Derek Fingler thought he knew the sense of freedom one feels when riding a motorcycle. But crossing Mongolia on The Gobi Discovery tour “was a freedom of riding you won’t feel anywhere else!”


Derek’s Local Rides

Most of his early riding was local, so when he was sent to Plymouth, England for a course, he seized the opportunity to buy a motorcycle and travel throughout England, Scotland, Ireland, and mainland Europe. Then, like many others, he paused his riding years while raising his family. Sixteen years ago, Derek and two friends started spending a week together each year riding in different destinations.

Besides riding throughout Ontario and Quebec, the trio’s excursions have taken them to Western Canada, the Ozarks, and the northeastern States. Somehow, Mongolia ended up on the bucket list of their designated organizer. It didn’t take much investigation for the other two to add it to their list as well. “It has the lowest population density of any country in the world and we wanted to experience that openness,” says Derek. “We have that space in Canada but can’t ride it like you can in Mongolia. Here we have fences and rules.”


Derek intentionally approached his trip with a blank slate to limit preconceived notions. Even so, he experienced one awesome moment after the other. “The openness was shocking. You could look out and see for miles. No physical boundaries, other than occasional family gers, came between riders and the ever-distant horizon.”

The abundance of rich cultural encounters woven into the trip surprised him, beginning at the annual three-day Naadam festival in Ulaanbaatar (UB), Mongolia’s capital. Derek highly recommends attending this event before the formal Gobi Desert tour. “Besides giving you a chance to acclimatize to the time difference, it gives you a real sense of the pride Mongolians feel for their country. Ancient warrior traditions of horse racing, archery, and wrestling are celebrated as one way of keeping the rich Genghis Khan heritage alive. It also gave us a chance to see the blend of Russian and Chinese influences with Indigenous overtones to everything.” Before travel, a blessing of tires on motorcycles and support vehicles with mare’s milk took place.

“We were told not to get our hopes up for culinary experiences so I was expecting to not savour the food,” Derek says. “There were a couple of meals that weren’t my cup of tea, but mostly I enjoyed it!”

“Everywhere we went, people were so friendly. The ger camps expected us but our reception was still incredible. We don’t have any direct experience with the nomadic way of life. It was fascinating to learn how they tend herds in the summer months then pack up everything and move to winter pastures.”

Mongolia’s Buddhist history was another eye-opener. “I didn’t know anything about them,” says Derek. “But, as we visited monasteries and temples in UB and throughout the country, we learned how they were decimated and are now rebuilding.” Also, the unanticipated archaeological history astounded him. “We came across a natural history museum in the middle of nowhere. The diversity of floral and faunal artifacts, including from dinosaurs, displayed astounded us.

But it was the riding that impressed Derek and friends the most. “Sukhee, our local Mongolian guide was amazing. There would be eight to ten cart paths heading in the same direction across the desert. If the one we were following wasn’t taking us where we needed to go, he’d redirect us and lead us across the land. You can’t grasp the sense of vastness, even after you’ve been in it.”

Derek is quick to credit Renedian guide John Wellburn and Sukhee for the success of the trip. The terrain challenged Derek and friends a couple of days, making them grateful for their off-roading skills. “You live in the moment on these trips,” says Derek. “It’s a type of riding that offers a sense of freedom you won’t feel anywhere else; an eye-opening encounter you can’t appreciate until you’ve experienced it.”

Photo credits: Derek Fingler