GOBI - road from Beijing to Ulaanbaatar
2.1 of the bikepacking journey from Asia to Europe
June / July 2018
We have already received the Mongolian visa in full gear and we headed right away from Beijing towards Mongolia, days away.
The Province of Inner Mongolia, although belonging to China, is an autonomous region, somewhat similar in this respect to Tibet, and indeed pedaling through this part of China felt completely different! Climate, culture, people and above all the landscape! Here we felt the foretaste of Mongolia, raw desert, strong wind, but still many cities and villages where you could stock up on water and food.
Riders: Thomas Calcagno & Rafal Ramatowski
Distance: about 1500 km
Duration: 10 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'
Escaping the urban jungle
After spending almost 3 weeks in Beijing, waiting for the visa procedures to enter Mongolia and Russia to be finished, we finally kicked off on the 22 of June. We were so glad to leave the overwhelming, intense vibe of this huge megalopolis! We knew, we were heading towards a completely different environment and landscapes of the for off Gobi Desert.
First however, we had to cross big mountains of North Beijing and Hebei Province. Tough but exciting and beautiful route full of long climbs, awesome switchbacks and very little traffic! So good!
It took us two days only to cover the distance from Beijing to the edge of the Inner Mongolian province. We left the big mountains behind and reached the vast Mongolian plateau.
Double experience of Inner Mongolia
We split our ways in the city of Zhangbei, to experience the following 4 days of bikepacking through Inner Mongolia personally. Solo touring on the bicycle makes it even more intense and deep.
Meeting a couple of days later in Erenhot, just before crossing to Mongolia gave us both a possibility to exchange our different experiences from this stage.
Inner Mongolia, also known as Nei Mongol Autonomous Region feels indeed so different from the rest of China. It's actually Mongolia with a chinese label on it, that's why we decided to include it here in our Mongolian cycling diary.
When entering Inner Mongolia, you feel directly, it's different, then all the surrounding provinces of PRC! Climate, culture, people and landscapes, Mongolian alphabet appearing here and there.. Raw desert and strong headwinds made us realize right away, that we're approaching Gobi Desert. Even making a fire was not easy anymore and we had to look for wood along the road and carry it with us to the spot later on.
Baby steps to get to Mongolia
We met in Erenhot, filled up the bellies and spent the night camping at the close-by lake. Unfortunately, there was no water in the lake..
Crossing the border was yet another evidence of how anti-human the border institutions are. To cross the border you need a car, no chance to pass on a bicycle. We had to hoop from car to car to get over to Mongolia, which of course took us way more time, then we expected. Once we made it to Zamin-Uud, we got the cash, sim cards, food and water and moved on north, excited to see what the Gobi had for us!
Pedaling on through the vast emptiness of this first part of Gobi was stunning! Looking around and seeing nothing more then sand, rocks and blue sky contrasting with the yellow surrounding, was a strong experience! We had this brave idea to go off the main road to Ulaanbaatar in order to get the full experience of the desert! We decided to head to Erdene and Örgön a bit eastwards from the highway. Soon we learned that the secondary roads are nothing more then sandy and gravel lanes, basically not much different then the rest of what's there. Strong corrugations were giving us quite a hard time and we were moving on slower then ever, due to the wind and bumpy "roads". We filled up water, got more food in Erdene and decided to the skip Örgön and come back to the main road where at least we could stroll on a sealed surface.
That evening, to find a shelter from the wind, we pushed the bikes off the main road and found that one lonely tree out there, as a sort of totem resisting the angry winds and sands of Gobi. This simple sign of life was like an oasis for us that night..
Becoming one with the desert
Strolling through the rough desert made us realize, how unprepared we really were for such conditions and climate, especially in terms of water. Dry air and constant headwinds made us wanna sip water all the time, but at the same time we had to count every sip! Lack of towns and people, no civilization at all generally, made us look for water from a well. A local girl didn't mind, but we had to wait till the horses were done.
Somehow, despite all these difficulties, being in the merciless climate like this was truly beautiful. It takes your consciousness far beyond a normal state. Dancing tornadoes, nothing except of sand and rocks around, hundreds of bones and parts of dead animals along the road.. Tough but profound experience.
More life, hurray!
As we were approaching Ulaanbaatar, finally the landscape started to get a little bit more green. This was giving us so much happiness! Never before this slow appearance of green hue here and there was so soothing. We were really looking forward to the capital of Mongolia! We needed some rest, food, water and especially shower after a week without washing! Being forced to count every sip of water, meant no chance for a shower, no way!
The VIDEO below, summing up the first part of our Mongolian adventure by bike, will give you a little more flavor of the Gobi desert!
The most important thing about cycling through GOBI is a proper supply of water!
Towns in the desert are scattered on the map, sometimes more then 100km.
It's hot, dry and very windy, which makes you wanna drink all the time,
while there are not many refill opportunities! Make sure to estimate the amount of water to your needs!
If you're about to ride from the South to North of Mongolia, be ready for some crazy head winds!
It generally blows from North-West, so it's quite a struggle most of the time to ride against it!
Most of the roads are not sealed, unless you decide to take the main road connecting Zamin-Uud with Ulaanbaatar.
Prepare your bicycle properly for potholes and corrugations.
Again, make sure to carry enough food and water with you!
There are NO chances to buy anything for pretty long distances, unless you're lucky
to get help from the locals living in the yurts