Nick Scott set off a few months ago now on a trip around the world he had dubbed… Around the World in 80 Rides, the idea to take in as much cycling in different countries as possible, entering races and generally seeing what the cycle scene is like in various spots around the globe. But first he had the small matter of getting to Mongolia…. here’s his first report on the trip so far.
It’s 6.45am on the 7th of August 2010 when I am rudely awoken from inside my bivvy bag. As I grumble to life, a second nudge came, then a third. This would in normal circumstances be a somewhat unusal method of alarm clock. However these were not usual circumstances, and given the previous nights on-goings, it was not that unexpected…
I should set the scene really shouldn’t I.
For the last 15 days myself and fellow mountain biker Ben Dean have been on the road heading east in a clapped out Hyundai Accent. Destination, we hope, Ulan Bataar, Mongolia.
The day prior, Ben and I, along with around 8 other Mongol Rally teams had convoyed through the bandit riddled mountainous territories of Eastern Iran to the boarder town of Bajgiran, only 30km or so from the little visited Turkmenistan capital, Asgabat. Safety in numbers and all that*...
Despite some cheek clenching roads and the threat of coming under enenmy gun fire from any angle, we had all succesfully negotiated our way to the somewhat Bond Villan-esq mountain top fortress that was our Iranian exit point. Having had an absolutely incredible time in Iran, the fear of a troublesome boarder crossing like our original entry to the country had been diluted and as we received our exit stamps, we made the short crossing across no-mans land to the Turkmen entrance.
As we approaced, the gates slowly, depressingly, started to close ahead of us, in a similarly dramatic super slow-motion moment to that encountered by Indiana Jones as he faces the prospect of an indefinate lock-in in an ancient ruin. As we made it to the crossing point, the gate was firmly shut in our faces and secured with the largest padlock i had ever seen.
Whilst photographs were strictly prohibited in this area, I can all but say it was a breathtaking boarder. There were certainly worse places to be stuck. Way up in the remote mountains, the endless views, untouched and probably uncharted peaks and clear blue skies easily overshadowed the somewhat frosty looking men with Assault rifles gesturing at us to return from where we had come. The boarder was now shut until 8am the following morning.
As we shrugged our shoulders and acccepted that there was no chance of getting through today, we started to pitch camp in no-mans land and kick a football around when suddenly more angry Turkmen turned up with guns of varying sizes instructing us that we couldn’t stay here, but having being ‘stamped out’ of Iran, and with now no valid visa for Iran, we would not be allowed back!
As this point was made, a slanging match erupted between the Iranian soldiers to our rear and the Turkmen ahead. Given the amount of fire power on show, it was apparent that this was certainly a sandwich best avoided.
Eventually (although I think it is because they had meaner looking machine guns) the Turkmen won the war of words and angry gesturing, and the Iranians somewhat unwillingly accepted us back. Following much paper work, we were ordered back down off the mountain to the village of Bajgiran, where we were to spend the night.
After a night filled full of hasseling with corrupt Iranian Boarder Police and local money touts (in particular, one particularly persistant 12 year old boy!) I managed to catch some shut eye.
So yes, where was I, I was being rudely awoken!
The now infamous 12 year old was back, but instead of shouting ‘change? change?’ at me as he had persisted to do so at least 400 times the day before, he was jumping around on the spot rather excitedly, gesturing as if he were on a childs hobbie horse. I didn’t have the faintest idea what he was on about, although in this region, I suspected Opiates may have had a role to play.
As I grimmaced and retreated to the bivvy bag, a now firmer boot! Followed by more gesturing, this time at our car…
Somewhat unwillingly, I headed over to the car to see what all the comotion was about. Partly protruding from underneath our dust sheets was the rear wheel of my bike, clad in a now somewhat spongey Small Block Eight. More gesturing ensued and it was apparent the little guy was fascinated to see a bike with tyres so wide. (For the record 2.1’s are not wide in my opinon but that’s another arguement…)
Up until this point, my original concept to cycle in every country I visited along my round the world journey was going about as well as Nick Leeson’s attempts to save Barings Bank. Not particularly well. I’d failed miserably in my attempts so far to provide my friends, family and kind sponsors at home anything remotely interesting and bike related to peruse, and as I stood gazing at the still intact bits of excess rubber on my tyre nobbles, and the excitement on this local boys face, I thought now was the time to break the Inbred out of her temporary Hyundai bradged coffin and at least make sure the wheels rolled round.
What followed next was impressive and depressing in equal measure.
Firstly, the presence of a bike kick started pretty much everyone in to life. Locals and ralliers alike. The ralliers all vying for a go, given nobody had done anything even remotely resembling strenous exercise for over 2 weeks, and the locals… well just because it was something shiney, and therefore expensive. The comotion was all good hearted and it was warming that just like a football or frisbee, the trusty bicycle is another universally appriciated item. Something that everyone understands. Everyone can use. Everyone can have fun with.
What was depressing however, is that most of the local kids, and ralliers, many of whom do not even ride a bike regularly like myself, can bloody wheelie better than me!!! Argh!!!
A make shift wheelie and trackstand competition kicked off with me providing the other ralliers, who knew of my intentions to cycle around the rest of the world, with absolutely no confidence what-so-ever.
As it turned out I think an honourable draw was declared between a rallier called Will and the local boy who’s idea it was to get the bike out in the first place.
Hopefully i’ll be able to get out on the bike a bit more before the end of the rally, however driving in a convoy is proving somewhat troublesome for inpromptue rides…. having missed out on some incredible scenery in Eastern Turkey and Iran, i’m sure it will get to a point where i beg the others to wait whilst a go for a little pootle around and about.
Time to hit the road…. next stop Asgabat.
* Footnote - Light heartedness aside, this region was and is notoriously dangerous. Glentress it is not. Whilst I suspect the mountain resorts north of Tehran may make fantasitc and safe riding destinations in future years, the Iran / Turkmenistan boarder is a different kettle of fish. One British rallier was killed and two critically injured just outside of Bajgiran, just two days prior to our arrival. Some locals informed us bandits were involved, others that it was driver error… sadly we will never know I suspect. This article is in memory of the injured and lost, who would tragically never see Mongolia.