Week 15

August 12 to August 18

August 12 was drive chain changing day. I had checked into Hostel Arbus in Barnaul the night before and enjoyed a refreshing rest in the empty 14 bed room.

Soon I found a garage that had been mentioned on the Horizons Unlimited internet forums. Another motorcycle traveler was there, Damien from Canada with his BMW GS 1200 with sidecar. He seemed unconvinced of the trustworthiness of the garage. I didn’t feel like losing a lot of time so I asked the guys to change the chain.

The teeth of the front sprocket were warped and the chain got really hot, possibly because I washed it with a pressure washer after drowning the bike in mud in Turkey.

The old chain did not have a quick link, so after carefully assessing the new parts we cut it open with an angle grinder. Soon the new sprockets and chain were in place, but to close it a special tool was needed. The mechanic called another guy called Sergej. Sergej came half an hour later, told me that he had ridden 18’000 km across Russia with his Harley Sportster and that belt drive was superior to chain drive, all while using the tools we had to build the tool we needed, displaying a bewildering level of mechanical competence. Once the chain was closed, he drove the axle back through the wheel with gentle hammer strokes, explaining that “if you cannot fix problem with hammer, it is probably electrical problem”.

Sergej (orange shirt) using a hammer. It was clearly a mechanical problem.

The next day I left Barnaul and headed to the Altai mountains. A Czech couple on another KLR 650 was on the way from Ulaan Baatar to Central Asia. We exchanged recommendations for roads and guesthouses in either direction and parted ways.

The Altai region of Russia is absolutely stunning with its mountains, good roads and forests. I know this because I found pictures on the internet. While I was there it just wouldn’t stop fucking raining, for three days straight. The temperature dropped below 10°C, and once the cold water had penetrated the clothing and hit the underwear, my willpower to go on faded away like a catholic priest’s vows of celibacy when he sees a child.

I didn’t camp that night.

Further down the road I started meeting Mongol Rally Teams. Wendy and Arne (Team Ulaan Beatle) were on their way in a 1980 VW Beatle that had held up surprisingly well. We stopped and the offered me a cup of tea.

Tea with Ulaan Beatle in the Russian Altai.

We parted ways and the next day I headed from Kosh Agach to the Russian-Mongolian border, where I met Team Ulaan Beatle again. A stern-looking Russian officer had just told them to open the trunk of their car to inspect the luggage. He tried to act completely unsurprised by the fact that the engine was there and let them go. Soon, I had passed the inspection as well and headed through the 20 km border strip towards Mongolia.

At the Mongolian border a long queue of Mongol Rally cars had formed.

The time difference between Russia and Mongolia is an astonishing two hours. Mongolia has reinstated daylight saving time again in 2015 after abolishing it in 2007.

Thoroughly unimpressed by the length of the queue, the whole crew working at the border decided to take a 1.5 hour break to have lunch.

Soon, Gary and Jamie, an American couple riding up two on a DR 650 that I’d already met in Baku and Khiva, also arrived at the border. We had lunch with the Mongol Rally teams and just as the border crew took up work again it started snowing.

After crossing into Mongolia relatively painlessly, Gary, Jamie and I went to Elgii where we found a decent if somewhat run down hotel.

After breakfast we headed north the next day since the south road offers little in terms of technical difficulties to motorcyclists.

It was the first time in my life riding off-road. Soon I started thoroughly enjoying the dynamics of the bike in the soft sand. I got a bit carried away, racing himself across the deserty landscape like Stephane Peterhansel.

I was a bit ahead of Gary and Jamie and arrived at a village south of lake Achit Nuur. Too lazy to take off the gloves and use the phone with its GPS, I asked the people in town about the way to Ulaangom and later used the sun to navigate. Sure enough, I ended up 25km off the route. The tracks had started getting greener and less wide for some time, and suddenly there were just boulders and marmots. I went back to town, having lost over a hour when I found the right way again. The landscape was breathtaking and the road somewhat challenging, but unfortunately the battery of my GoPro was empty so there is no evidence. Also, I lost Gary and Jamie.

Rocinante in her natural habitat.

On the way from Elgii to Ulaangom.

In the late afternoon I arrived in Ulaangom and found a place to stay. The whole next day I was hoping to find a new 21” front tire since the old one was long pas the wear bar.

Sure enough, Mongolians use exclusively Chinese-manufactured 18” tires. In the late afternoon I gave up looking for what was clearly impossible to find in Ulaangom.

Having graduated with a Bachelor’s degree in Improvised Repairs from the Polytechnic of Hard Knocks, Kazakhstan, I resorted to desperate measures, cutting off rubber from the fresh rear tire and gluing it onto the worn parts of the front and headed east the next day.

The knobs on one side of the front wheel were completely gone after 17’000km

Where do you get high quality rubber in Mongolia? Your rear tire, of course!

The locals were nodding approvingly when they saw a Westerner do a low-budget fix on his bike.

After another enjoyable off road day I camped near a place where there were several apparently human made piles of stones. I checked the patches glued to the the front wheel. Surprisingly, they had stayed on in spite of a day of hard riding in dirt, sand and some tarmac.

Just after pitching the tent and defining one of the rubble piles as the toilet a farmer came by and explained that those piles were a religious site, making a praying sign with his hands.

I relocated the toilet, cooked a soup and went to sleep.

Next >>