Mad Way Mongolia – Final: Day 39-63
Mad Way Mongolia: Expedition Wrap-Up.
Check out the final journal entries and adventure scribing of team member, Gavin Mulvay and his comrade, Joe Steffert as they complete their epic mission to kite-buggy across Mongolia and into China.
"We never planned a route for this trip, only a starting point and number of day's. The main goals were having fun, finding challenging terrain and visiting the areas of Mongolia we haven't already seen. If we knew how mountainous, snowy and tree lined the northern route through the Khangai mountains would be, we would probably have never have attempted it. Here's a look at our stats for the journey overall:"
One day without wind.
Prevailing wind direction W/NW/N.
3 snow storms.
Highest altitude 1964m.
Distance walked, approximately 60km.
Top speed 69kph.
New record for longest kite buggy trip. (Previous record 3693km, Mad Way Mongolia 2015.)
New record for longest 24hr cross country distance 317km. (Previous record 260km, Mad way Mongolia 2014.)
New record for longest distance travelled using kite power. (Previous record 5067km, Wings over Greenland.)
Read below for the ins and outs of our final stretch of the journey!
Day 39: 1 June
We had headwinds persisting all day, it was likely to become a constant issue, now that we were heading against the prevailing wind angle. The evening brought favourable wind and we continued down the sealed roads, we found ourselves avoiding small brown snakes warming themselves on the heat of the road. We camped beside the Herlen river opposite Ondorhaan. Today, 42km travelled. Total distance, 3218km.
Day 40: 2 June
Without wind, we walked to town and sheltered from the heat in a nice restaurant. There wasn’t a hint of wind in the afternoon so we walked out of town and waited in the shade of a monastery. The wind never arrived, so we camped by the monastery. Our first no wind day! Today, 3km travelled. Total distance, 3221km.
Day 41: 3 June
We followed the north side of the river for 20km then the course swung too far upwind. We still couldn’t follow the river so we went cross-country up to the town of Mörön. There we met a man who said he is a police officer (but had no badge or uniform.) We ignored him and head to the shops, the officer came back later with his badge and an English translator and insisted on looking through all our bags (he still seemed quite shady to me). This was the first troublesome cop we have met in Mongolia, the rest had been friendly and just wanted photos, sitting in our buggy’s.
We continued through the hills but the road got very busy after dark. Even with our lights fitted, it was hard to see where we were going with all the oncoming headlights. Joe was in front and we were going fast on the sealed road when suddenly, his kite goes wrapped with power lines! This was a scenario we have been dreading, the kite was wrapped around large high transmission lines and we didn’t have a spare light wind kite. I stood underneath the kite and yelled to Joe, which line to pull. Thankfully, it untangled and fell to the ground. What a day. Today, 106km travelled. Total distance, 3327km.
Day 42: 4 June
There was head-wind most of the day so we fixed our worn out, broken gear. The wind eventually swung to a favourable direction and we continued our way through the hills. We were following unused tracks that had been marked on our out-of-date Soviet maps. At one point my buggy got stuck in a swamp and some kids pull it out for me. At midnight, we came to the main bride over the Herlen river. It was a long, high bridge over a big river and the decking was missing, there were only logs with big gaps between. We tried our best pulling our buggy’s over, but the wheels kept falling through the gaps. The only way to get across was to run, jumping from log to log with the buggy’s bouncing wildly behind! We continued south until the wind eased at 2am. Today, 136km travelled. Total distance 3463km.
Day 43: 5 June
We head along to the railway, to the town of Choyr. On the way we found some more cold war relics, this time the massive bunkers didn’t have barbed wire around them and we could buggy right over the top, much to the amusement of the locals who were using them as animal shelters.
We made it to town with the last of the wind and settled in a hotel. Today, 62km travelled. Total distance, 3525km.
Day 44: 6 June
The wind arrived in the evening and we worked our way further south into the barren Gobi desert. After 20km we found a picturesque lake and had a much needed swim. Feeling refreshed, we used the smooth evening wind to cover another 30km. Today, 48km travelled. Total distance, 3573km.
Day 45: 7 June
We were in the heart of the Gobi desert, there wasn’t not a bush or a animal in sight and we were consuming our water supply rapidly! Khalzan Uul National Park was 40km to the south of us, so we made our way down there and searched all over, looking for the water springs. We found a Russian couple researching argali sheep and ibex then turned east back towards the railway. We pitched our tents amongst the many granite pillars of the park. Today, 68km travelled. Total distance, 3641km.
Day 46: 8 June
We made for the railway town of Har-Ayrag, thankfully we found a well before long and filled all our empty water bottles! We arrived in town just in time to shelter from a thunderstorm. Today, 56km travelled. Total distance, 3697km.
Day 47: 9 June
The forecast for the next two days was good so we decide to aim for the remote Chinese border crossing of Bichigt rather than the closer border of Zamiin Uud. It was over 600km away and we only had a week left on our Mongolian visas! Adding to the gamble was the conflicting reports we have read about if foreigners can cross there or not. There was a 50kph tail wind blowing so we launched our smallest kites and went east. We passed many small towns but managed to skirt around them without delay. In the evening we passed the town of Shireet and remembered having a water fight with some kids at the town well, last year. We turned north here so we could make use of tomorrow's forecast northerly wind. The wind died with the setting sun so we stopped and cooked a well earned meal. This had been our longest day yet and we have covered half the distance to the border. Today, 317km travelled. Total distance, 4014km.
Day 48: 10 June
We cooked breakfast in some nearby ruins and head south east towards the national park and town of Ovoot. There was a large area of sand dunes blocking our path and all the roads we had on our maps were 30 years out of date! (Evidently, they no longer existed.) We proceeded to bounce our way over clumps of vegetation for 2 hours to find a road on the other side. The rest of the day was spent whizzing down a track, over vast green plains until the road veered too far upwind. From there, we crossed a rocky mountain range to get to town. We stocked up on food and water then camped a few kilometers away beside one of the many extinct volcanoes in the park. Today, 117km travelled. Total distance, 4131km.
Day 49: 11 June
We continued east over endless grassy plains and passed dozens of old cone-shaped volcanoes. The evening brought rain and we sheltered under our worn-out, leaky kites. Today, 115km travelled. Total distance 4246km.
Day 50: 12 June
The border was still 100km away and we needed to get to at least walking distance away today! (before 2 days of forecast head wind arrived.) We stopped in the town of Chonolgol then continued down to the border. We arrived in the afternoon but the border wasn't open on Sunday so we camped nearby. Today, 109km travelled. Total distance, 4355km.
Day 51: 13 June
We lined up with the trucks and vans then walked to the Mongolian border post. It was 4km over a hill to the Chinese border post so we kited up the hill and rolled down the other side. Apart from insisting on spraying us with some kind of herbicide the Chinese border, the crossing was easy and friendly, we were probably the first foreigners to cross here since the border was only recently opened. The small border town was like a ghost town and the only ATM available was broken. We managed to exchange our remaining Mongolian tugrik at a shop but ended up with less than 100 Chinese Yuan, ($20.) Fortunately, some generous locals gave us some food and water. We head out of town and found ourselves in a nice quiet corner of China. If we continued east any further, we would run into forests (roughly 300km away) so we found a quiet gravel road heading west. We foolishly buggyed under a highway camera and shortly after the police arrived, fortunately they were friendly and we continued until dark. Today, 95km travelled. Total distance, 4449km.
Day 52: 14 June
We counted up all the water bottles we were given by shop owners and passing motorists yesterday and found we are carrying 30 litre's, (enough to last us a week.) We continued down a gravel road that weaved through hills parallel to the border. By mid morning we were really enjoying ourselves and it was looking like another 250km+ day. Our hopes were dashed when we rounded a corner and saw an army base beside the road, followed by people with guns running towards us. We stopped but our kites kept pulling with such power! One young soldier grabbed Joe's kite and rapidly left the scene downwind. Young and excited, (pointing guns at us) so we sat on our tires and ignored them until they calmed down. Soon someone more mature arrived and insisted we go to their base. We ate lunch with the officers but they still wouldn’t let us leave. We took the opportunity to patch the slow leaks in our tires and untangle the kites that the soldiers had kindly wrapped up for us. 4 hours later, the police arrived and we got our passports back. Finally, we turned south to a parallel road further from the border, then a farm track that led in a good direction. Today, 183km travelled. Total distance, 4632km.
Day 53: 15 June
We had used up our two days of favorable wind but we could just follow the farm track back with our best upwind kites, if need be. We came to a small village at mid day and bought an impressive amount of groceries for $5. The local police were friendly and we had lunch at their station. 20km later we found a larger town, the only ATM in town wouldn’t give us any money so we kept walking. 5 police officers stopped us and said we are going the wrong way and should go south to the motorway. We explained that our vehicles are only safe to use on quiet country roads and if we go south we can't get to our destination of Erlian. Most of the officers understood and say we should keep following this road but the chief wasn't listening, so we argued for a few hours but eventually were forced further south. We camped 15km later. Today, 62km travelled. Total distance, 4694km.
Day 54: 16 June
We followed the sealed road south for 10km then turned down a farm track that led towards the city of Mandalt. A few minutes later it started raining heavily and thankfully there was an abandoned car nearby to shelter in. After the thunderstorm passed we followed the track until it faded away, then fence hopped towards town. I almost ran over a snake then spend the rest of the day dodging suspicious-looking-sticks. Today, 52km travelled. Total distance, 4746km.
Day 55: 17 June
We were out of food so we skipped breakfast and set sail for Mandalt. 8km from town we came over a hill and found a ghost town made entirely of bricks and mud. We walked through the eerie town and kited down a plantation beside the highway. In Mandalt we eventually found a ATM, a hotel and a much needed restaurant. Today, 82km travelled. Total distance, 4828km.
Day 56: 18 June
We spent most of the day looking for a replacement for a broken bolt and booking flights. We left town in the afternoon with as much food as we could carry. We launched our kites 200m from the hotel for some tricky urban-kiting, then went through another plantation and out into the desert. Today, 28km travelled. Total distance, 4856km.
Day 57: 19 June
We wanted to follow a gravel road south, away from the busy motorway and away from the heat of the desert but the wind is blowing the wrong way despite a good forecast. We decided to wait until 12noon then conceded to the motorway. At 11:55 the wind swung a few degrees and we could sneak up the gravel road. The wind got hotter and gustier all day and there were big “dust devils” roaming over the vast wasteland. We were hoping to find the nice zone at the edge of the desert but we seemed to be heading into the middle. We had only seen sand and the odd camel for 100km. By 11pm we came across what felt like the most remote village in China, it was to our surprise there was a shop open so we had a beer with the startled-looking locals, got supplies and camped outside town. Today, 99km travelled. Total distance, 4955km.
Day 58: 20 June
We got underway before the sun got too high but the road dissolved into endless sand dunes. There was lots of friction in the soft sand and big wind shadows behind the highest dunes, fortunately we had enough wind to power through. After 50km we found a sealed road leading to a small town, we stopped for lunch and typical of the generosity we have seen in Inner Mongolia, the meal was free. We followed the sealed road south through towering sand dunes for the rest of the day. Today, 89km travelled. Total distance, 5044km.
Day 59: 21 June
We kept following the sealed road and stopped in a small village to shelter from the daily thunderstorm. A few kilometers later, the sand dunes finally ended so we turned down the first dirt road we found and instantly got covered in mud. An enjoyable maze of zig-zaging concrete and sandy country roads led us to a village with a large 300-year-old monastery that was being restored. 20km later the wind died beside another superb grassy camp site. Today, 94km travelled. Total distance, 5138km.
Day 60: 22nd June
A friendly old farmer across the road invited us to her house for a delicious breakfast! Full of milk and cheese, we head down the road past dozens of large wind turbines and found a railway line and a busy 4 lane highway. Joe managed to kite through a tunnel under the railway and we head down the highway. There were lots of signs and power lines to avoid and we got into an area of sand dunes with trees on top. The wind eventually got so gusty we couldn’t move so we walked a few km to the next town and camped under some trees. Today, 71km travelled. Total distance, 5209km.
Day 61: 23rd June
The wind indicated we should go further south today but the road verge wasn't even big enough for us to walk on. We fence-hopped to a farm track lined with wild cannabis. Before long, the trees were so dense that we struggled to gain headway, so we cut across to a railway support road and followed it until the sand dunes turn into open green fields. We skirted around the city of Zhenglanqi as the sun set and aimed for the City of Guyuan 90km south of us. We had 2 days left to get there! We followed a country road out of town but I tangled my kite around a power line in the dark. One of the bridles was hooked up and it took half an hour of pulling on the kite to wear it through and get my kite back. The road eventually became an animal track, we camp at 2am when the wind died. Today, 80km travelled. Total distance, 5289km.
Day 62: 24th June
We ate the last of our food, pack up our tents and head for town. Our single skin, 3 peg, single pole tents weighed 500grams and our system of rolling the tent up with sleeping mat and bag inside only took as long as putting shoes on! As we got further south we crossed from inner Mongolia to the Hebei region. From there, it was more congested and the roads became more dangerous. Finally, we had to walk down tree lined roads, until we found a nice lake with grassy surroundings on dusk. The wind had died so we camped in a picturesque spot 10km from town. Today, 70km travelled. Total distance, 5359km.
Day 63: 25th June
We had a great blast around the lake and up to the outskirts of town before landing our kites for the last time. As we walked through town we come across 2 Kiwi brothers and 2 English lads on fat bikes starting a trip in the opposite direction! We didn’t envy the 40ºC+ degree heat they will find in Mongolia.
We are only 200km from Beijing now, so we will catch a bus there tomorrow before heading back to New Zealand to finish building my yurt. Joe is off to Europe with a Mongolian girl we met on last years trip. Today, 18km travelled. Total Distance, 5377km.