The Mongol 100 Fat Bike Trip
With thanks to Adam Templeman for sharing his adventures crossing LakeKhövsgöl in Mongolia.
Mid Life Crisis – what mid life crisis. Stupidly I decided in May 2018 to sign up for a multi day adventure challenge. Having done a bit of cycling in the UK mainly a couple of Coast to coasts about 5 years ago and a bit of cycling in France I decided that the Mongol100 was the one for me. 100 miles down Lake Khövsgöl in Mongolia by any means, either run/walk, skate or Fat Bike. The Fat Bike was the one for me – more to kit to buy ☺. With potentially temperatures down to -40 it promised to be quite a challenge. Not having ever ridden on ice before the training started and the kit pile started to get bigger.
So, on the 1st March I departed Heathrow for Mongolia via Moscow picking up more intrepid explorers on the way. By the time we got to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s capital, we were 27 competitors and a pretty big support crew. After setting ourselves up at the south end of the lake we departed by 4x4 convoy to the North. Seven hours later after crossing an incredible frozen landscape we arrived at our camp at the North end of the lake.
Now reunited with my fat bike (Aeroflot left it in Moscow for a couple of days ☺) after a quick build I actually got to practice on the ice and see how the studded ice tyres actually gripped – not too bad.
After an early night all 27 competitors rose in the dark to get ready for the start line at 8am. Then we were off – after months of preparation the time had finally arrived. Check points every 10 km insured we were never too far from help a hot drink and with temperatures not quite as cold as we were expecting but still cold enough to freeze your beard the 27 started the epic crossing. Over the next 4 days we encountered a myriad of ice conditions from clear smooth black ice, to ice fields and seams where the ice moves and cracks open. The sheer size of the lake and the surrounding mountains was spectacular.
Each night we camped on the shore of the lake (night 3 being on an island in the middle of the lake) where our Mongolian support crew erected our Gers and were forever melting ice from the Lake for our freeze-dried rations. They supported us throughout the trip with good humor, probably slightly fascinated why this bunch of westerners were undertaking such a trip. One Mongolian decided to have a go on my Bike and we needed to dispatch one of the 4 x 4’s before he disappeared over the Russian border. 30 minutes later I was reunited with the bike ☺. Weather conditions on the final day were against us. Cycling into a head wind on a frozen lake in Mongolia with ice that is harder than concrete and falling off, were not good for my ribs, but with only 10k left nothing would stop me from completing this epic trip, and allegedly becoming the 1st person to cycle down the entire length of the lake.
If I did it again, I would ensure my feet were warmer – we were lucky that its wasn’t as cold as we thought it could be, but I still struggled to get warmth into my toes – requiring sometimes to walk and push the bike just to get the blood flowing again. Days 2-3 and 4 were slightly easier as I used hand warmers for an hour in the boots before putting them on, might be worth using the chemical foot warmers but practice with them in your boots beforehand if you sign up for next year
A couple of other observations, the cycling was quite technical, that might sound daft when 60% ish was on flat black ice. Clearly where I had to push it was because it was like ice rubble or window sized sheets with jagged edges that was impossible to cycle over. The black ice required perfect balance, too much using my upper body to provide power would mean loss of traction and the inevitable fall. You could never stand up on the large flat pedals – no cleats! Each rotation of the pedal had to be driven from the legs only. The studded tyres did grip well and clearly the lower the pressure the more grip but the harder the going as the bike would ‘bounce’ on the large tyres. I ran a lower pressure in the rear than the front tyre. The best way to describe how it felt is like cycling on an indoor trainer on a high-level setting. As soon as you stopped the power into the pedal the studs would mean you stopped quickly with the friction – there was certainly no freewheeling. I carried food, water (in an insulated flask) spare clothes and emergency kit, (survival bag, GPS tracker, whistle) and a spare inner tube, multi tool and tyre levers. I carried all this in dry bags mounted to the front forks and a Surley handle bar mounted bag (insulated for snacks, drink and camera (with chemical hand warmer). I didn’t want to have a day pack on my back as it restricts movement on the bike.
The distance each day is not massive around 25 miles but don’t think that makes it easy. Clearly the runners / walkers expelled more calories. As the only cyclist it was hard to judge pace but having a tussle with the skaters created a sense of competition. (Well done JP – 2 days each). However, the technical aspect, sleeping in a Ger every night (without comfortable sleep) and dehydrated meals means this is not for the faint hearted.