The funny thing about flying off mountains is that I never seem to end up landing at camp. My priorities change dramatically as the ground is jerked out from under me and the thin mountain air takes punches at my glider. Suddenly its all about avoiding turbulence and landing in the safest possible location, wherever it may be. All those ground issue (like getting back to camp) are insignificant compared to issues you face in the air. Subsequently I landed miles from camp and had to ford one river, and cross 2 valleys, climb three ridges…and finally with enormous relief I was soaking my swollen feet in an icy creek a few yards from my tent.
Having pushed hard for 13 hours on a few hours of sleep, I knew rest and food were in order before I muscled the bike out of the mountains. To tired to cook, I shoveled a fistful of dry noodles in my mouth, and settled into my tent for some rack time. But all the day’s excitement and the prospects of an enormous hot meal somewhere over the horizon, kept me awake. And then there were concerns of that nasty little creek I had to cross to get back on the main track to Olgi. I managed a little shut eye, but then bolted upright with the notion that a hot, restaurant prepared meal was the most important thing in the world at that moment.
I’m a super big fan of monster enduros like my R1150GS Adventure, you can do just about anything…its just harder, and its harder than hard when you’re tired. I dropped the bike right off the bat as I was backing it up over rocks in the yak corral. “Good start dude” I remarked, with no shame in talking trash to myself at this point in the tour.
However, the truth is that the backcountry campsite is a motorcycle’s favorite local for a dirt nap. It will just fall over by itself as the rough untrodden terrain seduces the bike off its rubber and into the terra unfirma. You might as well grab the front wheel of the downed bike,..drag it 10 meters out the campsite and then right it,…safely out of reach of the campsite gravity mistress.
Once you’re actually on the track and you’ve got momentum…you’ve got balance, rhythm, and focus all on your side. Even the creek crossing went well, although my boots hold water better than most aquariums. Thoughts of having the luxury of gortex socks kept my feet warm as the temps dropped below freezing,(overheating my torso with the heated jacket was the real savior on appendages). Tired, wet, but cranking down the miles, things were going smoothly!
It also helped that I was aware of how tired I was and I knew that this is when mistakes and injuries happen. When I’m clued in to a potentially bad situation, this is when I’m riding my best regardless of circumstances. Its those damn sunny Sundays that blind side me (reference Tawoomba Australia).
I rode and rode and rode late into the night, driven hard by my relentless slavedriving stomach (named Gladys). Gladys must be satisfied at all costs! It was tough, and kinda stupid. What little traffic I came across always abused their highbeams as I closed in,..with a sort of wow, we should blind that biker so we can google at him- kind of mentality. I took it slow, real slow in many parts. The gravel techniques I’d learned Australia saved my ass again and again. But it all worked, and by 9pm I was quickening my pace with the welcoming sight of city lights beckoning ahead.
It was a short stop outside town for a police search on my kit, then I was in like Flyn(my buddy Quin tells me Errol Flynn was pretty good with the ladies, I’m guessing that’s were the saying came from…but I digress).
A rogue and dangerous biker stomach was slipping through the main drag hunting down some chow. New towns always take a bit to figure out, especially in the dark, but it wasn’t long before I was treating myself at a classy sit-down restaurant. It was two beers, two waters, and two dinners before I happily lurched out of the establishment, much to the relief of those well dressed diners that had actually bathed that day.
The hotel not only advertised hot water….but actually had hot water! And the pretty Mongolian lady was nice and had that charming smile,..so I signed in for a couple nights. It was a rest well earned. There was a disco going full blast downstairs but that didn’t stop me from sleeping like a dead man.
So this is Mongolia West,…Muslim Kazakh country. They’re a noticeably different culture from the typical Mongolian. Although far more conservative than the Mongols, I found the Kazakhs to be friendly, polite and hospitable.
As I’ve mentioned before, Mongolia’s beauty lies in its natural environment and its people, and not in its towns (with the exception of Tsetserleg and Kharkhorin). However, Olgii was pretty good. Chow was easy to come by, and each new food joint I experimented with turned out to be better then the last.
Anything associating culture, such as a museum, is quite hard to find in a soviet founded metropolis. So it was much to my surprise that the biggest building in town was the museum. I’d like to say I’m a super savvy international man of mystery, but the fact is I stick out of the crowd like a typical lost Caucasian tourist. The curators of the museum, demonstrating either desperation or, or a great enthusiasm for their profession, hawked me off the streets and shuffled me into the museum. I paid a few bucks and paid witness to an extensive collection of historic artifacts in addition to an educational display of stuffed local critters.
After two fascinating hours cruising the 3 floors, I was making my retreat, but was..of course… ushered into the souvenir shop. At this point of my tour I’m about sick of souvenirs, which are dead weight on a motorcycle. I respectively declined, although the marmot fur horseman hat was tempting.
There was certain chill in the air I hadn’t felt before and it had me a bit worried. Sure, I had taken some cold days on mountain passes, and temps usually fell below freezing at night, but over all my September ride in Mongolia had been dominated by ridiculously beautiful days. But now was different. The dusty wind screamed down main street reeking of winter. The realization that I had yet to get through Russia’s Western Siberia further chilled my bones. I suddenly experienced a revelation -to get on with bike maintenance and get out of Dodge.
I’d barely set wrench to bike, when I was addressed by an obviously American voice. I had the great pleasure to meet Jan, the photographer/Anesthesiologist(Dr Happy) from Alaska.
I hadn’t had the good fortune of an Alaskan for company since the crazies I met in Baja living out of a teepee.
Alaskans are great folks in my book. Having put in a summer with the Alaskan fishing industry back in the college days, I feel like I’m free to give some opinion on those Northern types. Alaskan folks, none of which are completely sane, are always a sure bet for a good time.
So Jan and I hit a local pub and over a few beers I scored an invitation to join him into the hills in search of the famed Kazakh Eagle Hunters. Ever since a co worker and friend back in Perth showed me this you tube video(below) I’d been looking for a way to witness some of this first hand.
here’s another good vid of these Golden Eagles taking out prey 3 times their size
The following day I linked up with Jan who was standing by with a soviet era UAZ Jeep and kazakh driver. It was good times all around with Jan, who was not only great company, but scored me access into the homes of the kazakh eagle hunters. This is what travel is all about, never refuse an invitation and always revel in the great company of locals and fellow adventure travelers(especially the weird ones).
above)-I have a feeling that if I took off that hood, it would eat me.
below) thanks for the poser shot Jan! See you on the next ride!
I knew I needed to get going, get going to Russia that is. But I was dragging my feet a bit, even with winter looming on the horizon. Its hard to explain, but I thought that this was the end of my adventure. Sure, I still planned to complete a circumnavigation of the globe by riding from Mongolia to Europe, so there were still massive miles between me the end of the tour. But in my mind adventure touring was tied closely to dirt tracks, remote territories and exotic peoples, and I figured as I drew closer to Europe, previous days oozing with glorious adventure would fade into long tarmac rides and vistas limited to industrial monotony. But I had a lot to learn. Although I still favor experiences of the knobby tread type, I would come to accept that adventure comes in many forms, and I was in for some pretty wild shit in Russia, Ukraine, Poland, Czech and Germany. But I’ll get to blogging on that next week.