The elusive Mongolian SS1600K - success at last!
I really wasn't going to mozz myself again, so refrained from telling almost everyone that I was going to try again to finish the SS1600K here in Mongolia.
The Oasis nightwatchman was not around, so I had to roll open the gate myself, and ride around the fence to the service station.
As I left the servo right on 3.35am, it started to rain ever so lightly, which suited me just fine, keeping the temperature down, which I wanted. The forecast was for mid 20Cs along the whole route during the day. I could handle that a lot better than the 35-37C it had been on previous days while waiting for the spare parts to arrive.
By now the road out to the western extremities of UB was well known, having ridden it both directions twice previously, so I shot along at a brisk pace in the lightly falling rain. Turned south near the airport. The speed limit was only 60kph all the way down to what I call "the Junction" at 43km from the Oasis, where the new highway south to Dalanzadgad branches off.
There was considerably more traffic on this early morning than previously, so I plodded along carefully at about 90-95kph in the darkness, still very watchful in case of animals, or vehicles without lights, of which there are many - too many - in Mongolia!
The rising light of dawn made things a whole lot better, and the speed slowly increased to around 100-110kph. I might add here that the highest speed limit sign I saw on this highway was only 80kph!
Things were going swimmingly in the cool dawn. Lumps along the roadside gradually visualised and became animals - usually herds of camels bedded down quite close to the road. But nothing was actually on the road during the darkness, fortunately. Dawn was almost here. I passed by Delgertsogt, the point at which I'd turned back previously. I was in new territory.
Twenty-two kilometres from Mandalgovi, the first fuel stop at about 285km. I was gawping off to the left, at some camels, when WHACK! WHACK!! I hit two huge potholes. From the corner of my eye, I saw my Montana GPS disappearing down behind my tankbag and off to the right. Yes, I'd forgotten to tether it against this eventuality, and it had jumped out of its mounting cradle and was gone. By the time I managed to safely pull up and turn around, I was almost in the midst of a mob of camels crossing the road, but manoeuvered around them and went back to the potholes, searching the roadside all the way.
I searched and I searched, for a good 45 minutes! The bike and the cowling inside around the tank, not once but twice; both sides of the road for at least 50-60 mertres in front of and behind the potholes, at least three times; even up high on the banks beside the road. The steppe on both sides, out to about 30 metres either side. Nope - there was no Montana, or the pieces thereof, that I could find! I was mystified. Where could it have gone to? Surely it wouldn't have bounced even further away than I had searched?
Time was passing, 45 minutes wasted - time to make a decision. I could buy another GPS any time. I could NOT do this ride again! An easy decision - I had to keep on with the ride. Off south past the now curious camels I went, all the time worrying about riding through Moscow with no GPS! The silly things we think about under stress!
Fortunately, the speedo sensor had been replaced, so I at least had that to record the distance travelled, this time, unlike the previous two attempts when I had only the GPS. All sorts of thoughts were running through my head, all to do with not having the GPS. And yet I used to travel without a GPS, back in the day ..... Surely I could still manage to find my way?
I pulled into a servo in Mandalgovi to refuel. Filled in my logbook, secreted the receipt and made ready to leave. Just as I was about to swing my leg over I happened to look down through the gap around the steering head. I saw a narrow flash of yellow right down at the front of the "beak". What's that? Yes, it was the Montana, with it's thin yellow band around the perimeter!! Safely tucked away and held rather tightly inside the cowling. How it got there, I'm stuffed if I know! How I'd missed seeing, or feeling, it earlier, not once but twice, astounded me. Possibly it was looking from a totally different angle. Possibly because it was now full daylight, instead of the dimness of twilight. But I was bouncing with joy. I had the Montana again. I would be able to get through Moscow, now. Hahaha!
The final two hundred kilometre stretch into Dalnazadgad (at 585km mark) was real Gobi desert, although considerably greener than one would expect a desert to be. But there had been recent rains, causing life to revive and blaze out in greenness. Flat to the far, far horizon. Barely an undulation to be seen. For a stretch of about 150km, I saw no other animals but camels, hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them, sometimes in mobs of at least 150. Then domesticity reappeared 50km from the surprisingly large city of Dalanzadgad, with mobs of sheep, goats, cattle and horses on the daily move to find food, of which there was an abundance.
A very quick refill, and turn around to return to the Junction. Fortunately, the weather had stayed cool, although there was a ferocious head wind now blasting at me, forcing me all over the road. I hadn't realised that I'd had so much of a tailwind on the way south, although it didn't take much fuel to refill for having just ridden over 300km.
Having now travelled the whole of the route, I had memorised where there were bad patches of road, either roadworks or potholes, although there weren't too many, luckily. Back up to Mandalgovi, watching the fuel gauge in horror as it rapidly sunk lower and lower in the head wind. Onto reserve. Then into the second reserve of just one litre! Would I make it, or would I be forced to walk? Slow down, slow down, then down to only 70-75kph, trying to conserve the last remaining fuel. There is the town, I can see it at last! It's still 6 kms away. The last reserve had started with 21.8km to go. In this headwind, I doubted I'd make it.
On the southern outskirts of the town, there was another fuel station, 3km closer than the one I'd used earlier. I went to turn into the driveway, but it was so new that it wasn't even oeprating as yet. Oh damn! I'd try for yet another servo I could see in the distance. Yes! I rolled in on fumes. What a relief! There was also a little cafe here, so had a quick coffee and a very quick visit to the dunny way over the back blocks. Let's just say I hate squat hole dunnies, but when in Rome, one must ... !
Doubly relieved, it was back north, towards the second turnaround at the Junction. This time I nursed the bike where I could, saving fuel, although the stretch was only 245km this time. Twenty-two km north of the town, I waved to the potholes where I'd "lost" the Montana. I would remember them on the next run south.
The weather was cooling down, although I was still only in a teeshirt and my unlined FirstGear jacket. However, I did at one stage turn the heated grips on for a little while. Then it seemed to warm up again once I neared the Junction refuelling servo. 1120km done.Another 510 or so to go.
Back south again, to Mandalgovi. And, yes, I did miss the two big potholes this time around! And the Montana was now securely tethered. I went back to the southern servo, where I had stopped on the way north, as it was coolish again, so that I could have another quick coffee and dunny break as well. Better the devil you know, than who knows what?
The final leg - only 285km to go to get back to the Oasis. Sunset falls late up here, and would be about 9.45pm this night. As the daylight faded I saw several mobs of camels hunkered down for the night, right beside the road, making the lumps I'd seen in the darkness on the way south that morning.
Despite having wasted 45 minutes looking for the Montana, I was still running to time, as I'd expected to be back about 10pm, and had told a couple of travellers in residence that's when I would arrive back at the Oasis.
A final precautionary refill at the Junction servo, as I was still a bit concerned about the headwind, and didn't want to run out of fuel on the way through UB, all 18km of it from the western edge turn east point to the Oasis on the eastern edge.
At exactly 10pm, I pulled into the servo near the Oasis guesthouse. I had done it! The Mongolia SS1600K was in the bag, at the third attempt. I'd conquered the Asian continent at last. The GPS showed 1631kms, in just under 18.5 hours.
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