Gobi: The road no one knew was there

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We were supposed to bike on gravel and sand in the entire Gobi desert. So we were rather surprised to see a paved road there. We kept on wondering when the brand new road was going to end.

Day 1 on our bikes

"50! I look down at the computer. 50 km/hr" It’s unbelievable. I’m swaying in a vacuum across a long plateau without using any muscle power. It’s the wind doing all the work. The wind from cold Siberia that sweeps over the Gobi Desert and creates sandstorms in Bejing. The only sound I hear is the whirring of the wheels. Under my tires there’s a silky pavement. Pavement? No one had told us about that. Kim, our hostel host in Ulan Bator, didn’t know. Lonely Planet and Internet never mentioned there being paved roads in the desert. We had expected to have to battle our way over the mountains south of Ulan Bator in sand and mud. Who said we needed 2 weeks to get to China. At this rate, we’ll be there in 5 days!”

Day 5 on our bikes

The wind is hitting us almost head on. It comes in a little on the side, from southwest. I feel powerless as I fight against the wind on my bike. There have been too few calories the last few days. All my reserved energy is used up, and I’ve eaten the last bite of the chocolate bars we bought yesterday. And still several hours until lunchtime. The road before me is gravel, varying in standard. I steer the bike from one side of the road to the other, trying to avoid the worst bumps. Some places the wind has collected thick layers of fine sand on the roadway. The sand grips my tires and reduces my progress drastically. With these conditions, the energy is being drained from my body very quickly.

A new road

We were all surprised to find a brand new main road starting about 40 km from Ulan Bator and continuing south almost 250 km into the Gobi Desert to the city of Choyr. 160 of these 250 km were paved with asphalt. This was something that no one had told us about beforehand, but which made us very happy as we rode southward towards a warmer climate. Construction is being done on the road this year as well, and it wouldn’t surprise us if in 2-3 years, it will be possible to drive on a paved road all the way from Bejing to Ulan Bator.

Life in a tent

We’ve organized ourselves into 2 tent teams. Lyngve and I are one team, Sigbjørn and Eric the other. We trade places making the meals, i.e. until now food preparation has consisted of boiling water for breakfast (oatmeal soup), lunch (noodle soup) and dinner (dried tour food). Our day starts rather late, since it’s so cold in the morning. The first days, we didn’t get started until around one o’clock. There were a lot of routines we had to get used to, especially for Eric, who hasn’t had so much experience with outdoor life until now.

The past two days it has been much warmer, both at night and during the day. We are also beginning to get our routines down pat. So we’re able to get going around 11 o’clock in the morning now. Our goal is to start the day around 10.

Day stretches

At first, our goal was to bike about 50 km a day, so that we would get to China in about two weeks. Since the road was paved to begin with and the wind blew in our direction, we managed to bike 250 km the first 3 days. But in the last two days the wind has sometimes been against us, and in some places the road has just been gravel with lots of sand and stones and very rippled. So we aren’t able to progress much more than 50-60 km daily. Luckily, the wind is mostly blowing south. Our new expected time of arrival in China is in 10-11 days.

The People

All the time we’ve been biking along the trans-Mongolian railroad tracks. Every once in a while a small village crops up, with anywhere from a few dozen to several thousand inhabitants. We stop most places for water, coffee, chocolate, and snacks. Maybe a loaf of bread, if they have it. We’ve had several pleasant encounters with the locals. No one speaks fluent English, but there’s almost always someone who understands a few words of English. Otherwise, we use sign language or our Mongolian-English dictionary.

At one village, we were invited in for hot milk and tea. In another, we were lead to the local police chief to fill our water bottles. Loads of children swarm around us everywhere, wanting to see our bikes and us. If they do speak any English, they try very hard to be understood. “My name is…” is clearly the first thing they learn. They always ask our names and where we come from.


Most of the villages have domestic animals of one kind or another. We’ve seen goats, sheep, cows, and horses. A few places we’ve also seen camels, but this has been far from the villages, so we don’t know if they were domesticated or wild.

We’ve seen only a few wild animals. The only mammals we’ve seen are small groups of what we think are antelopes. They were very white in colour. We’ve also seen different kinds of birds, but with our limited knowledge of bird species, we’ve just been calling them all sparrows, ravens, and falcons.

We’ve seen 3 different kinds of beetles, two black and one blue. Some places they’ve been crawling all over the ground.

In China soon

At the moment we’re in the largest city in the Gobi Desert, Sayndshand, where we’re staying at a hotel. Here we’ve been able to shower for the first time in a week. I’ve never been so dirty in my entire life. We’re all covered in sand, and it’s in all our baggage.

We’re about 200 km from the Chinese border. We expect it will take about 4 days biking to get to the border, depending on whether the wind is with us or against us, and if the gravel roads are good or bad.

We’re very excited and wondering if we’ll be able to get across the border on our bikes without any trouble from the border police.

Author: Jardar Valand

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Posted by gfg on Monday, April 18, 2005. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

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