Sunday, September 29, 2013

We Did It!

Hello From Ulaanbaatar!

Despite a crazy storm that is not well translated in these pictures and a few other challenges, we were able to ride our bicycles all the way here.  6,300 kilometers.  More photos to follow upon our return.

Looking forward to seeing you soon.-

Thank you for the prayers and positive thoughts.  -They worked.

Take care and have fun.

Monday, September 23, 2013

Hi Everyone,

Tyler and Adrianne will be back in the states in early October.   They would like to invite you all to a gathering to share stories of their adventure and to be reunited with their friends.   the Party will be held in the Plymouth/Holderness/Rumney NH area on Columbus Day October 12th.   So please save the date.   More details to follow when I have them.  I know that they would love seeing as many people as possible.


Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Is this dish available?

All night long the piece of canvas covering the entrance of our orts, similar to a tepee, flaps in the howling winds.  The pelting of snow can be heard as it hits the canvas a few inches from our heads, and i wrap my sleeping bag tighter around my face as the fire in the wood stove goes out during the night.  In the dawn light, with three inches of new snow covering everything, the world appears black and white.  The Tsataan, literally the Reindeer People, are already out milking their herd of 60 reindeer. 

We arrived at this camp of 3 orts, which house a family consisting of 1 brother, who lives alone, and a younger brother, his wife and 2 sons, after an insane van ride of 12 hrs through the night, and 2 days of horseback riding in the mountains.  It felt really magical to see these 3 tepees, wrapped in white and black canvas, silhouetted against the golden larch forests with snow topped mountains, next to a lake, with a herd of reindeer staked behind. 

Not only do they herd the reindeer, they ride them!  It was so wild to see these people flying along on their saddled reindeer over some of the rockiest, boggiest, uneven terrain, with total ease and grace.

We got to try some reindeer milk, cheese, and even got to help make a batch of reindeer khuushuur.  Khuushuur are these fried meat dumplings that are like the fast food of Mongolia, and all of central Asia really.  We have had the opportunity to make khuushuur, and buuz, a steamed dumpling, with a few different families along the way. 

We have now had reindeer, yak, horse, cow, sheep and goat on our trip.  As far as i know, no camel.  It is not just the meat though, it is the fat.  This is the best part and people have offered us chunks of white fat to eat with bread.  It is kind of gnarly, but I have to say that after eating some, I didn't need to eat for the rest of the day.  We have also had milk, as well as the fermented, alcoholic milk of most of these animals.  From this milk there is made every variation of dairy product imaginable.

All of this animal product makes everything have a particular smell.  I call it 'ger smell'.  Ger is the Mongolian word for yurt.  Or, really, yurt is the Russian translation for ger.  It is the smell of smoke, cheese, and meat.  Goats in particular have the craziest smell.  Just to ride past them on our bikes leaves a smell that sticks in the nostrils for awhile.

Animals provide the sustenance for existence.  It is amazing to witness a culture that still exists the way it has for thousands of years.  There are differences.  Many gers have solar panels, and people watch television and have phones.  But most people live almost entirely off of their animals.  They eat dairy products and meat. 

One night we camped in this beautiful valley, within sight of a few gers.  As usual, within a brief time, a herdsman, on horseback, rode over to us to see what was happening.  Even with our phrasebook, our Mongolian is bad.  There is such variety of vowel pronunciation, and a rhythm to the language that is so different.  So, we delve into conversation with this man, and at some point we give him the book so he can try and find what he it trying to tell us.

 He meticulously flips through our tiny book, page by page, and eventually points to something.  It is in the restaurant section, and says "Is this dish available?".

 I look up at him, wondering if he is making a joke.  There is no smile though, and it seems he is just really concerned about our lack of meat.  He keeps saying something about bringing us some meat.  I am all for trying everything when we are a guest in a ger, and I hate to refuse hospitality, but we have one pot for cooking, a limited amount of water for cleaning, and no way of keeping meat from spoiling.  We are trying to explain this in as nice a way as possible, and eventually settle on him bringing us some dried meat.
The next morning he arrives as we are packing up camp with a white shopping bag.  The bag says 'I love New York', with a big red heart instead of the word love, and inside is dried goat meat.  Excellent.  So, for the past 2 weeks, every night a bit of dried goat meat goes in our dinner, and we get to have the smell of ger everywhere we go.

Our dried goat is finally finished in the village of Tsagaanuur.  It is from this village that we rent the horses to visit the Tsataan, and while there, are lucky enough to attend a shamanic ceremony, as well as an entire day of a Naadam Festival.  Naadam is a traditional festival that typically is held in July, and consists of horse racing. archery, and wrestling.  In Tsagaanuur, it also had a reindeer race!

In keeping with the food theme, which is what we spend a lot of time thinking about and doing, we went to the equivalent of a food tent at the festival.  Inside the tent were 4 women making khuushuur, while one woman took the orders.  Most restaurants here don't have menus, and if they do, you have to ask what they actually serve, because it is often only one or two items anyway.  At this tent, it was obvious- khuushuur and soup. It is actually easier for us that way, because otherwise we just pick something and cross our fingers.

There was one table outside the tent which people were crammed around.  Once one person left, you could take their spot.  There were also only 6 bowls and spoons available.  So, the real wait was for someone to finish their food, and then you were served with their bowl and spoon.  All of this was washed with some cold tea and dried with a rag.  It was like musical chairs with dishes and cutlery. 

These food options, or lack there of, make going to town, not nearly as exciting as usual on a long biking, or hiking trip.  There is no Pizza Hut- All You Can Eat Buffet, or any kind of breakfast place with pancakes and omelets and cinnamon rolls.  Occasionally we have an egg, and find some fresh bread.  We are excited if we can find oats and cheese in town.  Apples cost about $3 each.  In the bigger towns, we can find carrots and garlic.  The small towns have noodles, cream of wheat, and thankfully, there are salted peanuts and raisins! 

No matter what size shop, there are always an incredible variety of candy, biscuits and chocolates available. Sometimes half the shop is junk food.  Guess it never goes bad.  In one shop we bought an already opened and half finished package of sunflower bars, because it was the only one left and the only thing that was not just refined sugar.  

The one common denominator of all these shops is the Choco Pie!  It is also the most prevalent piece of garbage we have seen throughout our trip.  We finally broke down and bought a box in a tiny village.  They are chocolate covered cookies with a marshmallow filling.  I was really hoping for something special, but it was terrible, tasteless and stale.

So, for now, our food fantasies continue.  Perhaps Ulaan Bataar will be able to fulfill some of them, but I think they will mostly have to wait for our return.  I am most looking forward to eating food that crunches and is raw.  Raiding the bulk bins at a supermarket is also high on the list.  Breakfast foods, sushi, pizza, thai food, indian....

Hope you are enjoying yours.  Looking forward to sharing some with you upon our return.

love, adrianne and tyler

What Sound Does a Goat Make?

Thank you all for sharing your inspiring thoughts and prayers.  It is really wonderful to hear from you.

It has been a while since you have heard from us because internet access is not that easy to find in rural northern Mongolia (nice to know there are places on Earth where this is still the case).

We bought a camera, and we have been able to take a few pictures, so hopefully there will be at least a few images to see, but our time without the camera had us thinking about other ways to share this experience:

The soundscape of Mongolia-

Animal Sounds-
          An important category since humans are outnumbered by horses 13-1.

"pbpb."- Goats often suppress their sneezes with tightly pursed lips creating an always amusing fart noise.

The murmur rising from the sod as a hundreds of little goat and sheep hooves shimmer and scamper out of our path.

The thunder of herds of horse hooves approaching our very small tent in the middle of the steppe in the middle of the night waking us to vivid imaginings of trampled tourists- and the subsequent roar from the tourists to alert the herd to the presence of the small tent and its alive and hoping to stay that way occupants.

"Hey, hey, hey!"
"Hey, hey!"  -The Far Side translation of every dog bark.  We hear this sound as we ride past some gers, but more often if we are in town, and particularly if we sleep in town, as some dogs have the amazing ability to shout out this sentiment all night long.

The familiar bellow of cattle is sometimes accompanied by the more pleasing deep grumbles of yaks.  The sound from the hairier beasts is less plaintive and more accepting of whatever their current conditions may be.

Birds.  It is amazing how often the air displaced by feathers can be heard overhead.  It is especially nice to hear this sound through the roof of a ger.

A few sounds noticeable by their absence; oink, meow.  Apparently, not that easy to herd pigs, and cats are not that helpful in rounding up other critters.

Cyclist Sounds-
     We hear them often.

Rattle, shake, bump, bump, rattle, thump-  Six wheels supporting two riders, their gear, their flags, their found eagle, hawk and owl feathers, and their four license plates can produce a surprising symphony of sounds as they roll over different surfaces.

"Hummmmmmmm buzzzzzzzzz"   By far the most preferred sound rising from below the riders is the hum of tires rolling over smoothly packed earth with no sand or washboard in sight, and the pleasing song of a quickly coasting rear wheel.

"Shcrih, shcrih, shcrich,  uf... son of a .." Sand.  We pedal, sometimes valiantly diagonally as our bicycles decide not to travel in the direction of the road, and the direction in which they are being steered, but instead to veer at very sharp angles and head for the deeper sand on the side of the main track.  This makes it very difficult to pedal, and sometimes difficult to sing happy songs.  And sometimes easier to walk and sometimes easier to curse.

"thunkathunkathunkathhunkathunkathunkathunkaaaaathunkathunkathunka"  Washboard.  Not that awesome, but preferable to sand because we can mostly keep pedaling.  There is usually some part of the eight tracks heading in the same direction that is a little smoother than the others, and the hunt for the elusive ribbon of smooth can keep one's mind quite occupied as it requires a surprising amount of concentration.  When the road is like this, it also makes stopping for a snack and a moment of stillness quite refreshing.

"Rattle clacka clunk tink bunk clanka kagagkaagaka..."  When the way is rocky, and their is no smooth way through you have to proceed as gingerly as possible with 4 months of gear. and 6 days of food and 2 days of water.  Go straightish and think light thoughts.

"Flapwhapwhapflapwhap..."  Uninterrupted by any natural obstacle like a tree, or a shrub or a rock, the wind which is sometimes blowing over nothing but grass is happy to meet our collection of flags and feathers and faces and introduce itself.  More often, it has met our backs, and left our flags listless as our parade and the wind continue eastward at roughly the same speed.

Human Sounds
     Although there are relatively few, and they are not that densely packed, we see at least a few others every day.

"Sain bainooo."  Hello.  Mongolian is not a language easily transliterated into English, because there are a number of sounds not normally made by English speakers, and vowel harmony is a difficult thing to write.  It is also challenging to speak.

"crickle"  The first draw of smoke into the mouth of the shepherd who has shown up to spend some time staring at us next to our tent, glows and burns the tip of the newspaper in which the tobacco has been rolled.  The cigarette continues to burn, and we continue to hear it, as the space (sometimes very short) between our new Mongolian friend and ourselves is not filled with idle chatter...or meaningful chatter...or much of anything but being there.  It is an initially disturbing trait of many people we have met here to be very comfortable with silence.  Now, we find it a nice reminder that actually there is nothing more important than simply to be.

"fwip.      fwip.            fwip.     fwip...."   Our Mongolian phrasebook is kind of handy since we were not able to find a good English/Mongolian dictionary.  We are able to look up things like;  "How much is a berth in the sleeping car" and slightly more useful things such as the standard greeting, "I hope your animals are fattening up nicely."  The problem is that the other half of the conversation is very difficult to translate as there is no Mongolia/ English portion of the book.  This is a problem for us, but rarely a problem for the people with whom we are speaking.  Minutes pass as they patiently search through the book which is not organized alphabetically for them until they find one word and point to it.  More minutes pass as the search for the next word takes place.

"Stockton passes the ball to Malone..."  It is often the unexpected things that make traveling so fun.  It was after a very annoying string of flat tires that we found ourselves in a fenced-in yard in a small village getting some "help" from the brother-in-law of the man who brought us to the yard.  He was attempting to fix the hole in one of our tires by attaching a giant slab of rubber to the inside.  After trying to explain that this is unlikely to work because the tube will chafe on the rough edges, minutes passed, while we waited for something.  When the something turned out to be a power drill with a sanding bit, we decided to abort the brother-in-laws project and patch the tire with a good patch made for tubes.  We then retired from the sunny yard into the comfortable living room of the house.  This is where we sat to eat some meat and rice and watch an NBA playoff game between the Seattle Sonics and the Utah Jazz from 1993.

"Crunchsquish" Gristle, amazing how it squeaks as it crunches!  And the flavor lasts and lasts.

"mmmmMMMMmmmgunggungmmmMMMM..."  150 or 200 cc motorcycles laden with two, three or four people and a sheep, or water, or a big-screen tv, or car parts, whine and moan their way up and down mountains around and through mud puddles and all over the countryside.


The sounds so far described are different than perhaps you are imagining.  The sounds that one can hear here are louder than their decibels because there is so much background noise and din of modern western culture that is wonderfully absent.  Upon entering a shop in a small village, there is no hum of drink coolers, and there are not hot-dogs sweaty with effort rolling endlessly on squeaky un-oiled heaters.  There may be a few flies circling the paper meant to entrap them, and there may be a person passing a needle through a needlework project, but the buzz of living in the hive of electronica is absent.

There is quiet.

There is the land.

There is the sky.

There is the person staring at the stars in the middle of the night.

It is then, under the white ribbon of milky way, and the cool sparkling sky that one can even hear the subtle heartbeat of stars.

Hoping you all can find a moment to enjoy some quiet.
And looking forward to making some noise with you when we return.

Take care and have fun-
                  Tyler and Adrianne.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Stone Faces

Thanks for all the healing thoughts from everyone!  We just reached Ulaangom, after another welding of Tyler's trailer in a coal mining town.  It is now reinforced with extra steel and looks very frankensteinish. 
The road we took to Ulaangom went over one pass at 2800m, which the book described as requiring "yeti lungs" to complete.  It was grueling, and was also in a hail storm for part of it.  On the top of the passes are ovoos, shamanistic offerings, piles of stones with sacred scarves and incense, horse skulls, money, food, and always lots of empty vodka bottles.  After placing your rock, or offering, on the stone pile, you make a wish and walk around the pile 3 times.  It feels pretty cool, to be in these remote places, with blue scarves blowing in the wind, surrounded by an immense landscape.  Sometimes a car or truck comes by, people offer fermented mares milk, to us as well, then get back in their car and drive off, blaring their Asian pop music.
The landscape we rode through was some of the most stunning i have ever seen.  So massive.  We camped by one lake that was huge, surrounded by 3000m peaks, and in this huge valley.  The whole evening and morning we were there we saw 2 vehicles far off in the distance.  We squinted, trying to discern if that was in fact the road we planned to be on.  We rode up these amazing valleys, stayed with some herders, drank tea with others, and saw some ancient burial mounds and rocks carved in the shapes of people!  Sometimes, you could just look around and not see anything except for grass mountains and valleys stretched out before you. We even saw Bactrian camels!
Camera issues continue.  Lesson learned- bring 2 cameras on a big trip. 
Onward, next big stop, Moron. Really.
Love to all, Adrianne and Tyler

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

mongol rally

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