray that no one lets go of the straps.....   never again!Now this is where the adventure really starts.

The crew of three - driver, his wife and the only surly Mongolian I have met to date - stuffed me in the space behind the seats where the driver usually sleeps. The best place really as I got a bird's eye view of the next 28 hours!

We set off, in this old Russian lorry, pulling its huge trailer. Mick soon drops behind because of the dust and the conditions.

The miserable Mongolian is well tanked up with vodka, and soon finishes his bottle (which gets slung out of the window) and falls into a semi-coma. The driver alarms me by falling asleep with such regularity that I start poking him every time I see his eyes close. I resort also to pouring cold water down his neck and wiping his face with a wet cloth.

We have a few minor hiccups, which are always cured with a screw driver across the wires under the dashboard, a few sparks and the lorry jerks into life again.

Meeting Mick again at the guanz - or truckstop - he sets off without waiting for food as we have 160km still to do and it will be dark well before Altai.

The old man at the guanz takes a fancy to me and brings me a lamb bone to chew the meat off. I try to tell him I am full, but he offers me his teeth and indicates that I should be a lot bigger if I am going to be any good to man or beast!

Darkness falls, and I can see the tracks of Mick's tyres in the sand. He is in front of us and we expect to make good progress and overtake him before long.

The miserable Mongolian wakes with a howling headache, the driver stays awake long enough to blast on his air horn to annoy his mate and frighten the camels that are such a spectacular sight along the roadside.  The lorry runs out of water and all our supplies are commandeered for the radiator. At 11pm the driver pulls into a ger camp and says he must sleep. I am quite relieved I must say, but the problem now is that Mick thinks we are behind. We are, but not following!

A very uncomfortable night is spent with the wife and me sleeping in the lorry, while the two men get the beds in the ger.. By 8am we are off again but no food is forthcoming. How I wished there was some cheese left!

Several minor breakdowns later the big one happens at 12noon - dramatic eh? We pull up at a ger and it is either the transmission fluid, the brake fluid or something else wet and dripping, but we are going nowhere. The miserable Mongolian is despatched in another lorry up the road to find the necessary repair materials. We sit and wait, and it's hot.

Imagine the scene. A ger is circular felt tent with a stove in the middle. In one very large shallow cauldron a sheep's head, the water coming up to its nostrils. When the water boils, bubbles start coming out of its nostrils and I am sure it winked at me! Somehow I went off the idea of food.

At some point during the long hot afternoon a fight breaks out between 3 small children from one family, and another other little tot. Stones are thrown and the little tot on her own runs into the ger. She emerges sometime later, craps in the sand, but before she can pull her knickers up, the biggest boy from the enemy camp emerges from behind the ger and throws a whopping stone at her bum. Direct hit! Amusement can be found even in the desert.

We set off again, repairs all done by 5pm. I am feeling really worried by now. Has Mick made it to Altai? Has he dropped the bike? Wandered off track? The possibilities are endless.

The truck is not up to much and we limp along at a miserable pace, walking would be quicker. A taxi appears down the track towards us, and I wonder....... yes, it is, he has come to see what has happened and there will be no prizes for guessing his remarks." Where the ********* have you been till now!"

I refuse to leave my bike and go in the taxi, so it is another very uncomfortable 2 hours and 25km later that I arrive at the hotel. I am 3 beers behind by this time!

The upshot of it all is that my bike is sick, but not terminal, and the journey continues - it seems a long way home!

Sitting in the truck was an experience I would not have missed for the world, but I would pass on a chance to repeat.

Regards to all


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