Day 38 – The Long Way to Altay (#MongolRally)
Hovd, Mongolia – Altay, Mongolia
ODO: Start – 80,698, Finish – 80,959
Mileage – 261 Miles (420 Km)
Cumulative Distance – 9,954 Miles (16,019 Km)
Next morning, we woke and were packed to roll by 7.00am – bloody early as far as we were concerned! We had a big days drive to get under our belt today, the next town was near 450km away and from all reports the roads were going to be the worst yet.
I got behind the wheel and we headed off into the Nulla Nulla, bound for Altay. We hadn’t been on the road long before the Canucks did a wheel – their first real problem of the trip. Paul had it knocked back into shape within 10 minutes. The roads today were definitely looking worse than yesterday and the terrain was starting to resemble a real desert – alot or dirt, alot of rocks, alot of Hyundai sized potholes.
Eventually, we came to a Gerr camp where we ran into our mates from the UK (Mark, Freddie, Coups) and another team from the States. They informed us we had been heading in the wrong direction, with the main road about 50km to our left. All 5 cars tagged up and started making our way in the general direction of the main drag.
The roads at this point were really dusty, similar to the kinds of roads you would find on the way to Birdsville, QLD. This was exacerbated by the fact that there were 5 cars all in convoy, all going slowly, all nice and close together.
It was at this point that we made the stupidest decision of the trip. . .
(and considering I had just spend a couple of months with my old man and Brother in outback Australia – I’m going to wear this one.)
Ed and I noticed a fair bit of dust circulating through the cabin making it tough to breathe and see (which wasn’t surprising considering we were in the desert). We decided our best bet was to wind the windows down and let the dust ‘suck itself out of the car’. . . . .
Anyone who has driven in outback Australia (or any dusty road in fact) would know, this is generally considered the fastest way to turn your car into one big desert vacuum cleaner!
We didn’t notice it in the front, but in the back seat Ben was slowly being covered in a fine layer of Gobi Desert. By the time we stopped and saw that Ben looked like something that had just been dug out of Tutankhamen’s tomb, my beard had changed from red to grey and Ed looked like he actually was 42 years old. . . the damage had been done.
We were now driving on the inside of a vacuum cleaner bag. . .
The convoy was traveling pretty slowly; the dust was getting pretty unbearable. Even with windows up, we couldn’t escape it given how close the cars were to each other. I decided it was time for the Hyundai to stretch her legs and we shot off ahead in hopes the other teams would follow – stretching the convoy out and getting away from the cloud of dust we seemed to be swimming in.
We not only moved ahead, I think we set a new land speed record for a Hyundai Accent in the Gobi. Ben was nearly in tears in the back, probably a mix of the fact that the car was copping a hiding and that his spine was losing alot of it’s ‘newness’. Ed was the co-pilot of the year today, confirming we still had a convoy behind us and giving a yell whenever something unexpected came out of the horizon (camels / goats / crevasses etc).
About an hour into our Colin McRae-like rally drive we decided to pull over, check where we were and wait for the others to catch up. After 2 – 3 minutes, the car we thought were our Canadian mates pulled up next to us – turns out, the weren’t our Canadian mates at all. This was the team from the States who we had met with the eagle hunters yesterday:
Yanks – ‘Wow, we love your pace – you guys are flying’
Us – ‘Shit, where are the Canadian’s and the ‘Old Dudes’ (Team Phoenix)’
Yanks – ‘Ohhhh, they’re way back – we haven’t seen them for a long time’
They were right; there was no sign of the Kinari or Team Phoenix anywhere on the horizon. Not only had we managed to lose our convoy, a quick check of the GPS confirmed we had missed a turn off and were now on our way to a National Park – again more towards China than we wanted to be. . .
We pushed on through this track which seemed to have more bends than the old Pacific Highway (you would think in a land without fences roads would be mostly straight?). Even by Mongolian standards, this road was something else. In some instances, we found ourselves driving through dried up sandy creek beds for a couple of k’s at a time. The old girl earned it’s stripes today. After a couple of hours of this, we popped out at a service station. . . on a bitumen road!
We stopped to take some photos and reflect on our Paris Dakkar qualifying run through the desert. All of us were feeling a bit off that we had lost our mates. We knew Team Phoenix would be fine, Paul was a mechanic. But the Canadians were driving an automatic and knew as much about the insides of a car as I did (dangerously little). There wasn’t anything we could do now; we just hoped they didn’t end up as far off track as we did and managed to get back to the main drag.
The road to town was bitumen, but that didn’t help things – some of these potholes should have had their own post code. It was pitch black by this stage and my attempts to evade potholes were often jagging even bigger ones.
At around 10pm we rolled into Altay and found a hotel. We opened our car door and swore half of the Gobi desert fell out onto the driveway.
We walked into a hotel reception looking like all three of us had been on the losing end of a fight with a fire extinguisher. We met another two teams; they were enjoying a few beers, all perfectly clean. They took one look at us, laughed and said ‘Windows down ay boys?’ Bastards.
The room we were given had no shower, no lights and only two beds – but we didn’t care. Ed and I ducked to the shops for supplies, on the way back we saw something that made us smile – I light blue Hyundai was rolling down the main street, Team Phoenix had made it. They also confirmed that the Canucks were parked up camping just outside of town and all going well, should meet us on the outskirts of town tomorrow morning. It was great to know all were in good form.
We cooked some noodles and settled in for the night. It was cold, it was dusty, but after 15 hours on the road sleep came without any dramas at all.