When I heard about a project to deliver new motorcycles to park rangers in Mongolia I immediately knew I had to be a part of it. As an avid motorcycle fan and rider, as well as a park ranger in Yosemite National Park, I was honored and inspired to be invited to participate in the Blue Waves Campaign Lake Hovsgol Motorcycle Rally.
The rally did not disappoint. It was equal parts adventure, challenge, teamwork, discovery, and most importantly, philanthropy. Park Rangers around the world are chronically underfunded while protecting the best our world has to offer. To have the opportunity to bring these rangers the tools they need to more effectively do their job was incredible. As a relatively novice off-road rider this was a “crash” course in back country navigation and bike handling.
Through floods, sand, mud, countless river crossings, rocks, passes, pock-filled pavement and more, the travel kept everyone alert and agility and balance were paramount. The support was incredible, so much more than I would have imagined. From the amazing and plentiful meals prepared each day by camp cooks, to the support drivers and the motorcycle technicians, every need of bike and rider was thought of and taken care of to keep us healthy, energized, and on the trail.
The dedication and spirit of my fellow riders was an inspiration each day – through the worst conditions, constant fatigue, seemingly insurmountable obstacles – the riders were a constant support for each other with laughter, riding tips, encouragement, and the desire to be there for on another. This experience not only changed the lives of the park rangers with new and improved equipment, it changed me, my perception of the world, my desire to do even more, learn more, share more with others. One of my new friends from this incredible country posted a photo of me after the ride with a caption that read “Tom the Mongol.” It’s the greatest compliment I have ever received.
I confess that when I first boarded the plane at SFO, bound for Ulaan Baatar, I had some misgivings. I knew that we were going to ride a 200cc dirt bike over 1000 miles across unfamiliar terrain with a few other like-minded souls; but beyond that, there were so many unknowns.
However, when we were greeted at midnight by the rest of the Mongol Ecology Center (MEC) team at the Chinggis Khaan international airport, I was put to ease immediately. We quickly set off on a whirlwind two week long adventure that I will cherish forever. I was very impressed and grateful that the MEC had assembled such a wonderful and professional support team for our journey.
We watched the annual Naadam festival, saw some fantastic historic sites, met many wonderful people, and endured some challenging conditions, as we worked toward the goal of presenting 15 park rangers with the gifts of our “Blue Horses”. We learned and appreciated many facets of Mongolian history, culture, and food that are not found in any Lonely Planet guidebook. We saw the amazing beauty of Lake Hovsgol and the surrounding terrain. We witnessed how pollution, corruption, and lax laws were affecting the pristine and sacred lands of Mongolia. We met with the Vice Minister of Environmental Affairs and spoke about our cause to preserve the environment.
Over smoky campfires, freezing wet highway rides, and bumpy dirt roads, I forged international friendships that will last a lifetime, with an experience that will always remain in my heart. I cannot wait to do it again in the future!
When I first heard about the ride, I thought "well that should be fun!" Then I realized that there was fund raising involved and started to worry about being able to raise enough money to make it possible to go. The fund raising turned out to be almost and much fun as the ride! I mean, who doesn't like to throw parties, and make fun of people for money?
The whole thing was a great experience, Wesley and Ono and the rest of the MEC did a great job on the (extensive) logistics of getting everyone there, over the route, and back in one piece. Mongolia is a beautiful country and the people are warm and fun. We ate and camped like kings (well, dirty motorcycle riding kings), and saw one of the most remote and mysterious places in the world.
It was definitely an experience of a lifetime!
The riders were also an incredible group, we worked together to raise money for the cause, and rode together in Mongolia, and I have some new friends for life!
The lake, and the park around it are some of the more spectacular places I have been, and I have been to a few. It is a place well worth preserving, and I believe that providing the rangers there with transportation is a meaningful and worthwhile way to help that happen.
Thank you to all who rode, helped, donated, organized, spread the word and made it happen.
Onwards to next year!