Forty-eight Hours in Ulaanbaatar

Two mornings ago, Bekah and I flew in to the Chinggis Khaan International Airport and disembarked, breathing in the crisp, dry air. Our visit in Mongolia’s capital city has been a whirlwind since then; involving a staggering amount of jet lag, inordinate amounts of sleep to ease the aforementioned jet lag, the assembly of the bicycles, a trip to several stores to collect the last of our supplies, eating the best Korean food I’ve ever had and planning and downloading the rest of our proposed route.

These events have all been brightened by friendly and helpful people. Even when there was a language barrier, they were willing to go out of their way to help us out. Obviously, I can’t draw any sort of conclusions from the meager amount of time we have spent here but so far my experience in this city of 1.3 million people has been overwhelmingly positive. The staff at the hostel cautioned us about the traffic, mentioning that Mongolian drivers are unused to dealing with bicycles, but so far they seem completely fine to me!

But the time has come to head out of this unique city and into the Mongolian countryside. And what a countryside it is! With the exception of several remote islands, Mongolia is the least densely populated country in the world. This fills me with varying emotions. On the one hand I am so thrilled to explore the vast expanse this country has to offer, but on the other hand I keep questioning myself: do I really have what it takes to be here and have I really planned enough for this crazy adventure?

I guess it is time to find out.

You can find a link to our tentative route on the Mongolia Tour page.

Spring is getting serious

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The river has melted!

It is warm enough for fog to exist again! I got to bike through some nice, dense patches this morning.

I have always liked the feeling of being swallowed by fog, with its air of mystery. The only downside to fog is the lack of visibility and prior to this winter I was always a little fearful biking in such conditions.

This morning, however, I was as confident as could be. Winter has taught me how to be cautious but fearless.

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The grass is getting greener every day!

This afternoon the temperature soared to 55 degrees! I left work wearing a t-shirt and pants. With the sun shining brightly I felt warm from something other than my body heat. So weird. A cool wind blew over my arms and around my ears, man that felt great! I pedaled home faster then I have since the beginning of November.

 

First spring cyclist sighting! On the ride home I passed two cyclists going in the opposite direction.

Gotta admit, when I see a cyclist decked out in an official looking jersey on a nice road bike I get just a tiny bit star struck.

Have they actually won races?
I have no idea but they look like they have which is good enough for me!

But how do I know for sure that spring is for real?DSC00020
A bug flew into my eye.
Yup, spring is officially a thing.

Friday Commute

As I started my ride I was awestruck by the beauty around me. The snowy landscape was gleaming from the light of a full moon making it the brightest morning I’ve experienced so far this winter. Two deer crossed the road underneath the moon night and I drew in a deep, contented breath, knowing this was going to be a peaceful, beautiful bike ride through the snow.

Until it wasn’t.

I had just descended the hill coming out of town, when my bike decided to revolt.

My bike and I have come to a mutual agreement about subzero rides. As long as I keep pedaling constantly, my bike will be nice to me. But if I coast at all, my bike does have the right to let the chain slip, which I then have to adjust before moving on.

But this morning my bike was having none of our little contract. The chain was slipping over and off of the gears, while I was pedaling. Not cool.

I readjusted the chain, and started pedaling. Success only lasted for three pedal strokes, however. After going through this process multiple times and having more trouble and less success each time, I realized that I was going to have to attempt getting to work without the help of my bike. (My dad’s hypothesis is that trapped moisture somehow prevented the freewheel from working in the cold.)

Maybe I could lower the seat and use the bike as a scooter? Nope, the seat would not budge. Then I discovered that while sitting on the saddle I could kick the snow bank on the edge of the road with my right foot and propel myself forward.

This proved effective as well as strenuous. I took breaks from bike-scooter-ing by jogging alongside my bike. It felt like a bizarre workout; push my bike along until my leg was on fire, then run until I was out of breath, repeat.

At almost the five mile mark, I checked the time. There was no way I could make it to work on time at this pace, or even make it before the restaurant opened. It was time to call in a rescue vehicle. Stink. Figuring that my dad (who had kindly come and installed new derailleur pulleys as well as serviced my front brakes the night before) wanted to wake up early on a Friday morning, I dialed his number. In fifteen seconds flat our conversation was over and he was on the way. (Isn’t he the best?)

In the interest of staying warm and with the thought that there was a chance I could still magically make it to work without the need for rescue, I continued my scooter/jog routine.

I was disappointed with my inability to make it to work on my own, but the irony of the situation began to amuse me.

-When I started using my bike as a form of transportation a few years ago, most days I rode while secretly hopeing that someone would offer me a ride. If the weather was the least bit nasty (rain or wind, horrors!) I would be glad to use it as an excuse not to bike. But here I was in out in -16F, desperately trying to make it to work somehow.

-I was apprehensive about many aspects of year-round biking when winter began. The cold was not one of them, I knew I could handle subzero temps no problem. But the cold has turned out to be my bike’s arch nemesis.

-I was able to complete every commute in November, December, January and February. The first week of March is a different story.

-My dad and I were talking last night and he made the comment, “This could be the last time we get below zero temperatures this winter.” I expressed that I would miss them and that I was glad I had learned how to bike successfully in them. Oops.

All these things flashed through my mind and I had to laugh at the extreme irony of my morning. But when I looked to the sky, I realized the moon had been laughing at me the entire time.

Half way to work (5 miles)
3:20 am to 4:40 am

Weather
-16F, 8 mph Southwest wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, headband
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves with liners
Legs: 2 pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Who knew bike-scooter-ing is actually a really good way to stay warm?

From work (10 miles)
3:20 pm to 4:20 pm

Weather
18F, 17 mph Southwest wind, 23 mph gusts
I wore
Head: headband
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves
Legs: thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Sure, my face got a little cold, but it feels like spring!

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The giant white dog makes a cameo!

Monday Commute

Heat wave. You probably won’t believe this (and I don’t blame you) but the temperature was over 20 degrees both on the way to work and on the way back! My chain didn’t slip at all. I didn’t wear a balaclava. Or many layers of clothes. So weird.

When I got to work I realized that my helmet light had stopped blinking. Oops, I think someone forgot to charge her light. It was a good reminder to me in two ways: having multiple rear lights is a must and I should charge my lights more.

It was a blustery day out which created snow dunes! I got proper pictures of them this time, although cars kept stopping while I was snapping photos and asking if I needed a ride.

Chasing Mailboxes has organized a fun biking challenge, the Errandonnee. It starts on Thursday and I am going to give it my best shot.

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Snow dunes, in pristine condition. That won’t last long.

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The destruction of some helpless little dunes. I feel so powerful.

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Bike conquers all.

To work (10 miles)
3:20 am to 4:50 am

Weather
21F, 9mph West wind, snow

I wore
Head: ski goggles, ear muffs
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: two pairs of knit gloves
Legs: thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: I felt lost without my balaclava, which is probably why it took me so long to bike to work.

From work (10 miles)
4:15 pm to 5:30 pm

Weather
23F, 15 mph West wind, 31 mph gusts

I wore
Head: ski goggles, ear muffs
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: knit gloves
Legs: thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Good, except for when a crosswind would blow and sting my face with snow and ice.

Friday Commute

013009002Dinner at the restaurant was insanely busy tonight. I feel so alive working in a kitchen at non-stop, full-throttle speed. The tension of seeing a line of tickets hanging up and hearing more customers arrive challenges me and gives me the adrenalin to run around and cook like crazy. There is an incredible focus that comes with the knowledge that there are tables of customers waiting for the arrival of their food. During a dinner rush nothing in the world matters except those tickets and the food I am preparing.

Then a waitress bursts into the kitchen with an apology, “I forgot to hang up this ticket, can you get their food out quickly?” It’s a challenge I am always up for.

Finally, people stop coming in and it is time to clean and get ready for the next day with the residual adrenalin that I have left. My coworkers leave and I head into the bathroom to change from my sweaty, oily work clothes into my winter gear.

As I step out into the cold with the moon shining above, the last of the stress and adrenalin leave me and I hop on my bike ready for a calm, peaceful ride home.

Now I think I shall take a shower, see how many layers of dried food, oil and sweat I can scrub off and head to bed.

To work (10 miles)
8:20 am to 9:35 am

Weather
-2F, 3 mph South wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, head band
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Perfect.

From work (10 miles)
9:10 pm to 10:20 pm

Weather
10F, 12 mph Southwest wind, light snow

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Good stuff.

Monday Commute

003I have decided to switch careers, I am going to be a spy! I haven’t decided who I am going to spy for yet, so if you have any suggestions, just let me know.

While biking home from work, two different friends passed me in their cars. They don’t know about my winter biking exploits so when I waved at them, they had no clue who I was. One friend gave a cautious wave, probably wondering why the weird winter biker had singled them out for attention.

But their perplexed faces drove the point home in my mind. In my full winter regalia, I am the perfect undercover spy, no one can figure out my identity under all those layers! That lady who stopped the other afternoon wasn’t even sure of my gender, so I should be all set to begin life as an alter-ego ninja spy. And with all my flashing red lights, I don’t draw much attention to myself so I should be able to sneak around anywhere with ease.

I dropped off my rent on the way home. My landlord opened the door with this greeting, “Hello there, alien!” To me an alien and a spy are pretty comparable, so he is obviously on board with my plan.

I may have to stop blogging though, not sure if spies on top secret missions are supposed to publish on public websites.

To work (10 miles)004
3:25 am to 4:45 am

Weather
-2F, 7 mph West wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava,
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: I think my torso is an impenetrable fortress, it always stays warm. I wonder if it is immune to bullets as well, maybe I really should become a spy.

From work (10 miles)
4:10 pm to 5:25 pm

Weather
-6F, 9 mph West wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, headband
Torso: two thermal shirts, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Nice and warm.

Saturday Commute

011While biking up a hill to work this morning my back wheel started to give me problems. When I was almost to the crest of the hill it refused to turn at all and I ground to a halt. So I dismounted, took off my goggles, helmet and gloves to see what the issue was. I unhooked the rear brake and found an ice-covered pebble jammed in one of the brake pads. That would do it. After removing the ice chunk and putting my brake back on I was able to arrive uneventfully to work.

At work I was introduced on two separate occasions as “the girl who bikes in winter”. Hey, I will take it. It will be interesting to see if this phrase sticks to me even in the summer.

I didn’t attach my pannier properly on the way home, so mid-ride it started falling off and I stopped to fix it. In a field nearby some miniature horses and donkeys were standing by their barn, getting as much shelter as they could from the storm. One of the donkeys was braying loudly, demanding that someone rescue them from the snow.

When they noticed the curious creature stopped by the side of the road they all lined up to gawk at me. It was quite cute.004

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To work (10 miles)
3:30 am to 4:55 am

Weather
-3F, 14 mph Southeast wind

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava, head band
Torso: thermal shirt, soft shell jacket, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: two pairs of yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: Nice.

From work (10 miles)
3:10 pm to 4:40 pm

Weather
18F, 8 mph Southeast wind, snow

I wore
Head: ski goggles, balaclava
Torso: thermal shirt, rain jacket
Hands: winter gloves
Legs: yoga pants, thermal pants, rain pants
Feet: socks, boots
Comments: We had such a heat wave this afternoon, I probably would have stayed warm in a t-shirt and shorts. Probably.