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22 September 2004 1352 BST
Gobi desert kite buggy adventure
Picture: one of the kite buggies
One of the kite buggies

Two men from Norfolk are crossing more than 600 miles of the Gobi desert, in buggies pulled by kites.

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Kite zone website
Lonely Planet: Gobi desert

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Kite buggies bid to cross desert
bullet point. The Gobi desert is part of China and Mongolia.
bullet point.   Temperatures range from 45 deg Cin summer to -40 deg C in winter.
bullet point.   The Gobi desert is the source of some of the greatest fossil finds in history including dinosaur eggs.
bullet point.   Unlike the sandy Sahara, the Gobi is comprised mainly of barren expanses of gravel plains and rocky outcrops
bullet point.   The desert and the surrounding regions sustain many animals, including black-tailed gazelles, marbled polecats, and greater plovers and are occasionally visited by snow leopards, brown bears, and wolves.
bullet point.   Although sparsely inhabited, nomadic Mongolian shepherds criss-cross the Gobi, moving from Altanbulag in Mongolia to Beijing in China.
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Diary entry:
Friday 17 September

We are now making fast progress.

For the first 10 days we were dogged by windless days and progress was patchy.

Every so often we had a spectacular day with big mileage and then we'd be stuck for a day or more waiting for wind. It was hard to establish any momentum.

Picture: Peter Ash on the satellite phone
Peter Ash on the satellite phone in the Gobi desert

However, things look as if they might have changed. We have just had our two best days in succession with approximately 70km each day.

This may not sound much but the ground is very much harder than we'd anticipated.

Yesterday, for example, we only had about 1 or 2km across reasonable ground. The rest was through thorn bushes which grow out of sandy mounds up to a half a metre high.

We also had to ascend some big hills. The wind averaged 20mph yesterday and it was right behind us making tricky kiting conditions.

At times we were travelling at 20mph bumping and crashing through these obstacles. The support vehicles could barely keep up with us.

Towards the end of the day Kieron had a spectacular crash into a massive mound and instead of bumping over it his left rear wheel stopped dead.

He spun right round in a 360 degree spin and broke the rear axle clean in two.

The Protex tyre sealant has worked well and we are still on our first set of tyres, although they are peppered with thorns.

Our PKD kites are incredible. We dump them into thorn bushes and still they fly beautifully.

The expedition is now going strongly and today there is already a favourable wind as I write this update at 8am.

Diary entry:
Wednesday 8 September

We arrived in Ulaanbaatar on Tuesday 31 August at 9am after our Aeroflot flight from Heathrow via Moscow.

By 2pm we had unpacked the crates, loaded up the two Russian mini vans, bought a spare charging battery, been to the bank and bought the detailed maps we needed, so off we went.

We camped that night about 50km from Ulaanbaatar.

Two long days later we arrived at our starting point where we spent a day sorting gear and setting up the buggies ready for their journey through the Gobi.

The roads in Mongolia are nothing better than heavily rutted farm tracks. When any particular track gets too worn for comfort, the drivers just avoid the bad bits and create another so-called road.

We saw about one vehicle every hour on this main road to Altai from Ulaanbaatar.

First sucessful day of kiting

Our first day kiting was the best day any of us have ever had in a buggy. We covered 50km over difficult ground and gained almost 1000 feet of height.

For most of the day the wind was very strong, perhaps up to 30mph at times. We flew tiny kites, 1.8sqm, 2.0sqm and Kieron flew a 3.5sqm for most of the day.

At times we were in danger of being overpowered. For a couple of hours we were chased by a storm cloud which brought violent gusts of wind.

Camels in the Gobi desert
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We ran before the wind at speeds up to 41mph as measured on our GPS (very accurate).

That night we camped when the wind died, very happy indeed to have had such a brilliant start to our expedition.

In this day we had proved the concept was feasible, that the buggies Kieron designed would do the job and that our beautiful PKD kites were superb.

Unfortunately our good wind didn't reappear in the morning and we spent a frustrating day in the strong sun waiting for a change that never came.

Lack of wind power

The following day brought almost complete stillness until about 2pm when we had a faint breeze from behind.

Up went the 9sqm kites but almost as soon as we got them set, the wind faded again. We decided to cut our losses and drive a few kilometres to a river for our first wash since leaving the UK.

This morning we awoke again to clear blue skies and no wind and as I write this we are still waiting for the wind to pick up.

It looks like we are in the middle of an anticyclone which has parked itself over the Gobi.

We are ready to set off in the buggies at a moment's notice and we will remain like this until about 6pm when, if there is no wind, we will have to call it a day.

Three windless days out of four is very unusual. Let's hope we have a fair wind tomorrow.

Rugged terrain

The terrain so far has been challenging with thorny bushes that make Scottish heather seem like a powder-puff and tufts of grassy vegetation that are virtually indestructible.

Dropping the kites in the Gobi desert is not a good idea! From here onwards vegetation should get more sparse and the ground is getting much flatter.

If we get a wind now like we had three days ago, we will fly.

Read about the team's send-off at the Mongolian Embassy in London »




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