Mad Way Mongolia: Kite Buggy Expedition
Team member, Gavin Mulvay shares of his latest, exciting escapades as he kite-buggy's through Mongolia with his good mate and fellow kite-enthusiast, Joe Steffert, all in a bid to achieve 5000km of unsupported travel throughout Mongolia and China, using kite buggy's alone. Here are the raw scribings of his adventure journal.
Day 1: 24 April 2016
We arrived in the western Mongolian town of Ulaan-gom last night after a 3400km, week-long overland bus and train trip, from the coast of China.
We spent the rainy, windless morning assembling buggy's in our hotel room and buying food, we had plans to do a quick run to the Russian border but the wind is pushing us the other way, we left town at 6pm and head east towards the mountains. I tried to charge some large, flat battery's using a motor/generator setup running on the front wheel of the buggy, we used a similar system on last years trip, however, the small battery's that air-travel restricted us to, didn't generate quite enough power. Meanwhile, I didn't notice the motor overheating and it burnt out, not a good start to the trip. We began and made our way over some open plains and pass the massive Uvs lake, it looks like an ocean. The wind died at 1:30am so we camped and refuelled. Tonight's menu, horse meat on toast. Today, 95km travelled.
Day 2: 25 April
We had no wind until midday, then then we finally made some good headway (for 200km or so) along the area of sand dunes stretching down-wind from Uvs lake. We had to cross a frozen river to the town of Dzel and buy food but forgot to top up our water supply! We camped in the dunes. Today, 111km travelled. Total distance 206km.
Day 3: 26 April
Light, gusty wind today. We moved down-wind to some buildings in the hope we'd find some supplies but there were no shops around, so we zig-zaged back up-wind to the road. To our dismay, we found ourselves covered in ticks - probably from kiting through all the long-grass, so we stuck to the road to avoid the plague of parasites. It was slow going until evening when the wind from an impending rain storm pushed us a little further. We stopped in an animal shelter as the storm passed, the smell was unbearable so we opted to camp in the dunes again. Today,67km travelled. Total distance 273km.
Day 4: 27 April
Light gusty wind again, however, the previously open terrain has changed to big, spectacular valleys and foothills. We stopped for dinner and much needed tea with a local herder, it was lucky we bumped into him, we'd run out of our water supply! We continued to the town of Tes, it was late and there were no hotels open, fortunately we met the local police man and he offered us to stay with him. Today, 55km travelled. Total distance 328km.
Day 5: 28 April
We left town in the afternoon with the wind behind us, before long, some steep looking mountains appeared in front of us! The road winds up deep gorges and over multiple passes. The wind was extremely turbulent down in the valleys and very strong on the passes, we had never attempted to kite-buggy terrain this challenging before. It wouldn't have been possible without the stability of our modern single skin kites. Pulling our heavy buggy's up the steep inclines put the kites and our bodies under immense load. We managed to hold it all together and we rolled down the back sides of the passes at great speed.
We stopped for dinner in the town of Altay, the wind is still howling so we were able to make another 20km before dark. We have climbed 1300m of altitude during the day. Today, 71km travelled. Total distance 399km.
Day 6: 29 April
No wind in the morning. We took the opportunity to tune kites and fix gear, I disassemble our battery's and found them corroded and useless, this explained why my motor burnt out trying to charge them earlier on. These battery's were also the reason we couldn't fly to our start point instead of the long-haul on the train. The wind arrived in the afternoon being pushed from a big black storm behind us, we ran in front of it and the wind built all day. We kited down a narrow road through a forest only to be held up crossing a semi frozen river. The delay meant the storm caught us and starts raining. We camped at 11pm and it snowed all night. Today, 72km travelled. Total distance 471km.
Day 7: 30 April
It's my birthday and there's snow everywhere! By about 2pm the snow started to ease, so we packed up and blasted our way through the snow with good wind behind us. An hour and a half later, we are in the town of Haliban, the snow had set in again so we stayed at a hotel.Today, 31km travelled. Total distance 502km.
Day 8: 1 May 2016
We put on our waterproof gear and head into the snow covered hills. We were picking our way through patchy snow and getting covered in it as it flicked from our tires. We passed near a town but the wind was good so we keep going. The road climbed over a 2000m pass and the snow was deep, we needed our biggest kites to drag our buggy's through successfully. We had to cross under power lines many times, eventually dragging ourselves down to the snow line and into the village of Burenhaan. The first guy we meet invites us in, we enjoyed a warm fire, milk tea and a goat for dinner. A stark contrast to hours before, shivering on an alpine pass in fading light, trying to decide which bleak snowy valley to take. We slept on the couches in his karaoke room. Today, 117km travelled. Total distance 619km.
Day 9: 2 May
There's no wind so we walked to the edge of town and spread our gear out to dry beside an abandoned building. Some drunk guys turned up to see what we were doing. It wasn't until after they left, we noticed our multi tools and Joe's phone is gone! We confronted them which turned into a few hours of shoving around and arguing! Some locals help us and make them strip, we recover 1 multi tool and a lighter, we are still hassling them about the phone when Joe notices it in the bottom of his bag (awkward), we quietly left town. Utilising light wind, we eventually get to a pass and roll down to a deep river valley. An hour later we met a Polish girl hitchhiking the other way, the first foreigner we have seen since Ulaanbaatar. We camped by the river and dried our washing beside the fire, enjoying the company of the Polish traveller. Nice to have someone else to talk to. Today, 22km travelled. Total distance 641km.
Day 10: 3 May
Difficult conditions in the valley, a cliff on one side and trees on the other. After a few kilometers we climbed over a pass and down into a big open valley, this led us to the city of Murun. There was snow forecasted overnight but we were keen to keep moving, so we kited another 20km and set our tents up for the approaching storm. Today, 89km travelled. Total distance 730km.
Day 11: 4 May
Snow drifted around the tents and buried our buggy's. We were warm in our tents though, we had acclimatised to the cold, for an unusually snowy spring in Mongolia this year. The snow eased in the afternoon so we head off, we crossed a pass and a frozen lake then down a big valley, harnessing the light wind to make it to the village of Tsengel. There was a big, angry dog determined to have my kite if it got within biting distance - a little nerve-racking. Once again the first person we meet fed us and puts us up for the night. Today, 48km travelled. Total distance 778km.
Day 12: 5 May
We head to the end of the valley and climbed a small hill to study our intended route. There was a bridge and a road over a high pass in the distance, if we could cross it, all the open terrain on the other side would be welcomed. Unfortunately, the pass had a lot of fresh snow on it so we took an alternate route through a series of narrow, twisty valley's. We passed the colorful town of Selenge and camp on dusk, I accidentally pitched my tent on broken glass and punctured my sleeping mat. Today, 81km travelled. Total distance 859km.
Day 13: 6 May
Almost no wind today, so we walked and kited when we could, to a small settlement with a nice restaurant. Everyone was drunk. Drunken horse and motorbike riding are the main sports in this unusual village, so we threw caution to the wind and joined in. Today, 9km travelled. Total distance 868km.
Day 14: 7 May
Head wind and rain most of the day, we sheltered under kites until a few small, flyable windows presented themselves. Today, 42km travelled. Total distance 910km.
Day 15: 8 May
Light gusty wind again, we passed through the town of Hutag but everything was closed. 10km later we found a nice restaurant that served meals that actually had vegetables! We kept kiting until dark and in the twilight I misjudged the distance to the road and crashed my kite into the deck of a passing truck, fortunately he stopped, before certain disaster and we had a good laugh about it. Today, 50km travelled. Total distance 960km.
Day 16: 9 May
Light wind and very hot. After 10km of travel, the valley turned upwind and became choked with trees, we walked 10km and camped beside a stream with a bonfire. We spotted a grey wolf in the valley nearby. Today, 25km travelled. Total distance 985km.
Day 17: 10 May
Good wind in the morning and a quick run to the town of Unit, despite crashing my kite into a cow on the way. By the time we had eaten the wind is dying, although we made another 10km on our light-wind kites -fondly known as "Red Rocket" and "Orange Rocket." The sunset brought an eerie yellow light and long shadows. We prepared for another snow storm. Today, 24km travelled. Total distance 1009km.