The planned first ever Mongolian SS1600K - which didn't eventuate!
Sometimes, Iron Butt rides just don't go to plan, no matter how much planning has been put into them. This was one of those rides.
I had first thought about doing this ride way back in about 2009, when I'd done certified rides on 3 continents, Australia, and both North and South America. Why not try for all six continents? Why not, indeed! There was a challenge in this for me .....
Continent number 4, Europe, was easy - the End to End Gold ride covering the length of Britain from Land's End in southern England to John OGroats on the northern coast of Scotland, riding in company with Rob Roalfe. We survived the worst rainstorm in 30 years while riding the M25 ringroad around London. I seem to remember we had rain, usually torrential, for 16 of the 19 hours it took to complete the ride.
The fifth continent to conquer was Africa. Again, this was fairly easy, with a "figure 3" route in central South Africa meeting the criteria.
But this left Asia, the final continent.
Those who know me will know that I hate heat, much preferring cold weather when riding. Asia is HOT. And there are squillions of people in SouthEast Asia. I don't like being in places where there are squillions of people and excessive heat. Hmmm, what to do??
Ahh, the lightbulb came on! What about Eurasia - east of the Ural mountains? Russia would be easy, as many IBA rides have been done in Russia. But that sounds just a bit too easy, doesn't it? A quick email to Mike Kneebone (President of the IBA) verified that no IBA rides had been attempted or certified in MONGOLIA. Why not.....?
At the time (2009?) there was only about 320km of "country" pavement in Mongolia - from the Russian border down to Ulaanbaatar, the capital. The original plan consisted of a multiple traverse of this pavement to make up to the required 1610km. But in the intervening years, the mining boom in Mongolia has seen rapid development of infrastructure, with many, many kilometres of pavement now crisscrossing the country, in varying conditions, depending on age and construction styles.
Earlier this year, on acquiring a traveller's personal map of Mongolia showing where all the paved roads are, I formulated a couple of routes that looked good, and would suit the criteria of the ride. The first route out to the west became a no-no when I I rode it and discovered there were large sections of bad potholes, and detours of many km through muddy countryside where roadworks were going to happen, one day.
Then I arrived at the Oasis Guesthouse, a travellers' refuge in Ulaanbaatar. Here I met lots of travelling riders and people driving varying camper vehicles from all around the world. Raphael from the Netherlands verified that only two days previously he'd travelled up from the Gobi Desert, from Dalanzadgad to UB along a very good new highway, only 2 years old, and in almost perfect condition, with only 20 or so small potholes in one area.
I had a good, rideable route at last! But would the weather cooperate? Temperatures had been high, but there was a small window of forecast light rain and generally overcast skies on the Thursday, all the way south into the desert. It was a go, after all these years of planning and dreaming of this ride.
At 3.30am, the night watchman rolled open the security gate, and I set off for the 100 metre ride to the fuel station, where I had previously ascertained that I could get a computerised starting receipt, as they are not always available in Mongolia. Personal fuel logbook filled in, SPOT switched on, GPS reset to 0, as my speedo sensor had died just days previously with no time to get a replacement flown in. I rode away.
I took it easy through the softly falling rain all the way out to the western outskirts of UB, where I finally turned south. I still kept the speed down, not knowing what animals if any would be on the roads in the darkness. My dear Garmin Montana took me to places it shouldn't have, of course, and when confronted by gravel road on the outskirts of a small town, I splashed my way back through the flooding puddles, backtracking until eventually I got onto the new highway. With the light of dawn imminent, it was time to pick up the speed, so I rolled on the throttle at last - and immediately the bike chugged and slowed! Rolled it off, and it picked up again. Over about 4000rpm was a no-no. And thus it behaved, all the way to Delgertsogt, at the 238km mark, the nearest fuel where I could turn around and go back to UB. And all the way back to the Oasis, I was rather disheartened and disappointed, to say the least.
Next door, basically attached to the guesthouse, is a mechanic workshop, owned by Kors, a Japanese. He immediately downed tools and removed the tank, checking everything carefully. Later, he informed me that there was 3cm of water in the bottom of the tank, with the dirty watermark showing on the fuel pump assembly. The spark plugs were similarly gunked up, but were cleanable. It was all cleaned up, tank refitted, and he sent me off for a test ride. Wow! I had power again! Bewdy!
Off I went, repeating all the usual starting steps again the next morning at 3.30. It was a gorgeous cool morning, with a forecast of overcast weather with light rain all the way down to Dalanzadgad, about 585km south in the Gobi Desert. I was revelling in the coolness, and really looking forward to finally completing the ride.
The speed had been kept to about 90-ish kph for the 175km travelled so far, for safety reasons in the night. In the rising light, a shape materialised out of the darkness, barrelling towards me across the steppe. It looked like a black goat, and it was aimed directly at me. At the last moment, trying to avoid a collision, I screwed the throttle - and the WeeStrom chugged!! I was appalled. It had happened again. I was devastated! I would have to abort and return to UB yet again, unsuccessful.
Perhaps I wasn't meant to do this ride, after all?
Between us, we decided to replace the whole fuel pump assembly, the speedo sensor and put in new plugs (which are virtually unobtainable here). Utilising the great resource of the IBDONE email list, I asked for help in obtaining the required parts, as there are none here in Mongolia. So many people offered suggestions and assistance, for which I am most grateful, and sincerely thank all who responded. Michiel Kerkhoff, from Belgium, was able to access the parts in Belgium and get them to me within a reasonable timeframe. How good is this community of Iron Butt Rally riders?? Brilliant!
And so I sit here at the Oasis, awaiting delivery of the parts, with the clock ticking, ticking down on my Mongolian visa, which expires in a few days!
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