Another cold nite was somewhat irrelevant to me as I slept warm and so did the Duckling. Breakfast was humorous. The same menu was on offer and the same cream of potato soup was . . . not the same. Other than it was still bland.
I provisioned a few items at a nearby store and set off at about 10AM, a little later than I wanted. The pavement was intoxicating. Easy. Fast. Smooth. And no fever problems from the Duckling. It did not last.
The air warmed very quickly. The track became absolutely torturous waffle-board after about 50km/30miles and alternated between that and rock and boulder patches buried in sand washes for another 150km/100miles. Exhausting and confidence and time sapping. Boo hoo. Now REAL trucks began to appear and were terrifying to view. My speed fell to almost single digits.
Imagine a giant Chinese tractor trailer barreling across the dusty steppe. It’s diesel engine whistling. It’s body rolling uncontrollably side to side and up and down with each heave and bounce. It’s wake of dust would have buried small countries. The drivers didn’t look crazed but the vehicles looked more like alien scouts sucking up vegetation on the fly.
Many of the water crossings were frozen solid. The good news is that there were generally bridges, the bad news is that it still required smashing holes to get fresh water for cooling the Duckling’s fever.
It’s really a shame that I can write these reports and it’s really a shame that I had to manage the bike’s fever. Because the riding would have been, in general, fantastic and the scenery was great. Bright sun illuminated golden valleys, black mountains, twisting rivers, grazing horses, bactrian camels and picturesque ger locations.
My target this day was very ambitious, the town of Bulgan, about 450km. This may seem laughable given that my previous best day in the past four days had been about 270km and the average was closer to 200. But my understanding was that the “road” would improve dramatically after the waffle board.
It did not. In fact, it seemed that my progress was painfully slow and that the Duckling’s fever was worse than ever. As I rode late into the afternoon there was spotty evidence of new road construction – not like in the west, but there were graded dirt and piles of rough gravel – and cultivated fields. The villages were positively beautiful. The afternoon light was far north, autumn yellow. In spite of the creeping progress there was so much eye candy I didn’t ignore how much terrain I hoped to cover, but I certainly couldn’t ignore the eye candy.
But . . . I wasn’t making great progress. But I was nearing . . . the final stretch which would be all tarmac. A final turn away from a river meant I had 30-40 miles till the tarmac began. My elevation was still near 4000′ and as the sun failed the temperature collapsed quickly. I stopped for more cooling water and saw an apparent camp of small wooden tepees. I rode up and shouted to hopefully find someone who could let me use one for the nite. No luck. And they were all secured with a large lock. How un-Mongolian !
So I rode on. And, of course, the Duckling had a literal fever fit. The rode became a crazy quilt of construction paths blanketed in darkness. It became very difficult to find the way or even determine if my bearing was correct. The temperature continue to fall. My face shield steamed up and then lightly frosted. The Duckling protested. I protested loudly to the heavens in pitch blackness.
Suddenly a bright light appeared a few kilometers away. Once I got nearer it was clearly a proper benzine station. Tarmac ! Cold. 🙁
The station attendant came out to greet me with a smile and a look of disbelief, I assume due to the cold. Inquiring about a place to stay he pointed across the road. A small place to eat had a single “bed” and the woman said I could have it. Just me. When I asked about food she showed little interest in cooking but would provide some simple ramen and salt tea. Fine.
She gave me a blanket and by 8:30 I was horizontal and in dream land. Hopefully the Duckling’s fever would pass overnite but not TOO much. The KTM lived under a high, cold, clear sky. Did I mention that anti-freeze must be almost entirely diluted by continual water replenishment ?
I fell asleep, in any case, worries/issue be damned. And that was that.
Until 11:30 when I was awakened by someone shaking my shoulder. It was a drunk Mongolian man and his very drunken buddies. They couldn’t believe that I didn’t speak Mongolian or that continual repeating would not “sink in” to my little brain. Of course, being Mongolians they’d left the door open and the room had to be about 30 degrees or colder. My protests regarding the door fell on deaf ears.
One of them seemed borderline concerning. He was clearly a powerful man and when two of his cohorts began punching each other outside he laughed. He probably showed me his considerable fist four or five times. This midnite nightmare went on for a while until the proprietor returned. Somehow she dispensed with the two fools outside and then convinced one of the two entertained by me to leave. But Mr Big Fist was not going easy, yet.
When he did it wasn’t before I prepared to rescue the lady of the house from his leer or worse. The strangest nite of the trip, without any rivals.