Coming to the end of the twisty hard packed track, the Pilgrims were just 10 km outside of Khakorin. They had arrived to a rather juicy river crossing, and decided they would give it a go. It is hard to overstate how happy Toast was this awesome sunny morning. Ever since the beginning of Kazaksthan and the bad restaurant meat, he had been pursued by his bad stomach devils. They had made some of the offroad days incredibly tough, and it had been quite an endurance challenge. He was thinking back on the Kazakh steppes, where with a broken starter freewheel and non idling bike, alone, his lost companion Mr Filipz, that having punctured 60 clicks away, in 40 degrees heat, second day without any food, and stuck in a deep rut with Gina, as he had struggled the better part of the day attempting the impossible task to push-start her in the sand, thinking about his mate that had disappeared out of his dust cloud into the horizon without even a map or route. He had not seen a single car or other passer by for the whole day, and just taken the decision to walk out the 30 + kms of steppes back to Beyneu, sipping sparingly from his 5L of water. In the end, everything had worked out fine, as always, but the lowered mental and physical performance from being stomach sick had thickened the plot, and stayed to haunt him for the last 6 weeks. Finally, the traveling french medecine students he had encountered had freed Toast of his stomach symptoms and consequently his bread only diet, that he had pursued four extra days for safety. Now he was feeling excstatic and almost overtoasted, burning of energy and optimism, ready for the world, stomach in order again.
Tire tracks on the river bank indicated that vehicles must already have been passing here before, so the Pilgrims threw themselves in without pre-wading it. Filipz rode ahead, with Toast reassuringly filming only a couple of meters behind. The usual sight of Filipz sidebags submerging indicated to Toast that his companion had hit a deeper section, and not entirely unusually, Filipz also stalled at this very point.
Laughing, Toast passed him downstreams, before he got deflected of a particularly large invisible rock. He thought he would catch the fall sooner so didn’t hit the killswitch, but he didn’t, and consequently drowned Gina.
As Pilgrimd pushed the bikes out, they realized that Toast had managed the achievment of simultaneously drowning the engine and puncturing Ginas rear with a 10 cm massive nail. In other words, they would be stranded on the bank for a while.. Filipz grabbed the opportunity to change his rear sprocket, rear pads, and disc he had been carrying for way too long. He discovered his new EBC disc would need some additional screw holes, and could not be fitted as is.
Toast peeked through his oil glass and was relieved to find the PCB and oil separator had not allowed water through to the crankcase. The airbox, throttle body, and exhaust were emptied of water, and filters left to dry as he got started on the tire.
To avoid damage to his already tired starter, he also cranked over the engine with the spark plug out until it stopped spitting out water. The connecting rod seemed to have held up, and he was relieved at this. But Gina still wouldn’t fire up and he started pondering on what could have taken damage. He was pretty sure no water could have made it into the tanks…
Three kids and their stumbling dad showed up with fresh Kocher (fried liver), bread with homemade Macla (butter) with added sugar, and tea, they all helped taking turns on the bicycle pump to try to get the tire to bead properly. She finally fired up after a desperate attempt in switching the fuel mapping to low octane mode. They then realized, as they had tried to start it with the airbox out, the throttle cables had changed their routing slightly and the resulting throttle opening was just too low for idling. If only the electronically controlled idle had worked, this problem would not have been. But the butterfly had been bent during backfiring, and the valve’s encoder voltage was now out it’s working interval and could not be changed with the retarded KTM diagnostics tool Toast had had a go with in Almaty. This would definitely have to be ghetto fixed when back in Sweden.
It was now evening, and the kids lured the Pilgrims back to their ger with promises of more Kocher. The wife had cooked a delicious meal for them, and evening was spent in good company with the nomad family. Both kids had struck the Pilgrims as particularly bright. The son had immediately understood the electric compressor and the intricacies of Toast pedantic tire changing manners. Filipz had taught the daughter a few words of English, and she picked them up quickly. The rest of the evening, was spent in a fun language course, where words, made out from scharades or drawings, would be taught in English and Mongolian and written down into an impressive translation list. They would then read out the words in the others language and alphabet to each other, to try and get the pronounciation right.
Meanwhile, the weather had morphed into blitz striking rainstorm. The Pilgrims were now very happy to be sleeping in the ger for a change. Although the central ventilation hole in the ger roof, once again struck them as extremely unoptimized and primitive. Either the chimney could be mounted, or the roof closed. Mongolians never seemed to be bothered by the cold nights, so they always left the vent hole open.. They fell asleep in the light drizzle coming in from the open ventilation hole, normal, after all this was Mongolia, life here is not supposed to be comfortable.
The morning after, the Pilgrims left for the Erdene Zuu monastery. They had generously been given a bag of dried milk and fat sweets each before leaving, and the kids had even given them a mini ger made out of a tree mushroom. The Pilgrims had not had much left in the way of gifts, but had simply offered a small knife to the boy, and a bottle of vodka. The whole bottle was immediately served to the man of the house, who had been laying dranked out in bed since the Pilgrims arrival the day before. They would have to be more creative with their gifts the next time they concluded…
They arrived to Erdene Zuu which struck them with the sheer size of area enclosed by the outside walls. Before the Soviets had destroyed parts of the place, it had consisted of 1500 separate buildings. Khakorin had been one of the largest cities on Earth after the reign of Ghengis Khan. Two thirds of the male population had been monks by then. Now only the oldest temples remained, and the Pilgrims caught onto a guided tour to get some details of the Buddhist religion.
The temples featured beautiful paintings and intricate statues of the guardian monsters, Buddhas, and the peaceful gods.
As they left they spun the rolly tibetan rollers and were happy with the visit and the intro to this understanding religion, it had been a very different experience to all the churches.
The road to Ulaanbaatar was boring asfalt. It was quite sureal though, popping up in a city the size if Stockholm after a month of endless steppe and only occasional villages and gers. The night was spent in a cheap hostel called adventure rider hostel. They we’re the only riders there, which was good because it meant that they could spread out all their stuff in the whole dorm.
The evening was spent meeting up with Odku again, and his friends, in a beer house. The variety, and volume, of beer consumed was good, and Toast was enjoying the perks of a working stomach.
The following day the bikes were serviced on the hostel’s parking lot. Some mandatory, “the Pilgrims were here”” oil traces were left in the usual fashion. Toast did three restaurant breaks throughout the day, enjoying his newfound stomach and appetite.
During the afternoon, as Toast was planning the route north out of Mongolia, he couldn’t believe his luck when Walter Colebatch told him he would help out and sent him a gpx track file. Colebatch is probably the most well known and one of the extremest adventure riders of the Eastern world. Toast had been reading his ride reports since pretty much the beginning of the trip, and picked up many tips and tricks, as well as being inspired to more hardcore riding. The duo was so stoked, and maybe a little scared even for the first time😱, about the ride to come and the zero day visa expiration margin… They even decided skipping shitfacing themselves going out clubbing that night, to be in tip top shape for the following day. The adventure was on!