Thailand to Laos

Now I’m back on the road and really happy. Today I headed out of Bangkok and left with completely mixed feelings of excitement and trepidation. The worst part of the bike mishaps has been how much it’s shattered my confidence for riding alone.  I am so worried about the bike breaking down I “jump” every time I imagine a new noise or vibration emanating from Dozer. Because of this I just cannot make myself go off the beaten track. So stuck to the nice scenic secondary roads, not quite off the beaten track but enough to be enjoyable. I find this very frustrating, I can only hope these feeling disappear as the trip progresses. I am however still enjoying myself it really was fantastic to be back on the bike and riding out of Bangkok. The scenery here is lovely and so different to any countries I’ve ridden through so far so I really enjoyed today. Even the rain is nice as its warm tropical rain showers
and not the freeeeeeezing Russian rain I spent so many days riding in.

The thing that I like which strikes me the most is how green it is. The fields with knee high lush green grass, the cane fields with head high sugar cane, the trees, the mountains, the swamps everything just so green. The other thing that hits me are the smells, the humid yet fresh smell that hangs in the air. The sick swampy smell of stagnant water especially just outside of Bangkok. The sweet smells of flowers that waft pass your nose every now and again. The smell of cooking BBQ chicken or cat or dog, whatever is the meat of the day, that looks good smells good and tastes good. The smell of cows and then spilt milk you get when riding past the dairies. The sickly sweet smell of rotting fruit. No matter how good or bad the smells you cannot escape them and they are the one thing that most people wouldn’t notice unless it was a pungent smell but on a motorbike just not miss able.

The roads in Thailand are good even the secondary roads. There are a few bumps and potholes but nothing like what I experienced in Russia or Kahazakstan. There is also not that much traffic and the drivers are pretty good especially compared to the Chinese drivers who are just crazy. There are a lot of people, dogs, cows and ducks on the secondary roads so I’ve kept my speed down (not that I’m a speed freak anyway) but it also makes for good sightseeing. I took it easy my first day in the saddle leaving at 10am and stopping at 3:30, I only rode 320kms and stopped a couple of times along the way. It is so humid that the minute you stop to take a picture or at a stop street your body just burst into a sweat, it’s incredible but at least quite bearable while riding. Since it rains in the late afternoon by the time I stopped I was quit refreshed by the rain, which makes a change 🙂 I am looking forward to my ride tomorrow.

On my second day heading towards Laos I woke up to see blue skies and spars clouds on one side of the road and low lying black menacing clouds on the other, guess which direction I was heading off in? I managed to get my grumpily old man Dozer started, this is a bit of a fight every morning, and head off into the storm clouds. The wind is whipping and I’m wondering if this is the start of the hurricane I was warned about. Fortunately heading north I know I am heading away from the bad weather and the day turns out rather pleasantly. A few light showers mixed with spells of sunshine and that familiar happy feeling of freedom and joy in heart. I soon start seeing more and more hills and jungle, now this is getting exciting. Every time I travel at some point I get that total realisation through every cell of my body of where I am. I cannot explain his feeling but its one total excitement when it comes over me “Wow I’m in Thailand, I’m riding my bike across Thailand” it’s like the best high in the world and makes me want to scream and laugh and shout. Then in my brain I image zooming out to see myself on the road on my bike, then I see a map of Thailand and me on my bike riding across it, then I zoom out further and see a globe and me on my bike riding across a continent. If I could capture and sell this feeling I’d make billions.

I stop for a short break at a small shop in a village and meet another lovely person. The shop keeper speaks about three words of English, all I can say is Thank you in Thai, and we manage to have a short conversation. She then runs out back and comes back with a bunch of small bananas for me, which I strap to the back of dozer and made a fine breakfast for the next two days. On countless occasions people I have met ask me if I am not scared or lonely travelling alone. Its encounters with this shop lady that make it all worthwhile. When travelling in a group although you meet people it’s a different dynamic and you never have the kind of short 3 minute one to one encounters you have like I do while alone.

I finally get to Chiang Khan and find a small rustic guesthouse run by Pim. Now this is my kind of place, clean, no aircon, no TV, fantastic view and a lovely friendly owner. I wished I could a few days there because that place was a little bit of paradise. Waking up and having breakfast on the balcony overlooking the Mekong and the fishermen in their long wooden boats was a welcome sight, never mind the stunning sunset I saw last night. But nope no time to linger I want to get to Laos today and have been having  a leisurely trip there but unfortunately just cannot spend 2 nights in Chiang Khan.

I ride along the Mekong river and then through some very windy roads 168km to the border and the friendship bridge. What an easy border crossing, no lines, no hassle, a couple of forms to fill out the visa to pay for and off I go. I had seen on the map that Vientiane is left as you get over the bridge and out of the border crossing.

I immediately notice three things about riding in Laos as I turn directly left and head straight for a large truck and swerve quickly onto the right side of the road… they drive on the right in Laos, the drivers are not as good as in Thailand, and neither are the roads. I notice a big tarmac load to my left but thought I remember on the map that I turn left and then just straight to Vientiane. My GPS does not cover Laos hmmm I stop and ask someone and they agree and point straight ahead, I travel a bit and ask another person (I have always found this the best approach to asking direction in a foreign language get at least 3 answers a few km from the last) well I am now confident that I am heading in the right direction, but WOW this road is a really bad potholed rutted sandy dirt road. I know the Vientiane is about 20km from the border so after 25km when I see no sign of city life I ask again (I’ve now asked about 6 people) the lady signs Vientiane is back that way, you carry on this road and turn. Ah ok so I seem to have just missed a turn someone I carry on turn at the next dirt road ride for 6km and hit a dead end. Now I am in the middle of nowhere just farms, bush and the odd small hut. I see a person and they sing no go back too that road and carry on the road bends. To cut a long story short by the time I get back on the tar road and realise that just after the border I should have turned sharp left onto the main road, I have travelled 68km and done a huge loop around Vientiane and am now heading gin from the north. It’s 4pm and I have not thought about drinking but have sweated like a horse and am totally dehydrated. I pull into a petrol station grab my water and down half a litter. Ask the petrol guy to please put in 10litres as I do not have enough money for more, totally miscalculate the numbers on the pump and promptly pay him the equivalent of about usd20 for 10litres of petrol. The moral to my story never get dehydrated.

But now I am in Vientiane and get so caught up in seeing the city that I ride around and around for another hour before finally finding a little guesthouse on the other side of the city near the river. When I travel alone I am very cautious about going out at night there are many place where I just don’t. Russia for example in the small towns I would try get into a guesthouse by no later than 6pm either after a meal or with one. This is because the Russian men drink to non comprehension by 5pm, by 4 many of them are already drunk but it just gets worse. It’s not even that I feel unsafe on my own in these places but just not at all comfortable. It is the same in Bangkok and Ulaanbaatar (where at night I’d stay in a group or not go out). However in places like Almaty, Seoul and now Vientiane I am just careful as to where I go but I feel quite comfortable and totally enjoyed walking along the Mekong and seeing all the people out and about exercising in the park in the dark.

Bangkok oriental city…

Monday 1st October

Now I’m also as peeved with the shipping agent as Richard. The agent asked when I want my bike delivered to Bangkok and I said Monday (thinking I could then get it out of customs on Tuesday, Originally I told him I wanted to fetch it on Monday out of customs, but knew that wouldn’t happen so resigned myself to Tuesday collection) He sent me an email yesterday saying it would be sent on a flight tonight (Monday) Now I’ve just been called by Korean air saying it can only be sent on Wednesday night AND will take two days to get out of customs, frack, why didn’t the shipping agent know all this and tell me as I’d have then told him to send it a week ago while I was in Seoul DAMN shipping agent.

So I will spend a week in Bangkok which I am not happy about. The last time I was here I did all the touristy things and this time and just not so keen to be in this big ugly smoggy city, I just want to be on the road. But I’ll spend some time catching up on emails and things 😦

I have been surprised at the amount of water around due to all the rains. I didn’t realise I would have to do a river crossing just to get to my hotel. The couple in the room next door have also been entertaining me with their morning, afternoon, evening, night time, dawn antics, quite funny especially the moving furniture noises. Well funny until you want to sleep THANK goodness for earplugs

Thursday 4th October

I got my bike out of Cargo today and it is a very painless operation. There are guys at the airport hired to help you do not need to pay an agent. From the time the taxi dropped me, to the time I got to the bike was 2.5 hrs, then it took me 1.5hrs to put him all back together.

The security guys introduce you to a guy who will walk you all the way through the process, customs, forms etc etc. The guy who helped me was very nice spoke very good English, he had his truck there so drove to customs warehouse and back it’s quite a bit of moving from here to there and the place is huge.

He will help get all the forms and the Photostats etc. He took me 2 different cashiers 1 to pay a penalty for an amendment to the form as my address was on there, go figure it cost me 300bht. The storage for 1 night cost me 1022 bht. These are all legit at the relevant cashiers you get Thai cargo receipts.

The guy who helped me did get very concerned that I did not have a carnet and that I would have to pay import duties, I stood my ground and said I am not buying a caret and I know I do not need to pay import duties (I am not sure if he was trying to pull something or genuinely thought I needed a cart) I just said no carnet take me to customs. He did and that went though in about 1 hr. Most people speak some English so they just hand you over to English speaking people on the way.

After that I went to fetch Dozer in the warehouse.

They will fork life him bike in the crate to a quite spot out of the way where I took my time and put him back together again. Everyone is very helpful and nice. They even fork lifted my bike to help me put the front wheel on as I don’t have a centre stand. I asked the guy who helped me how much I owed him and he said no you can tip me if you like it is up to you. I gave him 500bht (16usd) as he was a great help and yes I may have been able to do it myself but it would have taken twice as long.

I hopped on my baby and he started 1 st time I whooped with joy, drove him 250m and he died. So someone called a truck for me to help get him somewhere. I thought stuff this I’ve now had enough asked the guy to drive me straight to a Suzuki dealer handed over the keys and said fix this bitch mate. I explained the problem and said I have JUST put a brand new battery and 2 brand new spark plugs into the bike uugghhh I fortunately had the old spark plug in my pocket and said this one has been in the bike for 300km and but I wanted dot put new ones in. He took one look at it and said well here is your probe you can see how bad the spark plug looks the seal on the carb has gone and petrol is flooding back.

We talked through a few other things my one fork seal has gone also, was fine before the flight, but when I unpacked Dozer there was the fluid from the fork all over. Anyway he is going to sort it all out I really liked the guy and the place very clean and professional, so HOLD THUMBS 🙂 I can either fetch it on study afternoon as eh said he would start looking at it right away but they don’t work on Sunday so I may only be able to fetch Dozer on Monday. However I am confident that he will then be in 100% tip top conditions and I can FINALY get on the road. It’s never simple with me is it?

But hey I’m on holiday so no complaining, I’ll have a lot of time to get depressed when I get home 🙂 which is why I’m booking all sorts of fun off-road trips for when I get back.

Friday 5th October

I went to see Vimanmek I can only say one word about it WOW has to be seen to be believed. You cannot take pictures inside so I’ve downloaded these off the internet.

Saturday 6th October

Woohoo Dozers back, I am soooo happy. The mechanic fixed the fork seal and the carb, the one seal was stuffed and also the choke cable was broken and some part of the choke was stuck in the carb or something. He also changed the wheel bearing and the back tire. I had the tire that I bought in China with me. He also changed the oil and oil filter. All for usd113 and I liked them they were very professional when I went to see the bike yesterday to find out the problem I was so impressed to see the mechanics tools all perfectly lain out on a cloth under the bike not just thrown around, first time I’ve ever seen that in a workshop. I know this does not make him a good mechanic it’s just something I noticed which I liked 🙂

So tomorrow I head out of Bangkok yay up towards Laos.

Seoul, Korea

Arriving in Seoul at 4:50 am I headed straight to the Hostel and crashed for 6 hours before heading out to explore the city.

ouch first world culture shock, no dirt roads and dust that stifles and clings to everything, no incessant hooting, no cars trying to run me over when I cross the road and copious amounts of beautiful fresh fruit….excuse me while I lie down for a short while. I am no big city lover but I think my body is going to like this…for a short little while at least

Then I turn a corner to Chungbu Market phew I AM in Asia. What a plethora of colours, textures and smells. The market sells primarily dried fish and seaweed, as well as some fruits and nuts. I spend ages just wandering around looking at the enormous number of dried shrimps in various sizes. Deciding to have lunch there was a good decision and I had a fried pork pancake thing which was very nice. I find the Korean people, like most people in the world very nice and friendly, helpful and polite. They also bow like the Japanese but it’s not as pronounced or apparent. I did FINALLY learn to say Thank you in Korean and think it’s the longest thank you of any language that I’ve used while travelling, kam sa ham ni da. Hello is easier: an nyoung (anyang)

Seoul is an interesting clean functioning huge big city and I enjoyed my days walking around it and sightseeing. The hostel is directly behind a street full of bike shops from Harleys to Suzuki’s. I can get my new battery here which is great, but not one of them has the carburettor screw, I can buy a whole carb, but they would need to specially order just the screw. Thank goodness Paul is sending one to Bangkok for me which should be there when I arrive. It was nice to wonder around the bike shops though and I did manage to get a new GoPro battery since mine does not work this is a shopping bonus for me, just in time for SE Asia 🙂

I ate a plate of chicken feet today and just to let you know there is nothing wrong with a good bowl of chicken feet, except the fact that they are tasteless and are just bone and sinew held together by a gelatinous mass of skin, but the accompanying stir friend veggies were scrummy . So I’m still loving the food in Korea 🙂

There is so much to see in this city, the palaces are stunning the museums extremely well setup and the parks immaculate. I could stay a week but I am already itching for the bike so am glad I chose to spend just a few days here.

Before I left Seoul I headed into one of the post offices near the hostel as I needed to send some unnecessary items home. Now this is a civilised experience, on the tables are plastic boxes holding huge rolls of packing tape, scissors, string and big black markers, everything you need to post a package. They also sell the boxes in every shape and size, it’s the little things in countries that surprise, delight and amuse me. The total contrast was in the late afternoon when walking down an alley I saw an old homeless man with a big roll of sticky tape sticking these small, roughly post it size, pieces of paper together, hundreds of them in order to make some kind of mat to sleep on. It made me so very sad to see him and I get really upset at societies which leave such frail old people on the streets, and yet they all do and I’m not quite sure what the answer is.

I have completely walked my feet flat exploring every bit of Seoul. My favourite parts are the food markets and Palaces. I love the labyrinth of rooms, passages and doors in the old oriental palaces. I think the Cyeongbok palace should be called ht palace of a thousand doors. I love the contrast between the beautiful old buildings, the old town houses and alleys and the new high rise buildings somehow it makes it all very picturesque. Last night I went to the IMAX just to give my poor feet a rest and since I have only ever been to the IMAX once in my life.

As far as big cities go I think Seoul must be one of my favourites, well I actually like it which is saying a lot for someone who does not like cities. It’s a real pity I don’t have time to venture outside Seoul and see more of Korea…maybe next time 🙂

In my humble opinion

So Dozer is all packed up and ready to fly to Bangkok and I’m just waiting for my flight to Korea.

I’ve just sent this to someone to try and explain Adventure biking (from a  novice adventure bikers perspective)  and what it’s been like for me on this trip and thought I may as well post it on my blog.

You have to LOVE riding a bike for hundreds of km a day every day in the searing heat and freezing cold, or if you are lucky perfect days. Adventure biking isn’t about the travel, OBVIOSULY that is a  huge part, but it’s about the riding (otherwise you would be backpacking) you are dirty and dusty or muddy or sweaty or soaking wet or freezing cold all the time every day, but there are some days where you are none of the above (usually rest days unless you are working on your bike). Today I tried to SCRUB the one bag I have to carry my stuff to Korea, the other bag went with the bike. I cannot get it clean. The dirt is embedded in it, as it is in my hands and fingernails. I am SO having a manicure before I go home (I never have manicures). You have to camp and I mean wild camp for days with no bathroom there is no other way to travel (in my humble opinion) and get off the beaten track and afford to do this kind of trip. Even if there are very cheap hostels and guest houses (you MUST be prepared to stay in flea infested places if you insist on not camping, as it may be all you can get in a remote place, and sometimes even with a tent you take them for safety reasons or to get out of a very bad storm) they are not in every town and anyway camping is the best way to do it 🙂

I LOVE this I cannot even tell you how much I love every bit of this hardship 🙂 but if you don’t love it you can’t do it, especially not the off-road way I want to do it, and I would never do it any other way. I know this makes it sound awful but it’s not, actually it’s FANTASTIC and this is what I love about it the unbelievable challenge. Yes you can stick to tar roads and ride a lovely comfy fast tour bike and stay in 1st world countries and in guesthouses and not camp, but seriously that is travelling not adventure biking.  It’s the wild camping not showering, peeing into a bottle because it raining and or freezing outside your tent and you just cannot face going out there in the middle of the night, that I just cannot see many people doing.

The rotten trench foot and from 4 to 7 days camping in a row, not showering and being wet,  and all your gear being wet, you don’t need to do this unless you do something like the BAM, so fear not you are safe from that much extreme unless you choose it  🙂

I know this sounds bad but it isn’t its great and what is greater is the unbelievable  feeling of freedom you have on your bike not being crammed like a sardine into a flying tin or sitting next to someone with really bad BO on a bus. It’s the people you meet especially in a remote place or when things go wrong. Let alone the spectacular scenery, or buying petrol from a ger, or getting given smelly smoked dried fish that actually tastes quite nice. I just cannot see myself going back to backpacking. I’d rather go half the distance in twice the time and do it on a bike.

OMG OMG OMG

Waking up to another perfect sunny day in Mongolia I had mixed feelings. I was happy to be in Mongolia and happy about the perfect weather but pretty down about the fact that Dozer had to go on a truck back to UB. However since I had to walk into town again I thought I’d go to the little black market and see if I could get the carburettor screw. I found an old carburettor and the lady wanted usd150 ha ha well that was not going to happen especially since I just needed the tiny screw out the bottom. Then I saw one and recognised it immediately and she was not letting me bargain for this one…as I said before I don’t have a good poker face and she clearly saw the desperation on my face. So I paid the 10usd for it and ran back to Dozer…no luck it was just too big DAMN I just paid usd10 for a usd3 screw which didn’t fit uuggghh well I guess it’s was the truck for Dozer and me.

I did have a good morning watching the men take the two gers down that they were shipping to UB, very interesting.

When I asked the English / Mongolian speaking guide who happened to be at the ger camp to help me find a ride I did ask him to explain to the lady how a bike should be secured to a truck and be positioned behind the cab.

Once the men started loading the gers, behind the cab, I asked the guy in charge, who spoke some English, where my bike would go. His answer ‘don’t worry’ it will go on’…hmm okay it’s your truck. By the time the truck was almost completely loaded and without my bike I started to worry. There was about a foot of space left at the back of the truck but the bottom was filled with the ger canvas so the bike would not actually sit in the truck but be balanced on this canvas. As soon as they started lifting my bike I shouted ‘STOP, there is No way you are putting my bike there forget it, it will fall off’ and the English speaking guy put his hand on my should and said ‘don’t worry’ it will go on’ and I answered ‘no it won’t’ but he promptly ignored me and the five guys just lifted Dozer and put him on the back of the truck. They then folded the canvas over him like a little Samosa package and started to strap it all together. ‘NO, STOP take the bike off, I’m not having this it isn’t even tied to the truck I’ll find another way to UB, get my bike off the truck’ I yelled but to no avail, they COMPLETEY ignored me clearly 50000 tugrats (about usd40) was not worth loosing because of some hysterical woman. Hmmm sometimes I really wish I was more assertive there are a few people I know both men and woman that these guys would not be able to ignore. Well what I was I do but wish Dozer luck and climb into the cab, destination Ulaanbaatar.

Throughout the journey all I could think about was Dozer grabbing hold of the sides of the trucks with his ties like claws and screaming for help while the truck bumped and swayed its way along. It seemed that dozer was not actually the last thing they put on the truck, they pilled more and more stuff on top of the already laden truck and then threw a huge canvas tarpaulin over it and strapped it down. Breaking every European loading, safety and transport law known to man. I remembered David saying to Richard when we were loading our bikes on the previous little trip ‘leave the guy alone he knows what he is doing, haven’t you seen these Mongolian trucks packed up, these guys do this for a living’ hmmm I now realise they haven’t got a clue. These guys don’t tie any of the cargo down to the truck they only tie these huge tarpaulins to the truck and all the cargo inside moves and shifts and sways with the truck. Sorry not clever.

We were finally on our way and I thought that the cab in the truck was really big and comfy and this 6 hour drive would not be so bad after all. Famous last words. I am NOT a nervous passenger but OMG I have never been so scared in all my life.

At least on the dirt road the driver (who was very nice and I liked him immediately) took it easy going very slowly and trying, completely unsuccessfully, to avoid the bumps and pot holes. After 2 minutes I grabbed for the seat belt (not a requirement in Mongolia so I thought nonchalantly I would give it a miss, but not for long) and wrapped it around my body so tightly I almost shut off my air supply. I think my eyes must have been the size of saucers as I gripped my hand and dug my nails into the palm. I was however not actually worried about my own safety although death was a definite probability on this journey, or perhaps getting septicaemia from the bloody wounds I was now inflicting on my palm by my oil / bike dirt encrusted finger nails. My concern was my bike sitting in his little samosa canvas package at the back of the truck.

FINALLY we hit the tarmac and I start to breath, possibly a good thing since the driver was giving my blue pallor some strange concerned looks. Oh what mistake as things were just about to get worse. Since the tar roads in Mongolia (fortunately this road had a few kms breath space in between) are riddled with pot holes, the driver spent his time swerving from one side of the road to the other, and not at a nice speed like on the dirt roads either.  The cargo in the back, and my baby bike, clearly swaging with every movement, I was more sea sick on this 4 wheeled barge than any boat I have ever sailed on.

At one point we had two wheels on the tarmac and two in the gravel curb at what felt like a 45 degree angle and I was just waiting for this top heavy load to topple us right over, OMG OMG OMG I’m going to die soon became my silent mantra. Especially when stealing a glance at the driver I saw him sitting slightly askew with one hand on the wheel and the other on his hip, a bit like a cowboy out of a western movie might sit astride his horse, then when I saw the fag hanging out of this mouth I realised he thinks he’s the Marlborough man, OMG OMG OMG I’m going to die.

Finally we stop for a break, I crawl out of the cab on rubber legs rush to the back off the truck to see Dozer and he is hanging half (at this point only the wheels are actually over the truck, the handle bars, tank and seat are just suspended mid air) off the truck lying completely flat held on my a single strap, the other two having come loose, OMG OMG OMG Dozer is going to die. I quite rightly freak out… ok that is an exaggeration as I’m not really a freak out kind of lady, but no way was this guy going to ignore me now. He comes to the back of the truck and shakes his head looking concerned and I say very calmly but assertively ‘not good, not good at all, we need to TIE this bike to the truck’ erm that was dumb the guy does not speak a word of English. OK I get the best hand signals I can muster and VERY assertively show him how the bike needs to be tied front and back to the bar behind the cab. Thanks goodness he has a long enough rope to  do this, and sheepishly does as I ask, realising that I was right back at the ger camp when I showed some concern. Dozer better secured we head off again.

I’m feeling slightly better about Dozer now that I think he’s tied more securely but the journey gets no better. When I see the driver talking on his mobile, while lighting a cigarette and driving with one hand swerving the truck from side to side trying to avoid potholes and THEN overtaking all in one single movement. The light is now fading and our 6 hour journey now looks like it will take 8. The worrying thing is that I am convinced the driver is night blind when I see a bus stopped in the middle of the road hazards flashing and he doesn’t, a hairs breadth from hitting it he SLAMS on breaks and swerves around it, fortunately to no oncoming traffic, I finally close my eyes. I realise at this point that I’d make a good marine since surviving this kind of torture must surely be the best army training a person could have.

We finally arrive in UB to the Oasis guesthouse and I crash into bed absolutely exhausted. Sadly the next day I was as sick as a dog having got some sort of tummy bug. I did not have deli belly but could not keep any food down before rushing to the bathroom to throw up and felt very nauseous the whole day, but I know it’s just a 24 hour thing and I’ll be just well enough to crate Dozer up tomorrow ready for the flight to Bangkok. I will go to Bangkok via Korea so will take the opportunity and stay in Seoul for a few days since I have never been there before.

Carburettor drain screw

Now that Dozer had petrol 🙂 I woke up to another gorgeous sunny day and immediate hoped on Dozer and headed out to explore Mongolia. This was the day I was waiting for, getting out in the hills alone on my bike. The worst side effect of Dizzy seizing is the fact that it has damaged my confidence for riding alone. I crave and value the moments I have alone on the bike especially here in Mongolia because it is so sparsely populated. However saying that you do see people just few and far between, so I know in the long run you are ok and someone will come along. However even knowing this I still ride along with that little voice that says “something could go wrong and you are all alone” uugghh I hate this voice, and never had it when I was riding alone before Dizzy seized. So I ignore it and push my fears and concerns aside and head off ALONE.

What a great day. Ever since I started riding Dozer I have been comfortable on this bike on road and off-road, I never thought I would be so comfortable riding a 650 off-road. Bearing in mind Mongolia is easy off road, nothing like trail riding in Spain. Now don’t get me wrong I am no expert but I can off-road as long as I can just go at my own pace, the main thing is I LOVE it. Dozer is also lighter than Dizzy but not as light as the WR250 I ride in Spain. But without the cumbersome panniers or any luggage it was a please to take him on the trails, he is also a very easy bike to ride. So we had a fantastic day riding in the hills around Karakorum, and I loved the alone time I had sitting on the hills and just looking at Mongolia. This countryside has really touched my heart. I cannot explain it, the Swiss Alps are for sure the most beautiful countryside I have ever seen, African bush veld stirs something deep down in soul, but Mongolia has really touched me. Although I like the country and the people what I mean is the landscape when I look at it my heart just feels bigger. As I said before I am the least eloquent person and can never find the words to describe how I feel so this is the best I can do and it does not do this country justice.

After buzzing around the hills I popped back into town to see two little shrines I had not seen before and pick up a few things. Then I headed back to the ger camp. One can cut across a large plain from the town to the camp which I did and just a few hundred meters from the camp Dozer started spitting and spluttering…oh crap what now, he can’t be out of petrol I can do min 350km to a tank and have only done 233 today. I crawl the last few meters and park him outside my ger look down and see fuel pouring out the carburettor. I jumped off and immediately switch the fuel off, probably only saving the last litre. Inspecting the carburettor I see the drain screw is missing double crap. Now what, this very specific part and not one I can find here in this little village and I am 375km form Ulaanbaatar. I realise how fortunate I am that this happened just outside the camp.

So I start walking the 300metres across the plain trying to follow the fuel trail in on the dirt tracks. Trying to follow a trial of fuel that evaporates is not that easy but one can sort of see where the fuel fell as the ground is a little wet and oily. I got back to what I thought was the start of the fuel spilling out right near the start of the plain and walked that 300m four times, but could not find the screw, it really was like trying to find a needle in a haystack. There is nothing I can do but truck Dozer back to Ulaanbaatar and put him on the plane to Bangkok and try order the right part from a Suzuki dealer in the hope that it will be at the hotel in Bangkok when I get there. Since I arrive in Bangkok late at night I booked a hotel right by the airport so that the next day I can fetch Dozer from customs and just get the hell out of the city which I am not interested in staying in. If all goes well the carbonator drain screw, 2 x CR10E spark plugs and a new battery will be waiting for me and Dozer will be a up and running and ready to face SE Asia in no time.

I am in luck, the ger camp have a truck going to Ulanbataar tomorrow taking some gers and they can take my bike and me. So sadly I won’t be riding and it will be a very slow journey on a truck over these pot holed roads compare dot a bike. But then again I haven’t travelled in a Mongolian truck before so a new experience and it’s only 375k

Karakorum

I woke up this morning to the sunniest warmest day I’ve had since coming back to Mongolia, I mean really hot, the perfect day to get on Dozer and go exploring the rolling hills near Karakorum. I hopped onto Dozer and click hmm click hmm Dozer was dead again. Okay chin up don’t panic I run over to the last 4×4 about to leave the camp and ask them if they have jumper cables and can jump start my bike. No problem they say and we give it a go, and we try and we try and if at first you don’t succeed just try and try again  … how many times is that. OK the battery is now clearly charged and Dozer is still not starting and I keno this can only mean the spark plugs. The 4×4 leaves and I take Dozer back to the ger and change the plugs and try again click hmmm click GORRRR yippee he starts. I jump with joy, literally run inside while he is warming up and throw my jacket and helmet on and as I step outside I hear him stall. No problem he started once he’ll start again. REALLY well maybe not, once again he is dead. I sit on the bench outside the ger and literally for the first time since all the bike problems with Dizzy and the changes and cancellation of China I came close to crying. Now funny enough I am an emotional person and I do cry I cry in sad movies, happy movies even at the news. If people shout at me I cry. People think I’m this uber strong independent woman and a real tom boy but I can really shed the tears.  When my friend Angie passed away I thought the tears would never stop I just looked at someone and would burst out crying. However I have not cried for any of the disappointments I’ve had on the trip, I just took them as part of the adventure. I got depressed and sad or angry but I never cried…today I came close but it just didn’t happen.

Right plan of action time. I need decided that I need to go and see something , do something , sight see. So I walk the 2 kms from the ger camp through town to the monastery in Karakorum. Considering I’ve done no real exercise on this trip the walk did me good.

I really enjoyed seeing the monastery and realised that I’d done very little actual sightseeing on my trip. I had done a lot of experiencing of the countries and cultures and have met many interesting people but done very little sightseeing so I ended up really enjoying the day. Mongolia is a poor country and although the museums are interesting to see their upkeep definitely reflects this. The irony is that the country has a wealth of minerals and there are many mines in Mongolia but clearly the rich are getting richer and the nothing tricks down to the average Mongolian, villages or historical sites.

After seeing the museum and having lunch (not goat, which I have fortunately been able to avoid on this trip to Mongolia all but once) I started on the long boring hot dusty 2km walk home. It was half way through this walk that the thought occurred to me that in order to remove the spark plug from Dozer I needed to take off the petrol tank and in order to do that I needed to turn the petrol off…”had I switched it back on” now I’m not really a ditzy broad but sometimes I do have a bad memory and do make some silly mistakes was this one of them… I have never walked so fast in my life, genuinely hoping that this was one of those silly mistakes. Getting back the first thing I did was rush to check Dozer.

Now at this point I could lie to you and make something up, but I’ve never been a liar, probably because I don’t have a good poker face. So the truth is yes I had forgotten to turn the petrol on and turning the igniting key to hear Dozer purr once more was the biggest relief ever 8)

On the road in Mongolia

By mid day on Monday all my ‘chores” had been done, Dozer was booked on a flight to Bangkok on Monday the 24th September. I was booked for the Tuesday via Seoul and would stay there for 5 days as I had never been to Korea before and Dozer fixed, packed and ready to hit the road.

I had one of the Oasis Guest houses super meals, spaghetti bolognaise and hit the road.  It took me 58 minutes to just get out of Ulaanbaatar this is without a doubt the worst place to ride a bike, it was tedious and I was itching go to just GO. Crawling along in 1st and 2nd gear stopping and starting being stuck behind busses I could not pass as there are many potholes in the road and they swerve to miss them without warning was getting me down and I was just watching the minutes tick past. Then like a flash the traffic cleared I was out of the city and could kick those gears up and hear that familiar GORRRR as Dozer sped up. My heart left, I cannot in words describe the amazing happy free feeling that comes over me when I am alone on the road, just me and my bike. It’s the lightest feeling of freedom I can ever experience and I was at that moment truly happy after been off the road for 6 days.

I had decide dot go down to Karakorum the ancient capital of Mongolia built by Genghis Khan. I had read an amazing trilogy about Genghis and now that I had more time in Mongolia on my own I wanted to do some sightseeing. The best thing about Mongolia is the landscape so travelling the 325km to Karakorum I knew would be a pleasure. It is all tarmac but I was okayish with that even thought I was itching to go off-road, I just wanted to get there since I was FREEEEEEEZING.

I had decided to leave the Oasis at 2pm and ride half way and camp and then ride the rest of the way the next day. However by 5pm the sky was looking ominously dark and threatening to snow if not snow. Hmmmm I love camping and knew that no matter how disappointing it would be camping would not be a good idea. So at 6:30, and just in time, I pulled up outside roadside hotel and stayed the night. Within minutes the skies opened and it bucketed down and was so cold I used the duvets from both beds and knew I had made the right decision. The next day I headed down to Karakorum, and although it was cold the sky was completely clear and Dozer and I decided that tarmac was just too boring so we rode on the little tracks alongside it, just to have some fun. Unless you come to Mongolia you just cannot imagine how vast and beautiful the country is. One can ride for miles without seeing anyone, but then again you are never alone for long as you will often see a Mongolian on his motorbike or horse. You come across cows, sheep and the cutest fluffiest little goats, camels and of course the beautiful Mongolian ponies just roaming free on the steppes, a truly beautiful sight to see. One of my favourite things to see are the birds of prey. I know I have mentioned them before but they bear mentioning again. In one day you can see up to 16 or more birds. Today I counted 8, including two golden eagles sitting in the road. I slammed on breaks and tried to get my camera out but they took off too quickly, hovered overhead and when I rode on flew alongside the bike at eye level for a few seconds before flying off into the distance so stunning.

I knew I would not be camping in Karakorum and found a stunning Ger camp on the other side of the town. It’s about 2km out of town and in a very picturesque area. The place is run by a great Mongolian family, grandmother, mother and 4 daughters two of which who speak English. The food is amazing and the place is really clean, it’s called the Munkh Tenger camp. I have the loveliest ger and am right now sitting inside with the fire in the iron stove cracking away, gers are very very cosy tents. I arrived in the camp at 2pm and after a steaming hot shower and lunch I just spent the afternoon sitting in the sun reading a book and admiring the scenery. This is the life and I have no idea why I or anyone would spend so long in ugly, dirty, crazy Ulaanbaatar when 325km outside of town you can have this.

I have decide to spend 3 nights here and just do day trips to see the ancient capital, the Buddhist monastery and just to ride the lovely hills in this area. That way I could ride Dozer without the cumbersome panniers and just enjoy Mongolia before heading back to Ulaanbaatar to crate Dozer for Bangkok.

Fixing Dozer

To cut a long story short Dozers starting problem seemed to be a combination of three things. The mechanic thought it was the starter motor so I took that out and took it apart to have a look. Even the ‘experts” the very mechanically included riders at the Oasis agreed that it looked very good. It was very interesting to take a starter motor apart. There were a few carbon deposits that I cleaned out but the brushes etc looked good. The one change was that after taking it out and putting git back together again it did start spinning really well which it was not doing before. One down 2 to go…the next thing I did was take the spark plugs out and give them a good clean, they were firing red instead of blue white so I replaced the one. However only to see if I could get it started as it was the wrong heat range spark plug and leaving it in could damage my bike. Finally we hooked the battery to the car battery. All these three things to Dozer started yippee. We fully charged the battery and took him apart again, because the cam chain tensioner was making an unhealthy noise. You need to take this off to get the starter motor out on the DR. Then it got late and I needed to get down the black market to try finding some oil and gasket making gloop.

The following day I was in for a big shock when I woke up the guys said they had been told that our China part2 trip had been cancelled NO FRIGGIN WAY. This was a real setback and we were all incredibly depressed. I couldn’t believe that after all my determination to get to China this happened. Not only had Dizzy died and I been given the option of going direct to Laos which I did not take as I wanted to ride thought China, wheels on the ground all the way. Now Dozer looked for a little while like he would not make it and now this. The China trip had already been changed twice from our original plan anyway. We were not really given a good explanation as to why this happened, we were told it was due to the big communist party conference and they were limiting self drive tours. All bollox if you ask me.

The original China trip through Tibet was supposed to be 28 days. This China trip, part 1 and 2 was 37 days long as the route was longer plus 2 weeks in Mongolia so a total of 51 days. Since the trip time had increased so much I knew I would not make it to Singapore before I had to leave, which really depressed me after all I had been though as the trip was Zurich to Singapore. So contact my boss and asked him if I could extend my trip. I have a fantastic boss and he said yes I can extend to the end of November. Two days later we got the news about China. I debated about telling my boss that I could still make my original return date but decided not to. Since I had spent 3 weeks without a bike when Dizzy seized I wanted those weeks back and wanted to really take my time around SE Asia and enjoy myself. So I decided to keep my new return date.

BUT that is adventure travel for you and one must go with the punches. So I needed to find an alternative plan. The only option for the bike is to fly it to Bangkok, there is no other choice as the Mongolians are very strict about leaving a bike in Mongolia if you came in with one. So I cannot leave the bike or sell the bike here. I will then fly to Bangkok and can go through China or Korea and will stay a few days to sight see while the bike is being transported and put through customs.

After that depressing news I just want to get on Dozer and ride but first he needs the cam chain tensioner removed and put back together. He also needs the electrics fixe dup his read indicator had come off, and his temporary Chinese/ Russian pannier system had also come apart (Mongolian roads)  So this I decided to spend with Dozer and get him in tip top shape. I did learn that red gasket making goop is very goopy and gets everywhere. I also learned that it’s easier the snap a bolt in half that one thinks ooops ‘anyone got an easy out” But all in all the repairs went well and dozer is up and running and I am again an very happy lady. He’s been washed and polished up, his panniers have been welded all ready to ride tomorrow 🙂

Mongolia in a 4×4

So after putting my ugly baby on the back of a truck 😦 having a vodka and going to bed I woke up in the morning ready to face the day travelling in a 4×4. At least the night was a dry one, the night before we woke up to find it snowing outside and raining INSIDE, the roof had been leaking and the room was like a shower, at least it missed my bed, unlike poor Nachos. But dry and in a VERY bad mood I hopped in the 4×4 and tried to look on the bright side, it was cold outside and warm in the car.

So looking at Mongolia through a windowpane I still think it is beautiful so vast and sparsely populated, we would spend hours driving without seeing another soul. We did see the odd group of camels and Mongolian ponies so pretty. My best day was when we lost the main road and spent the day completely off road on these small trails. It was so much fun bumping along and riding through the thick sand this is what Mongolia is all about, but today we stick to the main track but still mostly off-road and not toooo bad in the 4×4 🙂

So I had baggsied the front seat with some strange knitted soft toy (okay with Benny the bean bear, David and Lyns mascot) that has no idea how to treat lady bikers so I kept sitting on his head, very uncomfortable. Unfortunately the knitting needles inside his body stabbed me a couple of times and that taught me to treat him with a little respect. I then moved him to a nice comfy place on the other side of the seat but promptly opened the door and he went flying face first in the dirt hee hee that will teach you Benny bean bear, really how humiliating being stabbed by a soft toy. At that point the bear had to have a few harsh words with me (this is what happens when I ride in a 4×4), and after that things were a lot better between us.

We even had a few laughs and the journey turned out to be quite fun. David even let Richard drive most of the way which surprised me but he seemed to do a good enough job and it gave David a rest. We arrived in Ulaanbaatar a lot quicker than expected and hit the most unbelievable bad traffic. The roads in UB are in horrible condition and drivers here really drive badly I found myself closing my eyes more than once but we finally made it safely to the Oasis.