Nexus Expedition Journal - 2012
Cycling 4050 kms (2515 miles) from Yakutsk to Kharkhorin, through Russian Far East and Eastern Mongolia. Along the way... Taiga, steppe, sand dunes, Yakuts/ Sakhas, Evens, Buriats, Mongols, lamas, road workers, miners, herders, Takhi wild horses, camels, yaks, eagles, prairie dogs and reaching the first antipode of the expedition.

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Went Lünatic in Lün!
Friday October 26, 2012 - 47.51980° N, 105.15103° E
Lün, Central Mongolia
Töv Province
N 47 51.980 E 105 15.103
206 kms since leaving Ulaan Baatar

On Saturday October 20th 2012, after having completed/zigzaged 206 kms since Ulaan Baatar, and while crossing the town of Lün, I discovered that my Surly Big Dummy bicycle was going lünatic!
- The back wheel was starting to split near three spokes holes
- A screw on my front Tubus rack splitted in 1/2 and could no longer be removed to be replaced, unless I would drill through it.
- The "ear" attachment to my front Ortlieb panier was missing and needed to be replaced with metal, or else...

Besides singing in my head, the classic Fun Boy Three's tune "The Lunatics have taken over the asylum", I had to find a solution!

Considering that it could be potentially 3000 kms until I reach the next good bicycle shop in Astana, Kazakhstan, I decided to retreat to Ulaan Baatar, less than 200 kms away where I could replace my bicycle wheel and make my additional repairs with my friends at The Cycling World and with the help via email of my friends at Free Range Cycles in Fremont, Seattle, USA.

So quickly, I found my way to the Lün traffic police station where I met Iktus, a local police officer to whom I begged to keep some of my bags in their garage while I would hitchhiked my way back to Ulaan Baatar with my broken bicycle.

Then, I turned around, raised my thumb and the VERY FIRST moving vehicle picked me up!
Batarchich and Mukachur were indeed transporting 1500 liters of airag/kumis to Ulaan Baatar in their small Korean pick-up truck. They agreed to strap my bike on top of their kumis barrels and squeeze me in the middle seat between these two corpulent Mongols. Batarchich is actually the uncle of Tuvshinbayar Naidan , Mongolian judo olympic champion, who claims to have been successfull thanks to his daily ration of airag/kumis!

On the way back to Ulaan Baatar, we made one stop to deliver barrels of kumis to a local farmers/distributor near Ulaan Baatar where I was offered a meal and copious amount of Kumis.
Cheers and thank you again Batarchich and Mukachur!

In Ulaan Baatar, it took a few days to fix my bike wheels since they both had to be rebuilt, as well as complete a few additional repairs in order to make the bike as "bullet proof" as possible.
We should find out soon if that is the case...

During my time back in Ulaan Baatar, I tried to heal my cold, spent time with Mongolian, French, British, Irish, Spanish, Basque, German and Austrian friends/travellers at the Oasis guesthouse, roamed a bit more through the capital, and finally shopped at the black market where I acquired a snuff bottle which I might need to share over the next few weeks while staying with mongolian nomads in gers.

Now, before I leave Ulaan Baatar once again, finding my way back to Lün, where I last stopped, I would like to share with you briefly what I experienced last week when I was riding westbound from Ulaan Baatar to Lün.

Taking into consideration the current "refreshing" temperatures, when the night temperature can drop to -15c, instead of pitching my tent along the way, I decided to take the opportunity to experience Mongol hospitaly and spent my nights, sharing meals, rooms and gers with farmers, herders, restaurant workers/owners and soldiers along the way.

This was a great experience where I continue to share and learn about the mongolian nomadic lifestyle!

I also quite enjoyed, from time to time, being passed by small trucks and minivans transporting families with their entire ger/yurt and belongings packed in the back while other family members were simultaneously migrating the herds to new ger/yurt locations.

One time, I even noticed a bucket full of random items (spoons, forks, tools, shearing scissors) falling off a "ger truck". Thankfully, I was able to stop the following minivan passing me, commanding them to catch up with the first one up and return the beloved missing items which they were able to do successfully!

On my way, I was also excited to pass through my first antipode point N 47 53.320 E 106 39 784 on the outskirts of Ulaan Baatar. Now, I just need to get to my second one in Chile while completing my human-powered circumnavigation of the planet!

One day, I took a detour over a steep mountain pass to spend a night near the Mongol Tsergiin Khuree Military Base where I met the Mongolian commandant Bataar who greeted me with a "Bonjour! Comment ça va?".

He then took the time to explain to me that this Mongolian military base had become a training center for UN forces, prior to being deployed to Afghanistan.
So here I was, reflecting on what was coming up for these Belgian, German, American and Mongolian UN soldiers in the Afghan hills while sipping a coffee and listening to the sounds of driving and shooting UN and Mongolian tanks in the background...

I took another detour along my way to stroll in the Motsog Els / sand dunes (where I came across Japanese scientists conducting researches on the sand composition), and spent time in the beautiful Khustain National Park where I was kindly welcomed to stay in the workers quarters.

In the Khustain National Park, I took the time to admire the landscape, the stone turkic statues and monuments and truly enjoy watching yaks, marals (asiatic red deers) and above all the free-roaming Takhi horses (Przewalski's horses).

It was quite exciting indeed to see some of these last few wild horses on our planet gallop freely in the hills...

On this note, it's about time I leave once again Ulaan Baatar and get back on my repaired bike in order to try to "gallop" freely as well westbound before it gets any colder.

БАЯРТАЙ Ulaan Baatar!
Additional pictures on Eastern Mongolia
Monday October 15, 2012 - 48.4302° N, 114.31303° E
Facing some technical difficulties with my loooong last post on riding through Eastern Mongolia, I have decided to add additional photos in this separate post.

Therefore, here they are for you to enjoy while I will be on the road!
Departing Ulaan Baatar towards Western Mongolia
Sunday October 14, 2012 - 48.4302° N, 114.31303° E
Current Location:
N48° 43′ 02″ N, E114° 31′ 303″
Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia

Monday October 15th: After having spent the last few weeks touring the region with Gulnara, I am finally ready to leave Ulaan Baatar, planning to go westbound towards Western Mongolia and Western China.

Indeed, it's definitely time to quickly start cycling again since the temperatures in Ulaan Bataar have started dropping to -15C at night and recently a few snow flakes fell on the city.

So far, I have cycled 981 kms in Mongolia in 14 cycling days between Ereentsav (North Eastern Mongolia) and Ulaan Baatar, going through Choybalsan and Ondörhaan.

Ereentsav-Choybalsan: 4 days/279 kms
Choybalsan-Ondörkhaan: 6 days/352 kms
Ondörkhaan-Ulaan Baatar: 4 days/350 kms

Then, between my arrival in Ulaan Baatar on Sept 19th and today, October 15th, I took the opportunity with Gulnara to spend time exploring the region, (Ulaan Baatar, Gorkhi Terelj National Park and the Gobi desert) leaving my bicycle aside. More details on that touring period are available at the end of this post and will be potentially as well as in future posts...


On Friday morning Sept 7th, Gulnara, still struggling with an injured knee and therefore unable to bike, left Choybalsan on a crowded cross-country bus, bound for Ondörkhan where she spent the next few days, exploring the town while waiting for me to arrive on my bicycle...

I left later in the afternoon, after having spent time at Choybalsan autumn fair and having taken pictures of the empty stadium built for Naadam, and a few soviet buildings and statues along my way.

This first section between Choybalsan and Ondörkhaan allowed me to ride at first through steppes in the Kherlen river bed.

On my way, I quickly decided to ride on a smaller trail which was progressing parallel 3 to 5 kms south of the "main" sandy trail/piste, where I could see from time to time, trucks driving through dust clouds...

I quickly started calling this nicer yet smaller alternate trail, the "ger trail" since it was dotted all along the way with gers on both sides, 3-5 kms apart.

This "ger trail" allowed me to come in contact with a great amount of herders raising their horses, sheep, goats and cows near their white gers all along the way.

Often, not used to see a cyclist coming near their ger, they actually came to greet me on the trail...

Almost every time I stopped to take pictures of the landscape, the animals, the gers and/or the herders, I was ultimately invited to come inside an ethnic Mongol ger or an ethnic Buryat wooden/brick house for a cup of Suutei Tsai ( mongolian salty milk tea), homemade Tarag (mongolian yogurt), Urum (clotted cream), potentially a meaty soup and/or meal , a potential cup of airag (mare's milk) and undoubtedly given some aarul (Mongolian dried cheese) to take on the road.

In exchange, I tried to retribute with some of the items I was carrying on my bike such as russian honey which was given to me near Chita by kind apiarists, fresh vegetables I had picked up at Choybalsan market, american beef jerky, lärabars, nuun and some of my last Mountain House dehydrated meals.

This invitation often led to a "discussion" using sign language, pictograms and if possible an exchange in rudimentary Russian, Mongol and in some rare case English...

Even though, I was getting quite concerned that I was not able to ride as many kilometers as I had planned for each day, as a result of these subsequent invitations, I must say that I was also quite eager to learn more about this Mongolian nomadic lifestyle!

I was also very much enjoying watching and filming herders corralling, breaking and taming their wild horses, as well as corralling their goats, sheep and cows at nights in wooden enclosed pens, to protect them from potential wolf attacks.

Indeed, it is not uncommon in Mongolia for wolves to attacks farm animals, and I have noticed on several occasions large "scarewolfs" (instead of scarecrows...) placed at nights, near animal pens.

On that note, I was also able to see how much historically wolf attacks are part of the Mongolian nomads psyche when admiring in Mongolian museums several 2000 years old bronze statues vividly representing wolf attacks on horses.

On my trail, I was also able to let some herders amuse themselves while riding my fully loaded bicycle and in exchange receive the opportunity to learn to ride a Mongolian horse in a bareback fashion as well as on a Mongolian wooden saddle which is made to stand up in the saddle to gallop a horse and therefore requires different techniques.

I had a more rough experience with some of the Mongolian dogs in some cases fiercely guarding their masters' gers. In one incident, one lunatic dog forced me to temporarily and quickly retrieve on my bicycle, while accidentally dropping my mongol monocular which I had just acquired at the Choybalsan market in an interesting shop selling ger artifacts, furniture, saddles, Mongolian hats and boots.

Thankfully, I have, since then, been able to replace this necessary item at the infamous Ulaan Baatar's Naran Tuul aka "black market"... (Video on Naran Tuul's market).

It is indeed an important item to have while travelling through Mongolian steppes, allowing me to evaluate in the horizon what type of vehicles are coming at me and whether or not gers are temporarily occupied or not...

Along my way, as I have experienced in the Russian Buddhist enclave Buryat Agin Okrug, I came across on the side of the trail/road on mountain passes and elsewhere a large amount of ovoos/ shrines, often made of a mound of rocks, often wrapped with khadags (ceremonial silk blue scarfs), placed for good luck.

Some of the ovoos were also covered with a large amount of steering wheels, steering wheel covers, broken musical instruments such as Morin Khuur, Buddhist statues and especially wooden and metal crutches.
The crutches are usually left on ovoos when one has been able to recover successfully from an injury.

I often also saw these khadags (silk blue scarfs) tied to stupas, bridges, rocks and some of the rare and beautiful trees present near the trail.

It was also common to see at mountain passes, a large amount of coins, small bills and cigarettes squandered on the road which have been tossed out of driving-by trucks/cars asking the gods for good fortune on the trail.

On my way, I was also able to visit Kherlen Bar Khot, and impressive 10 meters high brick tower from a 12th century Kitan-state city, now standing proudly and alone in the middle of the steppe, dominating the surroundings.

Even though I noticed much less rubbish on the trail than what I had observed on Far Eastern Russian roads/trails, I still saw a noticeable amount of empty vodka, beer and soda bottles present from time to time.

I also came across a large amount of decomposed animals as well as animal parts such as goat legs, severed horse and cow heads, left for birds of prey such as eagles and vultures to munch upon.

One time, I definitely felt like I was watching a shocking scene (Warning: parental viewing discretion advised for this link!) from the movie The Godfather, when I came across a severed horse head staring at me from the side of the trail...

Mongolians historically practiced for themselves and for their favorite farm animals, open-air sacrificial burials. This practice for humans has ceased and been replaced mostly with incineration or ground burials but apparently still lives on for some of their favorite animals.

In one instance, remembering Georgia O'Keefe classic painting "Cow's skull: red, white and blue", I decided to mount on a back of my fully loaded bicycle, a beautiful cow's head I had found on the trail.

A few hours later, coming across three Mongolian women herders, I understood that according to Mongolian tradition, I should not alter with nature, and having placed this skull on my bicycle could only bring me bad luck... Undeterred and foolish, although somewhat perplexed by their words, I decided to ride on with my cow's skull still firmly attached to my bicycle...

Further on my trail, I met a young Mongol couple and their cousin, collecting their water supply from the Kherlen river in large plastic containers.

After having explained to them what I was all about with my homemade "Laisser-Passer" Nexus Expedition letter translated in Mongolian, (which a Mongolian friend in Yakutsk had kindly translated for me in Mongol), they looked at my bicycle and quickly brought the point that I should definitely not mount a cow's head on my bike since it could only bring me, guess what, bad luck...

This time, I decided to listen to them and released my "piece of art" from my bicycle to their contempt.
At that point, they mentioned that their ger was located about 5kms ahead and wanted to invite me to join them for a meal.

On a side note, I have noticed a few times that Mongolian nomads use an interesting gesture to indicate when they wants to invite you in their gers: pulling down their earlobes with their thumb joined with their index.

Amongst other non-verbal Mongolian communication patterns, I have also observed that Mongolians used a similar gesture to the Russians to indicate when someone is intoxicated: stabbing/tapping the index finger to one's throat.

Excited to be invited once again in yet another friendly and welcoming ger, I rode the next 5 kilometers under the pouring rainstorm that had shortly started to fall upon me.

I finished quickly the last 1.5 kilometer, going off the the main trail, while climbing a very steep grassy hill to reach their ger, which dominated the valley with an unbeatable view.

Very quickly, I noticed in their presence that my xtracycle wide loaders had broken down after having hit too many sand banks on the trail, splitting in half, no longer able to support the weight of my bags.

My new Mongolian friends were very quick to point out that this mishap had happened of course because of the bad luck the cow's head brought on to my bike and consequently my current life..
Sort of: "You see, we told you so..."

Now having to face a serious impromptu repair on my bicycle in the middle of the steppes and spotting in the sky another approaching and threatening strong rainstorm formation, I decided to accept their invitation to spend the night with them and their extended family, being fed an incredible amount of meat, which I had not experienced since spending time with Russian Chukchi reindeer herders in Chukotka and Russian Koryak reindeer herders in Kamchatka Koryak Okrug!

However, I was surprised to learn, despite the numerous rivers, in contrast with the Chukchi and the Koryak who also love to eat the fishes they catch and smoke, the traditional mongolians do not eat fish or of course any type of seafood. Being in a landlocked country, Mongolians obviously traditionally do not have access to sea products and tend to shy away from fishing their rivers, potentially for religious/animist reasons and therefore have hard times to digest fishes and related products.
Of course, the situation is different in the capital where the diet for Ulaan Baatar's urban city-dwellers is currently changing with the arrival of new international cuisine such as Japanese restaurants and sushi...

My nomadic mongolian friends invited me then to spend the night in one of their ger, but since the weather was still fairly "warm", I decided to give them their privacy and instead planted my own tent, 200 meters away, on the eastern side, near grazing horses.

As I have experienced on quite a few other nights, while camping in the mongolian steppe, grazing horses apparently NEVER stop to graze through the night, and of course always seem to love grazing loudly very near my tent...
But of course, this is not a complaint since I MUCH rather have loud grazing Mongolian horses surrounding my tent than having the visit of one roaming curious Russian bear...

Being nomadic herders, having to move their ger locations several times a year to better facilitate the grazing for their thousand sheep and goats as well as their horses and cows, my friend Chagaa and his girlfriend were very curious to learn more about my own camping equipment such as my robust 4 seasons North Face Mountain 25 tent, my Thermarest Zlite mattress and my MSR Dragonfly stove (which I have only used so far, once this summer and early fall, relying on thermos bottles filled with salty milk tea and hot water at gers and cafés along my way to warm up my dehydrated meals.)

I was amused to see them, under the pouring rain, crowd themselves in my tent, almost as curious to check it out as I was to learn about their daily life inside a ger.
This was also the first time that I did a presentation on Nexus Expeditions on my laptop for an attentive audience inside my cramped tent!

In exchange, they asked me then to return in their ger to not only watch them used their landline fixed phone apparently connected via satellite but above all "enjoy" some live mongolian TV program which they were accessing through their south-Korean made satellite dish connected to their Chinese made solar panels.

Indeed, from what I have observed while riding through the Mongolian steppe and from what I have read recently, half of the Mongolian rural population already has solar electric power.

I have also noticed that some gers use wind turbines and read that the first wind farm is currently being set up 70 kms away Ulaan Baatar with 31 large wind turbines.

So, in regards, to Mongolian ger living, here are the some of the "universal" facts I have learned:

- The door always faces south, primarily because the wind comes from the north and the south-facing door will catch the most sunlight.

-Once inside, men move to the left (to the west, under the protection of the great sky god, Tengger) and women to the right (east, under the protection of the sun).

- The back of the ger is the khoimor, the place for the elders, where the most honored people are seated and treasured possessions are kept..

- On the back wall is the family altar, decorated with Buddhist images and family photos (mostly taken during trips to the capital Ulaan Baatar).

-Near the door, on the male side, are saddles, ropes and a big leather milk bag and churn, used to stir airag (mare's milk) .

- On the female side of the door are the cooking implements and water buckets.
- Around the walls are two or three low beds and cabinets.

- In the center, sits a small table with several tiny chairs.

- Hanging in any vacant spot, or wedged between the latticed walls, are toothbrushes, clothes, children's toys and of course, PLENTY of slabs of uncooked mutton.

-There is often no toilet but you should go on the southern side of the ger where they might be a pit...
The drinkable ice/water is usually collected on the western or northern side of the ger.
The sheep/goat/cows pen is located on either the eastern or western side of the ger but not on the northern side to avoid the drifting smell since once again, this is where the prevailing steppe winds come from.

- Often, family relatives live in gers relatively close-by, only 2-5kms away, allowing everyone to help each other for some of the larger herding tasks as well as being able to often share meals together.

If you wish, click here to learn more about Mongolian culture and ger etiquette.
The movie "Bébé" (2010) by French director Thomas Balmès also gives great insight on the life of a typical Mongolian family.

Through that night, near my friends' ger, while listening to the grazing horses... I also became quite preoccupied with the idea that I was going to have to repair my bicycle without any welding equipment in the middle of the steppe.
In the morning, Chagaa quickly explained that his father and him had "cooked up" a "Mongol nomadic solution" which involved of course wood and leather.

Indeed, we replaced the broken metal pieces with a long wooden piece, sustained by screws and leather straps. This allowed me to ride successfully 88 kms on sandy trails that day until I arrived in the evening in Ondörkhan.
Once my bicycle was repaired and fully loaded, and prior to leaving Chagaa and his family, i was invited to share a last departing meal with them. While gulping loads of homemade delicious yogurt (truly, the best I have ever tasted!), salty milk tea, roasted goat ribs and potatoes, I was surprised to be asked by Chagaa, obviously a tech-savvy herder, if I could share my personal Facebook address.

Although, I must report that sadly so, several weeks later, I am still not able to find Chagaa amongst the 1 billion members of the ever-growing "social network" Facebook and being able to share with him the pictures I took during my visit...
Chagaa, if you are reading this, by all means, ping me!

At 8h00, full, after having indulged myself with a very hearty Mongolian Nomadic breakfast, saying my last goodbye to the whole family and thanking them for the kind and welcoming experience, I rode back down the steep grassy hill to rejoin the main trail connecting me to Ondörkhaan.

On my way, I went through a near-ghost town, where I saw a team taking apart a an old metal hanger from the glorious communist heydays and filling large Chinese-made trucks with this scrapped metal, probably on its way to to be recycled in China.
This reminded me the large amount of similar trucks I used to be passed by while riding through the Russian far east. All of this to satisfy the ever-growing needs of the Chinese manufacturing process and consequently the capitalist consumerism crave...

Approaching Ondörkhaan, I started noticing ten to twelve parallel sandy trails/"lanes", all leading to the town.
This also reminded me the Russian Far East where I had observed in previous years' early spring conditions, when the snow and ice started to melt, all-terrain vehicles, trucks and tanks progressively created sometimes up to 10 or 12 alternate, parallel trails/"lanes".

In Mongolia, apparently, the same approach is used to be able to drive on sinking soft sand.
In this environment, one constantly look around to see what is the best "lane" to follow, watching the speed of the incoming traffic, and therefore zigzaging between "lanes".
Of course, I follow suit and started switching back and forth between sandy "lanes" to increase my "speed".

Although, I must report that it was sometimes of a challenge to pass through the sandy banks separating the different trails, and of course, I was afraid that this could lead to further breaking down my bicycle frame and racks.
While riding further into the sunset towards Ondörkhaan, I also noticed a team digging a trench to place a new fiber optic cable connecting distant Choybalsan to the capital Ulaan Baatar, therefore helping to overcome sparsely populated Mongolia's telecommunication challenges.

In a long sandy stretch, while riding along one of the ten parallel trails, Gulnara's cross-country bus passed me by for the 6th day in the row, since I left Choybalsan. The bus driver and I, then waved each other for a sixth time, like two old friends...

Around 18:00, after having stopped one last time, to gobble a can of sardines, a bell pepper and a few slices of bread which I withdrew from my front bicycle pannier, I arrived in Ondörkhaan, where I was reunited with Gulnara at the Erdes Hotel, after having come across yet another round of hard rain, which inundated the town and myself...

Gulnara had indeed been waiting patiently for me for a few days, touring the few sights and market and was also invited one evening by a Mongolian lady to join her in the local ballroom to learn Mongolian traditional dance moves, despite her hurting knee...

Together, we spent the next two days, touring this Eastern Mongolian provincial town / regional center of 15,000 inhabitants, mostly living in individual wooden homes.

In Ondörkhaan, we also took the time to enjoy the ethnographic museum which is housed inside a beautiful 18th century home of the Tsetseg Khaan, a Mongolian prince who governed most of eastern Mongolia during the Manchu reign.

We ate a few Mongolian buuz, a meal at a fancy Chinese restaurant and spent hours at the local autumn fair, where countless farmers beautifully dressed in their traditional dels, came to sell their local vegetables, tea bricks, dried curds, wool/leather/felt products and clothes in the open-air and inside beautifully crafted gers.

At the fair, we also enjoyed watching Mongolian farmers compete in rope-pulling contests and above all spent time watching some of them calculating the thickness of their sheep wool coats in order to determine which one was winning the prize!

I also took the time to fully repair my bicycle frame at a local metal shop, replacing the temporary nomadic Mongol hand-made wooden stick by a proper metal rod which hopefully will last a very long time!

Sadly, still unable to ride her bicycle, Gulnara departed Ondörkhaan on Saturday Sept 15th, this time in a cramped Mongolian minivan, with her bike carefully strapped to the roof rack and after having played magnificently the "Minivan waiting game" for 4 hours.

Her minivan did not depart until it was as filled as a can of packed sardines.
The minivan took 5 hours to complete the 350 kms between Ondörkhaan and the bustling capital city of Ulaan Baatar, while barely missing crater sized potholes along the way on this dangerous paved highway.

Gulnara reached Ulaan Baatar late in the evening, stranded on the side of the road, and having to quickly find an hotel/guest-house with a room big enough to welcome her and her loyal bicycle for the next few days...

I myself spent my 3rd and last night in Ondörkhaan at the Erdes Hotel where the Mongolian weekend crowd was quite drunk and rowdy, keeping me up most of the night, thanks to the hotel thin walls and their singing and "athletic" abilities...

I depart the next morning, under a bright sun, while enjoying watching roaming cows eat potato peels straight out of discarded cardboard boxes, near the local dump site.

I quickly left town and rode straight seven kilometers away to see a balbal , a turkic-era squat-figured stone statue, covered in khadags (ceremonial silk blue scarfs), situated in the middle of the open steppe, which I was able to find easily since I had copied its exact GPS coordinates from my Mongolia Lonely Planet guidebook.
I was especially surprised to notice that this balbal had long hair, curled behind his ears, an unusual feature for this type of statue in this part of the world...
He also had a disproportionately large head with pronounced eyebrows and deep-set eyes.

Briefly after having shared a cup of tea with this balbal, I went straight to another beautiful ovoo I could spot in the horizon and this is when I came across Mustafa, a Syrian businessman and restaurant owner, who had been living in Mongolia for one year, and who only spoke Arabic and Mongolian.
It felt somewhat like a dream/vision to come across this Syrian gentleman dressed in his robe and his head covered with his traditional keffiyeh, driving a 4x4 vehicle with his Mongol partner by his side, in the middle of the mongolian steppe.

He invited me for lunch at his place, which I regrettably turned down because it would have taken me an additional further 10 kms away from the paved Ondörkhaan-Ulaan Baatar I was finally eager to get to.

Indeed, I had set my mind on covering a minimum of 100kms per day for the next few days, so that I could reach quickly Ulaan Baatar, and be reunited with Gulnara.
A difficult goal for a curious mind as mine, eager to photograph and discover everything I could along the way...

As a matter of fact, a few minutes later, I started noticing hundreds of Mongolian small mouse-like pikas and larger tarbagan (Mongolian marmots), standing straight up in front of each one of their dens, all facing the morning sun and apparently sunbathing. Of course, anytime, I wanted to photograph one, they would disappear in their dens, fearing for their lives.

Rightfully so since right above my head I could now see around thirty eagles flying in a circle, waiting to grab tasty bite-size Pika treats!
So, here I was, desperately trying to photograph elusive pikas and eagles instead of riding...

Oh well... this only meant that in order to reach my 100kms target for the day, and taking into consideration the autumn daily diminishing hours of daylight, I will have to make up the lost time in the evening, wearing my "Tour de France" fluorescent vest and use my powerful Light & Motion Solite 250 headlamp. d

After 10 more kilometers, cutting straight through the open steppe, passing a few stupas, and a small village along the way, I finally landed on the paved Ondörkhan-Ulaan Baatar road, excited to reach asphalt!
This was going to be indeed my first section of paved road after having riden 650 kms on sandy trails!

Along the way, riding through more rolling hills, I stopped at a roadside café to enjoy a Mongolian soup, and a bowl of tsuivan (Mongolian noodle stew) in a town called "Moron", where I quite enjoyed taking pictures at the town road sign, deeply reflecting on all the morons I have come across in my life...

Riding along the way, I continued to notice how Mongol horses often congregate in catch-water tunnels/tubes built under the paved road to escape the sun and mosquitoes.
On this matter, I have also observed how Mongolian horses often walk while constantly shaking their heads up and down, to chase mosquitoes and smaller insects away.

Ahhhh, the smaller bugs... thankfully, those don't bite but I definitely had copious quantity of them covering my bike from time to time and could only protect myself by riding with my face almost completely covered...

I noticed along my way as well teams of road workers living in gers and attempting to amend these infamous dangerous crater-like potholes on this otherwise magnificent paved road.

An interesting feature on each side of the road were also the man-made eagle nests placed every kilometer, made up of tire placed on top of a two meters high metal pole planted in the ground.
I was wondering if Mongolian road workers had placed those on purpose to attract eagles near the road and therefore being able to hunt down the pakis and tarbagan marmots off the road...
Less marmots/pakis "roadkills" could indeed potentially mean greater safety on the road!

Between two road pot holes/"craters", I came across French motorcyclist Julien Dressaire, on his multi-continents 3 years motorcycle journey, who first told me that once I would get in Ulaan Baatar, I should meet him again and stay at the infamous Oasis guesthouse, where a large amount of European and Australian motorcyclists, 4*4, trucks, and very few long-distance cyclists love to stop while touring the capital and waiting for Chinese or Russian visas...

Julien also offered me to camp together in the hills so that we could share road stories but undeterred to fall short of my 100kms for the day and since the sun was starting to set, I decided to push on for the remaining 45kms to go for the day...

At 20:30, in complete darkness, at a mountain pass, having just reached my goal of 100kms on my odometer, I decided to stop, a bit off the road, and pitch my tent.
Mongolia feels indeed a lot safer than riding through Far Eastern Russia, which means that I am a lot less concerned about hiding myself completely when camping at night. I just try to get 1-2 kms off the road in the middle of the open steppe or in a little depression if I can find one, to be out of the truck headlights realm.
So, yes, it was just me, camping safely in the middle of the open steppe, but of course once again lulled through the night by the lullaby of the ever present grazing horses, free roaming and surrounding my tent...

The next morning, Monday Sept 17th, I went down my mountain pass and landed in Jargalthaan where I was offered breakfast (eggs and delicious potatoes) by one café owner, who had been an emigrant in Czech republic, in the early 1990's, amongst 10,000 other Mongols living then in Prague, when Mongolians freed itself from communism.

I discovered that a large amount of Mongols who had moved overseas when they were allowed to leave their country and to search a "better life" were now returning in masses in their homeland, to find work and therefore ride the current Mongolian mining economic boom...

Riding further, I came across bactrian camels (two humps furry mongolian camels) and was amused to see them free roaming in company of horses.

I then climbed three mountain passes which each reached 1650 meters and subsequently dropping down to 1300 meters.
Along my way I continued to be escorted by a flock of beautiful eagles and once saw on the side road a dead beautiful one which I placed on a nearby ovoo in form of an open-air burial).

I also found an old and abandoned Mongolian del which strangely (unless you know me...) I decided to add to my cargo on the bicycle...
A potential authentic Mongolian souvenir I could definitely wear some day!
A few hours later and now pushing through the evening hard rain and strong head wind, I arrived in Tsenharmandal where a drunken mongol motorcyclist ran into my bicycle in a "head collision", breaking my aluminum tubus front rack which I was able to get welded in Ulaan Bataar at a special metal shop specializing in aluminum welding...

Quite frustrated with the matter, I decided to stop for another quick meal (more eggs and potatoes...) and moved on through more rain and head wind until I reached my 100km daily target and once again camped in the darkness, lulled by more free roaming grazing horses...

The next morning, coming down yet another pass, I rode on a 2006 bridge which had been built thanks to Japanese donations and arrived near Bayandelger where I stopped on a curve to eat my lunch while staring at local cows, when I suddenly noticed among them a few beasty mongol yaks intermingling...

In Bayandelger, I stopped at a local café where I was amused to come across two young punk Mongols, coiffed each with a red and purple Mohawk haircut, while riding their horses through town...
An interesting mix of culture which sadly i was not able to catch on film...
I could however enjoy the moment and realize that I was obviously getting closer to the vibrant capital Ulaan Baatar, feeling its influence 100 kms away.

I also started to notice UB's influence when meeting a few Mongol English speakers in the roadside cafés accustomed to dealing with foreigners and spotting along my way, large ger camps who had been set up on mountain flanks to accommodate visiting tourists and city-dwellers on their weekends.

Definitely a change after having cycled two weeks through eastern Mongolia, where I had seen barely any local or foreign tourists.

Further on, I rode along a huge coal quarry, spread a few kilometers long and passed through the village of Erdene as the sun was setting. I climbed then one more 1600 meters high mountain pass, facing the bright headlights of the incoming traffic which made it more difficult to spot the large pot holes in the middle of the road.

Coming down the mountain pass, in a curve, I was surprised to come across local police (which I had not seen on Mongolian roads, since I entered the country, 900 kms away), directing traffic around a crashed small Japanese made car which apparently had rolled a few times to end up in a nearby ditch.

This was definitely a clear reminder on how I need to try to ride safely, coming down this mountain pass, through the fog and darkness while being passed by high-speed cars, crossing free roaming horses and cows and of course dodging incoming crater-size pot holes waiting for me in the middle of the asphalt, just ahead of my front wheel...

At 21h30, after having completed 100kms for the third day straight, I finally landed at Tsonjin Boldog, a hill topped with a huge statue of the great conqueror Chinggis Khan!
I was indeed very excited to arrive at this new monument since Gulnara and I agreed to meet there. She had taken the minivan backwards from Ulaan Baatar earlier in the day in order to come and meet there!

We thought we would have to camp in front of the magestic statue but instead we were kindly invited by the staff at this complex to share a meal and spend the night inside the museum near the world's largest leather boot, a beautiful masterpiece of mongolian craftmanship!

The next morning after having enjoyed the view of the entire valley from inside the statue, and having benefited from a private tour of the ancient bronze collection museum, Gulnara and I had a picnic in front of this grandiose statue. She then proceeded to hitchhike her way back to Ulaan Baatar inside a near-empty minivan while I rode my last 50 kilometers to reach the capital.
Along the way, I stopped near Nalaikh to take advantage of the local roadside tourists attractions such as being able to ride my first Mongolian camel and converse with vultures.
A very touristic, not so ecological, although amusing way to end my journey through eastern mongolia...

Riding the last 20kms through Ulaan Baatar's smoggy and dusty eastern suburb where one can see an intriguing mix of gers, wooden houses and brick buildings, I finally arrived at the Oasis guesthouse, located on the eastern outskirts of the mongolian capital city where Gulnara and I planted our tent in the backyard for the first few days before moving into a ger.

Between my arrival in Ulaan Baatar on Sept 19th and today, October 15th, Gulnara and I met interesting international travelers, expats and local Mongols,

We also took the opportunity to travel with some of the people we met to explore the region, (Ulaan Baatar, Gorkhi Terelj National Park and the Gobi desert) by horse and 4*4 while leaving temporarily the expedition route and our bicycles behind.

We also enjoyed quite a bit of international and local cuisine and visited the bustling capital city in depth: monasteries, museums, markets, parks, Buddhist temples and even spent some time at Ulaan Baatar's Catholic cathedral with Father André, an expatriate catholic priest from Cameroon.

We also spent time watching swiss and french films at a refreshing francophone film festival, partook in a beer-drinking Octoberfest evening with mongols at a german brasserie and enjoyed listening to жонон "Jojo" , a great Mongolian ensemble playing Morin Khuur and other traditional string instruments at a Mongolian rap, hip hop and mostly metal rock festival, we stumbled upon.

We also took the time to repair/replace/amend some of our gear and bicycle.
For this matter, we want to take the opportunity to thank our friends at The Cycling World, a great local bicycle shop as well as the aluminum welder at a local metal shop!

Now, there is so much I would like to write about what I have observed/learned/discovered in Ulaan Baatar, and above all about its 1.2 million urban dwellers which make 40% of the total Mongolian population but at this stage, I really need to stop writing this long post and get going on my bicycle, before it starts getting way colder to ford rivers coming ahead...

So, here I am, departing this intriguing city, going westbound, and taking with me, warm winter gear, and even for the first time, a studded bicycle front tire to potentially help me get some grip while riding on icy Mongolian roads in the weeks to come.

Sadly so, Gulnara's knee has not recovered from her injury and this is why Gulnara cannot join me on this next section. However, wanting to take advantage of her Chinese visa in the meantime, she has decided to travel by train to visit Beijing and northern China, in company of Ruth, a German violin-maker and fellow long-distance traveler, we met in Ulaan Baatar...

Finally, Gulnara and I want to thank the new friends we made in Ulaan Baatar such as Mongolian national railroad employees who went the "extra mile" to help shipping Gulnara's bike and gear back to Moscow, and above all Sibylle and her great Mongolian team at the cozy Oasis guesthouse which definitely was a difficult "oasis" to leave.

Dimitri and Gulnara
Cycling through Eastern Mongolia
Saturday September 8, 2012 - 48.4302° N, 114.31303° E
Choibalsan, Dornod Aimag, Mongolia
48° 4′ 302″ N, 114° 31′ 303″ E
804 kms since Chita, Zabaikalsky Krai, Russia

Yes! We arrived in Mongolia on September 1st 2012 through the border crossing of Solovjovsk/ Erdeenstav.

Prior to that, we had a wonderful experience crossing the Russian buddhist "enclave" Agin Buryat Okrug and now in eastern Mongolia, where we have been able to already see Mongolian camels, marmots, and above all thousands of Zerens (Mongolian gazelles) flying by!

My first 279kms of Mongolian sandy, definitely uncrowded, "road" or should I say trail have indeed been fun although challenging to ride on!

Along the way, I was blessed to meet a few horse/cow/sheep/goat herders who welcomed me into their farms, gers/yurts on several occasions in order to share a meal and/or a night!

I also had along my way an interesting meeting with Chinese nickel miners... At this stage, however, sadly, Gulnara is not able to ride her bike because she has a Lateral Collateral Ligament (LCL) sprain.

As a result, she regrettably has had to hitch rides along her way with her bike and bags from kind souls (such as Russian gravel truck driver Sergey from Ekaterinburg and German adventurer Carsten Rennecke from Cebra Adventures on his way back from Vladivostok to Germany) in order to be able to continue her journey and meet me at respective points, while I am continuing the route on my bicycle.

We are not quite sure why she has suffered from this injury this year while she was able to ride "pain-free" 2100 kilometers on the infamous "road of bones"/ Kolyma highway from Omsukchan to Yakutsk, and carrying a heavy load last summer! She definitely hopes to be back on her bicycle as soon as her body allows!

I plan to write a complete report and post pictures on my Chita-Ulaan Baatar route once I will get there in about 660 kms...

For the time being, while the weather is nice, I need to push on to be able to meet Gulnara in Ondörkhan, 330 kms away!

Before I go, I would like to mention the latest media related matters:
(In Mongolian) First Mongolian TV Interview: Choibalsan, Dornod Aimag, Mongolia, Sept 5th 2012

(In Russian) Last Russian TV Interview: Borzya, Zabaykalsky Krai, Aug 29th 2012

(In Russian) web interview - Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai, Aug 21st 2012

Finally, as we are departing Choibalsan, we want to thank Tsagaandari Bayarbold and Saraa from Choibalsan, the friendly staff at Chadanguud hotel as well as Kirk and Mendee from Ulaan Bataar for the support they gave us in coordinating logistics during our stay in Choibalsan!

Dimitri and Gulnara
New Nexus Expedition Route will go through Chile!
Monday August 27, 2012 - 51.02781° N, 115.37606° E
Tsugol, Agin Buriat Okrug
N51 02.781 E115 37.606
300kms since Chita, Zabaykalsky Krai, Russia

While currently riding through the picturesque buddhist enclave Agin Buriat Okrug in the Russian Federation, and approaching Mongolia, I have finally decided to announce the future Nexus route, which will go through Chile!

Indeed, in order to comply with the current definition of a Human Powered True Circumnavigation , my future route needs to reach two antipodes (two diametrically opposite places on earth).

I have studied the antipode map for quite some time and have decided that the two most logical points, in accordance with my current route are:
1st antipode: N 47 8979 E 106.6470
Location: West of Ulan Bataar, Mongolia, which I plan to reach in the next few weeks.

2d antipode: S47 8979 W73.3529
Location: Caleta Yungay, southern Chile, which I plan to reach in the next few years.

Needless to say that this additional loop into South America is definitely going to add a substantial amount of biking time to the expedition.

Well, on this note, let's keep going and enjoy the ride!

Dimitri Kieffer
Nexus Expeditions
Departing Chita, Zabaykalski Krai
Monday August 20, 2012 - 52.18° N, 113.308° E
Chita, Zabaykalski Krai, Russian Federation

52° 1′ 8″ N 113° 30′ 8″ E

After having completed 2081 kms since Yakutsk in 30 cycling days, I was excited to arrived in Chita on Tuesday Aug 14th 2012.

In Chita, I was reunited with Gulnara, and we are about to embark on a long ride on our bicycles all across Buryat and Mongol steppes.

Together, we have decided to modify our route in order to be able to visit the Agin-Buryat Okrug and therefore spend some time hopefully experiencing the Buryat culture.

With this new route, going southeast out of Chita, we will also be able to experience Eastern Mongolia where we expect to see grasslands, forests and hopefully historical sights.

Since leaving Never (Amurskaya Oblast), over the last 1000kms of rolling hills, and steppes, I have been able to truly enjoy the recently completed M58 Amur highway through Amurskaya oblast and Zabaykalsky krai.

On the challenging side, I had to deal over the last 400kms with a very wobbly rear wheel, which on every hill was brushing against my chain while riding in lower gear.
This was the result of a faulty repair I made in Neryungri with my friend Sasha, when we replaced inadequately three broken spokes on my rear wheel, placing them from the "wrong side" of the wheel.
The idea of parking my bike in a specific town while finding my way to Chita to replace the wheel crossed my mind on several occasions, but I decided that I should push through this one, and grind my teeth...
Thankfully, this has been repaired in Chita, and my rear wheel is now "almost back to Day One"...

While riding my bike, I was also able to watch an incredible amount of Japanese and Chinese new/used vehicles passing by while being transported from Vladivostok, Khabarovsk and Blagoveshensk to Western and Central Russia.
Fast Cars, 4*4, trucks, buses, mini-buses, cranes, bulldozers, concrete mixing trucks, jetskis, boats, etc...
You name it, it's here!
All being whisked away during the summer months to satisfy the craving needs of western and central russian consumers!

However, the Russian government is currently actively trying to fight this Sino-Japanese invasion, by:
- increasing the amount of tariff on imported cars and goods.
- shipping eastbound Russian made Vehicles

Indeed, I was also able to witness in Yerofey Pavlovich (Amurskaya Oblast), thanks to a special program put in place by Russian President Vladimir Putin, how entire battalions of UAZ are being shipped out of Ulyanosk, in Western Russsia to Yerofey Pavlovich in Eastern Russia, cost-free, in order to be disseminated throughout the Siberian and Russian Eastern Far East, all the way from Irkustk to Magadan!

I was also able to continue to enjoy watching american, european and asian used large trucks living out their "retirement" to the fullest on russian highways.
Nothing amuses me more than being passed in the middle of Zabaykalsky Krai, by a large truck still placarded with huge banners stating:
"Without Trucks, America stops." or "Blablabla: The smart way to cross the channel."

I also noticed on this new highway, a few individuals driving at normal or high speed, recently crashed vehicles that have been more or less re-assembled with duct tape and else, often without any windshield whatsoever.
This does not seem to be a major problem since there seems to be almost no police officers patrolling this 1000km route...

I once noticed two men sitting completely quiet in a "freshly" very damaged vehicle.
I stopped and asked if everything was OK and if I could help them in any form.
They responded very politely and calmly how thankful they were for me to stop and ask, but no, they did not need any help...
I carry on pedaling my bike and reflecting on Russian stoicism and pride...

While crossing the Zabaykalsky Krai, I also had to exercise a certain amount of precaution while crossing a few specific towns, not venturing at night, and camping hidden, away from villages.
Indeed, a few solo foreign motorcyclists have been robbed/killed/shot/stabbed/burnt over the last few years in the region, by desperate souls, ex-inmates of some of the numerous local prisons.

I only met a few "unsavory characters" in two villages, including one who expected me to pay for the "damage" I made on his new Japanese vehicle by touching it with my hand...
A long story...

However, I must say that overall, Amurskaya Oblast and Zabaykalski Krai inhabitants treated me very well!

For example, I was able to receive kind hospitaly from road workers/dorozhniks in Urusha and Yerofey Pavlovich, from gold miners in Klyuchievsky, from Tajik restaurant owners in Chernyshevsk, and from apiarists near Chita!

I also received a large amount of gifts from locals and curious drivers passing by, such as Ukha homemade soup from the Sakhalin island, pine cones full of tasty pine nuts, halva, fresh milk, homemade jam, fresh honey, wild berries, cucumbers freshly picked from dachas and a huge box of Japanese wet tissues ...

I also enjoyed countless meals, fried eggs, goulashes, Bortsch/Solyanka soups in affordable stalovyas and cafés.

I spent my nights over the last few weeks once again in a wide selection of venues: in my tent hidden between trees, in ravines, near catchwater drains/tunnels under the highway, very near active wooden bee hives, in a backyard of a stalovaya, in a farm surrounded by pigs, sheeps, "unsavory characters" and chickens, tucked between 2 gold miners in one single large bed inside a cozy small cabin on a very rainy day, in the sleeping cabin of a Kamaz truck, in dorozhnik/road worker camps and even treated myself to a few small gastinitse/hotels...

On the road, I met Russian Cyclist Evgeny Ostapenko on his way from Abakan to Vladivostok whom I was able to convince to start cycling the Kolyma "Road of Bones" from Magadan to Yakutsk in early September and also met German cyclist Philip Haupt on his way from Koln to Vladivostok.

Once I arrived in Chita, reunited with Gulnara, we spent six days, tuning/repairing bikes & gear, touring the city (interesting museums on Zabaykalsky Krai and Decembrists, orthodox churches, two buddhist temples, a mosque and an old synagogue, a few tasty "poznaya" buryat restaurants), meeting journalists and new friends, taking countless pictures of beautiful wooden framed windows, drinking mineral water at the spring and even recording some French rap!

Finally, while in Chita, we were able to conduct a few TV and web interviews.

I hope to be able to post pictures and TV interviews in the next few days, as soon as I get more internet bandwith.

In the meantime, you can find the following two Russian TV interviews at:

Russia 1 TV Chita (The Interview starts at 2m 0s)and web interview at

Finally, as we are leaving Chita, we want to thank our new Chitinsky friends for their kind hospitaly, especially Erizhan and his posse, Timothy and Natasha, Shuruk, the All Native rap musicians, Pavel and the crew at Trial-sport bike shop, and journalists Nikita, Ilya and Andrei.

Dimitri and Gulnara
In Never! Although, not quite Never Neverland...
Wednesday August 1, 2012 - 54.00574° N, 124.10904° E
Never, Amur Oblast
N 54 ° 00.574, E 124 °10.904
Wed Aug 1st 2012
8th day, 385 kms since Neryungri
Temperature rising today up to 36 degrees celsius (97F).

Very excited to say that I have completed tonight my journey cycling through the infamous M56 Lena Highway!
I can now revel in some serious asphalt!
990kms of it until I reach Chita, Zabaykalski Krai, on the M58 highway which was just completed in September 2010.

Before leaving Tynda, I thankfully got the help of yet another Tynda darojnik named "Kola" who welded back efficiently my Rolling Jack Ass centerstand on to my bike frame!

Then I was able to "enjoy" a nice and rough section of 166 kms of gravel road, (except for a fantastic 6km section of pure beautiful asphalt, built last year to ease a gnarly mountain pass), ate at a stalova/café ran by uzbeks, niched on top of a mountain pass, camped one night deep in the woods and treated myself to a gastinitse/"hotel" in Solov'yësk, on my 2d night where a georgian armenian ukrainian russian man named "leon" treated me to some wonderful homemade Georgian food!

On my way, I also continued to meet welcoming darojniks/road workers inviting me for tea, the intriguing italian hitchhiker Clem on his way from Magadan to Rome and countless Uzbek truck drivers trying the best they can to amend their broken trucks in order for them to return to their homeland and pick up their next valuable cargo of delicious uzbek fruits and vegetables and return to the Far Eastern Russian market...

Finally, I am very very happy to report that I continue to receive great support from the Darojnik/road builder community!

Indeed, tonight, I am once again invited to stay in a darojnik base, this one named "брус", mostly inhabited by 140 Tatar and Russian men, relocated in this base for 6 months from Naberezhnye Chelny, in Tatarstan, Kamaz homeland!
Pretty amazing base to say the least where I could experience a great banya, a tasty stalova, impeccable sleeping quarters, laundry facilities, a sport complex, incredible gravel making machines and above all this impressive 35 meters high German Benninghoven asphalt mixing plant which can put out 128 tons of asphalt per hour, definitely more than my heart can hold...

Talking of which, I now need to go get some sleep, so that I can enjoy some of that bling-bling asphalt tomorrow morning before the temperature rises again in the mid thirties (celsius)!
Ahhh, L'Amour!
Sunday July 29, 2012 - 55.08132° N, 124.43856° E
Tynda, Amur Oblast, Russian Federation
55° 08′ 132″ N, 124° 43′ 856″ E

219 kms completed since I left Neryungri in Yakutia on Wednesday July 25th.
Pedaled through hard rain, hot sunny afternoons, a few mountain passes,the Evenki village of Iyengra where I was offered fresh blueberries.
Enjoyed three lovely nights in my tent listening for any potential approaching bears/creatures, met quite a few new intriguing characters on the road, trainspotted countless coal trains, watched large boats zooming by on trailers, passed beautiful landscapes and was photographed in company of more wedding parties. I was also passed by my first cyclist, Sean Hardley, on his long course.

Finally, after having crossed Chukotka, Kamchatka, Magadanskaya, Sakha Republic/Yakutia, I am pleased to say that I have arrived in my 5th Russian province/state: "L'oblast d'Amour" - Amur Oblast.

On my 4th day, I arrived in Tynda, the BAM (Baikal-Amur Mainline) Headquarters.
Flanked by low-lying, pine covered hills, Tynda definitely shows off its Soviet roots! It was indeed a shack village before BAM centralised its efforts in this location in 1974.

In Tynda, I took a day off to:
- enjoy a great riverside shashlik diner with my darojnik friends where I learned about the "art of making proper painted road white lines."

- walk and walk around the town, trekking along the river side, the hills and the market where I noticed a large amount of Chinese immigrants coming to sell their entire country in doses of minuscule and larger manufactured goods.

- enjoy the local banya!

I am now planning to depart Tynda as soon as I would have found a way to properly weld back my bike centerstand which fell through in this last section...

Finally, I want to thank my darojnik/road worker friends Igor and Tamara Kovalev who took the time to welcome me so kindly and let me stay in their road-workers base/HQ for the entire weekend!

Poka and yes, let me go through more Amur!
Farewell to my father...
Tuesday July 24, 2012 - 56.4024° N, 124.4251° E
I am now back in Russia to continue my human powered expedition, after having taken one month hiatus in France to wish my 77 years old father Henri Kieffer a last farewell after his tragic death on June 19th 2012.

So, after been through a difficult month, to say the least, I am now trying to gather my thoughts so that I can start riding my bicycle southbound later today out of the southern Sakha/Yakut coal mining town of Neryungri.

Before leaving Neryungri, I want to deeply thank Sasha, Lyuba, Genna and Anna Kudyarov who have been so kind to me, welcoming me in their home and helping me during these difficult times.

I apologize for the delay to anyone I have recently promised to post new Nexus Expeditions pictures and/or related stories. I will post these as soon as I can clearly do so.

For the time being, let me go and ride...

Mon père, le docteur, le mari, le frère, le beau-père, le beau-frère, le papi, le parrain, l’oncle, le grand oncle, le témoin de mariage, l’ami, le grand ami, le scout, le moujik, le Papa Sum, le nageur, le skieur, le plongeur, le kayakiste, le pilote d’avion, le pilote de planeur, le capitaine de voilier, l’étudiant en médecine de 3e cycle, le voyageur, le croyant, le grand cinéphile, le grand amateur de scrabble et de puzzle, l’avide lecteur, l’amateur de politiques, le fana du tour de France, le collectionneur de santons, de mignonettes, de livres et de tant de souvenirs…

Bref, le bon vivant.

Un homme avec lequel nous avons eu, je pense, tous le plaisir de partager des bon morceaux de vie.
Des moments forts, parfois plein de tendresse et parfois même de foudre slave, mais malgré tout des vrais moments de vie.

Je voudrais que vous en gardiez en vous l’image d’un homme qui avait en lui une énergie et une soif de vie extraordinaire et non celle des dernières années et surtout des derniers mois où il devenait rapidement l’ombre de lui-même.
Car ça, je sais, il ne le supporterait pas, tout comme il n’a pas pu supporter de voir son propre feu fuguant s’amoindrir si rapidement.

J'espère simplement qu'à présent, il puisse trouver la paix et le repos auprès de ses parents, ses frères et soeur, ses amis, et sa première femme Magdeleine."

DK - Les Andelys, Juin 2012
Flying back to France
Tuesday June 19, 2012 - 56.4024° N, 124.4251° E
Neryungri, Sakha Republic/ Yakutia, Russia
56° 40′ 24″ N, 124° 42′ 51″ E
Wednesday June 20th, 2012

This morning, as I was preparing to leave Neryungri, Sakha Republic/Yakutia to proceed further south on my bicycle, I was just informed of some tragic news impacting my family.

As a result, I have decided to take the first flight out of Neryungri to Paris (via Moscow and Vienna).

I am leaving in Neryungri in company of my dear friends Sasha and Luba Kudiyarovi, my bicycle and gear.

Not quite sure at this time, when I will be able to return to Neryungri.

In late May 2012, while in Yakutsk, I had the pleasure to conduct a few additional interviews while preparing my bicycle, sorting my gear, and planning my route.

Here are the ones that are currently available:

(In English) - May 31st 2012
ExWeb interview with Dimitri Kieffer: lessons from a bicycle saddle
Sharing advice/tips on how to cycle in Far Eastern Russia.
Interview conducted by South African Journalist Correne Erasmus-Coetzer.

(In Russian) - June 15th 2012 Photo Reportage
A random collection of Nexus Expedition pictures taken between 2006 and 20011 in Alaska and Far Eastern Russia.
Posted in Yakutsk by Journalist Ilya Mojarov.

(In Russian) - June 14th 2012
СПОРТ ЯКУТИИ ("Sports of Yakutia" newspaper)
Interview conducted in Yakutsk by journalist Ilya Mojarov.
Departing Aldan, Sakha Republic, Russia
Sunday June 10, 2012 - 58.36519° N, 125.24233° E
Current Location:
Aldan, Sakha Republic/ Yakutia, Russia
N 58 ̊ 36.519
E 125 ̊ 24.233

June 11th 2012
Starting my 10th day
535kms completed since Yakutsk

I was finally able to depart Yakutsk early morning on Saturday June 2d 2012.
I covered my first 535kms in 7 days, progressively moving South on the rocky Lena Highway M 56 until I arrived in the gold mining center of Aldan.

Along the way, I was blessed to meet and share meals/nights already with some interesting characters such as: Leonid, the Sakha wood carver; Boris, the timberjack operator; Aleg, the stranded truck driver and many more.

Even got the pleasure to operate a Forwarder Timberjack myself...
Quite a change from my bicycle, I must say!

Once I arrived in Aldan, I was welcomed by the Kokorin and Dudko families who took the time to show me the best of Aldan.
I want to thank Nikolai Dudko and Sergei Kokorin for having persuaded me to spend the weekend in their town, where I was able to learn more about their lives, families, crashed a wedding and even attended a multi-ethnic festival to celebrate this "Meeting Holiday" (Националбный праздник " Бакалдым") with Evenks, Sakah, Kyrgyz, Ukrainians and Russians.

For the time being, I want to take opportunity of this great weather and ride south towards Neryungri, where I will hopefully take the time to sit down to write and post a few pictures to share a bit my ride through southern Yakutia...

New Nexus Trailer Video and Ready to Blast Off!
Wednesday May 30, 2012 - 62.00753° N, 129.38948° E
After having spent the last week in Yakutsk, solving different logistical issues, I must say that I am now finally ready to BLAST OFF out of the Republic of Sakha!

But, before, anything else, let me share with you the following video. It is a short concoction of some of the videos, Gulnara and I have shot on the trail over the years and that were edited by our friends at 1iOpen Productions.

2012 Nexus Expeditions Trailer - Promotional Video

Now, yes, I am indeed, planning to finally blast off tomorrow out of Yakutsk, Yakutia/Sakha Republic, Thursday May 31st, with hopefully a a truly healthy bicycle!

Over the last few days, with the help of my local friend Kyril Popov at Stark Yakutsk, we have modified my Surly Big Dummy to make it as robust as possible so that it can sustain the upcoming challenging 2240 kms between Yakutsk and Chita, with the first 1000 kms unpaved.

We have replaced the broken free wheel hub, a worn out cassette, two of the chain rings.
We have also repaired disk breaks, installed a mighty rolling jack ass centerstand (from our friends at Haulin’ Colin) and wide loaders from our friends at Xtracycle.

Kyril Popov’s father, Volodya Popov intrigued by the new contraption, asked me last night how fast I thought I was expecting to fly with these "new wings" on my long crocodile.
No idea yet, but I am about to find out!

So, at first, I am planning to get back as quickly as I can to the point where I last stopped in October 12th 2011, when my free wheel hub broke 150 kilometers south of Yakutsk, on the M56 highway, at the following location: N60̊ 56.186 E128̊ 44.982
between Katchiktasi and Ulu, Republic of Sakha, Yakutia, Russia.

From there, I will proceed further south towards Aldan, Neryungri, Never and Chita, 2230 kms away, where I will hopefully be joined by Gulnara to continue our journey towards Mongolia.

At this time I would like to say goodbye and a big THANK YOU to our friends in Yakutsk that have so kindly welcomed Gulnara and I in last October 2012 as well as having welcomed me this last week:
Popov family, Arbugaev family @ Chochur Muran, Platonova family, Bolot Bochkarev and Egor Fedorov.

Thank you all for the help and having taken the time to share with me a slice of your Sakha life!
Hopefully, our paths will cross again!

Finally, before departing, I would like to take a moment to thank all of my current 2012 sponsors for their support and in particular my friends at: Egan Associates, Ibex, Ortlieb USA, Westcomb, Light and Motion, Universal Distro, Lärabar, Nuun, 1iOpen Productions, Avia Partner/авиа-партнер, Xtracycle, GoPro, Human Edge Technology, Davis Sign company, Free Range Cycles, Stark Yakutsk, Rite in the Rain and Rolling Jack Ass!
Test from Yakutsk
Tuesday May 29, 2012 - 62.00753° N, 129.38948° E
Current Location:
Kyril Popov's bike shop
Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia
Current location:
N 62° 00.753
E 129° 38.948

This is simply a quick post done by satellite phone from yakutsk, Russia to test the equipment before being able to depart soon and resume the expedition.

While I am back in Yakutsk, Sakha Republic, Russia, I have been able to obtain copies of additional interviews in the Russian language, Gulnara and I conducted back in October 2011.

In addition, you can view here: the previous interviews that were conducted in October 2011 and have already been posted.

Additional interviews that have been conducted this week in Russian and Sakha/Yakut languages will be added as well when they become available.

Sooo, here are the new pieces for the Russian listeners/viewers:

TV interviews:
- ГТРК САХА - GTRK Sakha TV - Yakutsk - Oct 10, 2011 (in Russian)

- НВК САХА - NVK Sakha TV - Yakutsk - Oct 10, 2011 (In Russian)
This 2d TV interview was tailored for a children TV program.

Children Magazine Interview:

This was our first interview for a children magazine and I must say that we were quite excited to share our story in writing with a younger audience, (as we have done in the past in numerous school presentations), hopefully motivating some of them, if they can, to go out and enjoy their surroundings while walking, skiing ,rowing or riding a bike!
Aug 20th Update:
I covered the first 2080 kms (~1300 miles) alone between Yakutsk (Yakutia – Sakha Republic, Russia) and Chita (Zabaykalsky Krai, Far Eastern Russia).

October 11th Update:
I covered an additional 1506kms between Chita (Zabaykalsky Krai, Far Eastern Russia) and Ulaan Bataar, Mongolia.

The first 525kms were through Zabaykalsky Krai, and Agin Buryat Okrug.

I cycled the next 981kms in Mongolia in 14 cycling days between Ereentsav (North Eastern Mongolia) and Ulaan Baatar, going through Choybalsan and Ondorhaan.
I arrived in Ereentsav on Sept 1st and Ulaan Bataar on Sept 19th 2012.
Ereentsav-Choybalsan: 4 days/279 kms
Choybalsan-Ondörkhaan: 6 days/352kms
Ondörkhaan-Ulaan Baatar: 4 days/350kms

Between Sept 19th and October 11th, I took the opportunity with Gulnara to spend time exploring the region, (Ulaan Baatar, Gorkhi Terelj National Park and the Gobi desert) leaving my bicycle aside.

Russian section: 2550kms

Completed: 1100kms - From Yakutsk (Yakutia – Sakha Republic) to Never (Amur Oblast)
Southbound on the infamous Lena Highway - M56 through Aldan, Neryungri, (in Yakutia – Sakha Republic) , Tynda, Skorovodino/Never (in Amur Oblast).

Completed: 1000kms - Never (Amur Oblast) - Chita (Zabaykalsky Krai).
Rode on the recently completed M58 “Amur highway”, 1000 kms westbound through Takhtamygda (in Amur Oblast), Amazar, Mogacha, Chernyshevsk and finally Chita (in Zabaykalsky Krai).

Completed: 525kms Chita - Solovjovsk (Zabaykalsky Krai).
In Chita, I have been reunited with Gulnara and together we will start riding today 375 kms on the A166 Highway southwest to Borzya (Zabaykalsky Krai) and then proceed 65km southwest until we reach the Russian –Mongolian border-crossing point of Solovjovsk /Erdenstaav.

Click here to see a Russian video on "highway" A166.

On this route, we plan to spend some time along our way in the Agin-Buryat Okrug, while crossing the Buryat towns of Aginskoe and Mogoytuy.

Mongolian section: 2290 kms

Completed - 981 kms: Erdenstav- Mongolian capital Ulan Baatar, (southwest bound) via Choibalsan & Ondorkhaan.

380 kms: Ulan Baatar- Arvaykheer, (southwestbound).

200 kms: Arvaykheer- Bayankhongor (westbound).

380 kms: Bayankhongor-Altay (westbound)
430 kms: Altay- Bulgan Mongolian- Chinese Border crossing (southwestbound)

Alternate scenic route from Ulan Baatar to Altai: 1200 kms (instead of 960 kms through the southern route)
500 kms: Ulan Baatar- Tsetserleg; 340kms: Tsetserleg-Tosontsengel; 180kms: Tosontsengel-Uliastai
180kms: Uliatsai-Altai

Chinese section (Xinjiang Province): 500 kms

380 kms: from Mongolian-Chinese bordercrossing located in Takashiken to Burqin, via Sarbulak, Sibati, and Beitun on roads S320, G216.

120 kms: Burqin to the Chinese-Kazakhstan border crossing located in Jeminay- Maykapchagay

5/24/2012 Update on crossing Xinjiang Province: Because we are cycling through the province, we are NOT required to neither have a special permit (in addition to our valid passports and Chinese visas) nor a guide on our route. However, currently, non-Chinese traveling by motorcycle or cars in Xinjiang province are required to have a guide.

Kazakhstan section (until capital Astana, Kazakhstan): 1340 kms

470 kms: from Chinese-Kazakhstan bordercrossing Maykapchagay to Ayaköz (northwest bound via roads M38 and A346)

480 kms : Ayaköz to Karkaralinsk (northwest bound via road A345)
390 kms: Karkaralinsk to Astana (northwest bound via road M36)

5/22/2012 Update on Kazakhstan: We are NOT required to neither have a special permit (in addition to our valid passports and Kazakhstan visas) nor a guide on our route through Kazakhstan.
I recently got alerted while reading this information on Kazakhstan border zone permits requirements.
However, here is the feedback I just received today:
"Special Permits are currently only needed for the high Altai nature reserve. You would only need a special permit to go south from Katon Karagai into the Markakol Nature Reserve, and to go east from Uryl, at the end of the Bukhtarma valley east of Katon Karagai."
A few months ago, Gulnara gave me a colorful "Coffee Table Book" which she had created, selecting and compiling a large amount of the photos we took last summer between Omsukchan (Magadanskaya Oblast) and Yakutsk (Sakah Republic - Yakutia).

Feel free to peruse through the pictures.

On March 22d 2012, I had the pleasure to conduct a French interview for Radio Canada.

Feel free to listen to the short interview here:
Interview pour Radio Canada du 22 Mars 2012

Planning to leave Seattle on April 22d and progressively return to Yakutsk where Gulnara and I will start cycling around May 15th as I mentioned in my last post.

Back in Yakutsk in early May 2012!
Tuesday April 3, 2012 -
We are currently planning our return in Yakutsk in mid May and to be able to continue the expedition where we last stopped in November 2011.

We plan to start cycling southwest out of Yakutsk towards China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan and further on.

We will be posting soon:

- a brand new website to supplement the information posted here.
- a new Nexus expedition video tease.
- additional collection of pictures taken in 2011.
- new radio / TV interviews.
- an updated list of our current supportive sponsors.
- potential details on our future route.
- information on what we have been planning/ whom we have been meeting.

We are definitely excited to be back on the trail very soon!

Stay tuned!

Dimitri Kieffer & Gulnara Miftakhova
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Translation provided by Google.

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