The hundred dollar saviour.

By Daaf

It’s been a wonderful and relaxing day in eastern Mongolia where I look back on the start of this last leg of our journey. We expected Mongolia to be tough on us, but, in hind sight, I can say the toughest part was our entry:

The border crossing from Tashanta in Siberia to Tsagaannuur in Mongolia is a cold one this time of year. Well prepared we arrived on the Russian side early, about 10 minutes before it opened that morning in fact. Even though it was a beautiful and sunny morning, the wind was like ice picks. We have no thermometers on our bikes, but I’m sure it was seriously freezing, the water in our camelbacks was frozen. Though it took quite a while, luckily most of our business was done inside small, well heated, offices.

Our state of the art Lithium-Ion motorcycle batteries weren’t doing too well in mornings, after the below freezing Siberian nights and the bikes had been having a hard time starting in the morning. So when my bike did nothing when I pressed the starter to leave the border post, our first assumption was that my battery simply couldn’t deal with the cold. While several Russian officials were telling us to move along, we attempted to jump start my bike in the howling cold wind that was raging across the border. But, to no avail, the bike was dead. Normally we would go through basic problem analysis, thinking through the machine methodically like Persig tough us, ruling out possible causes by simple logic and simple tests. But this was simply impossible in the blistering cold. I remember how cold my hands had gotten in the few minutes it took us to hook up the starter cables between our bikes, a fiddly chore impossible in thick motorcycle gloves. We had to find another solution and hope to be able to solve the mystery later under better conditions.

We pushed the bike to the side of the building and sought shelter in the customs office. The people there were friendly, but explained we could not stay there, we explained we could not leave.

Even though Ulgii, our destination for that day was over a 150km away in to Mongolia, we very much preferred trying to get there over going back 40km in to Russia to Kosh-Agatsj in Russia where we had started the day.

Several days before I had met a tour guide in Ulgii, devoid of other options I called him, hoping he would be able to arrange for a van to come pick us up at the Russian border, a long shot, but all I could think of. He immediately understood our plight and said he’d send a van as soon as possible,we should expect it there in two to three hours! Meanwhile the official in charge of the border station had come out and was sternly lecturing us on how unsuited a motorcycle was for traveling in Siberia in this time of year. He asked us how we were thinking of proceeding and pointed at a van in line for crossing the border, “would that one do?” One of the border guards was sent out to see what could be arranged. Within minutes we were negotiating a price with the driver: 100 dollars. Then all what was left to do was stuff both the motorcycles in to the small Russian van. Start to finish the whole ordeal could not have taken more than 30 minutes. We were on our way in to Mongolia thanks to Bataar, our hundred dollar saviour.

Looking back, this malfunction was perhaps a godsend. The ride down from the border in to Mongolia would have been gruelling, the roads were very bad, the wind blowing at dangerous speeds, it was snowing and even in the car we noticed it must have been freezing hard outside. We were very happy to be travelling this way for a bit.

We were delivered safely to our Ger-camp in Ulgii by Bataar, where we unloaded the bikes. Jokingly Pepijn said to me, “try to start it!”, which I did, and it ran fine…. It seems there is only a small failure in a sensor that detects whether or not you are in gear when starting…


I try not to advertise on my blog, but Dosjan from Kazakh tour was willing to help us our so much that day and was an invaluable source of information while planning route through Mongolia from Ulgii, I’d like to take this space to thank him again for all the help, and to advise anybody planning to travel in the west of Mongolia to give him a call.