My intention for Mongolia was to spend a few days in Ulaan Baatar before heading out exploring the countryside, in particular the Altai, Karakorum and the Gobi. However, a catalogue of factors caused me to alter my plans. The first factor I had to consider was the inclement weather, which turned perfectly good off road tracks into a quagmire of mud. This changed the game completely, and having dropped the bike more times than I care to recall, I was sick of heaving the damn thing up. I sort of enjoyed some of the off road riding but on my heavy bike, exacerbated by luggage, it made the experience much less enjoyable than it should otherwise have been. And this trip was never about pushing my limits off-road. Moreover, the nights were getting much colder, probably hitting temperatures below zero, this was typical on at least the last three nights camping preceding my entry into Mongolia. Only having gear suitable for temperatures down to about 5 degrees Celsius, the nights were becoming unbearable, any colder and I would be in real trouble. After looking at the night time weather forecasts I learnt that the temperatures could get as low as -6 and many of the days would be overcast, a clear indication that rain was a significant possibility, perhaps even early snow, which had already fallen only a week earlier.
Other factors that I had to consider were the bike itself. I had a few problems with the bike, chiefly the fuel pump, although it had been fine recently, but the thing that bothered me the most was the battery which I would occasionally discover dead as dodo when it came time to leave my campsite. This happened at least twice in Siberia but luckily it fired up each time after a little coaxing. I had to resort to my BikeStart cables at least five times to get the bike going again, but on these occasions I was in hostels so I was able to accost someone to jump start the bike. I had noticed that this failure to start tended to be when I had experienced a bout of cold and wet weather. In other words, when I had used the heated grips and auxiliary spot lights (in addition to charging batteries on a daily basis). In perfect conditions the bike, or more accurately I, would be more than able to handle and enjoy the off-road conditions but a little rain and it would be a different story. Perhaps, if I was an off road God, or I had a lighter bike, with soft panniers and with less crap, it might also be a different story.
The final factor that I considered was the social aspect, which had practical and safety implications. I discovered that I really wanted to travel to these remote areas of the Mongolian countryside with at least one other biker to share the experience with. Having seen pairs of bikers in Mongolia it struck me how much more fun it would be to ride in this beautiful wilderness with a friend. In practical terms the kit could be shared reducing weight, bikes could be locked together providing greater security and someone could stay with the bikes whilst the other nipped into banks and supermarkets etc, which would negate the dilemma of having to leave the bike unattended. Having thought long and hard about these points it pained me to defer my exploration of the Mongolian countryside to a future trip to Mongolia. It was a decision that made me feel sick inside, like I was wussing out, but I also felt that this was a sensible, rational and even intelligent decision and that I would simply have to deal with it. I wasn’t prepared to take any unnecessary risks at this stage of my trip or in my new adventure travel lifestyle.
It took a while to kick in that this is my trip, it was my adventure and that I don’t need to justify my decisions, nor should I judge my journey by that of others or set myself an unachievable standard. In other words I had decided to not be so hard on myself for making the difficult choices I had made. This trip was always a test of whether or not I enjoyed or was even suited to traveling, on a motorbike, on my own, overland, and over very long units of time and distance. It’s a grand test, but I wouldn’t find the answers to these questions on a two week trip through Europe, I would need to push the envelope just a little more to find out what I needed. Similarly, I always envisioned this adventure as taster, only sampling the places that I visited. I didn’t have the time or money to spend weeks in places, as much as I would have liked to. And as my first moto-adventure I had that irresistible urge to keep riding and get to the next place, something that in retrospect, I now realize I need to get completely out of my system before my next BIG moto-adventure.