With warning signs that sandal season has officially closed in Mongolia, Ryan Wilson high-tails it through a 600-kilometer leg of riding to reach his last stop of the journey. But while much of this trip has found him wondering at the vastness of the steppe, this closing section shows a different side of the country. Read on for Ryan’s final (for now) account of riding in Mongolia…
After getting acquainted with Mongolia during a big loop through the Altai Mountains to start his trip, Ryan Wilson was intent on riding as far east as he could, with the ultimate goal of reaching the capital city of Ulaanbaatar. A 550-kilometer track from Brigitte & Ivo over at bikepackground.com looked like a promising guide. After enjoying the luxuries of Khovd for a few days, Ryan set off into the arid expanse toward the Zavkhan province, retracing their steps through the land that connects the Gobi Desert with the Khangai Mountains.
After finishing the route up from Bulgan, I arrived in the largest city I’d come across in the entire trip outside of Ulaanbaatar. Yet, with a shade under 30,000 inhabitants, it’s not exactly a metropolis. Still, after so many days out in the middle of nowhere, it was nice to have a hot shower and a couple of restaurants to choose from. A serious upgrade from settling for boiling instant noodles in a hotel’s electric kettle in some of the smaller villages.
I intended to come here to visit the military guard post, which is responsible for issuing permits to reach the Altai Tavan-Bogd region at the border with China. In the past, one was allowed to simply use their satellite tracker as a means to be allowed entry or higher a guide on a horse right at the park entrance to obtain a permit, but since Covid, they changed the rules up and tourists could no longer go to the region without a local jeep tour guide straight from the city of Ölgii.
Being tailed by a jeep for a week in the countryside isn’t exactly my idea of a great time, so I started looking for alternatives to fill that gap in my route. A quick glance over some satellite maps showed a small cluster of snowy peaks that were only about 50km away as the crow flies, and there was a little white-checkered line crossing them on the map, so this seemed like a nice plan B, no chaperon required.
This is a continuation of Ryan Wilson’s Altai Traverse Reportage. Read part one here: The Altai Traverse: Finding Tracks in the Mongolian Countryside
In a remote corner of the Mongolian Altai, about 40 kilometers from the border with China, I set off toward a desolate valley from the small, windswept, and dusty village of Bulgan. My next resupply point, about 125km down the road, was, confusingly, another town named Bulgan. I never quite got the hang of the Mongolian naming schemes in my time there, as it was quite common to find a handful of towns and villages across the country with identical names on any given map, and sometimes each town had two or three names they might be referred to by depending on which map you’re looking it, which sometimes makes it tricky getting reliable information.
Traveling to Mongolia has been a dream for Ryan Wilson since he first got into bike touring. Vast open spaces dotted with interesting geographical features, dirt tracks as far as the eye can see, and a history and culture that runs incredibly deep all contribute to making this east Asian country a dynamic experience. Sandwiched between Russia and China though, Mongolia can be tricky to access and, as a result, it often seemed to get pushed down the list of places for Ryan to visit, but when he finally had a chance to spend a summer there, he jumped on it…
Looking for a touring route in South America? Ryan Wilson‘s your guy. How about Central Asia? Yep, he’s been there too. If you’re stewing on a trip, or just looking for a little visual inspiration, check out this greatest hits round up from Ryan’s travels featuring his eight favorite bike touring routes around the world.
Nothing like a multi-modal expedition through the Mongolian backcountry to make you feel particularly small…
“Three childhood friends set out for the far western corner of Mongolia to combine mountain biking and packrafting in a self-supported adventure into the unknown. Never having attempted a mountain bike to packraft link-up, they decided it was a great idea to travel to one of the most remote and sparsely populated places in the world to try it out.”