Every good man in lycra needs a nemesis.  Superman had Lex Luther; Batman, the Joker; Spiderman, the Green Goblin; even Superted had Texas Pete trying to cause havoc across the world.  My nemesis was first sighted coming into Ulaanbaatar.  He looks very much like me but wears a red cloth across his face, apparently in an attempt to reduce the dust and fumes in the air from entering his lungs, just leaving his eyes visible to the world behind his sunglasses.  I suspect that he has more sinister intentions and is just using it as a disguise as I have discovered over the past couple of weeks that he is working to sabotage my adventure. 

The Boney Bicycle Bandit's first act was to leave my Kindle on the kitchen table after breakfast at the hostel.  As I was cycling out of Ulaanbaatar I realised that I hadn't packed it so hastily turned round to cycle the 20km back to the hostel by which time the Kindle had been taken, never to be seen again.  With my head down, I trudged back out towards the Gobi Desert with very little for evening entertainment.  In another attempt to lighten my load, the Boney Bicycle Bandit managed to dispose of a 1.5 litre bottle of water that I'm sure was securely fastened to my bike so it wouldn't drop off along the bumpy track through The Gobi, and also a full sports bottle of water which was swiped from one of my bottle cages without my noticing.  The problem is that over every bump in the road there is a clunk as all my bags and bike get shaken up and down.  Just to rub salt into the wound, he then left my camera on, draining the battery completely.  Thankfully I was carrying 8 litres of water and the 2.25 litres that I had lost wasn't quite enough to threaten my survival as I got to a town with three-quarters of a litre to spare. 

The Gobi was really hard work but thankfully not as bad as I had been warned as I was able to cycle over 100km a day still.  There was no proper road for much of it and deep patches of sand but for only very short sections where I had to push.  A road is being built through it and although it is not yet finished, I was able to use sections of it having to avoid the large mounds of sand and rubble that are piled up to try to stop motorists accessing it before it's completed.  The heat wasn't too intense and I avoided any sandstorms.  I got to the border and was firmly told, as expected, that I wouldn't be able to ride across.  After negotiating for a ride across the border, I threw my bike and bags into the back of a Chinese 4x4 and we set off.  I was dropped off firstly at the Mongolian section of the border and after repacking my bike pushed this through customs and got my exit stamp no problem and the 4x4 driver was impatiently waiting on the other side to take me onwards.  We crossed no-mans-land and arrived at Chinese immigration at which point I was turfed out again, told to repack my bike and push through immigration and customs and that I could cycle away from here.  I paid the man and wandered with my bike into the building.  By the time I was told that I wasn't allowed to push my bike through and that it had to go through customs in a vehicle, and had lost the argument that this was ridiculous that I had to leave my bike and all my bags in a vehicle with a complete stranger who could just cross the customs area for cars and drive off with it all, the 4x4 driver had gone and I was approached by a number of other drivers looking for my custom.  Another fee negotiated I had my bike in another vehicle and sprinted back to immigration looking very flustered and probably slightly suspicious but thankfully they let me through fairly quickly.  I then ran out into the courtyard on the other side and couldn't see the guy with my bike.  I was greeted by the first driver who sheepishly wandered away when I had told him what had happened and I set off looking through the windows of all the identical looking 4x4s that were exiting customs.  Thankfully my nemesis wasn't around this time and the driver with my bike waved me over, unceremoniously dumped my kit out of his car, took the agreed fee and drove away.  A great sense of relief passed over me and I stood with my bags strewn across the floor, recovering my breath before enjoying the beautifully smooth road into China.

China has been great so far for the most part.  The Boney Bicycle Bandit has been spotted on a number of occasions in the more dusty and polluted areas but has been unable to cause any mischief.  The roads are wide and smooth and the towns full of bicycles.  Every fifth cyclist is a complete maniac but its great to see so many people on bikes and ruling the roads in some places.  The best thing about coming in from Mongolia is that although I passed through mountains, I was almost always descending so got the benefit of the views without the hard work to access them. 

I have been stopped by the police on a couple of occasions.  The first time they were driving in an unmarked van that swerved and braked in front of me to stop me which I ended up going into the back of cursing the driver (I was very thankful he didn't speak English when I discovered he was a police officer)!  After they had checked my documents I asked for directions and they called over a man on a scooter and told him to escort me out of the town on the right road.  My second encounter was the following morning where I was waved over to stop and then given four bottles of clear liquid tasting like flat lemonade, offered a bed in their van to sleep in for a few hours and was the star of their photo shoot as all the officers got out their cameras to take pictures with the funny looking white man on a bike. 

Camping is a bit more difficult in China as there are just people everywhere, particularly the closer you get to Beijing so I have found myself camped under a road only just wide enough to squeeze my tent into, in a small wood in between two roads waking up to a chap working a few metres away, and in the middle of a busy junction on the edge of Beijing as it was the only patch of land people weren't walking through.  My chopstick skills are still dismal and my ability to converse in Chinese even worse but at lit seems to provide the locals with some entertainment.

For a long time I've felt like I've been carrying a lot of luggage on my bike for the size of the thing.  Vehicles in China have made me re-assess that notion somewhat with people transporting vast loads on whatever they are driving.  One of the craziest examples of this was when two motorcycles past, each with three sheep strapped to the back.  One strapped upside-down over the top of the back wheel with its legs stuck straight up into the air, and one held each side of the back wheel with their legs sticking out horizontally.  I thought that these sheep were all dead until one of them lifted its head.  The drivers have obviously been watching too much Wallace and Gromit!
 
Cycling away from the border across into Mongolia, with freshly stitched shorts so I wouldn't show the border police the section of my posterior which has been on display for the last couple of weeks after another stupid stationary fall, left me with a big smile on my face and a huge sense of relief.  Not only because I'd got through both Russian borders without any hassle at all despite all the stories I had heard, but because I was very much ready for a change of scenery and culture.  

I was soon richly rewarded and it was not long before I had concluded that I like Mongolia much better than Russia.  To start with the people in Mongolia are very friendly.  People constantly toot their horns and wave (although this is starting to wear on my patience just slightly), I've had people share their lunch with me and others provide me with cups of tea (which in Mongolia is rather unpleasant and bitter but as they say it's the thought that counts) and the sausages I've been given haven't provided me with an uncomfortable night sleeping with my shoes on ready to run into the bushes at regular intervals as was unfortunately the case the time I was given sausages in Russia.  The views are always beautiful and the hills are long and gradual with no more knee destroying 14% slopes.  Best of all there are no mosquitoes!  Within a couple of hundred kilometers of entering Mongolia I've had a random camel stroll past me as I was setting up my tent, had seen yaks and had to dodge many a cow casually strolling across or just standing on the road.  Exactly what Mongolia is famous for.  In Russia I went thousands of kilometers without seeing a single bear or wolf!

Saying that, Russia had saved her best until last.  The ride from Irkutsk to the border, although a little on the hilly side, was stunning.  The views no longer consisted simply of blocks of birch trees, instead they were dominated by beautiful hills, Lake Baikal and sections of the road ran alongside the Trans-Siberian Railway.  People did become friendlier as I moved further east through Russia and even the train drivers would beep and wave at the skinny, bum-showing Englishman riding past.

I met a cyclist riding the other way two days into Mongolia.  He told me all about the 'road' through the Gobi desert which awaits me over the next week or so.  Apparently I can expect long sections of sand which are simply unrideable and which have thorny plants dominating the land either side.  Other sections of track were so bumpy they caused damage to his bike and provided very sore hands and bottom.  Plus there is the added heat ingredient to add to that as for some reasoI think it's going to be one of those things which I'll be glad I've done but won't enjoy at the time.  Worst of all I heard that I am going to have to cheat to get across the border into China by hitching a lift for 2km as they don't allow folk to ride across.


Finally, the three main sports in Mongolia are wrestling, horse racing and archery.  Whilst not formally taking part in any I have had the opportunity to participate in an alternative form of all three to some extent:

Wrestling: As I pulled up to a shop to stock up on bread, noodles and swiss roll, I was approached by a drunk who demanded that I purchase him some alcohol.  Upon my refusal he threatened to punch me and began trying to rip parts of my bike off.  I passed up the opportunity to wrestle him and thankfully my pedaling was faster than his drunken stumbling.

Horse Racing: I cycled alongside a Mongolian nomad on his horse for a short stretch and he challenged me to a race.  Unfortunately the terrain didn't provide me with much hope as we were heading up a hill at the time and he thoroughly beat me.  The following day I met him again further along the road and this time it was on a long downhill section where I was able to have my revenge.

Archery:  In Ulaanbaatar there are a large number of companies offering tours around Mongolia where you can participate in a wide range of activities.  I walked past one which offered amongst the more standard options the opportunity to head to an army base and fire a live rocket propelled grenade!  Unfortunately due to cost and fear for my safety (and that of anyone else within range) I decided to give it a miss but where else in the world would you get to do something like that!