|About to embark on an urban adventure|
The pollution stings the back of your throat and the elevation (only about 4300ft) makes the air a little thinner than I'd like. The cars are used to the idea that if there is more than 1 lane and you pull out slowly, then what happens is you get a loud horn blast and the oncoming cars swerve round you. Consequently they do not actually look at all, they kind of creep out of junctions braced for impact. All well and good when surrounded by several tonnes of metal, not so good when some mad foreigner is plowing down the road at 30kph mounted on a few kg of titanium and surrounded by the rather grey air.
There is also absolutely no lane law so very little in the way of gaps to play with, the 'gutter' is inevitably full of construction debris and the curbs are tall concrete slabs with very few on/off ramps, even at pedestrian crossings. This this makes the switch from sidewalk to road and back again harder to negotiate something that was a frequent answer to traffic in Kobe (sorry Junior). It does make for entertaining rollerball style riding though, it's definitely not for the feint-hearted. The roads themselves provide more than enough to concentrate on without the traffic. Tarmac switches to concrete slabs with little or nothing in the join, great sections of surface suddenly disappear and the front end of the bike needs lifting as you launch off the road surface into the pot hole for a section of 'offroading' on the concrete rubble hardcore base revealed by freezing temperatures followed by a really wet summer and an inexplicable number of trucks and SUV's. I've never bottomed out 100mm of front suspension on a road before, but here it happens every few minutes.
I was looking for a particular shop, but missed the turn and so thought I'd just work my way back to it rather than turn around and retrace my steps, um, no! There is no grid system, so roads just end, usually in construction sites, new apartment complexes or small ger communities. Yep there in the heart of the 21st century, concrete construction jungle there are still small fenced communities of people living in Gers. After a few miles of exploring looking for the way back, I did eventually give up and turn round to retrace my steps, only to find the road to the shop closed off with large chunks of concrete blocking the way. The road was being resurfaced. I stopped and stared at the shiny black tarmac with disbelief. A road, that looked...well... a lot like a road...a first for me in Mongolia.
So eventually after 50 mins of 'playing with the traffic' I made it to the bike shop - the first of it's kind in Mongolia- its a Trek shop, complete with high end carbon time trial machines and 'Wiliers' road machines priced in the millions of tugrig. Who's buying these things, and where in God's name are they riding them?
"2 inner tubes please" I said, and after a little rummaging the lad proudly produced 2 Bontrager boxed inner tubes. So far so good. At least he spoke a little English.
Pricey I thought but ok for 2, I guess.
"each" he added
I laughed out loud
"Genuine Bontrager" he said
"Where are the cheap ones?" I asked with a smile.
A little rummaging in the cupboard and 2 Bwin tubes came out for 16000 the pair. (£4 each)
"That's more like it. Thank you"
I rode home along the river side having had enough of the traffic and enjoyed the trails riding the flood dyke that separated the apartment complexes from the dirt trails on the river side below. I dropped down onto the dirt trails and found myself riding towards some stacks of tyres about 6 feet tall covered in a Jackson Pollockesque layer of paint. I slowed...then from behind the shack at the end of the trail, 3 figures wearing combat fatigues, knee pads and body armour, complete with helmet and visor, strode purposefully forward and took cover behind separate stacks of tyres. I was turning the bike around rather quickly when I noticed another figure crouched some distance away from the others, with a gun...then it all kicked off...there was movement, shouting, running, diving and coloured balls being launched. Paint ball...who'd of thought, in the flood plain of the Tuul river there is a small paint ball centre.
I quickly (well as quickly as the surface, my untrained legs and aching lungs would allow) rode out of there, and back onto the concrete dyke until the trail ended, unsurprisingly in a construction site. I was forced into dodging earth movers the size of small buildings and weaving around men in hard hats, non of whom seemed to care that I was there, I guess I was wearing a hard hat of sorts. The site soon spat me back out onto concrete road just south of the school, at the golf driving range.
Yep, main roads with potholes that would swallow a mini; dodging dodgy traffic; breathing air with more than its fair share of carbon monoxide and particulates; a visit to a couple of partially completed apartment complexes; a cheery encounter with a young cell phone carrying girl outside a ger community,(which had more than one ger sporting a solar panel and a satellite dish); a Trek shop looking just like every other trek shop you've been in, anywhere in the world; newly laid tarmac; closed roads; trails; men in army fatigues firing paint at each other; monster trucks; hard hats and a golf driving range.
All in one 90 minute ride, surreal no, not at all surreal for life in this most unusual of cities.
So glad I've got my bike, now the exploring really begins.
Ok lets roll