Rally Day 42 – 46
The first half of the day saw us cruising at good speed towards Altai in south-western Mongolia. The corrugations in the dirt tracks (small bumps) were okay and when you drive at a certain speed you almost can’t feel them. This means that sometimes it is better to drive faster on the dirt tracks to avoid the bumpy feeling but on the other hand you are more at risk if there is a hole or a big stone in the middle of the road.
The biggest event this day happened early in the afternoon when the rear axle on our car snapped. We went over a bump and heard a loud cracking noise and immediately Christian turned pale and started swearing “Oh shit! Fuck”. We were still 50 km from Altai and a proper repair shop and our left back wheel was hanging loose.
We figured we could always get a flatbed truck to deliver our vehicle to wherever we needed, there is always a solution if you are willing to invest money and time. However, in the end we decided to drive slowly towards the city to avoid losing our wheel, while Team Raven Shoe carried a lot of our stuff in their car to keep our car lighter in weight. We also got rid of our fire extinguisher to save weight…
It took 4 grueling hours to reach Altai and its definitely the worst 4 hours any of us has ever driven. You could constantly feel the wheel slipping and hear cracking noises from the back, any slight mistake and we would suddenly only have three wheels. It was already evening when we entered the city so we found a hotel to stay at and a shop which could potentially repair our car the next day. If the car could not be fixed this would probably be the end of the Rally for us…
Two team mechanics at work
In Altai there is a big repair shop that has apparently repaired many Mongol Rally cars over the years, they even have a sign stating “Mongol Rally Auto Service”. They had basic welding equipment but the mechanic seemed drunk on Vodka, so Christian and Ben decided to take matters into their own hands. To be sure we could make it to the finish line, a new axle would be the best fix. Unfortunately there are almost no Nissan spare parts, or any spare parts for any car, to be had in the middle of Mongolia. The solution was instead to weld the axle and hope it could hold for the rest of the trip.
The repair job took many hours and we realized we had to stay in Altai for another night. Just before we left for the hotel a police car pulled up in front of the repair shop. Out comes a uniformed big Mongolian cop with next to no English skills. He then proceeded to ask if any of us are Ukrainians and we in turn explained that the members of our two teams are from all around the world, but not from Ukraine. After this he decided to drag us to the police station and we were not really sure what was going on. He kept talking of photos but it was very hard to understand what he was saying. Because of this we all agreed not to sign any papers to avoid admitting to a crime we didn’t commit. At the police station there was bit of confusion but it turned out they just wanted pictures of our drivers licenses and to know which hotel we stayed at, then we were free to go again. There was a lot of police in the city and we figured they must be searching for some Ukrainians that had done some serious bad shit. In any case we dodged the bullet, got something to eat and a good night’s sleep.
On the move again
The day before we had met a German guy named Giuliano when we were eating dinner and he asked if he could convoy with us. He rides a motorbike by himself and drove all the way from Switzerland to Mongolia, albeit on a shorter route than ours (mainly through Russia). Our convoy was thus expanded by a motorbike and we drove a fair bit the entire day. Around five in the afternoon we faced a big river with crossings too deep for the Micra’s and the motorbike, the water would simply flood the engine compartment in the cars due to the depth. We set up camp and pushed the crossing to the day after. The welded rear axle had made it through the day and no cracks in the welding were to be seen.
In the morning we saw that the water level in the big river had fallen a fair bit, but we still were not able to drive across it ourselves. Instead some locals with tractors offered to pull our car across at a low point in the river. Other teams had done the same thing and soon we found ourselves taping up the exhaust and doors to avoid getting to much water into our car. When we were towed we forgot to put the key in the ignition at the start so we were unable to steer, but we got the tractor to stop and corrected our mistake quickly. Our car was then towed across with ease and relatively little water had entered the vehicle with no major damage to our stuff.
Soon our entire convoy was across and we set forth towards the city of Bayankhongor in central Mongolia. When we entered the city we could feel it was more developed then the cities in the west, probably owing to its closer proximity to Ulaanbaatar. As always we managed to find a hotel, some food and a few beers. We got intel that the rest of the road to Ulaanbaatar some 620 km away was paved, meaning no more off road driving. Real good news for our back suspension.
Last day of camping
We had noticed the day before that Team Raven Shoe’s Micra was riding pretty low in the back and in the morning the team mechanics discovered why. Both the rear springs on the car was broken, in fact one of them was broken in three places! We used a few hours in the morning finding new springs for the red Micra while our own car got a few things fixed as well. We even cleaned up the car so it would look nice.
We drove the entire afternoon only stopping to visit a weird monument to horse racing. In the evening we set up camp some 350 km from Ulaanbaatar confident we could make it the day after. It was the last day of camping and we celebrated it by drinking a bottle of fine Chinggis Khan Vodka – Mongolian style!
The goal of the day was to reach the finish line in Ulaanbaatar and the entire road was paved according to all sources. Turns out this was correct, but the last 150 km proved to be an absolute nightmare. For some reason large parts of the road was blocked for the last stretch into Ulaanbaatar. This meant that traffic was diverted away from the road to the dirt tracks besides it all the time. To make matters worse this was not normal dirt tracks as they were way more sandy than usual. The result was that our car was stuck once and had to be winched out while Giuliano on his motorbike also fell off once or twice. It took us 2 hours to do 50 km and our frustration was extreme. Instead of just blocking and fixing a single lane at a time and keeping the other lane open, the whole road was blocked and we didn’t even spot anyone working on fixing the closed off parts of the road.
In the end we reached the outskirts of Ulaanbaatar and found the finish line just 10 minutes before it officially closed for the day. We drove into a big closed off area where some 100 Mongol Rally cars were parked. We took some photos at the podium and then proceeded to walk around and admire all the cars that had made it to the finish. We found a lot of cars we had seen different places during our adventure and quite a few cars had “battle” scars. Some had been flipped over, some had broken windscreens, missing doors, smashed up bumpers and more. Mongolia is where small granny cars go to die.
After our tour of inspection we emptied our car and donated a lot of stuff to charity. This included all our tools, spare parts, a tent, camping chairs etc. Afterwards we did the paper work required to ship the car to Lithuania where we can pick it up in a month. That’s right folks, we have decided to pick the car up and bring it home to Denmark!
Finally we found a taxi and were off to the official Mongol Rally hotel leaving our cars behind us, it was a really strange feeling to be honest. We have been through so much the last 6-7 weeks and the Micra has been our home through 22 countries and little less than 18.000 km. We have been driving through 45 degrees heat in the desert, across mountain passes at 4600 meters altitude and even been through snowy weather. It has been pushed to the absolute limits and we have had to fix it quite a few times, we believe it has been through things no Micra 1.0 should ever be put through! It has giving us a real adventure this little car, yes a real adventure with a constant feeling of impending doom, meaning we always knew the car could break down at any moment.
In the city center we checked into the hotel and prepared to leave Ulaanbaatar and Mongolia within the next few days. This was the end of the Rally for us and the end of this story.