I suppose for every adventure to really be an adventure there are the unknowns. That is what makes them worthwhile. All life has these unknowns, but most of the time people try to pretend they don't exist. Placing oneself out of the comfort zone is often where the magic happens. That is what makes one feel really alive. And that is the addiction that drives many people to do things that otherwise seem crazy.
Alas, with the highs of adventure, there are also the lows. One can prepare for the difficulties as much as possible and therefore be better equipped and able to deal when things do go wrong, but at some point, all you can do is cross your fingers and hope for the best. Hope the weather holds out, hope your equipment holds out, hope the body holds out, just hope. Yet, sometimes there is an Achilles heel that is found, the armor is pierced, and it is usually something for which one wasn't prepared or couldn't prepare.
This past week, things got really hard.
A few days before arriving in Mongolia, while in the gorgeous Altai Region of Russia, full of stunning mountains, cliffs, and rivers, Tyler's BOB trailer cracked and broke. As luck would have it, we were in a tiny village, but managed to find Ivan the Welder, and within two hours we were back on the road. This area of the Altai follows a few rivers upstream, and with each 100 km further along the road, the landscape became more and more striking. The green hills, turned to mountains, the quaint Russian looking villages with little gardens, gave way to Kazakh looking villages of grey logs and stone walls and surrounding land brown from livestock. We were climbing to a plateau, with passes around 2500m, that were supposedly a desert climate, but which rained on us for 15 days in a row. The plateau is surrounded by 4000m peaks, still holding snow, and there are no trees, only brown and red and light green with grasses.
We had met up with a French couple, Tiben and Pauline, also planning to cycle across Mongolia, so for 6 days the 4 of us pedaled and camped together. It was relieving and fun to have companions for a few days.
We all rode into Mongolia on August 17th, and just as everyone said, the pavement ended. It literally went from a paved road in great condition, to dirt, at the gate. It felt like the end of the road, not the beginning. The town at the border was all grey, and nothing taller than one story. Many buildings have flat roofs, and there was dung drying on the roofs, to use as fuel in the winter, I suppose.
We quickly came upon a herd of yaks grazing by the road, and soon saw more gers scattered in the hills. It was gorgeous and pretty much what I had imagined of Mongolia. That night we camped by a lake, and the next morning it was 2 degrees Celsius, and the sky looked like snow. We pedaled 15 km into town, bundled up in all our clothes, weaving our way through the washboard of the dirt road. There is not just one dirt road though, so when one got really rough to ride, we would switch onto another dirt and try that for awhile. We saw people just drive anywhere through the grass and make their own road.
We arrived in a tiny village, which felt more like a frontier camp, and met a man who wanted to show us a map of the area because there was a problem with the road we planned on taking. We followed him to his house, were invited in for tea, looked at maps, and when we went to take a picture, realized the camera, as well as a leatherman knife were missing. We had them when we left camp, and we no longer had them. Tyler went back to our camp to look for the camera, but to no avail. All of our photos are gone. It makes me feel sick, and so sad. The camera is replaceable, but those pictures...
We rode away from that house, and I have never felt more vulnerable and more exposed. Dark clouds loomed overhead, the road was rough, there was no place to camp that was sheltered, and it felt like we were on another planet. We camped that night in a hailstorm and watched as the white piles grew around the tent. The next morning, while packing up camp, my back went out. I didn't know if I could even ride my bike. All hail Vitamin I!
As I watched Tyler pedal up the pass, after also riding my bike up the pass, it was one of the grandest views ever. I thought, what a great picture! It looked like he was riding on the edge of the world, with these huge peaks, white with new snow, draped behind him. More like someone had pulled a screen of a 'mountain scene' on the wall behind him.
Amazingly enough, here in Mongolia, we found a perfect road down from the pass into town! Not only did I ride, but we cruised 35 km down to town, going about 30km/hr! It was incredible. And the landscape equally so. I have not been so relieved to make it to town in a long while. Now, we are enjoying the first day of sun in about 15, looking for a new camera, resting my back, and praying our bicycle tour can continue.
Things like this really make me question everything about myself and my life, and its hard to not try and look for some reason all this is happening. Maybe some day it will seem really clear, and maybe "strange things just happen". Maybe it is to remind me about what is really most important. And perhaps that is the greatest lesson that any adventure teaches anyway; that we are blessed with this breathe, this life, the relationships we have, the love we share, and each moment we are given.
Blessings, adrianne and tyler