Mongolia – Surrender

dsc_0629dsc_0542dsc_0636In Dan Carlin’s podcast about Genghis Khan (Wrath of the Khans) he describes the Mongolian steppe and its harsh weather conditions like an ocean, in which a tsunami could blow off any minute. And why would anyone be surprised?

We are talking about the lands which shaped Genghis Khan, the Great Conqueror. The lands which shaped the little boy who killed his older brother with arrows shot from one meter’s distance into his chest (accusation being that he had stolen fish from Genghis, who back then was more known as Temüjin). The lands which shaped the man who would kill 20-50 million people in the 12th and 13th century.

The man who united the reckless Mongols and who brought order and discipline into the former lawless, wild steppe lands. Who gave no warnings or second chances and raised fear like no others in the Chinese empire. The man who would make his enemies his allies. Who taught his riders to feed on horse blood by cutting their veins open – not deep enough to actually kill the horses.

Mongolia. The lands which shaped Genghis Khan the Great Conqueror. Not great as in noble. But Great as in Merciless. 


When I was 18 I hopped on a plane to Nice, France. From there I planned to bike to Montenegro, and I had never made such a trip on a bicycle before.

Arriving to Nice in the afternoon, I guess a sane thing would have been to have booked an accommodation already. But my mind was set on not planning anything whatsoever. Nope, I was just going to ride my bicycle and see where I’d end up each night, you know?

I met an old bearded man that very first evening of my tour. He was sitting on the street in Nice next to an extremely decayed house, consuming beer bottle after beer bottle, and he proposed I could sleep in the house’s backyard. And I thought: Why the hell not? He seems ok to me – and beyond everything you could expect from a Frenchman: He spoke English!

At first glance I thought he was homeless, but it turned out he lived a few blocks away. At first glance I also thought the house he was sitting at was abandoned, but it turned out it belonged to a man that the bearded man spoke of as “the boss”. Still in my mind I keep calling these men “the Boss and Beer Santa”. Beer Santa because he looked like Santa Claus and sure loved beer.

As we waited for the Boss to come back that evening, we had a lovely chat about beer brands all over the world and Beer Santa also told me – with a little pride in his voice – that he had a collection of more than a hundred cactuses in his home; One of which you could make tequila from.

The Boss didn’t mind me pitching my tent in the backyard, so that’s what I did. The next morning Beer Santa was sitting in the garden reading the newspaper. Not only did he hand me breakfast to bring, he also guided me out of Nice on his motorbike.

DSC_0008My idols Beer Santa and the Boss. I just won’t stop talking about them!

Another night I slept in a basement with blood stains on the floor. A third one in an apartment I had all to myself (and didn’t pay anything for), a fourth one in the home of a loving family.

Needless to say this trip gave me a new life philosophy: That everything always works out in one way or another, no matter what you may need help with.

More than two years later I am cycling the lands of Mongolia. And I’m realizing that my so long trusted philosophy has an Achilles heel. It only applies when there are people around.dsc_0443mm

dsc_0448dsc_0450dsc_0580dsc_0581dsc_0603So this is one of Mongolia’s main roads. Sometimes, it disappears completelylaladsc_0591dsc_0526I don’t know what’s worse in the sense of loneliness in Mongolia: Being a human or being a tree…

I had to face storms before Mongolia. One of the worst was in Turkey, when the lightning kept striking the lands surrounding me and the wind was so strong it took down a full-grown tree right in front of my feet just as I was planning to pitch my tent next to it. But things worked out. I found an abandoned barn in which I could sleep safely that night.

In Armenia I had to outrun thunder clouds touching the ground alarmingly close to me, and I rode through the most frightening thunder storm I have ever witnessed. But things worked out that time too. Angela, a kindhearted English teacher and her son David, took me in to their home. She spent the whole evening washing and drying my clothes and gave me so much food to bring.

East of Tehran storms seemed to be constantly present, and since the steppe wouldn’t provide any shelter I spent most nights lying awake worrying that my tent would break. Actually there was this one pole that broke open in both ends. I repaired it with a sleeve. The other end broke. I repaired that one with a sleeve too. The sleeves broke. I switched ends of the sleeves so that the none-broken ends would support the broken ends of the pole instead. One of the sleeves broke in that end too. I fixed it with one of my spoons and a lot of duct tape.

Just about a month later, in Dushanbe, I could finally have that one tent pole replaced but man I missed my sleep in Iran… Still, I always knew that if the tent would break completely people were never far away. I would never have to risk to spend a night without shelter.


dsc_0633dsc_0707dsc_0674dsc_0609dsc_0617Wild gazelles!

Since September it has no longer been possible to apply for a visa at the Chinese embassy in Ulaanbaatar, and hence my plan was to end this trip in Ulaanbaatar and not Beijing as I initially was thinking.

But it ended sooner than that, just about 1300 km before – just in the beginning of my ride through Mongolia.

dsc_0546dsc_0643dsc_0632dsc_0627dsc_0489I am facing a furious headwind all day, but as I set camp it is all still. I feel relieved, because my tent is all exposed on the steppe. At 10 PM when I’m about to go to sleep however, it happens. A storm rolls in.

It feels like I have been thrown into a washing machine and I just cannot bring myself to fall asleep. The tent is bending from one side to the other horizontally as if a bunch of giants are using it as their wrestling arena. I can’t stand the noise. Not only the noise from the tent being shaken, but that howl coming from the distance. That howl telling me the next gust is on its way. It comes closer… and Bam! The next wrestling round is on.

At midnight I have had enough. There got to be something I could do about this whole situation, right? It’s all dark but I start carrying rocks to my camp to build a wind stopping wall. After an hour I realize it’s pointless. The wind is coming from all directions, and it would take the whole night to build a wall high enough to protect the tent from it. Repositioning the tent, seems pointless too even though I make various attempts to do so.

I decide to go back in. You’re panicking for nothing, I tell myself, there’s nothing to be afraid of. Just stay calm and try to get some sleep. Dawn will come eventually.

I listen to music next, trying to distract myself from what’s going on around me. It doesn’t help that much though. But I am afraid Eminem, man I’m so fucking afraid!

At 3 AM I am still awake, my body trembling from fear. There is sand everywhere by now. Layers of sand on my stuff, in my face. That’s when I know it. I know that if I don’t take my tent down now, it will break. So that’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to get out there, in the sand gusts, and take the tent down. But I am too late. The tent breaks. One of the threads holding together the poles snaps, and the poles fly around everywhere as if scattered to pieces by an explosion. I can hardly stand up in the wind, but I rush to collect them all – it turns out several of them are bent but only one is literally broken in half.

14697225_1381941088501216_124452817_oI spend the rest of the night lying on the top of my tent under bare sky with sand swirling around me and getting into my eyes no matter how I try to cover my face in the sleeping bag. I let all of my other things remain inside the tent as I sleep on it to keep them from flying away. My pair of thicker pants already did as I tried to put them on – the wind pulled them from my grip and they were gone in a blink.

Dawn seems an eternity away and the ground is shaking so violently I am convinced there’s an earthquake coming for me. But it’s just the storm playing tricks.

Sometime at 5 AM I manage to get some sleep, although constantly waking up to brush away sand from my face. At 7 AM I wake up to find that my face and sleeping bag are getting wet. A snow storm is approaching, so I better pack and get moving.

dsc_0723dsc_0724dsc_0734dsc_0736dsc_0738I managed to hitch a ride here – the truck looks so misplaced…

In summers the Mongolian steppe is crowded by shepherds and nomads living in their gers. In October however, the steppe is completely desolated. People have moved into the villages over the winter already, and the villages usually seem to be about five days’ riding apart. Adding up to the fact that maximum one vehicle passed me each day, I realized there was no such thing as “everything always works out” anymore. Because there was no one around, just me. There was lucky and there was unlucky.

That night when my tent broke it was only about minus 5 °C, but later on in November temperatures could easily reach minus 25 at night. Imagine sleeping through that in a snow storm if your only shelter breaks.

Even if I repaired the tent, it had proved no reliability in storms. Not even if I would somehow obtain a brand new tent of that same model, would I have continued across Mongolia. Because there is no way I’m ever going to trust that tent in stormy weather again. And there is no way I’m taking on such vast, sparsely populated lands as Mongolia in extreme weather and temperatures without a reliable shelter. Because if things really would go wrong – if the temps would have been colder that night – there would be nobody around to help.

When I was little I was so scared of bugs I decided I had to do something about it. So I started to pick spiders up in my hand each time I spotted one. And I forced myself to keep them in my hand until I wasn’t afraid anymore. But man it’s so much easier to pick up a physical being (ok so maybe not a hippo) than it is to pick up a whole fucking country.

I wanted to keep Mongolia in my hand until I wasn’t afraid anymore. But I just couldn’t. It freaked me out way too much. My tent had broken and I was too alone, too exposed. So I decided to let go. I decided to go home and leave the last leg of my trip behind. For now.

It’s not a “hey I’ve had enough of this bike touring shit now, I’ll go home and just do charter and five star hotels from now on”.

It’s a “hey, I’m starting to like this life a plenty lot and I’d like to keep it a little longer, you know?”

Mongolia sure is one heck of a remarkable, extraordinary place and I’ll have to go back. In fact it might just be topping the list. But I’ll bring a better tent next time… and preferably some company too.

dsc_0560dsc_0667dsc_0668dsc_0521dsc_0486dsc_0474dsc_0480And there are so many other places to see as well. Wow, in fact I can’t help but feeling a little stressed about it!

The Dalton Highway, Yukon river, and “Lost Coast” of Alaska.

The Jasper National park and that new built 22 000 km long road in Canada.

The Pacific Crest Trail, Yosemite, Yellowstone and Grand Canyon in the USA.

The jungles of Guyana and Suriname.

The Patagonia region in Chile and Argentina.

The outback of Australia and looking for hobbits on New Zealand.

The Himalayas, the Wakhan Corridor of Afghanistan, and the Karakoram Highway of Pakistan and China.

The wild savannahs of Africa, and further on the mountainous deserts of Namibia and the Zambezi river.

And then of course, there are places more nearby such as Iceland and Lofoten and Svalbard and Sarek and Muddus and…



Soooo what’s your next move?

I’ll yet have to figure out mine (though a part of it will be to hike parts of the Pacific Crest Trail in the USA next summer with my sister of another mister; Saga 😉 )

In the meantime however, I’d like to thank you for following and supporting me during this little venture. Though I am not going to go all cheesy here because that’d just make my cheeks red.

Anyhow, I’ll be back.



Kazakhstan and Siberia’s Great Divide: Winter is coming


It is the end of September and I have made it to a city named Ayagoz somewhere between Almaty and Semipalatinsk in eastern Kazakhstan. The air is raw and biting cold and I did a mistake walking to the supermarket in my flipflop sandals. I hurry on my steps as I walk back to the hotel I’m staying in for the night, drawing my hood tighter around my neck as the wind howls at me. The owner of the hotel speaks to me when I get back – those standard questions about where I’m from and where I’m heading. His son, maybe 10 years old, eagerly showed me his tricks on his new, flashy mountain bike before and even showed me the way to the nearest ATM. I had given him some pocket money for it to show my gratitude and encourage his initiative.

The hotel owner says to me, with concern in his voice: “But October in Mongolia… Winter.”


Lars unfortunately, due to his mother being sick, has to end the tour and catch a flight home from Almaty. Thus I am once again on my own as I leave the European-looking city surrounded by high mountain peaks that could just as well have been the Alps behind. I enjoy the silence and calm which is such an inversion from the crowded city of Almaty that first day, and hit camp early. My tent is pitched in the middle of the grassy steppe and I can vaguely perceive the blue contours of a big, dreamy lake a few hundred meters ahead.


I guess those next days are somewhat entertaining as well. The nature is still quite hilly and I take pleasure from the clear blue skies. But as the landscape flattens out and the wind keeps fighting me (no wind, you’re doing it wrong! I’m going this way, not that way!) I lack motivation more and more. Thoughts are rising in my head. Thoughts questioning what I’m doing.

dsc_0477dsc_0559I share a water melon with these guys by the roadside – guessing it’s my last water melon this yeardsc_0489

The thoughts go: Why are you wasting your time doing something that doesn’t give you anything whereas Siberia is losing its fiery autumn colors and Mongolia isn’t getting any warmer?

And then there’s the response to those daredevil, new-age thoughts.

Wasting time or not, I’m biking every single inch of this trip, those are the principles! Period!

I shove the thoughts presumptuously challenging my fundamental principles aside, and ride through another day with monstrous headwind. Wind? Nah, it’s more like a headstorm.

As the sun approaches the grass-lined horizon folding out the red carpet for dusk’s grand entry, my focus stays on finding shelter. I am a little troubled since all I see is steppe, steppe, with no hint of a hill or one of those groove of trees that I have set camp in so many times before. Then at last, I glimpse a bushy area next to a river. As soon as the road is clear from the few vehicles on it, I head off onto the steppe.

The grass is shoulder high – no kidding – and I find myself trudging around barefooted with water up to my knees in a swamp as I struggle to push the bike forward. The red plate of sun is almost gone by the horizon now, and I’m giving up as I can’t seem to find any solid ground nearby the trees providing shelter. I decide to investigate the area one last time however, and lay the bike down in the grass so that it’s barely visible from a mere meter’s distance and then circle around the trees.

dsc_0543You will think they are villages from a distance, but they are actually just graveyards in the middle of nowhere.. looked the same in Kyrgyzstandsc_0524dsc_0523

In the next moment I feel like Lucy when she stumbles into Narnia through the wardrobe that first time. Hidden in the middle of dense shrubberies and low trees with dry branches creaking hysterically in the extreme wind there is a sacred haven: A fresh-colored green patch of grass just perfectly sized for my tent. I crouch down so that I am no taller than the tent would be pitched and stay in that position as the next round shakes the trees. Just as I had hoped, the blockade of bushes is enough to stop it from reaching my haven. The ground feels moist and soft onto my palms, but I judge it solid enough and the decision is easily made. I have found my home for the night.

Kazakhstan to my left…dsc_0540And Kazakhstan to my right…dsc_0541The days dissolve into each other as the nature is all the same and the wind seems convinced I should turn the other way around. Additionally, the temperature goes below zero at night working as a reminder of what is soon to come. The thoughts keep rising in my head, and I keep shoving them away. But at some point they gain establishment so great that I can’t ignore them anymore.

Would I rather spend another week here, or would I rather be in Siberia now to enjoy those colors before they fade and save myself some time from cold temperatures in Mongolia?

By this time I have ridden about 1000 km into Kazakhstan and about 13 000 km in total and this is finally the rhetorical question that determines it. The one that makes me break my principles and hitch a ride with two different truck drivers for about 250 km and then hop on a train for about 500 km, from Semey – or more known by its old name Semipalatinsk – to Barnaul, Siberia.

And I don’t feel too bad about it as I had first expected. In fact it feels pretty damn good still when writing this from an old, rugged village in the southern Altai Republic of Russia and the principle-breaking definitely turned out to be a micro adventure on its own.

The second truck on the quite desolated road picks me up. The driver introduces himself as Islam (didn’t know one can be named that!), from Chechnya. He’s not driving all the way to Semey but we agree that he can drop me off at a smaller town halfway there. When my bicycle has been lifted onto the top of that huge pile of onions he’s transporting, I climb up to the passenger seat and we head off.

Islam sure isn’t the guy who appreciates silence. Despite the fact that we don’t speak each others’ language, he goes on and on in Russian and gestures wildly whilst at the same time maneuvering the truck sharply to the right and to the left to get around the pothole-infested Kazakh road – seriously the roads in Kazakhstan may just be the worst.

And as we make conversation I’m thinking it’s all a game. Who is the better pretender… who convinces the other part the best that one understands the other as he goes on in Russian and she goes on in English.

Kazakhstan’s roads niet harasho…dsc_0535dsc_0539When time comes for Islam and I to diverge paths, he doesn’t just drop me off at the roadside, no matter how I try to convince him that I’ll be good on my own. Nah, through a radio speaker he calls all the truck drivers passing to find one that is heading in my direction (I didn’t even know they could do that!)

It doesn’t take long until he has fixed me up with another truck driver, a Russian named Jura. Before the next drive however, we all – including Jura’s friend driving another truck – have lunch together at a little diner next to the road. It turns out both Jura and Islam order food for me separately, and I end up with way too much edible stuff on my part of the dining table…

14585576_1378322858863039_156383222_oJura to the left, his friend in the middle, and Islam to the right14610819_1378322722196386_1769602481_nThey had to lift the bike like four meters above ground to fit it in the truck…

The drive with Jura is quieter, and I get the impression he is embarrassed to speak with the few words of English he knows. He does however calls his sister to talk to me for a bit, since she – of all places – lives in Nora, a little town situated in the southern parts of Sweden! It feels odd. There I am, sitting next to a Russian truck driver who can’t speak a word I understand, talking with his sister who doesn’t only speak Swedish but got that typical dialect!

As I make myself ready to hop on my bike again to pedal those last km into Semey’s city centre Jura and his friend look at me with concern, as if they believe I’m not going to make it out there. Maybe they are thinking about the great cold getting nearer – they already shuddered when I told them I usually sleep outdoors in a tent – and I apprehend those last Russian words they speak as a “take care.”

dsc_0520I think this one wants to hitch a ride too!dsc_0487

I stay in a hotel over the night and since the train to Barnaul doesn’t depart until 2.30 pm the next day, I take a cab to the station in the morning to buy my ticket and then spend another few hours in my hotel room. As I then bike to the station to catch the train however, something’s not right. The station doesn’t look the same – maybe I’m just in another part of it – and I can’t seem to find the women whom I was supposed to hand my bicycle to. I spend some time walking around the station, but then give it up and simply show my ticket to a uniformed worker, hoping he can direct me. He just laughs when he sees my ticket – and that is my confirmation that something is indeed wrong. It takes him forever to explain by google translate – with two words at a time – that I am at the wrong station and that the train had already passed this one. Well fuck, how could I have missed out on the fact that there were more than one station in the city!?

And as a matter of fact – speaking with a little shame in my voice – I break down in tears right in front of him and a few other men. Do I cry because I missed the train? Well that’s the trigger I guess, but not the cause. The cause is simply a mixture of stress and exhaustion and self-loathing and who knows what. Stress and exhaustion because I have been rushing this whole trip from start to get to Mongolia before the wrong season. Who knows what because of who knows what.

Congratulations Elvira – you finally did it. You broke down in public!

So there I am, crying publically in Kazakhstan. Yay me. But it doesn’t even end there. A man asks me if I got 1000 Tenge and before I know it my bike is in his car’s trunk and I am sitting in the passenger seat and we’re rushing to the next station. But we don’t make it in time. Sobbing like a child once again, I hand him my money but he just shakes his head; he doesn’t want it anymore. So I walk away, head low, and sit next to the entrance of the station. An elder couple walk by and ask if they can help? The man even pulls out his wallet, and I quickly reply: “No no sir, keep your money I don’t need it! Spasiba!”

It takes a while until I’m stable and can see things clear again. After all it’s no more difficult than walking up to that same woman in the ticket’s booth and buy a new ticket for tomorrow’s train. And it might have been obvious to you already three paragraphs ago. But hey, to a girl who just left her teens nothing appears easy! 😉

dsc_0537dsc_0553dsc_0556Plenty of workers help me out to get myself and my stuff onboard the train the next day and I’m directed here and there with Russian words constantly buzzing into my ears. All the passengers are by no doubt Russians as many of them are blonder than I am, and I, the foreigner, seem to be the main attraction when I do all the don’ts and don’t do all the do’s. At last, I am seated next to two older men, one older woman and a younger guy. They leave at different stations in the end, but to me it seems they all know each other from before. The phenomenon of being the outsider I guess. I get most attached to the old lady. She keeps singing Russian songs and gives me sweets.

The young guy doesn’t say a word. But it’s he and I who are the targets when the Kazakh border guards enter the carriage with their dogs searching for narcotics. It takes forever and the guards keep calling back the dogs to us. The foreigner and the guy from Chechnya – couldn’t be more obvious why we are the suspects. They don’t look through the other passengers’ stuff – just ours, item by item. I think we stand still for about two hours. The Russian border guards take their time as well, but they don’t discriminate. Ok so of course they interrogate me more than the others… but not nearly as much as I had expected. I expected to be grilled, but they were easy on me.

“Why are you going to Barnaul?” Easy one.

“I will bike, velociped, from there to Mongolia sir.”

“Do you got any books?” The uniformed man continues and I make sure to keep eye contact as I reply:

“Yes sir.”

“What kind of books?”

“Novels, sir.”

“Show me.”

And I – with everybody’s eyes upon the foreigner – climb up to my seat above the bottom one and pick up one of my books to show him. He browses through it briefly and goes on:

“Do you write books about your trips? Articles?”

“No sir.”

“It’s just a hobby?”

I repeat his words.”Just a hobby sir.”

And it’s all done and he stamps my passport without even making a comment on the fact that I am a tourist entering Russia on a business visa. Phew.


Those first days look more like a resemblance of Skåne than Siberia in my eyes. The space is occupied by winding farmlands with shoulders of birch trees defining their frontiers. I pitch my tent in one of those. As I make my way out of Mayma however, the sceneries get more delicate by each day.

What the… flowers, in October? Siberia, are you alright!?dsc_0571So atmospheric 🙂dsc_0575I am riding the Chuysky Trakt road, by some spoken of as “Siberia’s Great Divide” and built by Gulag prisoners in the 1930s. Gulag prisoners. People who were deprived their liberty by Josef Stalin, who caused the deaths of millions of people, and who coined the infamous quote: A single death is a tradegy, a million deaths is a statistic.

These thoughts – backed up by my vision registering a mountainous pine tree landscape very similar to Svaneti – bring me back to Georgia, where there were numerous streets named “Stalin’s street”; Where there were streets named after a genocide murderer who killed more people than Adolf Hitler.

Name a street after Josef Stalin and no one bats an eye.

Do the same with Adolf Hitler and everyone loses their minds.

Just gotta love the logic of this world.

dsc_0597dsc_0609dsc_0626dsc_0009As I embark further onto the composition of those Gulag prisoners, the deep woods decrease in density and the steppe takes overhand (still doesn’t mean it looks anything like Kazakhstan though).

I am following the river, which after summer’s hard work taking care of the glaciers’ melt water rapid and vigorous is now calm and still, preparing for its winter slumber. The sunbathing trees by the waterside shimmer like golden decorations on a crib and I let my eyes scan the nearby hillsides to detect any potential movement. To my disappointment, the movement detected is always caused by a cow or a gracing horse – never do I see a wolf, an eagle or a moose. And I’m guessing the bears went to sleep already anyway. I do however spot a huge deer when descending Seminsky pass, but what puzzles me is the orange paper tag in its left ear. Domestic or wild deer? I don’t know.

So does anyone know what kind of deer this is!?dsc_0667mmdsc_0669

I’m lovin it…dsc_0918mmdsc_0822dsc_0835dsc_0903dsc_0932dsc_0975aadsc_0944I pass through another village, looking no different from the one before. The timbered logs are positioned in a quite delightful pattern to the eye; Some of which bleached from age and weather and some with light brown, stainless wood letting you know they were built just last year. The loop-holes for windows are all black and none-see through, cutting you off from what’s going on in there.

A few people add some life to the streets though; A couple of school girls all geared up in winter clothes carrying rucksacks which I assume are stuffed with books, and a woman holding onto a toddler’s hand exiting a shop. There are also the dogs frenetically barking from inside the fences as I ride by.dsc_0912dsc_0041dsc_0976dsc_0011Please come with me to Mongolia dog, guard me and keep me warm!dsc_0819Ah well, I guess my big and fluffy down jacket will have to do it instead…14672645_1377979112230747_2038025240_oThe temperature is minus 5 degrees Celsius and a light snow fall introduces itself as I leave the village of Aktash at 8 am in the morning. This means, I disappointingly state to myself, I won’t get those remarkable views of the Altai mountains that I was hoping for. And I get this confirmed a few hours later as I face my first big mountainside in Siberia – veiled in clouds and barely visible. I try to comfort myself: At least you got wonderful sights of the woods in autumn colors before. But it just won’t do it. I want to see those mountains. I have to see those mountains.dsc_0014dsc_0017dsc_0050And I do see those mountains. As I reach the first plateau, vague rays of sun pierce the clouds. Hope starting to rise in my chest, I decide to take a break and await a clearer sky. I end up staying on that same spot for more than an hour, witnessing how the clouds slowly disperse and give way to the high peaks behind. Before I know it, I am jumping around in ecstasy under a clear blue sky with the biggest grin you could possibly imagine. And that grin stays glued onto my face for the whole rest of that day.


That fact that I am here, I am now, right in this moment makes me feel happier and more fulfilled than anything. And I really can’t believe my eyes when each time I think that I’m leaving the greatest sight behind – there is a better one waiting around the corner!

As I get nearer Kosh Agach, the landscape transforms into what I imagine Mongolia looks like. Rather than timbered brown logs, the houses are a palette of blue, green and yellow. The steppe-looking plateau in the enchanting evening light plays with my perception, making me believe it’s somehow half liquid, floating around in space.

Panorama views of pointy snow capped mountains are surrounding me in each direction and I feel like a loyal dog who reunites with her human for the first time in years. Just like a dog licking its human all over, I’m making sure to have my eyes all over those mountains; Spinning my body around until I feel dizzy and bending my neck as close as I can get to 180 degrees so that it feels like I’ve just been headbanging all evening to Kreator.

Temperature falls below minus 10 degrees that night, but I fall asleep comfortably tucked in my sleeping bag thinking that this day will be forever manifested in my mind.


I am loving every bit of my ride in Siberia, and it seems my only “problem” is that I have troubles getting anywhere due to the fact that I’m continuously stopping for another great view. It’s that magic of the autumn that’s gotten onto me I guess. Autumn. When everything’s on fire and the air’s so fresh you feel reborn, just like the phoenix rizing from ashes. But nevertheless am I aware that autumn is soon to give away the baton to the next runner.

The freezing night by those pine trees at Seminsky Pass told me.

The light snow fall powdering the mountains white in Aktash told me.

The hotel owner in Ayagoz told me.

They all told me.

Winter is coming


The Pamirs: The Birth and Death of the Day

Sometimes, you run when you don’t actually need to. Other times, you don’t run when in fact you have to.

I am not sure whether I am standing there, as if completely paralyzed; because I don’t understand what is happening – or because I understand all too well.

I swear time is twisted around itself. It is all taking place in slow motion, and yet rushing faster than itself.

The first sign is a murmuring sound. First vague, crawling from a distance, and then louder – as if the barren valley transforms into a highway.

A cloud of dust from high above my head. The first bird fleeing. Then another one, and then a whole bunch of birds retreating from the rocks rumbling loose the mountainside.


And then Lars’ voice piercing the air from a distance, from that huge boulder behind which we had set camp to protect ourselves from the worst case scenario. And that’s when I do what I have to. That’s when I run.


Among all the countries I have been to so far Turkmenistan is definitely one of those that I have put on my “must go back to-list”. Unfortunately I am way behind in my blogging so I won’t give you much detail about neither my stay in this nation nor its neighbour Uzbekistan, but I’ll give you a short briefing with a few photos.

dsc_0338dsc_0364The women in Turkmenistan dressed a lot more colourfully than Iranian women. Most wore long, beautiful dresses but didn’t necessarily cover their arms. Some didn’t wear head scarves and the ones who did usually wore them differently from what I am used to: Like a turban tied in their forehead or like a bandana tied in their neck.


dsc_0374The majority of Turkmen people are extremely poor and yet this is the country of grand buildings and statues. The former dictator went so far in his narcissism and hybris that he even made a golden statue of himself in Ashgabat that moves so that it synchronizes the earth’s orbit around the sun, so that the beams of light always touch the dictator’s face. Dear Mr. Dictator, there should be plenty of better things to do with that money?dsc_0394

dsc_0371My two little friends in Mary, carefully and curiously investigating every single component of my bike.dsc_0422dsc_0423dsc_041190 % of Turkmenistan is desert and I got the impression of it being a wild, yet quite unexploited country in the sense of nature. Despite the striking heat I was frequently tempted to take off from the main road and explore one of those dirt roads leading to who knows where. An adventure of such is definitely on my to do-list, if they would just be willing to grant me more than a five days visa next time…dsc_0418dsc_0488I found the Turkmen people to be as generous as the Iranian people, and what I liked even better was that their generousity and kindness never felt as forced as Iranians’; It was always genuine. You see when I was in Iran I felt like they felt obliged to be kind simply to prove all the prejudices wrong (and it’s a shame really that they have to do this at all, that we are discriminating this country so damn much) but it just made it all wrong. There were simply too many people making sure: You love Iran, yes? Iranians are all very nice to you, yes? The Turkmens were never interested in asking this. They were just so at ease, and I felt so relaxed around them.dsc_0484dsc_0485

dsc_0380mmBravo Elvira, you completely worn out your first tire...

Once crossing borders to Uzbekistan I spent some nights in Bukhara, a former Silk Road metropolis, to recover from the tough Desert Dash ride.

dsc_0521dsc_0540dsc_0584dsc_0640dsc_0641dsc_0647dsc_0665 I rode just a few hours together with a Swizz couple heading to South-East Asia, this part of Uzbekistan was in fact quite mountaneousdsc_0681I spent one night under the stars on a farmer family’s lands and it’s one of my most precious memories from this trip. They were all sleeping under the stars but the kids since their little cabin wasn’t big enough for all of them. They barely had anything but yet they were so kind and I had so much fun that evening. They could not offer me a shower or a pair of those slippers that everyone wears indoors around here. But we could push each other around in the dirt and make fun of each other and I loved it!

The girl in the photos below is 16 years old and strong as an oxe. When I hit my head in a tree branch, she simply broke it off with her bare hands and a shrug of her shoulders: “Problem solved.” I will never forget her name. Mahleyo.dsc_0683dsc_0684dsc_0687dsc_0694dsc_0696dsc_0697Don’t ever assume that you are alone in Uzbekistan. There are literally people everywhere and even the most social person will go maniac from trying to reply to all the “hello! hello! hello! hello!” greetings in the villages. This field worker’s family in the photo came running out from the bush to say hi as I paused to drink some water.

The border crossings into Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were both complicated and time-craving involving long interrogations that I had rehearsed in forehand and thorough investigations of my equipment. Crossing borders into Tajikistan felt like a bliss in comparison; they didn’t x-ray my panniers, didn’t ask me to open them to examine what was in them by hand; didn’t ask me to declare my money or show them my medicines. Nope, they were interested in nothing of that. Yet I ended up being held there for about half an hour. Reason being: They just had to know whether or not I would settle down in Tajikistan if I fell in love with a Tajik man. Well fellow solo females, I rather take another border crossing like this than nervously observing how a border guard goes through my panniers with that I am sure there’s narcotics in here-look. How about you?

The rumors about Dushanbe, Tajikistan’s capital, turned out to be true. There were indeed a couple of real supermarkets there. (Trust me, if you have spent the past months in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran particularly (seriously I didn’t even find a real supermarket in Tehran!!) this is front-page news. In fact I still get euphoric each time I enter a big ass supermarket, letting my eyes smear upon all that wonderful edible stuff lined up on the shelves).

I met up with Lars in the city (whom I rode with in Georgia) and together we planned on taking on the supposedly toughest road one can take across the Pamirs; the Bartang Valley.

The first time I came across it back home I was in the office supposed to do work. Instead I ended up flickering my eyes upon the computer screen trying to find as much information as possible about this remote stretch of the Pamirs, spellbound by the photos a few bloggers had published. That was the most interesting thing though. There was not much information available about the Bartang Valley on the web. Not many people seemed to have done it.

Ever since it was on my highlight-list of my upcoming Eurasia-trip. I had to do it. If Lars would be on it? Dude. He is the Lost Cyclist!

We had to ride about 450 km on the Pamir Highway before taking off to our valley however, and we couldn’t help feeling a little impatient and restless as we did.

First off before we arrived into the actual Pamirs was a mountain pass of about 3200 m and we set camp just below the top as we couldn’t have enough of the views from there. It looked splendid really; The evening sun making the whole landscape appear like a painting created by an artist with a passion for contrasts; Patches of shadow and patches of highlight alternating one another.
dsc_0732mmOnce we descended the mountain pass the next day, we reached a river. And not just any river. The river that parts Tajikistan from Afghanistan. It felt surreal, getting glimpses of Afghan people’s lives and greeting them with waves and cries as they were doing farm work or passed on a motor bike. And it felt unfair. That just because we were tourists on one side of the river, we were safe – well relatively. And just because they were villagers on the other side of the river, they had to live under constant fear of the taliban.

Riding on Tajik ground, Afghanistan to the right
Lars and I often told each other the road looked more adventurous on the Afghan side of the river…
Glimpses of Afghanistan: A girl collecting water by the river
Boys playing with each other
Farmers – I guess we did it the same way a hundred or two hundred years ago?

We camped right next to that river once, and it is by far one of my all time favourite camp sites!

A bunch of photos from before Bartang Valley
No wonder he was faster than me in the uphills! This just gotta be cheating!?dsc_0719
dsc_0811The main highway in the Pamirs is quite populated with touring cyclists, and each time we told one we were going to do the Bartang Valley it seemed none didn’t actually believe we were going to make it. No, we were probably going to give up about halfway-through and have to turn around to M41 again.

“But I heard it’s the toughest road through the Pamirs!”

“There will be floods up to your waist!”

“At some stretches you will have to detach your panniers from your bikes and carry each across separately!”

Maybe we were meant to be discouraged by these comments, but they did nothing but getting us even more excited!
img_7470The day we were to leave Rushan and take off the main road however, excited was the least thing I was. You see, my stomach sickness couldn’t have arrived with better timing than it did. One does not simply ride across Tajikistan without getting a sick stomach. And I don’t remember ever being so sick in my life before. It was pure fucking misery. But at least I was not puking anymore the day we left, and we both agreed that we had had enough of that incredibly claustrophobic and bacteria-infested guesthouse, so off we went.

“Are you going to the hospital?” The son in the guesthouse asked as we loaded our bikes.

“No, we are going to Bartang Valley!” Lars had cheerfully replied, the son looking at us as if we were crazy tourists not knowing what we were getting ourselves into. So not only was Bartang Valley infamous amongst our fellow cyclists, but also amongst the locals. Too weak to talk and nearly too weak to even stand up – my posture was like a sack of meal nearly tipping over – I just nodded, yes, Bartang Valley. Awesome.
dsc_1027The first 20 km or so as we had left the M41 was paved road, and that was all we did that first day.  An impressive distance of 20 km – that’s how much I had the strength to do haha!

On our second day, we ran into a couple of French guys walking down the road. It turned out they were cyclists too.

“But this is all we have left” one of them said and held up a pannier. They gave us no sequel or even hint of what had actually happened to their bikes. And we never asked for it either, which we regretted later. Those French guys were the only foreigners we ever saw during our nine days in Bartang Valley. We knew however that a bunch of Ukrainian cyclists had entered it just before us, so we were probably going after them the whole time.

the French guys hiking back to Rushan, they had apparently been walking for three days…
dsc_0849The first half of the valley is however populated with villages, and Lars raised the question: “How come people went this far up the valley and settled down in the first place?” What brought them here, to such a vast place? Suppression from their own? If anybody knows, please let us find out.

Seeing to how closely the road went by the river, it’s only logical it disappears into the water sometimes I guess…
We had to make one pretty hard river crossing… the current was really strong and I thought I’d lose both myself and the bike to it at first!
The people in Bartang Valley are poor and live off their own lands, but obviously educated. Seemingly more educated than those in the villages along the main road, in my opinion. Many spoke nearly perfect English, and I talked more to one woman specifically as we were given carrots from her garden. She wished to travel too but she didn’t have the money.

“But Tajikistan is beautiful!” I guess I wanted to cheer her up by these words, making her aware that most people would love to travel to the place where she had spent her whole life. But that was the matter. That she had spent her whole life there.

“It is beautiful to you”, she said, “but this is what I see every day. I am used to it. I want to see something else.” She was right, of course. It is inevitable not to get blind to your every day surroundings. And it is not until now for instance – when I have been on the road for months – I have realized what a beautiful capital Stockholm is, the city I spent my whole life in.

The views from going up and down a little pass in Bartang
dsc_1006Don’t expect to find much stuff in the shops in these villages. As I said, they live off their own lands so it’s not necessary for the shops to sell much. You might find some biscuits, noodles, and lollipops. As for me it didn’t really matter at the time. I had no appetite anyway, and we had stocked up with food for ten days in Rushan.

Bridges like these brought up the discussion whether we should try them simply to see if they hold or not…
In most villages in the valley women didn’t veil themselves or wear headscarves, but in one women dressed very differently from the others. They veiled their hair and faces but not in a hijab or burqa. Instead they had simply used pieces of clothing wrapped around their heads, leaving a narrow spring for their eyes to look through. I have seen similar clothing on both men and women in the desert to protect themselves in case of a sand storm, but in this village it seemed to be a cultural dressing code rather than a practicality, and no man did it.

We asked some of these women where we could find a “magazin” (as it’s called in Russian, though I’m not sure of the spelling) and they showed us to an old booth with mouldering wooden planks and pitch black, soiled windows. In a few minutes, some teen boys unlocked the booth for us.

It was dark in there, and a huge Marco Polo sheep scull was lying on the layers of dust covered floor! Parts of the rotting meat and blood-drained fur was still smudged onto its scull, and Lars and I later discussed whether the sheep had been illegally shot or not. Most likely, we agreed, it had indeed been illegally shot. We bought a few eggs and lollipops from the teen boys and then we moved on to find camp.

Another scull of the Marco Polo sheep, laying at the border to Kyrgyzstan
These people below lived in a cabin in the middle of nowhere after we had left Kudara and they invited us in for tea
We met a shepherd on the road once, who had lost several of his sheep. “Tiger” he had told Lars, which should be translated into “snow leopard”. It was indeed true that we were in a snow leopard habitat. Unfortunately, chances of spotting this extremely endangered species, are pretty much equal to zero.

Still though, just the thought of a snow leopard wandering around maybe within a 100 km radius from you makes your heart pound a little extra. By no doubt it is one of this planet’s most mythical carnivores. In fact I believe its act of hunt in the wild has only been documented by a film camera once in history. Sadly but not too surprisingly, we never saw any snow leopards. Neither did we ever see the Marco Polo sheep alive.
On our last night before Kudara I believe, we had alarmingly steep mountain sides surrounding us in each direction with large boulders that had once fallen from the mountain scattered around everywhere, making me think of the trolls that turned into stone when trying to eat Bilbo Baggins. To make sure we’d be safe for the night, we camped behind one of these. The night was all calm but as I went to do my business in the morning however, it started.

A landslide. And I didn’t react immediately. I didn’t run when I should have. Not until I heard Lars shouting: RUUN! RUUUN!

That’s when I ran. I ran towards the cryout words going on repeat: Ruun! RUUN! I ran as if my life were on it. Because it was.

I remember continously glancing back over my shoulder as I ran. How the land slide escalated in size each time I did. How the noise from boulders thumping to the ground got louder each time. How the whole mountain seemed to decay above me. And I kept telling myself: faster faster faster

And then I was finally safe behind that huge boulder at our camp, cathing my breath like crazy and with legs aching from lactic acid.

Lars said it had looked as if taken from an Indiana Jones movie, although instead of a hat I had been holding a roll of toilet paper. “So your trademark would be a roll of toilet paper instead of a hat!” Gah fine, I’ll do it. I’ll be the toilet paper girl.

The aftermath. Believe me it was huge, I never thought I would ever witness such a thing!
We were a little nervous riding here after what had just happened…
This photo is taken just upright the mountain side
The real wilderness began after we exited the last village post; Kudara. From then on, there would be no more village until Karakol, 150 km northeast. That was also when the steeper climb began up to the plateau. Before, we had been slowly ascending through a narrow canyon. Now, we were finally to enter the open surfaces of the steppe-looking plateau lined with majestical mountain peaks reaching for the sky, some of them as high as 7000 m. Unfortunately, the sky was covered in clouds on one of these days when we were supposed to get our best views. Even though this meant lesser sceneries however, it added some mystique to it.
No doubt the plateau was our favourite part of the Bartang Valley. The sights were more epical, and the sense of being in the wild was greater. Unlike the rocky, bumpy road in the canyon this one was made of sand – unfortunately it also meant it was a washboard (corrugations). Luckily, it was okay riding next to the road as the ground was packed and solid.
My hunger gradually came back and here I could appreciate a Snickers pause...
So Lars was convinced this was a seal at first. Then he was sure that “ok then, it’s just a rock”. But it was neither – it was a marmot and we saw plenty more of them on the plateau!
dsc_0114nnI I really liked the looks of this other one!dsc_0274
Though the Bartang Valley never was as tough and challenging as people had told us, we were pretty relieved when we after nine days reunited with asphalt again back on M41. I guess that’s the charm about a valley as such anyway. The rumors go around… and nobody really knows for sure what happened and what did not happen to those who went there.

From this…
To back on asphalt!
Ahhhhh Marmot attack!! FOR NARNIAAAA (Yep, that’s right. I mean comon he’s a freaking marmot – obviously a Narnian and not a Spartan, right?)
Lake Karakul must be one of the most beautiful and breath-taking places on earth. My eyes just couldn’t get enough of it! Sadly, the pictures don’t really make it justice.

Outside a shop in Karakol we ran into our first other touring cyclist since we left Rushan. He was from Holland and we shared camp with him for a night. The most interesting thing about him was that he suffered from narcolepsy. For those of you who don’t know this disease decreases the ability to regulate the sleep cycle and one can for instance unwillingly fall asleep in the middle of activities and those infected can – among other things – officially not drive cars. Unlike less fortunate however, this guy had learnt to feel his urge to sleep coming and hence stop what he was doing in time for it. When we rode together, he would therefore have to stop every now and then to let himself sleep for a few minutes next to the roadside.

With the cyclist from Holland
img_7497As you may tell from the pictures the Pamirs are generally an extremely dry, desert-looking mountain range and it felt unreal to cross the mountain pass that make out the border between Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. It wasn’t a gradual change. Nah, it was like an explosion – in a blink all those brownish rocky mountains transformed into a lush, prospering green. And the valleys became occupied with the nomad people’s yurts from which puffs of smoke were rising.

The landscape just before the borders to Kyrgyzstan
In Kyrgyzstan
The main reason for traffic congestions
Spot the cyclist! (Below)
Reunion at the Kyrgyz border! Funny as it is, Lars and I had both met these Austrians motor bikers before – but not at the same time. I met them at a hostel in Cappadocia back in Turkey, and Lars met them in Osh a couple of months later…
img_7505Kyrgyzstan was the easiest border crossing I have made since Bulgaria! Just a stamp and then we were in. To save ourselves some time we followed the main road for our whole duration in the country so there’s a lot to explore still – but no worries, Kyrgyzstan is visa free!

And in my next post I will explain why saving time was so important…
The dark has fallen and the air is just perfect; Not too hot, not too cold; not too dry, not too humid. We have set camp on a beach next to the river, which means that the lands of Afghanistan are just about 50 m away. In fact, the steep, craggy-looking mountainside in Afghanistan is piling up so high and close to us that it kind of clutches onto our faces.

And it is all still. The only sounds are those splashing ones occasionally coming from the river, and the rhythmic performance of the crickets. Not to mention the sparkling from the open fire we have made. I look into the mysteriously dancing flames upon the carbonized wooden chips and inhale the scent of smoke as I let my thoughts wander away to places where I can merely see them.

There are no mosquitos bugging us. We are sitting in the sand – that kind of sand that’s perfectly smooth and cool when it softly touches your skin –  and we are eating a water melon that we have split in half. I let my half rest on my lap as I cut a square pattern in it just the way I was taught by a water melon seller earlier on, with the Swiss army knife that I got from my sister before I left. The sensation of the finegrained sand lightly embedding my feet and the fresh-tasting water melon in my mouth give me goosebumps and I feel so at peace.

Every now and then a mysterious light flashes from the Afghan side of the river high up on the mountainside, and we are wondering what it is. Field workers going home carrying a torchlight to see their way in the dark? Is our guess.

Above us, there is the endless black cradling millions of stars millions of light years away, and the fuzzy white powder of the milky way is the cradle’s blanket. A star falls. The biggest one I have ever seen and for a moment I believe it will crash into the earth crust as its tail stretches across the whole sky, intensely glowing white.

And I ask myself:

Is this life?

I can’t believe this is life




Psst! For those of you who don’t mind reading in Swedish Lars has written his version of our ride together here