Images by Margus Riga
Mongolia. I had to look it up on a map when I decided I was going there to do a bike race. I didn’t know anything about the country or the race. Personally, the best travel experiences come from the unknown. I like going to race in places that sound kind of crazy. The adventure style mountain bike stage races in underdeveloped countries attract a certain type of racer; racers that are interested in an extreme personal challenge and also are equally as interested in a rich, unique cultural travel experience. I’m starting to see some of the same faces on random parts of the globe at the stage races I choose to do. On Saturday, I’m off to the Mongolia Bike Challenge, a 7 day race across part of Mongolia.
I still do not know a lot about Mongolia. I know it’s between Russia and China, that Ghengis Kahn was the founder of the Mongol Empire, the highest point is 14,437’, there are extreme variations in temperature and landscape, we have Mongolia BBQ restaurants in the US, the stages of the race are 80-100 miles long, and it’s 6,130 miles away. There won’t be many trees. We will be in very remote places sleeping in yurts with with the potential for severe weather. I say bring it! I’m excited to have the opportunity to learn more about the country from first hand experience, meet the Mongols, taste some Russian vodka which apparently flows like our microbrews in Colorado, and meet some new friends.
Aside from the excitement of travel, it’s not all roses. There’s a lot of preparation behind an adventure such as the Mongolia Bike Challenge. The flight alone is a 2 day endeavor, and there’s a lot of packing and prep for the unknown. With only a few days out from my travel date, I’m trying to stay organized with lists and print-outs making sure I have all my bases covered. Currently, my biggest stress is that I haven’t been able to ride my bike very much. I started racing in January and it’s that time of year where I’m tired. With an aggressive work travel and race schedule this year, I don’t get a lot of down time. I’m hoping my legs come around for the race, they have been mostly cooperative on race day so far this year.
The Mongolia Bike Challenge has 134 people registered. The women’s field will be small but competitive with several national champions and regular stage race podium finishers coming from Europe. There’s only one or two of us ladies from North America making the journey. It will be the most number of miles I’ve ever ridden in a 7 day period. There won’t be singletrack, but the dirt roads will be heinous and neverending.
To follow the race, go to www.mongoliabikechallenge.com. I’m hoping I’ll be able to check in after a couple days in Ulanbataar although I expect sketchy wifi connection. I’m going a few days early to get used to the 12 hour time difference. This is the race’s 4th year and it’s touted as one of the top five races on the planet. Stage 1 heads out of the capital city, Ulanbataar on August 31. It is 75 miles and 9500’ of climbing. Nervous excitement is surging through my veins, I can’t wait!