I used to have a recurring dream when I was a little boy. In fact, it was more like a nightmare, surfacing from the depths of my mind, whenever I was sick with high fever.

I’m in a desert, trying to walk on top of a white (oil?) pipeline suspended in the air, half a meter from the ground. It extends towards the horizon for as long as the eye can see. I try to keep in balance on the round surface like a tightrope walker. It’s hard, and I sometimes fall down on the ground. It’s not a sandy desert. There are sharp rocks all around. But the surface seems to flex down when I step on the rocks with my bare feet. As if there is a very soft material below the sharp rocks. The rocks still hurt bad enough, so I climb back on the pipe and walk some more, until I fall again, and again…

I’m now in a desert in Mongolia, trying to ride a motorcycle. The road seems to extend towards the horizon for as long as the eye can see. I try to keep in balance on the soft, rocky surface. It’s hard, and I sometimes fall down on the ground. It hurts. I lift the loaded bike with great difficulty. My suspension dampening has been broken for three days now, so I’m riding on the spring, flexing up and down with each rock on the ground. Then I fall again, and again…

It felt eerie to suddenly recall this dream I had more than 20 years ago as I was staring at the motorcycle lying on the ground in front of me. But it didn’t frighten me as much as it did when I was a kid. I must have grown up. I know now; nothing lasts forever. Not even this desert. I also have grown to understand that patience is my biggest power. It is the only thing I have anyway.

Mongolia was a big question in my mind since the beginning. On one hand, I wanted to choose the most economical route around the world, and on the other, I hated the idea of missing something just because it’s out of the way… I knew that if you really wanted to have a pleasant time in the Mongolian terrain, you needed a lightweight dirt bike with minimum load. I knew that this would be a huge detour and I was already running out of time. But I purposely kept delaying the decision till the last moment. Actually, I never answered it. I just rode into it.

When I left Barnaul in Russia, instead of following the nice pavement eastward, I found myself riding towards the Altai, a region of great mountains dispersed between Kazakhstan, China, Russia and Mongolia. They look so majestic and sacred, that it’s not hard to understand why the people living around still hold onto their old shamanistic beliefs. There were shrines made up of stone piles on the side of the road. Travelers passing by, make the effort to stop and add a few more rocks on the pile, creating miniature mountains complete with sky-blue scraps of clothe wrapped around the peak. The same architectural color theme I’ve been observing since Uzbekistan…

Border crossing out of Russia and into Mongolia wasn’t too difficult except that I had to go back once to get the real exchange value from the guy who tried to rip me off.

Just when I was getting ready to ride into the country, I heard someone calling my name across the Russian side. It was Tom, one of the guys in the Mongol Rally. They had an accident and rolled their car a few days ago. His partner looked badly injured and the car was barely moving. They wanted to cross the border but the doors were closed. He needed my help to notify the officials of their arrival. I waited for them until they cleared the crossing. They went straight to Bayan Olgii to catch a flight back home. I stayed in Chagaannuur for the night.

The locals I stayed with, convinced me that the northern one was impassable due to the recent rains. River crossings were much harder there compared to the ones south. The southern route is longer but there are more vehicles, petrol, people and drinking water.

But more vehicles also means more washboards. Washboarding is a very interesting and annoying phenomenon that happens on unpaved road surfaces over a long period of heavy usage. When vehicles speed up on dirt roads, the bumps on the road cause the suspensions to bounce up and down. Over the years, this frequence starts to become visible on the surface, like an echo of the first initial bump. When more vehicles hit the same surface with the same speed, the echoes only grow larger and keep on extending. In the end, you get a very aggravating corrugation on the road. They call it wasboard, because it looks like the surface of the wood panels used to scrub clothes when hand washing them.