Mongolia to Russia Update

Greetings from Stockholm, Sweden.

Seasons have passed since my last blog and early snows of winter began to dust the woodlands of central Russia weeks ago. This writing hiatus hasn’t been due to idleness. Since departing China in July, I’ve cycled over 6,000 km through challenging conditions and with little rest until now, due to the necessity of covering long distances on limited visas.

As it’s going to take a while for me to update this story, I’ve put together a quick photographic synopsis of the past 3+ months.

I had been travelling for some time through the Gobi Desert in northern China but Mongolia posed a greater challenge of unsealed roads and large distances between water. I was carrying 14 litres at a time and still running out.

Scorpions were among the many desert dwelling critters that enjoyed visiting my camps.

Dinosaur bones.

Illegal calcium mines.

The remnants of Soviet rule scar the villages with dilapidated barracks and the shattered foundations of military instalments, as with this abandoned airforce base.

700 km north from the Chinese border, I arrive in Ulaanbaatar. From there I turn west, travelling 2000 km across the north of Mongolia, towards the Altai mountains.

On the steppe there’s no shortage of curious herdsmen.

Watching the London Olympics in a Ger.

About as good as signage gets in Mongolia, I’m afraid. Without accurate maps, a functioning odometer, or GPS, I was lost often.

During my two months in Mongolia I only stayed in accommodation in Ulaanbaatar, so I relied on solar power to charge my camera batteries.

Lack of development, nomadic culture, and meeting other adventure cyclists and road travellers, were the best bits of Mongolia.

Hell headwinds, torrential rains, unridable tracks, and bad food, were the toughest bits. My tripod was tied down from the wind to get this shot.

I didn’t shower for 6 weeks—from Unaanbaatar to the end of the Altai mountains in Russia—but fear not, I did wash in dung-coloured rivers.

Killer roads and…

…sublime landscape is the Mongolia experience.

On the Russian side (below) the landscape was nothing to complain about either.

Two months, 2,650 km diagonally  across Mongolia, mostly on unsealed tracks, and against prevailing winds, afforded me no time for contingency. I arrived at the border on the penultimate day of my visa.

There’s no mistaking crossing the Russian border.

Several weeks through the Altai mountains.

Ticks were a daily worry.

For over two months through western Mongolia and central Russia, with no cold weather gear and no time to stop, I could do nothing but tough out the sub-zero nights with only a few scraps of clothing and half a synthetic sleeping bag.

Love breakfast!

Despite my best efforts, I got only as far as Perm, Russia—1,900 km short of Scandinavia—within a week of my visa expiring. Thus, I had no choice but to leave my bike there, catch a train to Moscow and exit the country. After a few days in the capital, I flew to Stockholm from where I’m currently applying for a new passport and visa for Russia.

Comments

  1. Anonymous says

    Hi \\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\\ Happy New Year Ben- from Willow, Jasmine, Emma & Mark! We are following your adventure and it is surely a source of inspiration for Jasmine & Willow. They are both getting into bike riding and for them to watch their uncle’s amazing journey will broaden their capacity to fathom the exteremes of possibility….

    We are at Airey’s for about 2 weeks over new year. We visited Elise and David and Raphy and Cassidy – and watched a large spiky echnida cross the road over to the beach….

  2. pernilla says

    Fantastic picture and great sharing. Would love to see the dinsaour bones and the mountain magnificent. The russian boarder pic look like a clip from the film Wall E:-) And the picture of the boys watching the olympics is fantastic.

  3. Anonymous says

    Hi Benji,
    I am yet another of Mike’s cycling friends. I love to read your blogs and each time I do I thank the lord my son is not so adventurous. I can only imagine that Mongolia was hard work, but I am sure some aspects must have been amazing. I hope the pressure you were under didn’t stop you enjoying the good bits. Friends of ours have just returned from a holiday in Mongolia and say it was the best place they have visited – and they have done a lot of touring! Now I want to go there before the mining spoils the whole country. I look forward to your next story – you are truly gifted with words.
    Kathy & Warwick Manderson.

    • Benji says

      Thanks Kathy & Warwick. Like everywhere, Mongolia was a mixed bag but highly unique in several key aspects, which makes it so appealing for adventuring. As you mentioned, it’s clearly undergoing rapid change with foreign investment in mining. I saw no mines but convoys of government officials driving around in Lexus 4x4s.

  4. Anton says

    Hi! Bengi!
    We met in Barnaul. We bought accessories for your further journey.
    First of all: I wish you the biggest luck and persistence to finish your VERY long trip as soon, as possible.
    Admire with your inner power.

    Savko Anton
    Dealer center “Nissan”

  5. Matt says

    Glad to hear about your trip, Benji. I love the photos and I look forward to hearing more about the leg into Russia. – Matt (the cyclist from outside UB)

  6. Anonymous says

    hhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh Hello Ben,
    I have never written to you, but am another member of your father’s cycling group and watched some of your experiences on Youtube. Your journey is awe-inspiring and the tough conditions and deprivations along the way are hard for us to imagine. It is a lone journey that few people today have the inclination or courage to take on, and your sense of adventure is truly amazing. I am sure that your experiences are likewise amazing. The beauty of your photos and the open spaces you travel are sights not experienced by many. Wishing you safety and further adventuresas as you continue on your inspiring odyssey. Cheers, Monika McCallum Nov 15

    • Benji says

      Thanks Monika! Northern Mongolia is an impressive place with giant skys. Beautiful and peaceful at night also, though getting cold at over 2000 m. The route was tough but turned out to be a good choice.

  7. Anonymous says

    Hi Ben,
    Remember that very hot summer day we gathered at Fed Square to say goodbye.
    We and I guess you , could not have imagined the incredible adventure that lay in store for you.
    Mike has kept us all up to date with your exploits and Judy and I have enjoyed looking at the blogs.
    How will you ever cope with the “stress” of luxury again ,but I reckon your amazing resilience will overcome all at boring luxury stuff.
    The pics of the scenery and the weather worn locals are great and no doubt each one a story in itself.
    Enjoy your short break in Ssssveeeden and don’t soften up tooo much as the Russian “outback” awaits your return and that of your bike.
    Bye the way, isn’t it about time you christened your bike with a name as you have clearly spent a lot of time together and put it through some tough times carrying all your “luxuries” and then having to sleep outside on ice seas and in the Mongolian snow — POOR BIKE !!

    I acn relate to your tick comment – I got a tick in a very private anatomic location whilst down at Gipsy recently with M and M.

    Take Care Ben — but I reckon you have become expert at that.
    Kind Regards,
    Trevor and Judy White

    • Benji says

      Thanks Trevor & Judy, my bike does have a name: Donkey. Thanks for reminding me to use it in the blog. Think I’ll do fine with the luxury of a bed (without rocks), not sure about the four walls though.

  8. Anonymous says

    As always, great stuff Ben. I’ll circulate this to my cyscling friends who, despite the fact that you get little feedback, are always asking me about your progress & welfare.
    Mickey

  9. Takako says

    Scorpion and Tick are your friends.. cool
    I know bad road of the continent, Did you really move from east to west by bicycle?? I did donate just now .. buy loupe!

    • Benji says

      Scorpions maybe but I wouldn’t go so far as call ticks my friends. Thanks so much for your donation Takako!

      • Takako says

        I thank you too. you gave me awareness. I really worried since you decided going in Sakhalin. It’s nice you’re fine. but… restart from Russia?! Please put it if you find the rail. Even if you camp in winter Scandinavia, no surprised…enjoy. x

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