Saturday, 7 December 2013

It's a mild one

I looked out and was unable to tell whether the white stuff blowing about on the breeze was light snow or more polystyrene from the insulation used on the outside of the buildings. Sarah had set off for Luxembourg and I could still feel the tension, or I'd had way too much coffee. The staff winter party loomed and I was going to have to go alone. The air had thickened again after yesterday's brief respite and I just could not sit around waiting until it was time to prove that my suit no longer fitted me comfortably.
So checked the temperature -10c and then packed a small bag and set off for the mountain. I took the walking poles and put the ice spikes in the bag. And to quote Patagonia 'The more you know, the less you need'.  True in so many ways. The snow and ice are simply not here in the city but the hill looked a good bit whiter. Unwilling to run in the grey air I opted to hike it all (apart from a new bit of downhill into the ger camp). I am pretty certain I wouldn't have attempted this last year. I did not know the mountain so well as I do now but it was also just too cold to contemplate that amount of time out in the open. This winter is so mild.

It was a lovely hike up to the ridge.

looking back you can see the grey air hovering over the city - you cant see them but the ger district and hills to the north are completely swallowed

The ice/snow crystals were beautiful

The footing was better than I expected but I was glad of the poles.

There has been 'work' on the ridge.

looking North - four large holes 
and looking south there are similar looking 'platforms' some with big holes some without 

Having gone to check out the 'holes' I had a hard climb back up to the ridge to get back onto the trail. Needless to say as I was heading up I met some locals coming down. There was a group of young Mongolians mostly young ladies, beautifully turned out for a gentle walk to the restaurant. There were many different garbs but if I were to describe one, Ugg boots, jeans, and a fir trimmed hooded fashion parka, you get the picture. I'm sure they would have been given quite a telling off by the overly equipped trail walkers in other parts of the world. Inappropriate clothing - fool hardy in these conditions. Except that they were having a great time. Laughing, giggling, occasional shrieks of enjoyment. I felt seriously overly dressed in my 'technical' clothing and walking poles. I was having fun but not that much.

I have not used poles for years preferring not to bother with the faff and just keeping moving but as I was in no hurry I had them, and thoroughly enjoyed the extra security they provided. Maybe I should have traded my Rocklites for Ugg boots and done away with the poles.

Just over 3 hours later and I'm home, cold tired and relieved of the nervous tension for the moment. With Sarah away for the next 6 days and no news likely before her return I'm hoping the air stays relatively clear because I get the feeling I may need to get out and run or hike a bit more regularly than of late.

Details and a map here

Friday, 6 December 2013

clean air

For the first time in 3 weeks I looked out of the school windows at leaving time and could see the hills. Not only could I see the hills but I could also see the nearest of the offending chimneys. All of these have been hidden under a thick gloop of grey smog by 3:30 everyday in recent weeks.

So seizing the opportunity I donned some extra clothes and set out to jog home via the park. It was a relatively mild -15C with little in the way of wind chill and with clear blue skies. It was the weather I remember and rather missed. I know how can you miss -15c? But take my word for it cold and clear (no matter how cold) is better than the acrid air of recent weeks.

The park is ever changing. The young and fragile trees have now been wrapped for the winter, the bike hire place moth balled and the road building halted, though there may still be some ongoing work to the lights that ring the inner pathway. Work on what is to be the football pitch and the basketball courts had halted a little while ago so I was a little surprised to see workmen.

They were making what will become a couple of basketball courts in the summer into ice rinks for the winter. Its a hi-tech operation as you can see.

Still good to get out and run a bit.


I went on a course recently. Being an international teacher of course it's not quite as simple as heading off to your nearest training school, well actually it is, but in our case it was in Shanghai a mere 11 hours travel away. Community International School were our hosts and very good it was. We were based in the upper school campus, which from a personal perspective is a bit of a shame, I would have liked to see the elementary campus.

The course was good but I'm sure you don't want to see pictures of people doing math so here are a few of the evening excursion to 'The Bund' which was interesting - very brightly lit but good. I particularly liked that the river is still very much a working waterway and the tourist boats and ferries all give way to the working barges.

Sunday, 27 October 2013

been away a while

So I've been very lazy when it comes to keeping on top of this so I'm going to give a whistle stop tour of the trip north in the the summer, a brief run down of the Sunrise to Sunset event, and a brief account of our lightening trip to catch up with friends 'old and new' in Beijing. All in one post all with pictures and very little text.

So here goes:

 We collected everyone together early one morning and set off west. By dinner time camp was set up, the latrines dug, the food prepared, and the sun was shining in the desert.

We were treated to a spectacular sunset and all was right with the world.

Unfortunately it rained during the night and we packed up wet, very wet.

Discussions were had along the way about sleeping in wet tents - Sarah was still unwell coughing and wheezing with what turned out to be the remnants of some form of pneumonia. So we headed to Tsetserleg and stayed a night in the 'Odd Hotel'. Yep really called that - unfortunately no pictures of us setting up dinner in the carpark or drying tents on the fences.
The next day we left and headed out to the White lake. It was a beautiful drive, though still wet.

Mongolian road system - no one uses the old roads - they are too rutted all prefer to find their way across the steppe

Some of the toll bridges were in need of a little work.

but were passable just.

It was a hard climb up the hill to get to the lake
and again we opted not to pitch still wet tents. Instead we payed for gers still using the Gaz as our base camp

White lake was quite remarkable.

and we got to taste Marmot.

Megumi and I had a great little run up into the hills where we saw horses and I believe I may have seen a wolf. After a couple of days R&R we headed off again - we had hoped to spend a couple more nights in one place along the way but the roads had washed out and the Gaz was going slower and slower.

So we kept driving through beautiful scenery...

camping where we could, meeting some interesting people...

and helping tow folk out of the mud once or twice.

 The roads and particularly the bridges need of a little maintenance.

 Along the way we visited standing stones covered in milk and vodka,

climbed to Ovoo with a range of skulls,

and watched in amazement as the Marmot kept getting produced for yet another meal.
We eventually reached the southern edge of Lake Hovsgal having collected Linda from Morun airport

It had been a difficult drive - a flash flood had washed the road away and had missed washing our car away by only a few minutes

At the camp we said goodbye to Chris, Byaamba and Jake. Thanks to all of them especially to Chris for organising this extraordinary journey.
Camp was an mix of gers, teepees and wooden lodges. It was also an odd mix of people, with some truly interesting people and a few too many who thought too much of themselves and too little of others.

Race morning was an early start

The first half of the course pretty and hilly though not as mountainous as the organisers would have us believe. They counted both climb and descent in their elevation profile effectively overstating the climbing significantly. The 60km after the camp stop was not so interesting and without Linda to chat too and occasionally keep me moving I may well have just given up and headed back to camp. 

 Despite the doctors concerns Sarah not only finished but came first in her class.
 Scott made some new friends (not unusually).
 Judith had a great day out
Emily was forced to give up after 42k due to a fairly major asthma attack but still finished and Curtis completed his first ever ultra marathon.

Linda and I toiled in limping and sore but nevertheless finished - not last - and in under twice the winners time - my usual three targets achieved

Somewhere along the way Clark had finished his first trail marathon, Gavin and Jess had hiked a trail marathon and Guy had gotten a bit lost but was found and returned to camp.

Normally when I've done one of these things I provide a pretty good race report but this time...I won't. 
I will thank the aid station to workers who were brilliant, cheerful and very patient.
There are many fond memories of so many friends being gathered in one place. Our group spanned 4 different continents and 5 different decades. 

Linda 3rd woman in the 100k class Sarah 1st 'Veteran' in 42k Megumi 3rd woman in 42k and Miho who finished 42k with the biggest blisters I've ever seen. Genki Girls all!

It was all quite an experience!

 and we did see a quite remarkable country up close and dirty!

more photos Road trip to Hovsgal
and the trip through Megumi's far better eye Megumi's photos

So summer over recovery complete, knee still aching, we trained for he Gobi marathon which never happened - or if it did it happened without us despite our best efforts. So nothing much went on apart from eating, drinking, working and lazing about. We took some of the newcomers up the hill, we went ourselves a different way and discovered a new waymarked trail and settled down to being lazy.

Autumn came quickly and just as quickly went again - the hills are now covered in snow and daytime temperatures rarely get much above freezing.

Then we went to visit in China!

Mel, Brian and Zoe put us up for a couple of nights and we did the tourist things as well as met some of the other movers and shakers in Western Academy Beijing. Then we went off to see the Terracotta warriors in Xi'an, returning to stay with Elie and his family, Elie was an ex student of mine in Japan and we got on really well. I'd stayed in touch with his family and thoroughly enjoyed meeting them all again.

a bit touristy

entertaining way back down

Easy way up

 Amazing piece of engineering
beautiful hills

spectacular views

and bright blue skies - Beijing pollution? What pollution?

beautiful house

cute puppy.
We are lucky to have such good friends

Beijing city centre - still no pollution - something organised by the government for the Beijing marathon perhaps?

Forbidden City was busy but not exceptionally I think a lot of people had stayed away because of, or gone to watch the marathon.

 Big place - and this is one of the early courtyards.

 After the forbidden city we went to the park behind it and that was stunning - there were story tellers, dancers, singers, players and entertainment everywhere. The views were pretty spectacular as well.

The next day we set off bright and early for the city of Xi'an and a visit to the terracotta warriors.
We spent the afternoon wandering round the city eating street food in the Muslim sector, watching the 'changing of the guard' at one of the city wall gate houses, and renting a single speed tandem to ride the city walls.
Our very own 15km of pave.

Clever - only works single speed but it means both riders pedal independently and the stroke is not linked. 

Far too small so it put too much pressure on my wrists, damned uncomfortable.

about 15km all the way round.

Xi'an has a lot more to offer than just a place to sleep while you visit the warriors.

The next day we were off to the warriors with a pre-booked tour. I'll let the pictures do the talking.

We stayed a total of two nights in Xi'an before flying back to Beijing to spend more time in Western Academy and then dinner, making stuff and chatting with Elie and family, I'd forgotten how much fun it is to be around that kid. Somehow though we seemed to order the biggest fish possible. Well we said we liked fish and that we missed fish but...that was huge and only one of about 10 dishes ordered.
it was a great meal in great company - thanks to Claire and David as well as Elie and Morrison.

So there you have it the story of two vacations both very different, both brilliant in their own way and both only possible with the support and company of great friends.

Now back to work - seven more weeks until we begin the journey home for winter vacation, and we are already deep into plans for next summer.