We've had 17 days of cycling (14 on dirt roads) and last night we were finally defeated by 100km of deep sand and dried up river beds. We had a really hard day and after 81km we made it to a town called Zuungovi where we sat exhausted, surrounded by locals looking at the weird
cyclists and tutting and sighing a lot as they realised that we'd cycled 1300km from Ulaan Baatar. We sat there drained and tried to rehydrate and eat chocolate outside a shop before making any decisions about camping. All of a sudden a boy came past on a motorbike and said that there was a jeep going across the 100km of sand in 10 minutes time and did we want to go in it. We said yes. No food in us just a desire to never see sand again, or dried salty mud!
It arrived and despite it only having 4 seats and the smallest space behind the rear seat for luggage, 7 people got out. We assumed that they were finishing their journey there and then.. and proceeded to load the bikes into the space at the back with the seats folded down (we took the front wheels off). To my absolute horror the driver then replaced the seat and wedged all our panniers into the gaps between the bikes and then the 7 people got back in. We then wedged ourselves in (6 at the back and 3 at the front) and spent the next 5 hours driving across the desert and several dried up rivers. We spent an hour at about 11pm trying to pull a truck that was stuck in the sand, while a thunderstorm raged around us....and then when we failed after breaking the tow rope for the 2nd time and moving the truck a total of 1m, we left them including the 8 passengers who had been riding on the roof, and continued our journey into the storm.
It was so uncomfortable, my thighs ached after 7 continuous days of cycling and Isabelle was perched on top of them....she had her neck bent the whole journey because the ceiling was low and I had to hold the window open to get some wind in to cool us all down. A local man fell asleep on my shoulder as I held the video camera bag to stop it from falling on to the head of the old lady who was singing beautiful songs until she too fell asleep. It was HELL...but strangely fun. Every bump (and there were thousands) made we wince and when we did stop for a wee I couldn't feel my right foot for ten minutes. It was an exercise in Zen Buddhism, to actually blank out the pain and the impossible desire to sleep. How anyone fell asleep was a miracle. You cannot imagine a journey like it. There were no roads for 100km, just various choices to avoid huge sand traps and rocks and holes - and
mostly in the dark!
When we did arrive at Ulaangom it was 12.45 am (5 hours later) and we then slept on the floor at the drivers house, under a carpet to keep us warm in all our clothes. At 5am he woke us up and we then unloaded and remade the bikes and off he went to drive somewhere else, leaving us in his fenced yard...with a dribble of interested neighbours popping in to see us as they woke up. We had a coffee on our stove, one of the neighbours made us a little stool out of bricks and a cardboard box and we shared a can of tuna (in the nicest tasting tomato sauce ever). Everyone here is so incredibly friendly and hospitable it puts us all to shame!
We eventually got to a hotel with running water and an ensuite bathroom with the coldest water on earth coming out of the taps. I am now clean and have just eaten a meal with vegetables in it - carrot, cucumber, onion, potato, cabbage and am nearly recovered. We will have one more day of rest and then cycle back up into the mountains towards Olgii and then into Russia and tar sealed roads. YEAH!!!!! We will miss the dirt... but at the moment every muscle aches, especially my hands from all the vibrations.
We also got stuck in mud for one day crossing a high valley and had to clean our bikes in a river to even be able to turn the wheels. We had another day of the worst corrugated road ever where we covered 36km in nearly 7 hours, so we had a bit of a slow patch in the middle. It hasn't all been hard, we've had some exhilarating days in the mountains and found some beautiful campsites, rivers and villages.
I've lost about 7 or 8 Kg and need to eat like a pig. My thighs and calves are BIG and I have a really strange sun tan. We have been taking a photo of us in our underwear once a week to see what this cycling does to our bodies and Isabelle is already describing the Trans-Mongolia Diet as the best diet ever - "You can eat as much chocolate as you want and still lose weight"!!!! is the catch line for when we start to market it.