September 25, 2009 GMT
Lost in the Gobi

I am 24 hours later getting back to UB than I expected as...I got lost in the Gobi, not a huge drama (OK it is half a million square miles of nothing), but I realised I had gone too far East - I had not been concentrating on the track itself as I was having fun and challenging myself with riding a 280Kg bike on sand.Then when I looked up I thought "this doesn't look right", but kept going just thinking I was being paranoid as I'd had a couple of false "I'm lost" scares on the way down.
Finally when I realised there really were no kilometre posts - usually an irregular marker but an indicator that it IS the right route, I then headed for the nearest goatherders to ask - well, they appeared to be beating their animals so I didn't want to hang around for long. And anyway, as is usual in the Gobi, there is a limited concept of roads and routes as it is all open countryside so you are never "lost" and the only information is a finger pointing in which ever compass direction you need to go- regardless of any tracks or otherwise on the ground.

So I took a deep breath left the track I was on and headed cross country. I stopped the next locals I saw - a couple of blokes on a motorbike who also pointed vaguely and told me I had 120 kms to go, and in case you're thinking I have magically become fluent in Mongolian, they wrote doen for me how far to go - I gave them the opening gambit of "km" and also the name of the town I was attempting to find, as yes true to form, I can't even seem to pronounce the towns correctly with that guttural, saliva in the throat rasp that they use,the town was called Mandalgovi (google images of it if you want - anything that is not a dusty, windswept looking place is the wrong Mandalgovi!).

I rode north knowing that at some point I would see the power cables that run alongside the road and eventually I did find some, but there was no parallel track and as I hunted around for one, my fuel ran out and I was onto reserve- about 30 miles worth left in the bottom of the tank now - oh dear.

I went to a couple of gers to ask for the route but they were locked up. I finally walked up to the top of a hill with my trusty monocular in hand and managed to spot what looked like several rooftops glittering in the sunshine, I took a rough bearing on them (Charlie Coates style) and returned to Thelma. I don't know what it was I saw but I didn't manage to find it, however to cut a long story short I stumbled across quite a main looking track and suddenly around a corner it was Hallelujah as power poles appeared alonside it and further on it had kilometre markers- I had managed to find the right track.

I spotted a lone hordeman herding his cows and asked him about petrol (benzine) - but despite smiling nicely the answer was ugui (no in Mongolian), 500 metres further on and I completely ran out of fuel. Evening was fast approaching so I put up my tent and waited for someone to pass- nothing came. I wasn't too worried as I always carry a few days food and water with me and also the horseman's ger wasn't too far away if I did need something (as long as it wasn't petrol).

In the end it was 18 hours until a vehicle appeared - a slow, lumbering bus.

I ran out and flagged it down- it was already very over-crowded but the driver let me squeeze on - everyone moved along a bit for me and I was given the second step to sit on- sharing with a plump, middle-aged Mongolian woman who kept falling asleep on my shoulder - luckily I only had about 30 miles of this until we reached town.

At the petrol station the woman doing the pumps grasped my situation quite quickly - she found a container adn then pointed me inthe direction of the next bus to depart - there was a veritable multitude of buses revving up -not sure which route they were all taking but it certainly was not the main road past my tent.

I got on to find there was plenty of space - I even had a whole seat to myself, and there was a bit of a party atmosphere on board - a communal bottle of airag (fermented mares' milk) was doing the rounds - it seemed rude to refuse so I had a few swigs of it.

when we reached Thelma - standing on her own in the desert, the whole bus disembarked to have a look and comment on this strange foreigner and her mini ger.

Fuelled up once more, off I headed- determined not to lose the track again. Just as a cold north wind started to blow.

I froze coming over the mountain range out of the Gobi- with banks of snow reminiscent of the high mountain passes in Tajikistan.

I have limped back into Ulaanbaatar and will be here for a few days.

Posted by tiffanycoates at September 25, 2009 07:11 AM GMT

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