In April 2010, Eleanor Moseman left Shanghai on a journey of more than 10,000 miles, across 3 countries, on one bicycle. This is where she updates from the road.
  1. Ever since…

    …Mongolia I have been wrestling with myself.  (Mongolians like to wrestle too).

    A half a kilometer before crossing from China to Mongolia, it had been difficult.  One thing after the next.  It seemed THAT NOTHING went the way it was suppose to.  I know you should prepare for incidents like this…but seriously, never in my life had there been days after days of everything just down right sucking!

    (I would have more photos but since that camera was stolen I’m missing some stuff).

    We tried to ride North from Zamyn Udd but the road disappeared – literally.  I had been warned to NOT FOLLOW jeep/motorcycle tracks as they can lead you nowhere, or your death.  After attempting to talk to two truck drivers (from big Russian-wheelers), one woman, and a young girl in a pink silk dress – we asked them about the roads and he just pointed towards Zamyn Udd spreading his arms back and forth horizontally. (I understood this as saying the roads are everywhere).

    This is where we tried to hitch hike.

    Looking South towards China:

    Looking North towards Ulan Bator (where we wanted to go):

    This little girl was spending the afternoon before the Sand/Wind storm blew in throwing rocks at a horse.

    We met some great people.  Thank god this little fellow could speak Mandarin and Mongolian.  We may actually owe our lives to him.

    They make ‘em stronger in the North.

    We did finally make it to Ulan Bator, which was a complete fiasco and nightmare.  And where I killed my  budget getting back to China.

    After a couple of days of finding maps, talking with people, weighing the pros and cons.  We did set out on a very cold and windy morning.  We passed truck after truck coming from the West, loaded sky high with dog? pelts.

    It was so windy, barely making it at 8km/hour.  I was extremely sluggish (I ended up getting really sick that night).  It was gorgeous but I was freezing, slow, and just feeling really dogged.  Jason rode ahead of me but returned when he noticed I was not near.

    We stood on the side of the road and watched a storm roll in.  Storms on the plains are amazing…this isn’t an uncommon experience.  You can see it in the distance and time it for duck and cover.  You can also get an idea how long it’s going to last.  This is where I sat, looking out, and made the decision to head back to China.  And this is the exact place where my dreams fell apart.  Take a note of the road conditions…um, I mean jeep tracks.

    I’ve longed for Mongolia for years now.   There is something about the stories, the photos, everything…that has drawn me to this land.  Well, needless to say, it gave me a really good ass kicking.  Jason built his bike frame so I was also concerned about his bike holding up, along with his 25kg limit aluminum racks.  Do I regret turning back, probably not…but I regret trying to go North West when I would be face to face with wind.  And I’m talking about a wind you probably have NEVER experienced.

    I think of Mongolia AT LEAST once a day and it’s usually when I’m lying in bed recounting my rotations and playing the “what if” game.

    So, I threw out the idea to my pen pal, Ed, of the Torugart Pass from China into Kyrgyzstan.  I’m playing with the idea of just heading out of China and pass through the K’stans to get back into the North West side of Mongolia.  I could at least have a hell of a tailwind to Ulan Bator.  Can I handle eating all the boiled lamb…probably not.  But I think I could handle the non existent roads, and it will be a hell of a lot easier to hitch hike as a solo cyclist.  I just can’t be defeated and maybe I’ll get to see Lake Baikal after all.

    One of my ideas was to catch a train in China to get to Lhasa.  But yeah, sounds like a super touristy place.  If you know me in the bit least…you know I go in the opposite direction of tourists.   So, what would I do once I get to Lhasa?  Go to India…then where?  I’m kind of getting stopped in those tracks…so it’s to the K-stans.  From there…I don’t know.  That Russia Visa is a pain in my butt!!!!  I may have some guanxi to use for this.

    So now I’m thinking of doing a circuit into Ulan Bator or heck…just go to Europe.

    Please stay tuned as I’ll be back on the saddle in about 2 months.  Just got my Visa renewed for another year…that’s the most important thing right now.

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  2. Story time: Kittens, Inner Mongolia, Next Life, and Ringworm.

    It was July 31st 2010.  I have no photographic proof of this place, it was just one of those moments that a photograph could never explain this experience.  I have a snapshot from the road.

    This town is, according to my records, is Abag Qi 阿巴嘎旗, Xilin Gol 锡林郭勒盟off Route 101 in Inner Mongolia on the way from Chifeng to the Mongolian/China border.

    We stopped here for lunch.  We had been making good time against the headwinds of Northern China.  I learned that the wind comes down full force after 5 pm and will whack you around until very early dawn.

    You can spot these towns in the middle of nowhere, from about 25km away.  In Xilin Gol, there is NOTHING.  Just a lot of up and down and up and down and up and down.  Nothing substantial…slight incline with an unexciting decline with a slight headwind to take ALL the joy out of it.  Your still putting in force going down…I hate that.

    I’m sure there were growls of hunger in my stomach as I was approaching this town.  Usually, at the first sighting of life, if alone, I let out a big ass sigh of relief and murmur something motivational under my breath like, “just a little more” or “you can do it”.  But with company, there is usually an exchange of smiles, or a thumbs up, or a pointing into the horizon, and maybe even a “hell’s yeah!”

    This town probably got a “Thank god” or “You hungry?” or “We’d better stop”.  More than like it was a mixture of all three with the stress on stopping.  If you take a look at Google Maps you can see there are very few towns/villages through Xilin Gol.  It’s Grasslands, some Desert, and some salt lakes.

    Upon approaching, I can see new hotels being built along 101, the typical mid tone smooth grey shell that is ever present in growing China.  In the middle of nowhere I see an inkling of life improving, and inkling of hope, a glistening of capitalism and wealth.

    Taking a right turn into the city, we are greeted with freshly paved roads, new looking houses, building cranes, and big poster of Deng Xiaoping.  Something similar to this

    It’s one of those towns where you ride down a big hill to arrive in this little gem of a place.

    This place is strange.  Very new, clean, pleasant, quiet…I think, this is a little undiscovered wonderful place.  It’s very similar looking to a city in the US.  There aren’t many people out and (I believe) its Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

    Jason tells me to choose the place to eat.  I walk in, and in 3 months touring, and a year and a half of living in China, this is the first time “the record skipped” when I walked through the beaded curtain.  They love the beaded curtains in the North.  I hate beaded curtains because they love to get stuck in your spokes.

    The place is packed, people go back to their business and the waitress attempts to speak English to me.  She’s high school age and of course absolutely adorable.

    I remember the congee was AMAZING!

    After a nice hearty, early lunch, we cross the street to sit in the shade in the city square.  There is a fountain, flowers, fresh benches with awnings.  In the North the mid sun is intense.  It’s a dry heat so it’s not so bad but that sun will burn you right up.  It’s decided, I will eat some additional snacks of chocolate and ice cream…do a little organizing and repacking and just chill’lax until about 2:30.  So we have about 3 more hours until the wind will blow us nearly backwards.

    I’ve finished applying sunscreen to my pasty, now extra pasty, body and hear something.  A sound that perks my ears up and sharpens my eyes instantaneously!  There are 2 old ladies sitting near us talking quietly…it’s not them…I hear it again.

    “Jason, do you hear THAT!?!?”

    “What?”

    I look ahead and see a group of 3 boys near the fountain.  The fountain is filled with water…they are doing something in the water.  Laughing, pointing, pushing one another to look at something.  They pull something out and set it down….

    I hear the most painful and heart breaking “meeww meewww meewwww meewww….” not even a “meow” but little painful chirps.

    The boys…I know boys will be boys…especially 5-7 year old boys with nothing better to do…

    Standing up with more purpose than I have felt in awhile, I walk over and see a black kitten the size of my fist wobbling along the edge of the fountain…SOAKING WET.  The boys look at me, grinning, point to the kitten and say “Cat”.

    My hands go right on my hips and comes out “What are you doing?!  Cat’s don’t like water, you shouldn’t be doing this.  Where are your mothers?”  The grins turn to a horizontal line and they know from my tone I am not pleased.  Now, in Chinese, “cats don’t like water, don’t do this”.  I don’t know what to do…I can’t grab it and take it with me.  If I returned with a kitten to where Jason was sitting he would not be happy with my choice.  What would we do with it.

    I have to turn away and walk, furiously, with tears building up in my eyes.  “They are torturing a kitten over there”.  I sit there, watching them lift her back up and dunk her in the water.  I count the seconds before I hear her cry again.  It’s too long.  They are pushing her to her limits.   I can’t do this…”Jason, we have to leave, I can’t do this.”

    (If I had been alone, by myself…I PROBABLY would of taken her with me.  Either I would of gone back to the restaurant to ask for help from the waitress or I would of gotten on my bike, rode up to them, snatched the kitten and ride off as fast as possible.  After that, maybe find a lu dian to feed and dry her and just let her go on her way.)

    A man approaches to tell them to leave.  Jason goes up to the man and explains what they are doing.  The man explains he knows they are evil kids but it’s out of his control because he isn’t not their father.  Two boys pack the kitten up in a shoe box and walk across the street with their arms around each other, like long time cronies.

    I can hear the crying.

    We ride away and I see the boys hiding behind a SUV snickering as I ride by and I slow down to scream “you are NAUGHTY NAUGHTY LITTLE BOYS!!!!”

    The crying rings through my head for hours.

    A headwind from hell…or rather, North.

    We can’t ride much more during the day.  I’m getting sun burned with my poor choice in a sleeveless jersey and not enough sunscreen.

    Camp.

    My reasoning for camping next to power lines is because too many motorcycles ride through the Grasslands, all willy nilly, or maybe worst, a jeep.  I figure a telephone pole will prevent me from getting accidentally flattened once the sun sets.

    It’s a predictable cold and windy night.  As I fall asleep I wonder about that kitten.

    When I wake…the first thought…”I hope she died”.  No more torture.

    3 Weeks ago, my bike love has been replaced with Laoshu.  She found us with missing patches of hair, snotty nose, and mucous from her eyes.  At night, curled up around my neck or on my pillow, she would sneeze and cough.  Always little snot bubbles from her nose when she would wake up (she’s sleeping in a box right now that contains steel for bike building).  I nursed her with antibiotics and we bathed her once a week.  I’m nursing my ringworm away.

    The pharmacist here has not seen something like this and we were awarded with a tube of Herpes medicine.  Nothing like pure strength bleach to knock out the 7 ringworm patches I have.

    Laoshu may be her name for now, but I want to name her “Abag Qi”.  She especially loves having her paws rubbed and played with.  I swear they have more webbing than other cats, I bet she can swim too!

    When I was lounging on the couch with her one night, I looked into her eyes, and  I KNOW I wanted to save her 4 months ago.  It sounds silly and all new age and stuff…but this kitten…we’ve crossed paths before.  She follows me where ever I walk, with me accidentally kicking her, sleeping on my lap whenever she gets a chance.

    Her balance isn’t too good…but her fur has grown back, her sickness has disappeared, and she gets crazier than I have ever seen a kitten.  She’ll take a ribbon and run up and down the hall with it.  I can’t figure out if she’s cat, monkey, puppy, horse, mouse…I thought she looked a little hyena when I first met her.

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  3. All Signs Pointed to “No Go”…and more…

    The last time I visited here, we were going to ride around Mongolia.

    Well, it was frigid and there would be intermittent rain – BESIDES the hell of a wind.  I can deal with wind when I know there is a town ahead, because you can’t camp in this type of wind.  We moved about 30km in about 3-4 hours.

    We passed an Italian that had crossed over from Russia and he had a mountain bike.  The road would disappear and the terrain would be trying.

    After sitting on the side of the road debating, feeling defeated, we turned around. 

    I woke up with a cold, and lied in bed, stuck in Ulaanbatar for a week.  We decided to take a train back to Hohot/Huhehaote (bad idea).

    What I learned about cycling Mongolia – I was very ill prepared.  My advice:

    1-travel North to South, the wind is hell.

    2-extreme weather, pack accordingly and drop the panniers and add a cart (food, lots of water, winter gear, 4 season tent, etc.) 

    3-mountain bike necessary

    4-a gps device to give you coordinates OR a satellite phone OR be fluent in Mongolian/Russian

    5-a high tolerance for drunks and boiled lamb…lots and lots of boiled lamb

    I lost a considerable amount of weight because of my sickness and the awful food.

    Would I like to attempt Hell-golia again.  Sure.  Better prepared.  You bet.

    It’s been awhile since this so my feelings aren’t so hurt, but I did feel like a failure.  I have to remind myself that being an explorer sometimes means having to turn back.  Jason was even less prepared and the last thing I wanted to do was drag him out to the middle of nowhere – just to send him back with hypothermia and a broken bike.

    Oh, don’t let anyone tell you that Mongolians know English – bull. 

    We were lucky to find a man at the train station, that reminded of my dad.  (There is a possibility that American Indians came from the Mongolian region).  He spoke enough English to speak to some random dude because we had to fill out paperwork for customs. 

    I was afraid of this but didn’t want to admit to it. 

    It took 4 hours and a lot of paperwork, footwork, and money.

    Well….when we finally arrived in HuHeHaote, you could of found me crying in the train station.  Turned out that we had to get off at the border to take care of paperwork for our bikes.  When was my luck going to turn…really?  God, can you hear me???

    We have to go back to the border.

    No train tickets, only 2 trains a week.  Go get bus tickets and we are approached by a private driver – we can leave that day!  125rmb a person,he even helped us find a bingguan for 70mb.

    So, if you have ever lived in China – you know the drill.  Guess how long it took to take care of the paperwork?!?!

    Literally, 3 minutes and 4rmb!

    We go back to HuHeHaote the next day.

    With all this extra time there, we pass the time at a video arcade.

    The bikes arrived – safely.  Found a shop to repair my derrailleur – only one cog ring doesn’t work now – rather than 3.

    Nothing too noteworthy since leaving HuHehaote – oh, Jason replaced my point and shoot camera with a Canon S90 – it’s pretty friggen awesome!

    We did stay in a prostitution hotel, and was awoken twice by our neighbor being serviced.  Prostitution here is strange, to say the least.

    Route 110 from HuHeHaote sucks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  The first day to BaoTou, we looked like coal miners.  The coal mining and the trucks loaded with this was flying everywhere.  We have had only 1 day out of 6 (left HuHehaote last Thursday am) where we weren’t rinsing grey water off our bodies. 

    3 days ago, the side wind was so bad it was blowing Jason and I all over the road.  It was a dangerous wind.  It always happens after 5pm and of course was coming from the North….

    Except today!!!!  We are traveling South and have a hell of a headwind.

    I finally exited Inner Mongolia today and landed in NingXia.

    Yesterday, as we are riding along the Yellow River, you see a strip of sand (that we are riding through), then a stip of green, the river, another strip of green, then MASSIVE SAND DUNES!!!

    Hey China!  You are turning into a giant sand box.  There are hundreds of dried river beds that once branched off from the river.  I’m riding through imagining what this part of the country looked like 200 years ago.  I bet it was the land of milk and honey…seriously.

    Hey China! Quit strip mining, at least have some beautiful mountains in your sandbox.

    The pollution has been outrageous since leaving HuHeHaote and traveling West.  Grey skies and the sides of the road are grey/black from the coal particles.  I really can’t imagine what my pink lungs NOW look like.

    I’m now 50km North of YinChuan.  I got yelled out today because I took pictures of some men striking outside a power plant.  Jason translated the signs saying “Goverment workers are people too”.  I got surrounded by a bunch of men and just deleted it just to get them off my a$*.  The last thing I need is the cops arriving.

    Well China…now that you are #2 in GDP, you are going to have to face up to a lot of stuff.  And this announcement is very loud and EVERYONE knows about it.  Even the poor government workers barely making a living wage.

    Good luck with that.

    Don’t think I’m hating…I’m really glad to be back in China.  The food, the language – THE PEOPLE.  I LOVE THE PEOPLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  Even the prostitutes…they haven’t really been given another option to make a

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