Published: October 31st 2011September 26th 2011
The only one who would have made it through the Gobi without the others would have been Ed. I was still not experienced enough to fix a puncture in a gippy. I would maybe have made it in some hours, but I will never find out. Guy would however have finished last unless he took a hitch ride in a dodgy desert truck all the way to the border.
Guy never tried big trips on a bike before and he is a compulsive smoker. He bought a cheap, used bike in Attila store and tied his bag to the back
of his bike with some bungee chords and just went out there in a shirt and some pants. Brave Guy.
I was damn patient waiting for Guy, as he was falling off like a pear in early August when Ed and I paced over the hilltops. It was also difficult for me to only drive 70 kilometers and call it a day.
But the guys were such great company and they were fine with a vegetarian diet. They helped me add to my vocabulary, which now boots words like valve, tarmag, pegs, savvy and the ever returning bog roll, which in Ed's and Guy's part of the world means toilet paper. What a gift to have friends in the Gobi with whom to discuss the ever interesting subject of feaces.
On day two Guy agreed to do 100 k, so at this time I was already impressed, but on day three, when the asphalt stopped, his tires had punctures en masse and before we made it to the border Ed had sown at least a dozen patches on Guy's tubes. At the place on the road where there is no more asphalt, a Volkswagen T3 with two young Swiss guys in it caught up with us. They were friends with the Swiss couple I already knew and they were all going to China together with a third Swiss group. When you think you are alone in the desert, do not be surprised to see a bunch of Swiss people in a motorhome.
On day four after looking down upon Guy's many punctures, my own reign of uselessness started. Big time. First I get a puncture, which Ed - bless him - takes care of. Then I loose my jacket, which I have worn pretty much every day since I left Copenhagen. I had it mounted between my bungee chords, and that is a very bad idea driving through one of the most groovy landscapes on this earth. Less important - my flourescent safety vest had also flewn off in the race. Because there is 12 tracks to follow, Ed and Guy had not seen them fall off, so I had to go back.
As I was one of the fitter two thirds of the team, we all agreed that the other could proceed with slow pace, while I searched for my vest and jacket. Moving back to where I came from I ran into the Swiss T3 car and since they were not in a hurry, they thought it would be fun - bless them - to help me find my stuff.
So we rode around the duny neighborhood a few times and eventually gave up and decided to find Ed and Guy. My bike was now in the back of the T3 and as Adrian tested my tires, it turned out I had another flat. On the wheel, which was not flat before. This made me shout some ungodly words in despair. But then again. I had to learn to fix my own bike some fine day, when Ed was not there to do it for me. We drove up and down the steppes and circled around the villages, but we could not find Ed and Guy.
So I managed to puncture on both tires, throw away one of my most important clothing items and lose my two travel companions in half a day. How useless can I be? I even forgot to mention that I also lost my vaseline stick, which was my overall important item, keeping my bloody, dry, sprawled limbs on my face that I once called my lips together.
I camped with the Swiss that night. Needless to say, they were incredibly friendly creatures and cool too(duh! driving a T3 in the Gobi Desert). In the morning they brewed italian coffee and played boomerang and golf. Golf in in the desert is awesome, even if you cannot hit the damn thing. As a cherry on top, the guys were expert bicycle punctures, so I did not get to fix my bike this time either, boggers.
Waiting a long time before starting day five's race so if Ed and Guy were behind me, they could catch up. Nothing happened, so I was on my own now. Alone in the Gobi Desert as originally planned. Which was nice. Then I could finally get all that energy out of the body which I had saved up for about three weeks. After five hours pounding wildly over the steppes thinking that I lost my friends forever, I saw two silhouettes on a hilltop. That could have been two camels, but the silhouettes waved at me in the most welcoming manner. So we were reunited.
Ed was a bit cranky though. He had just broken the valve on his tube, but the hole for the valve was too small for his spare tubes (and my spare tubes as well). Air was sieving from Guy's back wheel and went in total flat mode after I tried to fix it, so we decided to flag down a truck to get us to the nearest city.
This is one of my favorite moments of my entire travel. The first truck, which is several dirt tracks away, instantly reacts to our enmergency wave and pull over, the driver immediately understands what the heck is the problem and he and his partner haul the bicycles on to the lorry and demands in Russian that we are all friends. 'Drug' is the only word in Russian he seems to know though. Hitchhiking with a bike on a truck in the desert with a happy Mongolian man cannot be underestimated. Very happy I was.
Next morning Ed spent four hours filing the valve hole bigger with a nail file, while Guy and I laid in the comfortable September heat of the Gobi Desert. When done, Ed was not so cranky anymore. More kind of victorious.
At this point we were just outside Sainshand, the capital of the Gobi. There we found internet, sun screen, vaseline and an American girl called Beth. Beth is from Chicago (Ed and I later played the game 'where is Beth from' and I won) and sent to this otherwise ex-patriateless desert hole of a city to spread American language and culture. For two years! Until the three of us guys parted it took nothing more than a name, and we would all be laughing out loud.
Did I mention that 20 k before Sainshand, a meticulously laid, brand newly paved, car prohibited tarmac road emerged from the desert dust? No, well that went on for about 100 k and saved us for another half dozen punctures. We eased down this stretch waving to the construction workers, giving thumbs up and feeling completely chaeted out from the true dirt track Gobi experience. So why didn't we just roll on down through the dirt tracks? Well... I guess the object of our travel was to get through Gobi one way or the other. The road was sent from god. Or the Chinese.
When this excellent road stopped, our misery started. This 150 k piece of tarmagless desert down to the border was the real Gobi. Sand dunes, camels, oasises. The most amazing part of this piece with its rocky passes was to stand on one hill and look out into the endless horizon and see the next point of your travel 20 kilometers away on the next hill erecting from the plains. AWE-INSPIRING would I have said, was I a reporter of the treasured Lonely Planet.
Water is a constant topic of conversation in the desert. When can we get it next time, how much can I carry and do we have enough for tea? We did not have any problems so far, but we were getting thirsty, as we got more south and more into the desert. To our comfort there is people living in the Gobi, living off people getting thirsty and taking double prices for water and sodas. But who gives a shit in the Gobi? Well let me tell you straight. I did not come this far by paying the price. I came so far because I am cheap! I haggled harder than I have ever haggled in my life, but this coca-cola selling nomad of a woman would not budge. 1.5 liter jouce, a 1.5 liter coca-cola and three liters of water for less than five euro in the desert. I should be ashamed of myself.
We found trees in the middle of the fridggin desert so there we camped with no idea how long distance we had to go the next day to the border. And I had to go to the border, because my visa was about to run out. A strong facewind awaited us the next day and we found more coca-cola selling nomads. As a last kiss from the Gobi, my left pannier curled itself into my wheel and ripped open, leading me to use half a roll of scotch to keep everything together.
We rolled over the passes, still unknowing of the distance we had left. We stopped a car. 41 k to go and half a day to acomplish it. We were relieved, but this piece of desert is the most groovy you can find. That was 41 k of shaking on your bike. Even more relieved were we when Ed pointed to the horizon and showed big ass buildings and wind turbines rising out there in our direction. That was China.
One night's sleep awaited us before the bordercrossing and we just wanted to supply ourselves from the last Mongolian currency we had when we were passed up by a gang of Mangolian truck drivers. They shouted at us, pinching my goosebums on my legs. They gave us beer. And cigarettes. They wanted us to come with them to have a party in their house. I was reluctant, but Ed and Guy was thrilled, so we went.
This was more of a manor than a house. The porch was guarded by a gate. We went upstairs and the three of us seated across from three truck drivers. There was a drunk, a quiet and an in-your-face driver.
I had some duvious thoughts about these guys, especially when one of them insisted to see my passport. But they were friendly. They just wanted to show off. That their passport full of entry-exit stamps from the Chinese border was proof that their lives were worth something. They wanted to arm wrestle. I lost. Guy lost. But Ed won. We all had a great monkey time and the truck drivers called a woman, so someone could cook us all some food (you've gotta bow to traditions, man).
I was also challenged to wrestle with the drunk. Again I lost after putting up quite a fight only to end on his shoulders as he picked me up by my groin. Then the drivers wanted more beers and vodka. We were happy to contribute to the feast had we not just spent our last dough in the supermarket. I showed the remainding small amount of cash, in-your-face picked them up, laughed hard and manly and then tossed them out of the window.
Suddenly three more guys arrived, but they were not in the mood for fun. One of the guys - clearly the ring leader - looked around in despair and angrily commanded the drivers on to the street. Then he made the fist in the palm slap a few times to diminish any hope we might have that we would exit Mongolia with more than what we were wearing. A few intense moments passed where everyone were looking at everyone. I looked at the ring-leader, then at the door, back at the ring leader and over to Ed. What the fuck was about to happen here, was the question I would ask did I dare speak. The silence was ripe with fear (from our side at least), and then they let us out.
Moments later we found ourselves in the cold Gobi night biking in the dark towards China. Some border guards sent us in the opposite direction and then I spotted the whole Swiss family, an army of three motor homes. At last we were safe.
The following morning we were awaken by the great roar of a hundred jeeps fighting for position as the Chinese border opened. Our bikes was not accepted into China unless they were transported on a car, which infuriated Ed and I. So we had to catch a ride at the border, which was totally easy and the drivers at the border allowed us to throw our bikes on their junk vehichles (there was a whole in the floor on one of them).
We made it through the Gobi and into China. I am proud of us and I am proud of Guy. This goes to show that everyone can do it. As long as you have an Ed to fix your bike for you.