Tired, heavy eyed, suddenly sitting in my office chair but my brain and body are traveling at Boeing 777 speed over the Pacific with the hum of jet engines in an unconscious area of my mind. I sit and try to get ready for the upcoming work week but the afterglow of a twenty day vacation as far away from home as possible is flashing a slow motion slide show of landscapes and feelings experienced while gone. Prior to arriving in Mongolia I had little knowledge of the terrain. I only knew what I found online and what one local professional racer was willing to share (not much at all). I composed this post to answer questions for those who are interested in the Mongolia Bike Challenge so they feel more informed than I did.
|Tamir Wellness Ger Camp|
|My home away from home|
|Japan Rob & Myself - both finishers|
The main purpose of my visit was to participate in the Mongolia Bike Challenge.
I arrived six days prior to the race start in order to relax and make certain my bike arrived and was set up to ride. For five of those nights I stayed at Tamir Wellness Ger Camp in Gorkhi-Terelj National Park where I was fed three meals per day, and had access to running water and a hot shower all for USD $425. Laundry service cost extra. Sleeping in a ger is like sleeping in a large canvas tent but with a suitable floor and a wood stove in the middle. Of the three gers I slept in while in Mongolia not a one lacked at least a slight hint of mildew, dank stank. The stank was not as bad as walking into a true northeastern home's cellar, but you could smell it in the air. Luckily, the roofs of gers (which look a lot like the Millennium Falcon cockpit) have windows that open to allow significant air flow, especially when the hobbit sized entry door is open. Most gers seemed to be of similar size and included four beds, a few small tables, foot stools, and a wood stove. I only needed the wood stove once and it made that little ger as warm as a Swedish sauna. Overall, ger living is not too bad. It sure as hell beats a tent but it is not the Hilton. Most gers include linens and pillows but I highly recommend you bring your own sheets, pillow, and sleeping bag. I am on the picky side when it comes to bed linens and even bring my own sheets to hotels sometimes. I saw no bed bugs, though. Heck, the only bugs I witnessed in the entire trip were snapping grasshoppers and a few spiders. I suppose the -40F winter temps kill most bugs better than Orkin.
|What my bike saw|
|Mongolian prayer flag|
|Tamir Wellness Camp down below|
|View from Monastery|
|Day 1 race start|
The remaining days of the race were superior to day 2 for me. I completed the remaining days with time to spare. Constant awe-inspiring views almost became mundane by day 6. Every mile included a spectacular view, 1-2 metric tons of grazing animal poo, thousands of snapping grass-hoppers that sound like rattle snakes, and many smiling faces.
Camp conditions are superior to sleeping in a small tent most of the time, but if someone were to set up a tent for me every night, I would have used it instead of the gers. Gers are loud. If people in the adjacent ger stay up late and get rowdy on Mongolian vodka, you will hear everything. You may not understand it all since most likely the conversation will be in a language other than English but it can be loud. Cleanliness declines after a few nights of shuffling your gear from place to place. Granted, the race organizers provide excellent gear transfer from camp to camp, but it is hard to keep all your necessary schtuff organized and clean. Seven to eight hours in riding attire results in severe stink that overrides the dank stank of the ger. Multiply that times four (typically four people per ger) and you have a stink tank. Showers were available after every race. Be prepared for a brain freeze. A hot shower was a luxury available only once during the race. Water was typically tanked in and somewhere close to freezing. The race organizers do a fine job of providing cold showers. After 8 hours in the saddle, I don't care if the waters cold, I'll deal with it.
Bring food you like. Bag space is limited to a 100L bag for all the gear you'll need for the six-day race. My suggestion is to stuff one quarter of your bag with easily digestible food you enjoy. The food provided is not bad but it's food different to what most people outside of Mongolia consume on a regular basis. It's not a matter of, ‘will I need the Ciprofloxacin?’ Instead, it is a matter of, ‘did I bring enough for everyone’? Intestinal distress is compounded by the lack of a good shitter in the outback of Mongolia. Think one hundred racers + staff vs. ten available toilets. The math doesn't work and eventually you snag some toilet paper and wander off to fertilize the steppe. Two camps had proper toilets, but not enough of them. The night of tent camping (eight people per very large tent) we had freshly dug pit latrines that were actually not too bad as long and you held your breath. At the 13th Century ger camp (nights five and six) the toilet conditions were bad. Also, by day six the stomachs of most participants sounded like a Mongolian throat singer chanting a spiritual hymn. I can't blame the food solely for the stomach problems because every stage race I've participated in included group stomach problems by stage five. I do attribute the stomach problems partly to using increasingly disgusting water bottles that you have not had a chance to clean.
Camp three’s meals were prepared on-site by Rosewood Kitchen which is in Ulaanbaatar. Rosewood Kitchen is an oasis in the city. A chef from Boston started the restaurant and he serves delicious food. I ate there at least seven times while in Ulaanbaatar. The food they made for the race was also excellent. If you eat at the restaurant in the city, have the cheesecake, Mediterranean panini, sauteed chard, and the Margarita pizza.
Here is a video re-cap of 2017's race. It made me teary eyed and made me want to do it all over again.