Meneghina Express’ numbers:

12379 Kilometers in 44 days

350 hours riding

297 batteries recharged

12 countries

4500Kg Co2 reduced vs. gas

Day 6 and 7 - China flag - June 15 and 16

From Sonid Yougi to Dornyn Gobi / From Zaminhud to Sanishand: Been to the desert, know yourself

The operations have started to be more fluid. After five days, some processes become automatic. Let's start with the bikes: now can travel distances varying between fifty and one hundred miles, depending on the type of road and the use of one or two batteries at a time - and when it comes to replace it, we are fast and accurate.

Nicola's on board camera while riding electric bike in the Gobi Desert

As soon as we receive a signal from the drivers and find a safe area to do so, we put close pick-up. Motorbikes stop in the middle. The pilots make ready the batteries for us and we replace it. In meantime we record on the notebook the position of the exhausted ones and those ready for being replaced. It is not complicated, but we need to be coordinated to do it hastily; do not waste time; continue driving. Over the sixth day trip we expect of passing the border between China and Mongolia, and event no less important, to detach ourselves from Carlo.

It has been with us from the beginning - we who have traveled onto the same vehicle and that, from tomorrow we'll replace him in the driver's seat. We learned so much from him, who has always driven go-karts, race cars of all types - and especially we crossed our life with that of a distinct guy, valuable, helpful and brilliant. Goodbye, Carlo. We know that much likely he we'll join us in Bulgaria, or he'll do everything to share with us some thousands of miles in Europe.

While we envisage you at home to enjoy a little 'well-deserved rest, a few minutes later you got on the cab and we greeted, we headed towards the customs and from there began the delirium. Six hours of waiting, among militaries with hard look and impenetrable; bureaucratic documents related to vehicles; moments of hope and loquacity alternate with suspicions and instant of panic. As when we put in the back seat of one of the pick-up a few electronic equipments and, suddenly, two men in plain clothes force us to show them a camera.

The first thing they ask is, "Iu-es-ei?". They want to know if we are Americans, if by chance we took pictures at the border; the uniforms, the hundreds of Russian jeep of a famous brand, which fall in Mongolia. We make out just fine. We display a smile of circumstance but it becomes natural when we show a common interest: the bicycle. One of the policemen rides an up to date model for that place and then the comparison with our bikes becomes easy even though ours aren't bikes, but until proven otherwise, thanks to the electric motor, here are classified as such.

Outside the Chinese border, in a convulsive racing among stamps and stamped papers to be showed and approved, we have to pass the barrier Mongolian. Even here there are moments of healthy confusion: a military intimate to us to proceed. In meanwhile Nicola is in a distant office signing papers, held by bureaucracy. We lose ourselves; we become irritable; we reassure ourselves. We are in Mongolia. No, because about a hundred meters after the entrance, a white car overtakes us and stops us. Agents in plain clothes.

The same people who ten minutes earlier were smiling after having endorsed our passports. All a farce. We didn't convince them before but now we can make it: they open the boxes and watch at the bikes; then they look at us, they pretend to leave. Then they go really away. At this point we keep quiet. The tranquility is a feeling - a perception, a state of mind - which is literally shattered by a new emotion. The desert. Vertigo attacks us, the heart starts beating, strong, like the first time you fall in love and just there you understand what I mean. The true wilderness. Although who knows the desert knows that we will find it in the West part. And we will get there even if we'll not travel as if we were on the "Tangenziale est" but, we will find sand, dirt road with even half a meter deep bumps that appear suddenly. It’s all true. All is incredibly real. We are in the very first glimpse of the Gobi and the sun sets. There are no more satellite navigation systems, not even a dial tone.

We have the GPS, we must deduce the coordinates and set it up, but this is a theme that will be essential to face tomorrow. Now we are stunned, very tired, and we have to reach the camp of Mongolian tents the most close to spend the night. Some among us that have never seen the desert pay for this kind of tasting in the same way you could pay for the bite of a poisonous snake. They lose a bit their head: it is only fear of what you do not know; fear of not being able of managing what will come. Each potential problem becomes paranoia, every word misspoken fires up discussions. No, we must not give heed to any of this. Rest, sleep and take heart. The next day we'll see.

But, in this fast chronicle, for the first time who is involved in updating the travel diary - and making usually use of plural, hoping of making the voice of everyone feel - I wish to add a personal engraved. Before falling asleep, exhausted, unable to write, I listened to my heart. It was beating a thousand. "Been to the desert, know thyself", I thought, or it has been the thought and emotion that have spoken on my behalf . Mongolian Children curiously spy on us strangers from the entrance of these tents circular, seen in the drawings of a book in elementary school’s. The milk offered, is combined with strange pasta and pieces of goat meat.The wind. The wind that blows strong, talks and raise the sand.

All is dark, new scents and the feeling of being really far from everything. The sensation that it is true. You cannot explain, any more than that. Not from the place from which I write, knowing that I'll have to drive shortly towards the West Gobi without great warranties, unless you can rely on your friends and my good will. And yet the desert, this desert, it's already inside myself. It load me up and down, attracts and frightens.

Today, 16 June, the desert narrated. We’ve tasted it really. From Zaminhud to Sanishand we covered approximately 220 Km in seven hours. As in the desert - although this isn't yet a sandy desert - you cannot run. For more than half of the journey, we haven’t lost focus for a minute. Holes, rocks, boulders, animal carcasses. Nicola and Valerio have opened the way with the bikes, teaching us how to manage the vehicles in these situations.

You cannot make a mistake: break a suspension, and the games are made. You are over. The pilots have enjoyed doing jumps and accelerations. We have been told that we have not seen anything yet, and we want to believe them. One step at a time, though, in our small way, we think that such a situation would not be manageable just by "anyone." At this time the wisdom of Nicholas, who is taking a rest, would suggest us that it'd be better to go to sleep. The respect for his experience and gratitude that we have toward him, and Valerio for having chosen us for this mission requires us to listen to this wise counsel. Now I wish put forward these words, and then we sleep.

We have not proofread, but it does not matter. We know that we are experiencing a true adventure, by normal vehicles; as ordinary people but with special dreams. We expect two days of darkness. Then it will be light again.

Text and photos by Flavio Allegretti

Path traveled today