All Roads Lead to Ulaanabaatar
Having gained our freedom, we looked at the map of Mongolia and realised there were two “main” roads we could take. The Northern or the Southern route, but essentially if we followed the sun in the early morning and had the sun behind us in the evening, then all roads led to Ulaanbaatar - or so it seemed...
Due to our 26 hours “detention” we only just made it to Olgii that evening, after having had to reverse/push the car up a steep hill (due to the car’s lack in power in first gear, combined with 92 octane fuel). The following morning we headed into town to stock up on supplies and get cash. We bumped into other Mongol Rally teams. As we had never convoyed with other teams up to this point, we decided now was the time and teamed up - with one English and one Australian team. As we left town we were shocked to see the “trouble makers” tagging along at the end of our convoy…this experience could become very interesting...
With our expert navigation skills, we lead the other teams into the Mongolian wilderness….after 25km our car let us down for the first time, when we realised we were tilting to one side….the left front tyre was completely shredded! In what we considered a ‘record’ time of 16 minutes, we had a spare tyre mounted and drove on. After a good couple of hours travelling at an average speed of maybe 20 mph (32 km/h), we found a nice muddy patch at the entrance of a small village. The “ladish” nature of the trouble makers with their Suzuki Jimmy (a small 4x4), resulted in them driving though this mud patch at full speed, which in itself was alright, but what followed next was not expected.
As they tried to manoeuvre their car back onto the road after crossing the puddle, they took such a sharp left (near 90 degrees) that they managed to topple their car onto one side. Luckily they were alright, with the car only losing the springs from its suspension, its rear window and visibility from the front windscreen. Within two minutes, half the village’s population (ranging from 2-year-old children to old men) had arrived at the scene and the car was ready to go after 30 mins of repairs, all of which were carried out by the locals, in such a rapid/casual way - as if it happened every day...
Surprised that the toppled car still worked (apart from riding a bit lower on one side), our convoy spent the rest of the day crossing further mountain passes and at least three rivers. As the sun was setting, we arrived in Hovd and carried on alone, as the other teams were stopping to have their cars checked for various reasons.
Day two took us from Hovd to Altay, travelling over 400 km - again no faster than 20 mph. The car was taking a battering because of the corrugation in the road, and it was no surprise when our overloaded roof rack mounts sheared.... This roof rack only had to survive the last 1000km! So using all the string, ratchet straps and bungees we had left, we ‘strapped’ it together. Having considered the troublemakers “idiots” for toppling their car, we thought we would have an attempt of being a bit reckless. Sean suggested a hand break turning in the middle of a mud patch. The first attempt was a great success and we spent the next hour skidding and spinning our car. As a result, our Kia Rio was no longer blue - rather Khaki - but hadn’t sustained any noticeable damage.
Unfortunately, in order to reach Altay a bit of night driving was required. Never a good idea when your headlights only illuminate 5 metres in front of you, and you cannot properly distinguish “hazards”... It results in several near misses with football-sized rocks in the middle of the track (“sump-killers” as we affectionately named them). As a result, we decided to call it a night and set up camp 10 miles outside Altay.
The next morning we were woken up by Scott sounding the horn of the car. At the beginning of our travels, we had agreed that when wild camping one person should sleep in the car, and that person should sound the horn if there was an imminent “danger”…
Rolling out of their sleeping bags (and Sean grabbing his pocket knives - plural), Simon and Sean bolted out of the tent to assess the situation….Scott was honking the three Mongol Rally teams we had been convoying with us the day before, all of which had driven all through the night to catch up with us. False alarm...
Having had a late start to that day we drove most of the afternoon in convoy, half the time all driving next to each other as there were at least ten tracks running next to each other, all leading to Ulaanbaatar. As the sun set we left the other teams behind us to ensure we covered enough ground to make it to Ulaanbaatar for the 26th, however this resulted in very low visibility for Scott who was driving the car at night. Sean had just mentioned that there was a river crossing coming up, when Scott crossed a crest, the last thing we remember saying was stop!!!
It was too late... the front of the car was already stuck at a steep angle in the middle of a muddy riverbank. We were confident that our technique, which we used in Kazakhstan, would get us out of the mud. However unfortunately, after 30 minutes of wheel spinning we realised we were not going to get out without assistance. So we were very glad when we heard a faint noise of a tractor in the distance. Out of the darkness came a man driving a tractor, followed by his two sons on motorbikes. We flagged him down and he offered to tow us out, which seemed far too easy... We decided to give our football to his sons, as a token of gratitude. However, he seemed to be insisting that he wanted to continue to tow us. After multiple diagrams drawn on our muddy car, we understood that he wanted to tow us through the river, which we couldn’t see properly in the distance as it was pitch black. Not sure whether we really needed his services, we followed him to see for ourselves whether our reliable Kia Rio was up for the task... it wasn’t... The river was flowing at full speed and was at least 1 meter deep at points. We agreed to be towed. At one point, we felt the car become buoyant and water started to seep through the doors.
In the end the river crossing cost us £12.50 and Simon’s head torch, as the tractor apparently didn’t have headlights, so he insisted that he needed light for his return journey to his Ger. In the grand scheme of things it was not a steep price as all roads leading to Ulaanbaatar had to cross this river.
The following day was relatively uneventful as we covered another 300 km, realising that the road were slowly becoming more and more asphalted. However, when we stopped in Bayanhongor to stock up on snacks, a woman offered to buy our car, as it was “extremely nice”. Sean had to respectfully convince her that we were not going to sell our car, as it was going to charity.
That evening, the last night of the Mongol Rally, we camped on top of a mountain. The next morning we navigated our way on mostly asphalted roads to the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar, where we were trying to look for a shooting range, which allows you to fire RPGs and apparently any type of weapon you wish (snipers, AK-47s, Tanks...). The only problem was that nobody could give us directions and we spent most of the afternoon driving around in endless circles. During which time we ended up at a children’s centre and in a U.N training facility! So instead we headed for the centre of Ulaanbaatar, crossing the rather chaotic city with a last few drops of fuel in the petrol tank.
We had planned it perfectly according to our average mpg, that we would have just enough to make it to the finish line…Sean had just crossed the final junction before having to turn left to our final destination, when his face went blank (his ”out of control” face). The car had no more power, or in other words our math had let us down and we had too little fuel. Pushing the car along the road to the first available side junction in the middle of Ulaanbaatar, Simon and Scott went on the search of a petrol station to get 5 more litres of fuel. This time we weren’t going to take a risk... We eventually made it to the Lotus Guest House we were staying, and as the finish line was “closed” for the day, we had to hand over our car over the following morning.
All we can say about the finish line was that the Adventurists provided us with a total anti-climax. When we arrived we didn’t get a cheer or any form of congratulation. However, after 16,000 km we were not going to let that bring us down. We took all our finisher photos with our newly named car called “Smiles” and left it parked there - with the only major damage to the car being a cracked bumper.
Thank you very much for all the support and there are more updates coming related to our further travels in Mongolia.