Nolan's Mongolian Fundraising Adventure!

Nolanís Mongolian Fundraising AdventureIn a moment of pure madness/ midlife crisis (perhaps due to me being 40 this year), I agreed to ride across the Gobi Desert in Mongolia on a dirt bike with 14 other guys from around the globe. The trip is in a remote part of 'Ovorkhangai' province, Mongolia, and we travel south from Ulaanbaatar to the edge of the Gobi Desert, returning via a more mountainous landscape. Accommodation will be wild camping in tents with no luxurious facilities. I was raising money for Medcare and for the UK children's charity CLIC Sargent, two fantastic charities.

Here is part of my daily account of my Mongolian adventure...

Day 1: The Beginning
Following last minute preparations we are on our way! 250km covered. Mostly dusty single track and rocks. At times, the dust is so thick you struggle to see the rider ahead of you apart from the dim glow of their tail light. And then the dust clears. You see the wide open expanse of Mongolia. Low hills, scrub land and not much else. Apart from teams of ponies.

2 casualties today. Canadian Jason hits a rut, flies over his handle bars and lands head first into a ditch. He's OK. Just a little shaken with a bruised shoulder. The second is a rider from Singapore. He's not happy with the bike he's been given so he decides to turn back to Ulaantabaar. His tour over.

Filthy, we reach the camp of a nomadic family where we pitch our tents. The family have prepared us a goat. Killed today, the goat is cooked from the inside out with hot stones. The stones heated by fire fuelled by burning dried pony droppings. Nice! I go for a walk and spend some time with God. It's amazing how you all of a sudden you have time for the Lord when there is no email, Internet or TV. Think there's a lesson in that. It was good walking and talking. I need to do more of that. After all He's my Saviour and best friend. He deserves my time.

Day 2: Rain, Rocks and Condors
200km today. Rain, mud, grit, cold and soaked through. Riding is AWESOME!

Morning session is fast We cover 150km before lunch, visibility really poor, rain stinging your face. Our lead rider Od gets a little lost and loses the track We're weaving across the landscape to try and pick up the trail. We come over a rocky outcrop and disturb a mating pair of condors. They take off like commercial aircraft and soar into the air. The male condor's wingspan is huge. At least 3 metres. Amazing.

We stop for lunch. Park two support vehicles at right angles. One a Landrover Defender and the other which can only be described as a Russian military camper van to shield us from the driving rain. Goat noodle soup. I reckon we're going to have goat every day. Afternoon session is even better than this morning. Still raining hard but we hit a sandy /muddy trail and the bikes & riders just love it. Finally we come into a low-level mountain range. Each mini-mountain looks like massive rocks piled on top of each other. Sort of Makapaka's mountains! Probably the most beautiful place I've seen. We find the perfect spot, surrounded by cliffs and set up camp as the sun comes out.

OK, so dinner is served. After an amazing sweetcorn soup we get served a stew (of sorts). Guess what? It's goat! Dinner over, the rain starts again. Time for bed. Exhausted from the day's riding.

Day 3: Prisons, Barb Wire and Internet Cafe's
Woke to a glorious morning. Blue skies, gentle breeze, sun cresting over the cliffs behind us. We have an awesome breakfast, thankfully no goat, and hit the trail.

The first section is soft sandy roads with large puddles. We ride past a Mongolian prison. Literally the bleakest place I've ever seen. It's in the middle of nowhere, high razor wire fence around the prison with guards posted at intervals. 30 - 40 breeze block buildings with metal doors and tin roofs. Some sort of solitary confinement arrangement. Can only imagine the heat inside. Huge piles of soil outside each block possibly for hard Jabour. Say a prayer for the souls inside. I guess this is what a gulag must look like.

Just after the prison we come round the corner and there's a role of barbed wire halfway across the road. Too late. I blip the throttle to pop the front wheel and clear the wire. Back wheel hits the coil full on but luckily no flat tyre.

170km this afternoon. Longest off road stint so far. After fast dusty sections, flying rocks, one of which hit me right in my Adams apple, mud, ruts and open plains we stop and set up camp for the evening.

We are literally in the middle of nowhere camping on a plain. Nothing to be seen in every direction. Officially we are in Middle Gobi. Tomorrow we hit South Gobi which the driest of all the Gobi. Dinner is noodles... and goat. You are having a laugh. How many more days will they feed us goat they killed three days ago?

Day 4: Swamps, Bogs and Mosquitos
20km into the ride our lead rider Od comes off his bike in spectacular fashion. He swerves to miss a large muddy section and ploughs straight into a large sandy mound. His bike kicks up onto its front wheel and he is thrown off. Thankfully he's OK although he's broken his radio. We wait for the support vehicle to catch up, make some repairs and we're on our way again. After another 30km we come into a little village where the team fill the trucks with diesel. As we come out of the village we head up and through a gorgeous mountain range. Its not that high but breathtakingly beautiful. It's a tricky tight twisting track with loose stones. As we come out the other ride of the mountain range, we enter an extremely dry section of the Gobi. There are rocks, sand and not much else. It's hot, dusty and nothing to be seen in any direction. Now we get the hammer down and ride hard for about an hour. We ride past a herd camels. Amazing.

The rocks turn to small stones and sand and the landscape flattens out. We come to a river. The only river we will encounter on our eight day trip. Following five days of heavy rain it's flowing fast. We can't cross it so decide to break for lunch. We decide to go for a dip. We take our riding gear off and jump into the river. Absolute bliss. It's so hot! So much so that the glue on Wayne's riding boots melts and both his soles comes off. We gaffer tape it back on and hit the road again. We try to cross the river in 4 separate areas down stream but all are deemed unsafe to pass. On the 5th attempt we make it across.

It's about 2pm in the afternoon. We continue through sand dunes and puddles. The puddles quickly turn to wetland and then the thickest, wettest, stickiest bog you've ever seen. It's hard going and we're moving at walking pace despite the engines revving to their limits. After a couple of hours of this we are truly stuck. Bikes are wading in deep water and mud and are barely moving. Two of the support vehicles are stuck. Two hours trying to free the trucks and they just won't budge. We're covered in mud head to toe. Everyone is frustrated. Brad, a South African who lives in Hong Kong has come off his bike in the bog and has torn something in his shoulder. He'll be out of action for a while, perhaps the rest of the trip. In every direction there is standing water and mud. As far as the eye can see. Wouldn't be so bad but there are swarms of mosquitoes around us. In less than ten minutes I get twenty six bites on my neck alone. I have another twenty on my arms, back, shoulders, and chest.

We have to set up camp here in the bog. Mosquitoes and all. Not a good time to find out I don't have mosquito repellent.

Day 5: Accidents and Broken Bones
After a restless nights sleep we wake at 6:15am. There are at least 30 mosquitoes sitting on the outside of
my tent door netting waiting for me to come out. Hundreds more swarming around the tent. Jason says
"Come on out mate... it's feeding time!"

We have a quick breakfast as we're getting bitten through our riding kit and body armour. We climb onto our bikes and try to get out. We've gone no more than 20 metres and we hit a large bog. Our lead rider Od makes an attempt to cross however stacks it He disappears into a deep hole, his bike takes on water and stalls. He falls over and completely submerges his bike. He has to push it out and the mechanic gets cracking repairing and flushing the engine.

The rest of us get across OK. Next, one of the British Army Trucks gets stuck... again. We find a drier track and meander for some time. Eventually, we come out of the bog. Unbelievably, within ten minutes we're in proper dry desert. The contrast is staggering. Five hundred metres behind us the earth is saturated clay. Now we're in a dusty, stony waste land. The temperature soars and the wind picks up. There are no mosquitoes here. Happy days.

After about 2 hours of hard riding I'm starting to feel sleepy. The immense landscape, vast, dry and unending hypnotises you After another 30 minutes riding, three bikes run out of fuel. The support truck catches up and gives them a little each. We're all low on fuel and limp into the next village. After replenishing supplies we drive just out the village, find a little hill and stop for lunch. You're kidding me. It's goat again.

10 mins further and a huge accident. Out of nowhere the track suddenly dips into a ravine. Our lead rider Od grabs his front brake and goes over his handlebars at 5Okph. He tumbles with his bike a full 38 meters, Pavol, a rider from Slovakia, swerves hard to avoid riding over Od and disappears down a ravine. Gavin, a Scot who lives in Thailand, brushes his front brake and his front wheel washes away. He too goes down as well. Luckily there's a large enough gap that they don't ride over each other. I'm right behind Gavin but manage to stop in time and avoid a similar fate. Od has broken his arm and collarbone, is in a lot of pain and is not in a good way. Gavin has broken his wrist in ten places, his arm thumb and collarbone. Pavol is miraculously OK. He too flipped over his handle bars and landed on his back. He was wearing a camelback hydrator which exploded on impact. The water-filled pack acted like an airbag taking the energy out of the crash. Od and Gavin are now being taken to the nearest hospital 200km away. That's three riders down in twenty four hrs. While we are standing here a dust storm hits. We ride for a further ten km and set up camp on top of a hill in order to get a mobile network. We need to be able to communicate our position to the Landrover which is on its 5hr journey to the hospital.

We have dinner. The wind is howling but the sun is up. We try to make a coffee but the wind is blowing the instant coffee off the spoon. The crew serve us noodles. And you guessed it... with goat. We add the obligatory salt, pepper and chilli sauce. The wind is causing havoc. I have salt in my coffee, coffee in my goat noodles. Never eat in open air with storm 9 winds.

We finish the night off with Communion. It's 10:13pm and we're sitti ng on top of a hill in South Mongolia as the sun is setting. It's Sunday after all. Everyone joins us. Even our tour guides. Jason Alderson says he hasn't been to church in 15 years. I guess Mongolia is not a bad place to do church.

Day 6: Breakdowns and Bike Repairs
We wake to yet another beautiful Mongolian sunrise. Nested in a little dip on top of a hill, there's not a breath of wind to speak of. The air is cool, fresh and all is still.

We hit the road. As we now have no lead rider we are asked to stick behind the Russian van. The van is painfully slow. At times it's so slow we're chugging along in 1st gear. It's difficult to stay upright. The radiator fans are working hard to keep the bikes cool due to lack of air flow.

We stop for our 11am snack. Catherine, one of the tour leaders and Bold's wife, walks around with a bag of chocolate wafers for the team. This is our daily treat. Just love it. It's like Christmas coming every day. It's amazing what you come to appreciate out here.

We ride hard for the next hour and a half trying to make up lost time. The track is winding. The landscape flat, monotonous with little to see. The heat and drone of the engine start to make me drowsy. Not good when you're doing 75kph on a track no more than 60cm wide. Eventually the Landrover pulls over and we break for lunch. After lunch we throw on our boots, helmets, body armour and camelbaks and wait for the crew to finish packing the trucks. The sun is beating down. It's relentless and we're sweating profusely. Finally we get going. The rushing air evaporates moisture off our skin and we quickly cool. We are back in the twisties. On and on they go. As far as the eyes can see.

We come into a small village. Just to other side is a river. Yes, the same river we crossed two days ago. Here we go again. It's flowing fast There's a bridge over the fist half but then it's wading again for the second. Luckily we all get through. Five minutes later no such luck. We are wading again and this time both the Landrover and British military truck get bogged. We winch them out and get back on the road.

Finally, at around 6pm, we pull off the track and head for the hills. We find a nice spot on top of a small rise and set up camp. We pitch our tents and only then realise there's a pungent smell all around us. There is camel excrement everywhere. Nice.

Another alfresco shower holding a sun-warmed 2 litre bottle of water in one hand and a small bottle of shampoo in the other. Clean, refreshed and I'm feeling on top of the world. We crack a few beers and put the world to rights. The moon rises and the stars come out There's a nice breeze and the temperature is perfect. I think I'm falling in love with Mongolia. I will come back here one day, hopefully with my son Charlie on another dirt bike tour.

Day 7: Mountains and Plains
An incredibly windy night. I had to use my Bose noise cancelling headphones to sleep. We woke to another glorious morning. Blue skies and the wind has dropped to a steady breeze. The breeze has swung to a North Easter and there's a real chill the air. In the winter we are told this area will regularly hit 30-40 degrees below. Brutal. The locals here are tough.

Just before we set off Wayne has both the soles of his shoes taped on. We're all laughing because he looks like a ridiculous version of Robocop. 58km into the ride, the tape rips off hit left boot and he loses the sole. There's now just a plastic / fabric layer between his foot and the Mongolian rocks. Jason Alexander says by tomorrow Wayne will be riding into Ulaanbaatar in just socks, all thread bare with bloodied toes sticking out. Hilarious.

After a short stop we set off. The wind swings round to an easterly. Problem is we're also heading east. This means we're eating dust the whole way. We've just ridden 100km through a dust cloud. I have sand on my lips, in my ears, nostrils and can only imagine where else. The track is more of a road now. It has sections of serrated shale with sharp rocks sticking out. Jason Alexander and I are riding side by side and are trying to power slide every corner. So childish but huge fun. Need be careful though. There are jagged rocks sticking out of the road which can easily catch your front or rear tyre and throw you off. If you come off here you'll crack your helmet and indeed your head right open.

We cover 170km this morning. Matching our longest stint a few days ago. We are all exhausted from the dust and heat. Bold pulls the Land rover over and we break for lunch. Massive sigh of relief all around. A chance to get out of the sun which has turned savage again. My riding gear has gone from black and orange to brown and brown. I reckon I'm carrying more dust than the soil beneath my feet. Tomorrow however is our last day on the bikes. I have a fresh shirt, socks and trousers in my bag ready for the ride home. Get in!

We stop for lunch and its goat again. That's noodle goat starters and a sort of stir-fry goat and mashed potato. Both get the obligatory salt, pepper and chilli sauce. Unfortunately supplies are running low now including this tastebud saving chilli sauce. Tomorrow it's going to be us vs the goat sauce-less. Dreading it.

It's thirty-two degrees in the shade as we set off for our afternoon stint. We set up a couple of aerial shots with the drone and head for the mountains on the horizon. An hour and a half later we reach them and set up camp in a valley between two peaks. There are eagles soaring overhead but its red hot. We set up camp, have a wash and crack a beer. Tonight's our last night camping. We're playing poker and listening to music overlooking a mountain range. We then decide to climb the peak nearest to us. Thirty minutes later we are on the top of the world with stunning views of the Mongolian plains below. If I'm honest I have mixed emotions. I just love it here and the trip has just been simply amazing but I am ready to go home now.

It turns out this Mongol Rally tour will most likely be the first and last one Off The Map Tours do. The level of challenge, technical difficulty, incidents and casualties is making this tour potentially untenable. If this is the one and only that will be a shame but in some ways it makes this trip that bit more special.

Day 8: Going Home
After another windy night we wake at 06:30. Clear skies and a perfect temperature. Today we're going home! Well, at least we are returning to Ulaantabaar which is 250km away. What awaits us in the city is running water, hot showers, toilets, electricity and wifi. Tonight we'll be eating dinner at the Irish pub near our hotel. Most likely burgers and ice cold beer. The team are almost euphoric.

After a ridiculously long ride off-road, crossing numerous valleys and plains we finally come across an asphalt road. This road should take us all the way to the capital. We turn left and open up. The first 10km or so are brilliant The surface is smooth and fast. The ride comfortable.

Then the monotony and heat starts to take hold. The whole team begin to feel drowsy. Eight days of rough sleeping, wrestling the elements, dust and 450cc enduro bikes are quickly catching up. I'm fighting fatigue and nod off for the briefest of moments. I wake as my bike is careering off the road onto a narrow gravel shoulder. I get the fright of my life and I'm fully awake again. We're doing 100kph so this was a little too close.

A couple of hours later and we reach the outskirts of the city. The traffic is slow. We're doing 20kph and cars are overtaking us, cutting in and slamming on their brakes. It's carnage. Somehow we don't get clipped and reach our destination. It's roasting hot. 1,700km since we set off 8 days ago but we're home, sane and in one piece.

Tonight, we're going out for beers and burgers. After a very long shower that is. Can't wait. This trip has been harder than expected. It has also been better than I imagined. Memories for life here. Tomorrow we start the arduous journey home. Mongolia to Hong Kong then to Dubai then to Manchester with a few killer airport layovers thrown in for good measure. When I get back to the UK in two days time. I'm going to sleep for days. That's after I've hugged and kissed my family.

Meet the team...
Glyn Barrett (44), a senior pastor of a large church in Manchester. An Englishman, with Welsh parents, raised in Australia cause his dad stole a loaf of bread. His words.

Jason Alexander (43), a pastor at the same church as Glynn. Also an Aussie, born in Waga Waga pronounced Woga Woga. Scottish grandparents now living in England. That's Jason not his grandparents.

Brad Moreland (47) a banker, yes that's a banker, born in South Africa now living in Hong Kong.

Pavol (aka Iron Man) Koleser (35), in security. A Slovakian, speaks four languages, French Foreign Legion, a professional boxer and debt collector (again his words) living in Marbella.

Jason Lan (28), another banker, yes I mean banker. Born in China, lived in Canada for 10 years and is a Canadian Citizen, now lives in Hong Kong.

Jason Alderson (45) a lawyer, born in Washington State, now living in Manhattan.

Wayne Crook (42), pastor of the tallest church in the world. 75 floor of Central Plaza. Born in Australia now living in Hong Kong.

Gavin McDonald (39), Online businessman, super bike racer and legal pharmaceutical peddler. (We've never seen so many meds in one person's bag). Scottish born living in Thailand.

Nolan Hough (40), EVP eCommerce, South African living in the UK.

We haven't included the Singaporean guy because he bottled it on the first day.

Medcare would like to thank Nolan for taking part in this amazing trip, raising funds for Medcare and CLIC Sargent. An amazing £5,005 has been raised, split equally between the two charities. Well done!

 

10th August 2016

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