The impact of Mongolian environment on us was definitely strong. Not only the nature, which shocks you with its pure beauty, but also the culture of Mongols. Reminiscences of the empire of Genghis Khan are constantly visible in local houses, bars or restaurants. The connection between humans and horses is unbelievable! And although in this post a big part of our route runs through Russia, it's the Mongolian section, that gave us the most profound and positive experiences.
Riders: Thomas Calcagno & Rafal Ramatowski
Distance: about 1150 km
Duration: 13 days of touring
Gear: TRESHOMBRES the WOLFBORN
Wheels: TRESHOMBRES 3.8
Shifting Group: Shimano 105 & Shimano Ultegra hydraulic
Bike Bags: Blackburn OUTPOST Series: Carry All Bags, Frame Bags, Seat Pack & Dry Bags, Handlebar Roll & Dry Bags
Tires: WTB Riddler 37c x 700 & Schwalbe Delta Plus 38 x 700
Cycling Kits: BIEHLER Neo Classic Cycling Jersey and Bibs 'Schwarzfahrer'
Into the wild again
Leaving the capital of Mongolia behind, after some days of rest, felt like new life. We charged our body-batteries really well and were stoked on the route ahead of us. The sudden change of the nature right before Ulaanbaatar implied the fact, that there will be more food, more water and more people on the way. This could be a good opportunity to get to know the culture and society of Mongolia much better then before, on the empty land of Gobi.
The nature we discovered, literally 30 - 40 km north of the city, exceeded our expectations!
Passing through this fairyland nature felt like a dream! We rode mostly on nice sandy roads, crossing the grass fields every now and then, until suddenly a weather change appeared and we felt the first back wind since, hell knows since when, but it's been a while..
It was quite difficult to navigate the first two days after leaving the capital. Roads marked as main roads often turned out to be pretty adventurous, but at the same time leading us to some very interesting places. Little rivers were constantly cutting through the green fields, so also we had to cut through them many times!
Human - animal combination
Talking about the Mongolian culture, it seemed to us and it felt, like the local manners and morals in Mongolia were so special. A sort of pride written on each face, expressing affiliation to a tradition rooted in their behaviors ages ago. A sensitive person could even feel a little offended by Mongolian mask of joviality and hardiness. However, there were helpful and compassionate actions behind this mask!
Strong affiliation to the traditional manners appears also through a strong connection between Mongols and their horses. You can see horses so often on the steppes, in the mountains and in the cities, where locals even use the to commute, as we use bicycles in Western cultures. Such a beautiful relation!
There's nothing more purifying and startling, then cycling through this part of the globe!
Imagine, you're being dropped on a land, where civilization, rush of progress and growth does not exist, where you simply feel the natural pace of the universe. That's, long story short, how it felt for us to stroll through Mongolia, over the next couple of days. Bikepacking, which includes cycling and camping, gave us the ultimate feeling of it! Picturesque landscape, incredible sunsets and so much space on the steppes, with some yurts scattered around. Bliss!
We were really lucky with the weather as you noticed by now! Except of that strong wind in Gobi, we enjoyed sunny, warm vibes most of the time. But what happens, if rain comes suddenly in the steppes, where there's no hideout? Well, the only dry place out there is a yurt. During the rain such yurt is filled with the whole family, spreading over 3-4 generations, beautified with vodka and homemade sweets!
To sum up this part of our journey thru Mongolia in a little more direct way, we put down some VIDEO footage, which you can check out below!
Now kids, it's time to hoop to Russia!
Wow, wow, easy! The customs officials on the border Altanbulag / Kiahta are not in a rush! Similar situation, as on the Chinese / Mongolian border, it's a crossing for vehicles, no for humans. Again we had to find a bus, which would drive us through the border with our bicycles. But to make it more exciting, the whole process took around 8 hours. Good times with the crew!
It was unbelievable, how different suddenly the Russian environment turned out to be! With no time tolerance and no warning! Different cars, shops, people, food and manners, right behind the border gates! At that moment we understood, why the officials are so meticulous about the whole procedure. The reason is to separate and isolate these two countries and cultures from each other. And protect, what they believe is worth protecting.
Along with the mentioned differences, also the weather changed radically. It got much colder and really humid. Next days were no easy days.
We were soaking wet two days in a row. Luckily we found a villa, which offered us shelter in the night :)
After 3 days of pedaling through the rough conditions, we finally reached Baikal. It stroke us right away with its size and peace. Confusing to call it a lake, when you see, how vast Baikal is, but on the other hand its waters are fresh and no waves are to be seen. Well, don't call it, just enjoy it.
As we cycled along Baikal, days were passing by in a strange way. The Siberian environment was quite depressing. Lots of people, we saw or met on the way, seemed somehow dejected and sad. It appeared to us, that life in this region is no paradise. Most of towns on the way looked like their time passed away years ago. Big part of the society left apparently, to pursue better well-being in some other parts of Russia.
At the same time cycling on that one and only main road towards Irkutsk was not the coolest experience due to traffic and weather. That's why we both noticed, we were somehow totally absorbed by our own thoughts these days, while kms were passing by passively.
Luckily, as every evening was approaching, we managed to find nice and cosy camp spot, and could relax gazing at the waters of Baikal.
Make sure your bicycle is well prepared for bumpy gravel roads or off-road action.
It happened a couple of times to us, that the roads turned out to be very challenging,
despite marked as 'main' roads on Google Maps.
It's not a bad idea to have more then one navigation / map App on your phone to compare the routes.
In our case, sometimes Google Maps showed some roads, that Maps.Me didn't and vice versa.