As Tyler journaled this morning, I began doing some research about the next phase of our road trip: the Altay region of Siberia. As I did so, I noticed that Chuisky Trakt, billed as one of the most beautiful roads in Russia, winds through the stunning mountain range, and ends with a border crossing into Mongolia.
Though we'd always planned on driving through the Altay, as I looked at the map more closely I realized for the first time that it would involve a lot of backtracking to do so. Thinking about the problems that have been worrying me lately, I began to formulate a plan. We should just go straight into Mongolia now!
Previously, we'd intended on entering Mongolia from the north, around lake Baikal. We'd sell our car, perhaps in Irkutsk, and then ride our bikes across the border. However, this idea is currently fraught with numerous logistical issues. The more research I do about Mongolia, the more I become aware that we've messed up our seasons yet again.
We're too slow. If we stick to the "plan", by the time we start cycling there it will be well into September. We'd finish in October when there will most likely be snow and temperatures well below freezing. Tyler doesn't seem to care, saying things like, "Well, we'll cross that icy, raging river when we get to it!"
In some ways, he is right. I've learned that most places aren't intimidating or extreme once you "get to know them" (driving across big bad Siberia is actually quite easy, and I feel confident that doing on bikes wouldn't be so tough either). And yet, I don't think we should take Mongolian winter lightly.
I know there are people out there who cycle in winter for long periods of time. I'm not sure I want to. For now, a January ride in the mountains of southern Italy is about as wintry as I get on a bicycle. I know I could do it, and I know we would survive, but I'm not sure I would enjoy myself very much. I've gotten "HARDCORE!" but I'm not sure I'm that extreme. I really don't know.
For me, Mongolia remains a conundrum. Tyler is, as always, unconcerned.
I'm a little disappointed that we're "behind," but I am overwhelmingly glad we took it really slowly, giving us time to have some truly rich experiences we wouldn't have had otherwise. Some of my favorite things happened simply because we were able to remain so flexible! Things like making dear friends in Munich, spending time with them in Berlin, visiting the Arctic Circle, and meeting some awesome Finns.
So, I had a bit of an ah-ha moment as I looked at the map this morning. Why not drive through Mongolia? Why not take this beautiful road all the way to the border and see if they won't let us into their country? This simple little plan would single-handedly wipe out a good deal of our major "unknowns" and fit very nicely into our lives.
And thus, as we packed up from our hotel and left crowded Novosibirsk, driving towards the Altay, we talked about my idea and made a tentative plan. We're not going to backtrack if we don't have to. We'll cross the border, hope they won't want a carnet de passage (reports vary on this subject) and drive to Ulaan Bator.
Selling the car is tricky in Mongolia (well, it's tricky everywhere) so we'd simply exit the country, and do it near Irkutsk as planned. After all, we have multi-entry visas and we might as well use them! Tentative plan under our belts, I felt a lot more relaxed, able to focus on the scenery around us. No mountains yet, but rolling green hills and the golden light of late afternoon.
When it was time to settle down, we drove along country roads past farmer's fields until we found the right place.
Safely in our tent, yellow leaves tumbled down to meet us. It is, without a doubt, autumn in Siberia.