During the night we had a storm front come through our camp site, I woke to the sound of thunder and torrential rain beating down on my tent, I checked my watch and it was 2:30am. The wind was so strong and gusty that I thought the tent would take off, I am always conscious that storms can be the undoing of best made plans and therefore unlike some of the other campers I always secure my tent with all the guide lines and use every tent peg in the bag. When I remembered what a good job I had done securing my tent, I snuggled up in my sleeping bag and with great satisfaction listened to the storm creating havoc outside. I woke again at the allotted time of 7am as we had planned a wake up at seven and be on the bikes by nine, it was still raining, so I stayed in bed. Andrew announced that we would wait until the rain stopped and then leave a couple of hours later. The rain ceased soon after seven and at 08:00am Andrew told everyone that we were going to leave at 10:00am. We had to cover a total of 80km to reach the Ger camp of Tsetserleg on the White Lake. With all that rain, we knew the going was going to be incredibly tough and the plan was that we would see how far we could get, hopefully all the way to the White Lake but if the mud was impenetrable then we would set up camp and postpone the trip to the Ger camp until the following day and hope for dry weather. On bitumen we can cover up to 800 kilometres in a day, on dry dirt roads we can cover 250 kilometres in a day but on soaking wet and muddy dirt tracks, 80km was going to be our hardest challenge so far, probably out doing the previous day! With me coming off my bike a few times the day before, I have to admit that with the storm and heavy rain beating up the countryside all night I was feeling very apprehensive about this trek. If I was leading this expedition I would have remained at our camp for another 24 hours and then hope for dry conditions to allow the ground to soak up the water as I believed that the current conditions would be just too dangerous. I mentioned this to Andrew, but Andrew made the call to start off at 10:00 am and see how we go. Obviously Andrew has a schedule to keep to and a 24 hour delay would make things difficult and there was no certainty that the next 24 hours would be dry. And besides this, the London to Magadan adventure that we all signed up to is exactly as it is described on the can, an adventure, so lets get on with it!
With the rain having faded away, the sun poked its head out from behind the clouds and we all appreciated what a fabulous location our camp site was, looking east down the valley towards the streams, rivers and mountains in the distance. To see this vista, check out my photographs, there is one with Ian & Leanne sitting the little camp stools kissing,(their son Jason mentioned on FB that they should get a tent!) with the valley in the background and another with a whole bunch of sheep being herded past our tents.
As soon as we left camp, we all quickly realised how slippery the ground was even the virgin grass on the planes was waterlogged, and the tracks were treacherous. I followed Bruce for the first few kilometres and I watched him nearly lose it on half a dozen occasions. In slippery conditions, the trick is to choose the firmest and most untouched piece of track that you can find, avoiding the most used muddy bits but also steering clear of the lush untouched grass bits because these are often waterlogged and have not ever been compacted by 4×4 tyre tread. The other most important trick is to keep the bike upright, you are probably thinking thats obvious, and that I mean by upright, not falling over, well yes and no, what I mean is that when you turn a motorcycle you lean into the corner but on slippery mud that lean will lose you traction with the end result a fall. So, slowly through the bends whilst trying to stay vertical. On straight tracks you can go a bit quicker and churn the mud up behind you with your nobbleys. On the really muddy tracks that are surrounded by very waterlogged grassland or rocks, the track becomes a big puddle a sort of mini ford with muddy bits on the edges of the huge puddles. During the day we came across hundred of these massive unavoidable puddles, there are two ways of passing these, bending the bike into the muddy edges risking sliding to a fall or straight through the middle sometimes up to eighteen inches deep, normally I will go round the edges because no one wants to get soaking wet but with the mud being so treacherous, for today only, I went straight through the middle. By the end of the day (will I actually get there?) I was imitating a dirty drowned rat!
After about an hour we reached a little wooden bridge that crossed a fast flowing stream that would have been impossible to cross via a ford. The bridge was only a metre wide and made of slippery logs and it had huge ruts on the entry and exit. We took it in turn to walk the bikes across, we needed four helpers to get the bikes up the rutted entry as the wheels were spinning. On the exit, you powered over the rut but the whole grass area was heavily waterlogged. We got all the bikes safely over the bridge (there were no Trolls under the bridge!) however myself and Riaan lost traction over the muddy waterlogged area, so that was fall number one for me, luckily no injury to me or Riaan. We continued along a ridge which ran along the side of a valley, multiple tracks here and because we were traveling along the incline of a valley the ground to the right was higher than the ground on the left, not easy on wet tracks. The rain had started again and my rear tyre was continually slipping down the hill. On this section we were all riding in the same direction but a different tracks so sort of side by side instead of directly following each other, by taking separate tracks you minimised the problems caused by the bike in front of you churning up the mud directly in your path. Although this section of our journey was on an angle it was straight with no bends so our speed had risen to approximately 30-40kph. My track was one of the lower ones and I could see up ahead that my track was turning into a pond and I needed to cross the many grooved tracks higher up the hill in order to avoid the pond. The grooves in the tracks made by 4×4’s can be up to a foot deep, so crossing should be done at slow speed, not adhering to this rule I blasted at 30 degrees to the right of my forward direction, lost traction and flew off my KTM with the bike crocodile rolling more than 360 degrees down the hill! According to Bruce who was higher up the hill and Lorraine who was in the support vehicle behind, my crash was quite spectacular. Modern motorcycle apparal of the highest quality like my armoured Dianese gear is astonishing! I had a few bruises but got up immediately, picked the bike up and continued. The bike had broken both wing mirrors from the 360 degree roll but otherwise was as good as new, I love my KTM. Normally an accident like mine would bring everyone to my rescue but on this occasion Bruce to the left of me stopped and said “are you OK?” and then both him and the support vehicle rushed a few hundred metres ahead to where Dennis had come off. Dennis stayed motionless on the ground, he had seriously injured his shoulder, but we didn’t know if it was broken, however we loaded his bike on the trailer and he continued in the Toyota.
The next section was climbing the mountain, the grassland disappeared and was replaced by wet rocks, shingle, mud and huge puddles. As said before my mode of operation to cross the puddles was to go straight through the middle, I therefore got soaked but at least the ground under the water is compacted by 4×4’s and I avoided the muddy corners. However on one section the whole track was mud and puddles with the areas to the right and left marshland, I went through the muddy pool lost traction and came off but this time I fell into two foot of brown mushy water, when I stood up I resembled the famous picture of Fran Cotton the English rugby prop forward (check it out on google, Fran Cotton mud picture) again I was unhurt. Bruce arrived a couple of minutes later when I had already picked my bike up and he, cool as a cucumber went round the outside of the pond without a care in the world, bastard! Bruce and I continued up the mountain with me in front, we picked up the pace and with more traction on the mountain we were making good time, I was scooting along in-between the mud the ponds and the rocks until that is I misjudged an outlying rock and hit it with my pannier, I spun round ninety degrees and came off for the fourth time of the day and to Bruce’s amazement I got up without any serious injuries, again. Bruce, John and I made it to the top of the mountain pass first, it was 2800 metres above sea level, we parked up beside the monument adorned with prayer flags and took a much needed rest. It was windy but by now, which was 12:30 the rain had finally ceased and the sun was out, I took my jacket and helmet off and flaked out on the grass. It was a good half an hour until the next rider joined us and that was Jim, by radio communication we knew the others were about another thirty minutes behind and also that nearly all the riders had endured falls and accidents. The top of the mountain was going to be our lunch spot but John and I decided we needed to take advantage of the only good, dry conditions we had seen all day and so the two of us carried on alone.
John and I descended the mountain fairly easily, at the bottom we hit the multi-trails again and by now we could see the White Lake a few miles in the distance, with numerous bendy streams contouring into the lake. It was good that we could see the lake, it is at this point that I took today’s featured image, you can just make out the lake, you can also see the beautiful sky and cumulous clouds, what a view! The next few kilometres looked fairly straight forward, but we miscalculated the previous nights storm which had swelled the streams flowing from the higher ground which had waterlogged all the low lying ground surrounding the lake. Over the next four hours we only covered 25 kilometres, we got bogged down, we had to cross five streams, three by ford and two by tiny wooden bridges. The first stream was doddle, the second required a fifteen metre crossing with muddy entry and exits and a water level of waist height. I got through first, found a non waterlogged bit of ground and parked up waiting for John to join me. John got two thirds across and then hit a rock and tumbled over, I raced into the stream whilst holding my bruised ribs (from the days previous scrapes)and helped John pick up his bike. I then held the bike and with the stream babbling past, John remounted his BMW and to our joint relief started up the engine, it went first time, hallelujah! Both of us were sopping wet, our motorbike boots filled up but we were pleased that the bike was still going. For five minutes John’s bike spluttered out water from the exhaust, it was important that John had turned off the engine as soon as he hit the water, this prevented the river water entering the carburettor. We both continued towards our destination of the Ger camp, we could see on our Garmin Sat Nav instruments that we only had 14km to go. We transversed another ford and then as we neared the lake the streams got too big to cross without bridges, the nomads knew this as well so we purposely searched for Nomad Ger settlements on the horizon. We found the two bridges that we needed, the approaches to these bridges was incredibly difficult due to the much used slippery mud, as all the nomad traffic has to cross these very few bridges, all the various tracks led to the narrow point of the bridge’s entry and exits. Because we had no support we couldn’t dilly and dally with jumping up to the tree log bridges, we didn’t have the luxury of walking the bikes across, we just revved up the engines got onto the bridge and quickly put the brakes on to help steady our passage, we both did great, and continued on our way. We were now right by the Lakes shores, we had a little rocky outcrop to manoeuvre, which when we reached the peak, was a near cliff drop the other side, it could have been curtains but we both passed the test. We followed the White Lakes shores for another five kilometres and safely arrived at Tsetserleg Ger camp, back of the net!
As John and I rode through the gate, we high gave each other a high five, todays ride had been so extraordinarily gruelling that at times I was unsure if I would make the Ger camp or the hospital first, I was totally exhausted but pleased that I had seized the day and come through smiling. As we parked our bikes, Lorraine and Pat came to meet us they had traveled ahead with Dennis in the support vehicle so as he could get to a Doctor as soon as possible. Pat asked if she could do anything for me as I am sure I looked a bit tired, vacant and shell shocked, I said all I needed was a cold beer, an ice cold Tiger beer was delivered to me within two minutes. At the Ger camp we all had a Yurt to be shared between two people, Pete and I were allocated number 17. Pat helped me in with my helmet, gloves, jacket and bags. The Yurt had a wood burning stove and it was totally stoked up, creating a warm glow throughout the Ger. As soon as I was alone in the Yurt I pulled off my soaking wet boots, gloves and clothes and sat on the bed, just two feet from the glowing stove and thought, “what a day!” this was indeed my London to Magadan “D-DAY” and I had slain the Dragon.
An hour later I had a warm shower, followed by lamb and noodle soup and another Tiger beer with John, (thats the soup, not the shower!)As we were eating our soup, Dennis returned from the Doctor with an X-Ray of his broken collar bone, unfortunately this was game over for Dennis. The remaining members of the group arrived at the Ger camp two hours after John and I arrived, they were all tired and exhausted and along with being pleased that they all made it, they were amazed that John and I had completed the journey without any back up.
The Tsetserleg Ger camp was delightful, especially the warm and cozy yurts. In the evening we all sat down to Yak tongue, chips and salad, the Yak tongue was a bit chewy but otherwise it was a filling meal. I was so tired and nursing so many aches and pains that I went straight to bed in the lovely wood fired yurt at only 20:30pm.