Tuesday, 22 July 2014

Day 23 Monday 21st July Ulaangom. Northern Mongolia

Eventually got some photos off Paul's camera and here is a spectacular shot that he took couple of nights ago.

Up and broke camp and away for another days riding. We set off at quite a pace, and after about 30 mins and a discussion between the group we dropped the pace slightly. The dilemma is that "speed is your friend" and you have more control and can simply ride through any problem of ruts and soft sand. However if you do get into trouble then the consequences are far greater if you do come off at speed.
We are all getting gradually more and more competent in off road skills but we are sure there is much more to come to test us.

We rode across vast open plains, through valleys and over passes and at each junction of tracks relied upon basic sat nav coordinates and maps to determine where we were and which road to take. Often three or four tracks would lead in almost the same direction and choosing the correct one was guess-work. Some of the vistas were breathtaking.

YouTube Video

At the top of mountain passes there are prayer mounds made from stones and decorated with blue ribbons.

At the one above Geoff went to walk around the mound three times (as per Mongolian tradition to give good luck) and the men in the photo offered him a saucer of water to drink. Not wanting to be rude Geoff accepted and when drinking the whole saucer full realised it was neat vodka.

We were stopped at one junction of tracks and a man and his wife (?) pulled up on a motorcycle and offered us what looked like shortcake biscuits. We all accepted but when we ate them, they tasted of some kind of sour cheese and just stuck to the roof of your mouth. We were all trying to be polite but desperate to get a drink of water to wash it down.

Geoff's side pannier keeps coming loose due to all the vibration on the corrugated tracks and although they are held in position by chains to stop them falling off we need to find a better mechanism to hold them. Also his back top box gas bounced so much that it has bent the holding bracket and started to crack the Givi mounting frame. As I write Frank is busy looking into how we can improve the situation.

We are very much aware of the need to have plenty water, and whenever we come into a small village we end up buying loads of bottled water and soft drinks. The children at these villages come straight over and wave and enquire where we are from. Paul seems to have an endless supply of polo mints and other sweets supplied by his sister-in-law which go down very well with the kids, but this then led to him being offered more sour cheese biscuits from the parents!

The tracks were better quality today than yesterday and we made good progress. Each time we stop people stop and come over and the custom seems to be to poke around everything and try on whatever they want. They pick up helmets and try them on, and poke sat navs to see what it does. It is interesting to see the different cultural norms for behaviour.

At 3pm we had been making such good progress that we decided to try and finish the day at at fairly large town called Ulaangom, but this would require another two hours hard riding along tracks. Then after about 1 hour like a mirage in front of us Tarmac appeared and our spirits lifted thinking we would be in a nice hotel drinking beer within no time at all.

Then out of nowhere Paul's bike just stopped and was totally electrically dead. We started at the battery and realised straight away that something was very wrong. The battery was too hot to touch and was only showing 2 volts !! You could also smell the acid cooking something.

So not yet knowing the cause Geoff and Dave went into Ulaangom to try and buy a new battery whilst Frank and Paul stayed with the bike to try and diagnose the fault.

Geoff and Dave made enquiries and were shunted from auto part store to auto part store, but nobody could suggest where we could buy a motorbike sized battery. Eventually at a tyre changing depot we were showing our exasperation that there were so many motorcycles about how could there not be any shops that supply batteries when the man who was on his Chinese motorcycle realised there was an opportunity to make some money. He suggested we buy his battery off his machine. So we negotiated for a few minutes and ended up paying what he originally asked for and bought a Chinese battery much smaller than the Honda battery, and with the connections in the opposite direction and different connection posts. All for the tidy sum of 50,000 Tsk ( about £17). Then it's back the 20km to where Pail and Frank are waiting.

Paul and Frank had swapped various parts from the bikes and determined that when they try to start the bike it is blowing the ignition fuse each time. Eventually we noticed that the ignition control module had a lump and cracked moulding that we were sure had not been there before. After much deliberation and thought we gave come to the conclusion that the regulator has failed in some way and has been pumping current into the battery causing it to overheat and have a high voltage, this has then damaged the ignition control module which had then started to blow fuses.

Whilst we had all the parts other than a battery to fix the problem, it was not until 8 pm that we eventually got underway again. Heath Robinson comes to mind when you now look at Pails bike with a Chinese battery tie wrapped in position with made up connections, however it works!!

Whilst we were at the side of the road fixing the bike loads of people stopped and offered help of all sorts. A woman and man gave us pears and salami sausage and their phone number where we could use his garage at home and stay in his Yurt for free. Another man all togged out in Mongolian long coat stopped on his motorcycle, left his wife to sit on her own and came over trying to get involved in the repair. He is picking up our muti-meter and putting it on various contacts just hoping that would solve the problem. It can be hard when you are busy trying to resolve a problem to remember to keep your tolerance of other peoples natural curiosity and wanting to help.

Eventually we rode into town all dusty dirty and sweaty and the first thing we did was have a cold beer outside. Heaven!!!
The hotel was fairly full and could only offer us a single room with three double beds. I'm not sure how the decision was eventually resolved but Frank ended up sleeping on the floor!

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