A couple of weeks ago, I went to watch Armenia play ice hockey. The match was part of the 2010 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championships. Being a 3rd division group match, it featured countries not usually associated with winter sports — South Africa, North Korea, and on this occasion, Mongolia, who were promptly thrashed 15–0 by Armenia.
I’ve dreamt of biking across Mongolia for many years. Back in 2006, when I was preparing to start a new life on the road, I made vague plans to include the country in my route. I never expected it would be this long before I went there. But such dreams aren’t easily forgotten. Right now, I’m journeying across Siberia by train, heading for a distant city called Ulaan Bataar.
What attracts me to this place? Many of the reasons are lost in a rose-tinted world of romantic notion — vast mountain-flanked steppe, nomadic yurt-dwelling horsemen, the descendants of an ancient empire living now as they have for thousands of years. There aren’t many places left that have resisted modernity for as long as Mongolia has.
At the same time, I know that the reality will be exactly that — reality. I’ll leave Mongolia with those romantic notions blown clean away. That kind of experience doesn’t come from anything but a thorough, ground-level exploration of a place and people.
It’s also the challenge. It’s pretty normal for adventurous folk to hanker after something bigger, better, harder, more exhilirating than what came before. Riding across the Sahara, Afar and Arabia was challenge enough, but I needed to do something different, something scary. I thought a couple of thousand kilometres of dirt tracks through the most sparsely-populated country on Earth might do it.
This will be the first time I’ve hooked up with my old mate Andy for an adventure since we parted company in the Caucasus more than two years ago. I’m looking forward to being part of a two-man team again, after the long and lonely road I rode last year.
As always, huge thanks to our sponsors for sticking with us through this unpredictable voyage — Kona, Magura, Leisure Lakes and Chain Reaction Cycles for their bike kit; Extrawheel and Carradice for their luggage-carrying solutions, and other bits and pieces from Buff, MSR, Schwalbe, SKF and ODI. I wouldn’t have these guys on board if their kit wasn’t up to the job.
I am aiming to raise £1000 for the very appropriate cause of The Wilderness Foundation UK through this challenge. So I need your help to get there! If you can spare a fiver, please visit my fundraising page now and drop a donation in the pot. The ability to give something back will make that distant paved road feel so much sweeter when I get there.
Blogging from the road will be unavoidably sporadic, but expect a thorough account of the trip to be published — one way or another — on this site for your reading pleasure.
Ta-ta for now!