more on Mongolia: Q&A

My college roommate (still a close friend) sent me an email this morning with a bunch of questions after reading my & Briana’s initial blog posts about our bikepacking adventure in Mongolia. (Got home 2 weeks ago today! Crazy to think that less than 3 weeks ago, we was still camping in Mongolia…seems more like months ago now.)

Anyway, I got the idea (and her gracious permission) to use D’s questions as a template for another blog post about that trip, in case any of you would be interested in the answers as well.

So here ya go:

Q: How did you sleep in the cold snow?

A: It wasn’t that bad! With our *Big Agnes Fly Creek tents, thermarests, & down-filled sleeping bags, we did okay. My bag (an Ouray 3 Marmot Women’s bag) was rated for 0 degrees F, but I actually ended up returning it after the trip, since I wasn’t completely satisfied with how it performed in those lower temps (& I’m 99% certain that it never got below zero). Even though it was rated to keep the female body comfortably warm to as cold as zero, I was still less than optimally warm a few times. Stuffing the bottom of my sleeping bag helped a little on those colder nights, but not much. In retrospect, I should’ve packed some hand-warmers to use in my bag at night; I also sorta think that my old Cosmic Down Kelty bag would’ve worked better! Even though it’s significantly cheaper & rated for only 20 degrees…but maybe not.

I also wore a Buff headband or fleece hat—or sometimes both! and sometimes also with a fleece hoodie—nearly every night that we tented. That helped a lot, too. It was also only 2, 3 nights at most that we slept in (or woke up to) the snow.

There was one particularly difficult night cold-wise for me, at the end of what was one of our toughest days, where we camped on a fairly-inclined & somewhat exposed mountain slope. We got frost instead of snow that night, but sometimes the frosty nights are colder than the snowy ones, in my experience. I was already pretty cold to begin with by the time we got in our tents for the night; one of my feet, especially, was so cold that I couldn’t feel 2-4 of my smaller toes. It took me 45 minutes to warm them up (by wiggling & switching out my socks for ones I warmed by stuffing them down my pants) enough to the point where I felt comfortable sleeping with them as is; but my feet that night went into my bag cold, and pretty much stayed on the cold side for the rest of the night. Between the chill & the slope, I didn’t sleep great that night. And then the next day, my other foot had the same problem in the morning: it got cold (& early on while biking, a little wet) enough that I couldn’t feel nearly all of my toes on it, and it took longer than I liked for feeling to return to all of them. That was probably actually the scariest part of the trip for me. I’m sure I was being a touch melodramatic, but there were definitely a few moments where I was thinking something like, “I’m gonna get frostbite & lose my toes!” Didn’t happen, thankfully. Still an uncomfortable experience, though, for sure.

Q: Was your mouth dying of thirst that last day when you couldn’t drink the salt water? 

A: Yes! By the time we pulled into Moren, we were pretty parched. We found a store ASAP, and Briana and I both guzzled two full drinks a piece, I think. Tazo tea & some juice, or something like that. We also bought bottled water & drank some of that on the spot, as well. Thankfully, the last 20 miles or so of biking didn’t take too long; we had 15 miles of downhill to thank for that.

Q: Where did you get your bikes?

A: Craigslist.

Q: No flats?!

A: Nope! Schwalbe Marathon Tires, Briana’s discovery. A pair of those babies also got her across the entire US (and I think several hundred, even thousand?, miles more) on her first really extensive bike tour two summers ago.

Q: What does mare’s milk taste like?

A: Since it was fermented, sort of sharply bitter, I guess…and sorta like how I imagine cow’s milk would taste, if it had gone sour and was fermented? Not sure how to best describe it. Briana liked it; I didn’t.

Q:  What was your favorite part? 

A: Impossible to say!

…But maybe actually coming home (?), if I’m being super honest. There is a reason I named this blog NoBody Knows Her Bounds, after all…the “homebodiness” aspect is strong with this one, just as much as the nomadic impulse, lol…For me, I sometimes think the best part of traveling & adventures is setting you up for a more appreciated homecoming. 🙂

As far as being in Mongolia itself, though…oh, probably that the country felt both so expansive & wide-open, and without any fences!, and was very mountainous at the same time. It was very beautiful, but in a rugged, demanding way.

Q: Did any of the visiting herdsmen make you scared, or was everyone friendly and safe-feeling?

A: Great question! As a woman who adventures a fair amount, the possibility of assault is always in some part of my mind. (Or maybe that’s true for the majority female experience in general, unfortunately.) I was sometimes a little nervous about who might show up before they showed up, but once they did, none of the visiting herdsmen ever did anything to make me feel threatened or afraid. Most came across as curious, somewhat reserved, and amiable. There were one or two that seemed more outgoing & friendly; this one herdsman in particular stands out in my mind as being a happy soul…I don’t know, he just seemed to radiate joy, I guess, and I found myself immediately at ease & really liking him. This was the purple-clad herdsman who swung by our tents on horseback the night of our first snow, a baby goat tucked into the front of his overcoat. (Or lamb? Briana and I differed, and I can’t recall now which I even said it was at first!) Either way, he let us pet the small, damp creature that he had rescued from being out in the elements & was presumably taking to better shelter. Meeting him was really heartwarming, for some reason, and when he left, I was smiling & felt good, even though it was snowing. I found myself thinking that he would make a good neighbor.

There was one time where I felt a little more apprehensive than usual, and that was because our visitors outnumbered us; there were three men, instead of the usual 1 or 2—and that was because two came on one motorbike (a father & son, who gave us the mare’s milk), and then their neighbor showed up a little while later; but once he did, he seemed a lot more interested in conversing with his neighbors than he was in us. So even then, it felt okay.

The one other time where I felt more vulnerable than usual in our tents was the first night we camped near Hatgal, beside Lake Khuvsgul, because we were still within the confines of the town, right on its edges, and also right next to several houses with people in them. And there were vehicles still out & about. Our driver who had gotten us there from Tsetserleg that day (a man we trusted), was sleeping in his van right next to our tents, though, so that was reassuring & helpful, as far as safety goes.

The only person to truly bother us (or me, at least) was a slightly overly friendly & inebriated man on the bus ride back to UB in the last days of our trip. He wasn’t at all rude, threatening, or suggestive—just more friendly/talkative to me than I cared for. But I wasn’t sitting directly next to him, thankfully, and as soon as I said to him politely but firmly “Sorry, but I don’t really wanna talk to you,” he left me alone. Even though I spoke in English, and I’m pretty sure he only spoke Mongolian, he got the message right away & let me be. (And I’m pretty sure if he hadn’t, other guys on the bus would’ve intervened for me.) I’ve encountered much worse behavior from men in Ireland than I did in Mongolia—or have ever anywhere I’ve been in Asia so far, for that matter.

 Q: Who were the ladies in that picture of you in the town of Lun?

A: A woman restaurant owner & two girls who worked for her who were kind to us! When we asked them if we could fill up our water bottles there (before we realized we could/should just buy bottled water at the local market), they not only said yes, but boiled the water for us to purify it, without us asking. (It wasn’t really necessary, since we had filters, but definitely still appreciated.) Unfortunately we didn’t get their names or express permission to post their picture, so I guess that’s not really best practices… :/ They did consent to taking a picture with us in the first place, though, so…? Will have to revisit that policy of how I photograph/post pictures of strangers in future, I guess.

 

That was it for my friend’s questions! If any more questions about our trip come to your mind, please feel free to give me a shout-out in the comments! I would truly love to hear more from readers.

PEACE, y’all. Thanks for reading!

 

*Please note, I am not affiliated with any of the manufacturers of any products discussed in this post, nor am I receiving any sort of compensation for my (informal) review(s) of them here. Any specifics given about brands, styles/models of gear, their field performance, etc. is chiefly for the purpose of lending more details to the subjective storytelling about my own experiences.

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