Mad Way Mongolia – Continued: Day 18-38
5th Element Expedition Team Member, Gavin Mulvay and his kiting companion, Joe Steffert continue on their expedition through Mongolia, reaching for a new unsupported distance record (by kite-buggy.) Below are raw journal entries and unedited camera snaps of their adventures. See previous blog post in case you missed their progress so far.
Day 18: 11 May We had rain and snow all night but by mid morning it appeared to be easing. We made way down the valley then within an hour, a big black cloud overtook us bringing heavy snowfall. We sheltered in an abandoned building until it passed. We went up a steep narrow pass at the side of the valley and the terrain opened up in front of us, the wind was better out of the valley and we blasted through the rolling hills to the town of Hoshoot. We climbed 1800m today. Today, 135km travelled. Total distance 1144km.
Day 19: 12 May We wanted to visit some ruins at the city of Karakoum (120km to the south, the capital of the Old Mongolian Empire.) We headed south but the wind was unfavorable so we went further east over some foot hills. The wind improved in the evening but it was the wrong angle to let us travel east so we stopped to check out an abandoned mine then camped near the town of Gurvenblag. Today, 113km travelled. Total distance 1257km.
Day 20: 13 May There was strong wind from the north so we put up small kites and head for Karakorum. 20km later the wind swung further to the west and we ground to a halt. For a third time we were forced to turn back. The wind increased to a gale and some tumbleweed began to whiz past at head height, tangling in our kites! In the afternoon we come across the ruins of a 500-year-old fortress, looking at the stonework was very impressive. The wind increased further still, (now a sand storm) so we made haste to the town of Dashinchillin, seeking refuge in a restaurant. We camped 5km from town after the storm passed. Today, 102km travelled. Total distance 1359km.
Day 21: May 14 We repaired some kites in the morning then head slowly down the road with light tail wind, a good chance to charge battery's with our regenerative braking system. We stopped in Oldziyt for lunch then proceeded beside the road, over multiple passes and a tricky bridge crossing at Sujji. We kited through town and when the wind lulled, some kids give me a push! I gave them some octopus kites to play with, as a show of gratitude – they were very pleased. The wind died at dusk and we camped in a gully with small rodents everywhere! Today, 116km travelled. Total distance 1475km.
Day 22: May 15 The wind arrived at its usual casual hour, and we followed beside the road for 20km. This road led to Ulaanbaatar which would have been too congested for us to kite in, so we turned right to cross the mountain range to our south. The valley we chose, led us to a national park with a large tourist camp at the entrance. We continued up the green valley, over the pass and down to the river valley on the other side. There were herds of wild deer and large ground squirrels on the way. Further down the valley, we managed to negotiate the tricky terrain via several small rivers and a bridge over a large river. We crossed another pass in the dwindling wind and set camp. Today, 94km travelled. Total distance 1569km.
Day 23: May 16 We kited down the hill to the nearby town of Altanbulag. I grabbed some groceries while Joe borrowed a kids bike and demonstrated some kite-biking. We headed east through low rolling hills, toward Ulaanbaatar and carefully picked our way through fences, power lines, villages, military bases and airfields – not for the feint of heart! Dinner was a selection of fresh vegetables on bread, a nice change from our usual fried salami and mayonnaise. Today, 75km travelled. Total distance 1644km.
Day 24: May 17 So many obstacles - another military airbase and a tricky railway crossing! After 50km we came over a low saddle and saw an enormous statue of Genghis Khaan on a horse. An Ulaanbaatar businessman had it built out of stainless steel to show that Mongolians should be proud of their history. When we went for a closer look and met a guy who kept a Golden Eagle and a Eurasian Vulture. We had been seeing these huge birds circling above us but they were far more impressive close up, the vulture weighed 18kg and the piercing stare of the eagle is something I won't forget. The wind picked up and we climbed over a narrow tree-lined pass. The afternoon brought more challenging terrain and eventually a huge coal mine, we tryed to shortcut below it, but got stuck behind some barbed wire fences and a railway line. We had to lift our buggy’s over the fences and then continue. We only made another 5km or so before the wind died off. Today, 130km travelled. Total distance 1774km.
Day 25: May 18 We had made roughly 10km in the morning before discovering an amazing-looking river! Considering we hadn’t washed properly for a month, we hastily dived into the icy water with a bar of soap each, as 10 locals watched on in amazement. Meanwhile the wind increased so we launched small kites and made way up the., The wind angles and wind shadows made things tricky for us until the valley opened up. We stopped quickly for tea in a small roadside village before continuing for 40km. Only then did we realise Joe's camera was missing! Would be a shame to lose so many photos, we had to decide whether or not to go back and search for the camera. Today,103km travelled. Total distance 1877km.
Day 26: May 19 Wind was blowing northerly in the morning, so we head to the nearby town of Jargalt. Wanting to turn north here, however the wind wasn’t favourable. The forecast predicted a brief, intense storm from the south in the afternoon followed by 4 days of head winds, so our only chance to get further north was to try to ride with the storm cell. There was a faint breeze from the south (6 milk teas later) and we were finally off! We tried to go as fast as possible to stay in front of the storm, which wasn’t the best idea – it led to gear breakages and drama! By 6pm we were caught by the gale and had to use our smallest (1.5 square meter) kites. They pulled so hard we were getting ripped out of the buggy’s. It started raining heavily on dusk then the wind swung to face head-on, we eventually slowed to a halt. We crawled into our flapping tents cold, wet and tired. Today, 210km travelled. Total distance 2087km.
Day 27: May 20 The predicted head wind had arrived, so we zig-zagged our way up a road to a farm yard, and spend most of the day tuning kites and fixing yesterday’s damages. The wind was slightly more favorable in the evening, so we managed a few more kilometres. Today,14km travelled. Total distance 2101km.
Day 28: May 21 It was 50km to the next town and we were very low on supplies. It was hot and the wind was sporadic, rapidly changing directions with the thermals. By sunset we were still 30 km away from where we needed to be, so we started walking (to get within a days walk of town.) To our surprise, and contrary to the forecast, a perfect cross-wind arrived and we were off! It felt great to be doing 40-50 km/h after 2 days of crawling-pace and better still, we had a full moon to light the way. We got to town in and hour and had meal of buuz, (a boiled meat dumpling that everyone seems to love here.) Today, 52km travelled.Total distance 2153km.
Day 29: May 22 We stocked up on food and water then head off. It was back to head-wind and the forecast still didn’t look good. We could barely inch up the road, very slow going. The wind flickered on sunset like most days - a layer of cold air building up from ground level caused this. To reach the higher-level wind, we decided to extend our lines from 30m to 55m and avoid the still, cool air on the ground. It allowed us to continue for 3 more hours under the light of the full moon. Today, 54km travelled. Total distance 2207km.
Day 30: May 23 Headwinds and rain showers most of the day, we sheltered under kites and made the occasional 1km burst of progress. We found a nice campsite in a hollow under a tree but at 11pm we noticed a jeep driving around looking for something. As it turned out, it was border patrol in the car and it was us they are looking for! They asked some questions about what we were doing, then left. Today, 19km travelled. Total distance 2226km.
Day 31: May 24 We passed through another town without any success withdrawing money from the bank, the locals must have noticed and people handed us bags of food and water as we left town, the people are very friendly up this way – logistical nightmare though! We spent the afternoon sheltered under kites as a thunderstorm raged around us. We made some good progress in the evening but both managed to tangle our kites in power lines, fortunately we got them back and camped in another nice spot under a tree. Today, 48km travelled. Total distance 2274km.
Day 32: May 25 We were woken by wind rushing through the large tree above us, finally it was coming from the right direction and we were off! The wind is varying wildly so we spent all day changing between 4 meter kites and 2.4m kites. During one of the wind bursts, a powerful updraft hit my 4m kite and I was lifted, with my buggy, off the road! I hit the quick release but the kite had already severed from me and got away, before long it was a speck in the sky and still climbing! The weight of the control bar hanging below the kite made it behave like a paraglider. Joe chased it and fortunately found it 3.5km away! We passed through the town of Dashbalbar and continued towards Ereentsav at the north eastern tip of Mongolia. The wind was still blowing after sunset so we fit our lights and continued. We set camp at 1am when the wind finally eased. Today, 240km travelled. Total distance 2514km.
Day 33: May 26 We made quick progress to the Russian border in the morning and now there was nowhere left to go but south. We have 25 days to get to one of two Chinese borders in the south that lets foreigners through. The wind was good and we made good progress. Today, 134km travelled. Total distance 2648km.
Day 34: May 27 We had a light head wind all day, paried with intense heat, ants and fly’s everywhere! Our water supply was rapidly dwindling, not aided by the fact we had just consumed a bunch of Russian Honey Mead. The evening brought slightly more favourable wind and we managed to travel 25km before dark. A gale force wind built during the night I had forgotten I left part of the zip open and woke to the not-so-delightful surprise of tumbleweed all through my tent! Today, 25km travelled. Total distance 2673km.
Day 35: May 28 The gale was still blowing hard in the morning and it was too much for our 1.5m kites. There was good, rolling terrain with the exception of multiple parallel vehicle ruts. We got going and then the large city of Choibalsan appeared over the horizon. To our left, there was something more interesting and sinister looking, so we make our way over old trenches and barbed wire to discover one of the 6 old Soviet mig bases abandoned in 1990. We had a look around then proceeded to Choibalsan. We found an ATM, a hotel with a cold shower and head to the flea market to replace some of our missing and broken gear.Today, 96km travelled.Total distance 2769km.
Day 36: May 29 We both got haircuts from the locals and head down towards the town, Baruun-urt. The wind was still blowing strong like yesterday and it took us less than 8 hours to cover the 200km. At one stage we were going so fast we were passing trucks on the road nearby. Joe pulled out his phone and discovered it had been crushed between his harness and the buggy frame. We stayed in town and hoped to find a phone repair place in the morning. Today, 206km travelled. Total distance 2975km.
Day 37: May 30 Joe got his phone repaired and we head west towards Ondorhaan. With light wind behind us, in the evening we met an animal herder that remembered seeing us pass the same position near here last year, we were invited to his ger for dinner and camped outside. Today, 58km travelled. Total distance 3033km.
Day 38: May 31 Wind arrived at midday today, so we said goodbye to our new friends. The wind was still light and it took us most of the day to get to Munkhkhaan. The evening brought perfect, smooth crosswind and we flew down the sealed road in the fading light. Shortly after, a dark shape appeared out of the shadows in front of me - I slammed on the brakes and found myself nose to nose with a startled looking horse! We switched on our bike lights and continued kiting until 2am when the road turned upwind. Today, 143km travelled. Total distance 3176km.