Week 16

August 19 to August 25

The next day I headed further east towards Tosontsengel. Apparently, there is an ongoing enterprise called “Millennium Road Project”, aimed at constructing 7,546 km of paved roads connecting Mongolia’s east and west. I’m not sure in which millennium it’s supposed to be completed, but if it’s the third they have to hurry up.

A peculiar noise coming from the engine started getting more and more noticeable. The acceleration got jerky, especially on the rough parts of the tracks, and in Mongolia, 90% of the time the tracks are rough all the time.

Paranoid and not really pleased by the thought of getting stuck just a thousand kilometers from my destination, I stopped to inspect the chain and clutch. I also started reading the manual on the side of the road. It mentioned that the spark plug should be changed every 10’000 km, or severe engine damage might occur due to early ignition because of electrode wear.

I hadn’t changed the spark plug in 17’000 km. Surprisingly, the electrodes were not worn at all, but I still changed the plug. Two cars stopped to ask me if everything was OK. It felt quite reassuring.

Rocinante getting undressed in the heat.

Le repair extraordinaire!

Mongolian nothingness.

Mongolia is not the most densely populated country in the world.

The new spark plug worked, but in no way improved the jerkiness of the acceleration. The clutch was nearing its end of life, but wasn’t completely worn yet, so it couldn’t be that.

Frequent road signs provided clear instructions at all times. Mapping the signs to the paths fanning out is left as an exercise for the interested reader.

Seriously, how much clearer can it get? Even if your Mongolian is rusty, this is easy to understand.

They forced me to take a photo, I swear!

After a day of worrying, I met the British/Australian Mongol Rally team How Hard Can It Be in their Toyota Yaris. They were one of the few teams that hadn’t stayed on the south route and I was quite amazed by how the four of them managed to tackle the challenging terrain in a tiny car with front wheel drive.

We decided to camp together and soon found an absolutely fabulous spot on a river. Trees and dead wood were abundant and we built a big campfire. While we were cooking together, I bragged a bit about going 90 km/h on sand.

Camping with How Hard Can It Be.

At night, it turned out that we hadn’t found the paradise we’d suspected. Huge trucks full of sand and gravel were doing night shifts, building the nearby road. The noise didn’t stop all night.

In the next morning, the How Hard Can It Be team left early. They waved at me from the track above our camping spot. I also went up there and helped dig out a local car that got stuck in the sand. The freshly unstuck locals drove away. Feeling smart and superior on my two wheels, I tried to go around the sandy spot but got stuck as well.

Stuck in Dirt Stuck in Dirt (video)

After needing half an hour for the first 50 m, I felt like yesterday’s bragging was coming back to haunt me.

This illustrates well my driving ability on mud.

I had increased the tension of the cam chain which improved the jerkiness a lot, but didn’t completely get rid of it. This is probably a sign that the automatic cam chain tensioner is dying, but I guess I’ll never find out.

In a tiny town called Jargalant, I took a wrong turn and ended up on an absolutely fabulous dirt track. Abruptly, a waist high river crossing the track stopped all traffic. Cars coming from and going to Ulaan Baatar were waiting on either side of the river. Only a big Russian Kamaz truck was able to cross it. Believe it or not, the bus can swim.

After a few minutes, I found a bridge consisting of five logs. I carried all the luggage across the bridge and carefully rode over the logs that bent quite a bit under the 280 kg of the bike, fuel and rider. When repacking the bike I saw locals blazing across the bridge at top speed in their Chinese made 150 ccm bikes.

Safety First Bridge Safety First Bridge (video)

Soon I realized that this track was the real deal. Many rivers had to be crossed, and even if they were just knee high, the engine always died and I had to push the bike out of the sandy riverbeds. Beware: the video below is long and not particularly interesting, but illustrates the problem well.

River Crossing River Crossing (video)

It wasn’t until the end of the day that I noticed that a breather hose from the carburetor was running all the way down to the chain, causing the bike to stall as soon as the end of the hose was submerged.

In the evening I was completely exhausted from picking up the bike and pushing it out of rivers. I stayed in a ger with a wood stove and took the first shower in days.

The wood stove saved me from freezing to death.

View from the ger.

Ger camp Tsagaanuur II.

In the morning I went back to the main road and after two kilometers had to cross the next river.

Lake Tsaganuur Lake Tsaganuur (video)

In the evening I arrived in Tsetserleg. Christian & Mireille, a French couple on a beautiful Ural with sidecar and a Belgian family in a huge Mercedes bus from the seventies were also there and we had a huge Aussie Burgers for dinner. The Fairfield Hotel and Café in Tsesterleg is nice and clean, but run by fascists that don’t allow the consumption of beer in the building.

In the morning I put the panniers on the bike one last time and rode the 500 km to Ulaan Baatar without incident.

Arriving at the Oasis Guesthouse, I met Gary and Jamie again!

The Oasis guesthouse really deserves its name. It boasts what is probably the highest density of westerners in Mongolia and serves typical Austrian food like Wiener Schnitzel and Fleischkäse.

It’s a very dangerous place as well. Evenings filled with adventure stories, Schnitzels and vast amounts of beer just fly and if one doesn’t pay attention it is easy to get stuck there for weeks. You can check-out any time you like, but you can never leave.

A large biker gang accumulated over the next few days, including Greta and Marcel from Germany on two lovingly prepared Honda Transalps, Pascal from France on his TDM 900, Lilian and Guido from the Netherlands on two BMW F 650 GS and many more overlanders in a variety of vehicles.

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