Finish line

Finish line

After 20.142km in 53 days and 10 hours we reached the finish line with smoking tires. In Russia its not allowed to sell alcohol on the first Saturday of each month, but luckily we found a hotel where we could stock up at the bar in the lobby.

A few Asians did another photo shooting with our car.

Then we partied hard the whole night :).

Bar Celentano… Of course nobody knows Adriano except the Italians and me.

Definitely my hero of the rally. Max from France  finished the rally on his Vespa successfully. Since Turkmenistan we’ve been running , better drove, each other over and over again.

Mongolia – Day 7 – Ulaan Bataar

Mongolia – Day 7 – Ulaan Bataar

The next morning we found our car nicely parked. No plan what is going on in the people heads here. Meaningless?

We could free our car after one hour, had to stand in the driveway and block the way otherwise they would have parked us even further. The Italians were worse off, they were parked behind 6-7 cars all behind each other.

Around noon we reached the big market and went for a stroll.

Max had parked his Vespa not far from our car, we didn’t stop in front of his Vespa either. In total 30% of the rally teams received a sticker from us without being asked.

Then we visited Congji and his colleague from our selected charity TFCF Mongolia. We got a small guided tour through the new office and even a little present :). 

Through our collective donation of about 4600$ to the TFCF Mongolia Dream Home Ger project we were able to give families in need a new home. The first ones have already moved in.

We did a short oil check in front of the town hall and then we drove off towards Ulan-Ude (Russia) to the finish line.

At midnight we reached the border, were through at two o’clock in the morning. The actual plan was to find a place to sleep somewhere, directly behind the border, unfortunately without success. So we decided to drive through the last three small hours to Ulan-Ude. 

Mongolia – Day 6 – To Ulaan Bataar

Mongolia – Day 6 – To Ulaan Bataar

We left early in the morning, as usual – at summer temperatures.

The road to Ulaan Bataar wasn’t as good as we had hoped. However of course we had the next record within 30 minutes (probably in exactly the same place as last night….).

Around afternoon we passed some yurts, where you could ride on camels. Seth and Grayson were  immediately overwlemed with excitement.

First we had tea and some snacks at the “Ger” (yurt).

Then it was off to the camels and off into the dunes.

Ulaan Bataar, the capital of Mongolia, is home to almost 1.5 million people, half of the country’s population.

Before we looked for a hostel, we drove around the city to visit Genghis Khan. The 40 meter high monument was erected 10 years ago and consists of 250 tons of stainless steel. As always we parked bumper to bumper.

Our car looks so tiny from above.

On the way back to the city we had of course….. a flat tire. Badum’tss…

In Ulaan Bataar nothing goes, the traffic is the horror. 24/7 traffic jam. By far the worst city of the whole rally.

In the hostel where the other teams stayed there was no place left for us, we were recommended a hostel around the corner, Sara’s Hostel. Boah, that was bad. We arrived, they told us there was still room and we waited for the check-in, an hour later we paid and got the keys, without any info which floor, room or bed number or whatever. Of course Sara doesn’t speak a word of English. Somehow there was one free bed in each of the different rooms. In the end  we had already paid. A nice but fiery Korean man tried to help us, by loudly speaking to Sara, and in Korean of course. At some point I didn’t like it any more and only wanted a bed, somewhere else but not in this juice shop. In the end we got three beds in one room and it took only 2.5 hours until midnight.

Mongolia – Day 5

Mongolia – Day 5

In the morning we started looking for someone who could weld aluminium to seal our oil pan properly. The search was unsuccessful, we were told here in the small town of Bayankhongor we won’t find one, and would have more luck in in the capital Ulaan Bataar.

The two teams from yesterday left us around noon and wished us much success. So we went to work ourselves and used the sidewalk as a ramp to get under the car easier. 

Our oil pan didn’t look very trustworthy with all the cracks, despite being still in one piece…

In a “DIY store” around the corner we found a two-component adhesive and got to work.

When the oil pan was all covered with the epoxy, a Land Cruiser parked next to us, a man got out and looked at what we were doing. He didn’t speak English well, so he made a phone call and passed the phone on to Seth. He knew someone who could weld aluminum. A few seconds later Seth was already sitting in the Land Cruiser with the oil pan and disappeared into the horizon.

After two hours Seth appeared again, with our mended oil pan. :). The guy in the Land Cruiser had actually managed to find someone.

In the end it turned out that Mr. Land Cruiser was the owner of the hotel. We even got some drinks for free :).

After a small lunch we made our way to Ulaan Bataar in the late afternoon.

In the twilight we stopped at a horse monument. Unfortunately we don’t know what kind of horses they were. The atmosphere was pretty cool, just like the temperature.

Originally we had planned to drive through the night to Ulaan Bazaar… But after a few kilometers the road got quite holey and the next flat tire came shortly after. We decided to turn around and drive back to the last town to stay overnight.

Mongolia – Day 4 – 100% Mongol Rally

Mongolia – Day 4 – 100% Mongol Rally

In Mongolia, the shelves in the shops are often filled with the German premium brand: Good & Cheap.

Today there was 390km of driving on the agenda. From another team we had learned that the track was not great, and 250km of gravel road was waiting for us. Since we expected a long day, we started early, and by 6:30am we were on the road.

There was a main road, which was bumpy, washboard gravel, and tens of other smaller roads that led parallel through the plains. The roads weren’t that bad, we had as always a fast driving style.

After the first 100km off-road we made a photo stop on a hill with a great view…

… when we noticed – uh-oh, that looks like a leak… but the oil pan was repaired only two days ago.

The old patches were still good, but the oil pan had cracked two more times due to the bad terrain and the next town was 160km away.

We mended the oil pan from the outside as well as we could with some glue left over from the last patch. While the glue was drying we played a bit in the field with “Team Mayo to Mongolia” and “Team Smashed Avocado”.

So many ways – all with the same goal. So on we go in zigzag, this time driving slowly and paying attention!

A few minutes later….

Ok, of course we couldn’t go on with such a big loss of oil. Team Smashed Avocado, our heroes from Australia, agreed to tow us with their Opel Meriva (1.2L) – to the next town – 155km away – through the open terrain. Of course there was top support from our favourite Irish from Team Mayo to Mongolia, who drove ahead again and again, explored the track for towing capability and towed us the last kilometres when the Meriva from Team Smashed Avocado started to get tired. (Note: The team name Mayo has nothing to do with French fries or ketchup, the area in Ireland where they come from is called that). 

On the right side you can see the highway, which is currently under construction but of course not accessible, and on the left side all the country lanes.

Of course we were always looking for gaps to get onto the highway in order to be able to drive at least a few kilometres comfortably. Unfortunately, this was prevented again and again by huge heaps of earth, which blocked the way. Most of the time this meant turning around and driving back.

The most difficult part was towing downhill. Since we couldn’t let our engine run, the brakes didn’t really work and only the handbrake was available. It was clear that with a towing speed of 20-60kmh a braking distance of 2-3m tow rope is not sufficient, especially without not really working brakes. Therefore our car is now a little bit dented in front. For a bigger descent we separated the connection and rolled several kilometres silently into the valley.

Due to the uneven pulling through the terrain, our tow rope wear was not exactly low. We used up all four available tow ropes, which were torn and knotted together again and again: 35 times.

A flat tire must not be missing on such a day of course.

At some point, of course, the car battery was still empty and we were dragged into the dark, cold night without lights or heating.

Towed away under one of the most beautiful night skies I have seen so far. Unfortunately my tripod is broken and I had no time to take a decent photo. I only had 2-3 minutes (if the tow rope broke) and 25 seconds exposure time… that’s not much. But at least you get a small impression :).

Finally, after hours of towing through the darkness, we could finally see the lights of the city. But the impression can be deceiving, from the time of the photo to reaching the city we took about 1.5-2 hours. Without decent roads, turn around several times and find the gaps in the terrain. With a Land Cruiser cross-country this is certainly not a problem but our racing machine is rather designed for flat roads.

We reached our accommodation around 22:30 o’clock. After 16 hours in the car, about half of it on the tow rope. 1000 thanks again to Team Smashed Avocado and Team Mayo To Mongolia, without you we would not have made it! We still have 4 days and 1263Km to the finish line, hopefully we get our car quickly made fit to drive again.

Mongolia Day 2-3

Mongolia Day 2-3

Not much happened yesterday and today, we drove a lot and enjoyed the landscape. So far the roads in Mongolia are clearly better than expected (if roads are available).

We found a top team with whom we cruise through Mongolia, Team Mayo To Mongolia from Ireland.

Many roads are being built or renewed and are actual not passable/closed. We always have to take one of the various dirt roads next door.

Of course, we always try to get onto the road whenever the ground clearance allows it. But most of the time the road is closed after several 100 meters and we have to turn around and drive back to get off the dam.

Wild camels, everywhere.

The menus are only available in mongolian, if we have luck, sometimes also in russian. After all, 75% of the desired order arrive, if the interpreter is good enough ;-).

Mongolia – Day 1 – Drivers’ Attention!

Mongolia – Day 1 – Drivers’ Attention!

We made it, after 18.000km of driving, we finally crossed the border to Mongolia!

The scenery is incredible. These vast expanses of land remind me a little of New Zealand. The roads are either super good or super bad.

After less than an hour in Mongolia, Seth could only think of one thing: “Only flying is more beautiful than this” and hit a massive bump at 100kmh and nearly took off.

“No no no no – for sure, there were no warning signs”, no problem Seth, I went and counted, there were three signs in a row…

Well, anyway, we’re off the ground, almost out of control. Of course we stopped immediately to check if everything is in order with the car. No, unfortunately not, the oil pan was cracked, and was leaking badly. With the massive force of such an impact, even the skid plate couldn’t save us.

Not even two minutes later A man named Nurshuah and his wife appeared; they had heard the impact and live in the neighbouring village.

We dragged the car to his house and got tea and cookies before we started the analysis and repair. Findings: the oil pan had taken quite a hit – three cracks. Seth of course has a mega bad conscience and said again and again that he lost his driving licence for Mongolia… The “repair” took almost the whole day and our car turned into a children’s playground in the meantime.

The little rascals took our stickers, of course :D.

Everyone helped, even the dog.

The wind was icy, luckily the sun was a bit warm.

Our car now has at least 10 autographs of Abdulla and his siblings.

One of three fractures:

You could tell poor Seth had a really guilty conscience. We have to be careful to not hit the oil pan any more, and need to slow down a bit through Mongolia’s bad roads.

So far the repair has held, and no oil has leaked, let’s hope that this remains the case :).

Russia

Russia

After crossing the border from Kazakhstan to Russia, I felt almost like home. The landscape looks almost the same as the outskirts of Düsseldorf and the streets in Russia are better than in Germany so far. Really a dream. Countries able to drive again comfortably. We just cut into Russia to drive into Mongolia, just over 1000km. The first night we spent in a hostel, next door a bar where we were talked to by several nice locals, in Russian of course that we do not understand a word is of course not important.

The next morning we connected again with our lost convoy from Uzbekistan, after being 5-7 days in advance.

Whether we drive through Russia or through southern Germany, the landscape looks very similar.

Attack on a small shop just before the border hunting for food. We drove until 3:30 am, because we wanted or had to cross the border into Mongolia the next morning, because the border is closed the following day (Sunday).

We stayed in the only hostel/hotel, 800m from the border and slept 4h or less. Some slept in the car before the border, with below 0 degrees outside temperature this must not be for me.

In the background you can see the snow not so far away, I was still in shorts and flip-flops, because my long jeans were stored somewhere on the roof. I mean, it’s summer, but I didn’t take into account that the temperatures in summer fluctuate around 0-10 degrees depending on location, altitude and whims of Mongolian gods, of course.

Mongolia we’re coming!

Kazakhstan

Kazakhstan

In Almaty, Kazakhstan we rented a Flat via booking.com after 2 unsuccessful bookings via airbnb (booking and payment was confirmed, then no reaction from the host and in the end the flats were already filled by other people, always discussions and calls with the airbnb support because the hosts didn’t want to cancel because they lose money – which was def. not our problem :D)

We stayed 3 nights in Almaty – tired of driving and rallying. Went a bit out for some drinks and the rest of the time we just hung out and had awesome food :).

So the cops Looooooove Seth. Seems to be whatever country we cruise through they pick up on his racing steez and pull him over to get his autograph. Whats remarkable is we’ve burned out of every stop, including this one, without paying a single unit of local, or US currency. This genuine officer, after a friendly exchange, insisted we take his number and call him at any point if we had anymore troubles.

Driver gets the hot seat in the cop car, passenger seat with cop behind and to the left. Feeling duly chagrined as co-pilot, and righteous with newfound knowledge of the actual speed limits for the road, I joined at the cop car. We were up to the ‘penalty process’ in the affair. Things were jovial. Big waves and laughs as another of the rally crew walks up. Its the best when cops and border guards insist on giving you their cigarets when they see what brand your offering. They take one to be polite but are actually judging your prowess as a smoker. Gunned at 109 with proof on the screen in the backseat, official limit 110 on rural highways. Shenlong- 2 Others- Nil.

The Legendary German Hessen Pub. Somewhere one the side of the road, Kyrgyzstan. A request for a German menu at this establishment was met with confusion. The irony was lost on the staff. Otherwise the similarities were impressive and as far as brew goes, they did the best they could.

The steaks were cooked to reflect our level of Kyrgyz fluency.

Brewhouse behind the bar, clean, very impressed. Two taps pouring. Super German everything, Markus was impressed.

See that giant pothole bottom left? We missed that one because we hit one before it. Smoke on horizon was a uncontrolled brush fire, only attendees the passing cars.

Speculation on reason for 2.5ms of cement base for all the service poles- less fire repair in remote areas, case closed?

And so it begins. This section looks pretty tame actually. We still managed a flat though.

11.JPG

Everyone’s tally went up that day. One driver, from zero to two; another to six plus. Haha. All fixes accomplished in good spirits, we are on a flat based rotation, get one and swap drivers. Some drive a lot longer than others.

This is an obvious indication of extremely dangerous wear and tear. Happened to two tires the same day. We have new tires now, and repaired ball joint!

Lack of spoken Russian and dodgy google translating lead us to believe that we would have to replace the ball joint. This mechanic spoke not a lick of English except for one word, when we found out he fixed it. “Magic” Had us roaring with laughter and relief. Biggest problem is to get 13” tires, very unusual size for these countries.

The Missus, up on the rack, its her TLC time.  She absolutely deserves it.

A continually stoked rallier and another super stoked mechanic. These guys really appreciate the dumbness of what we’re doing and are fully supportive.

Considering they are the ones that deal with brunt of our miscalculated turns and unsuccessful everything elses.

Our most confusing border to date for sure. Also only border crossing to involve a auto collision so far. Also featured stop and start three lane car jockeying and full sprint running to border control points on multiple occasions, total family affairs. Total time spent crossing, 3.5 confusing hours.

Kyrgyzstan

Kyrgyzstan

A wonderful view as we entered Kyrgyzstan.

We stayed in a cheap hotel in the city of Osh. The next morning a man came to our room and told us that both tires of our car are flat. All right, thanks for the info, no problem. (We have changed tires many times). Later, while we were working on the car, he started to help without being asked. While Seth and I jacked up the car on the right, the guy started jacking up the car on the other side. Something had to happen, and the jack of the guy gave way. The car slipped completely off the jacks, and lay on the rear axle at the side of the road. After this, it was a lot of effort to get the tire back on. The guy had absolutely no plan and upset us more and more. Afterwards he wanted money from us because we had supposedly asked him to help and we should buy him a new jack which he damaged himself. The ******** damaged our car and instead of a 5 minute tire change we had almost 2h of stress. He called the police and took pictures of our car but at some point we didn’t feel like it anymore and left.

Since there are only rarely signs with speed limits here we were in a village going 58kmh instead of the allowed 40km. Seth was pulled over, and the officers tried to collect from us in “good cop, bad cop” style. Oh, it’s gonna cost you, no, no exceptions, I’m writing you a ticket now. The other policeman: Oh no, you’d better pay 100 US dollars or you’ll get a ticket. Seth stayed cool and acted absolutely stupid, sorry we don’t have US dollars, I come from Canada, not from the USA. We don’t have US dollars :D. Well, at the end they wanted to keep his driver’s license, of course he only gave them his international license, wouldn’t have been a big deal if they kept it. He pretended to be so stupid that the officers didn’t feel like it anymore and let us go.

Google Maps suggested the blue route, I thought why not take the shorter way (orange) and make a detour to the second largest salt lake in the world. It wasn’t a good decision. We had about 300km of gravel road over a mountain pass. To reach our hotel in time, before check-in time we really put the pedal to the metal and Seth drove 80-100kmh Ken Block-like over the mountains. The video is what happened after.

No gas stations nearby, fortunately the fuel cans were full.

At some point Maps.me guided us along some dirt roads, the “paths” got worse and worse and in the end we simply drove across the fields by moonlight in the middle of the night.

Finally, almost at the end, only 300m until we are back on the “main road” but no, unfortunately there was a stream that could not be crossed by our car and a destroyed bridge. We were super tired, the fuel tank was almost empty again, and we had to go 15km through the fields back to the previous “road”. YEAH.

Around half past 2 in the night we got another flat tire and the mounting for the front right shock absorber came off the car (welds ripped). No village anywhere near. We just decided to stop and sleep in the car for 3-4 hours and then move on in the morning.

The next morning we started at 6am and drove – at a phenomenal 30kmh – 180km to the next bigger village to find a suitable workshop.

We were sent back and forth, looking for a workshop to do the welding. We expected to stay here for several days but in the end we found a workshop – “guys no problem 60$ and we fix everything”. An hour later, it was all fixed.

A couple hours later, visited the salt lake briefly and went on towards the border to Kazakhstan.

The next morning there were some problems, due to missing signs, markings or ushers at the border we drove past the queue for about one kilometer – completely unintentionally of course… Then we couldn’t merge and the locals got pretty excited and didn’t let us join the line. I just couldn’t go back and then things got quite stressful….. We got blocked by big SUVs over and over again. In the end we finally made it into the line since we were 3 rally cars traveling in convoy, and were able to force our way in. Nevertheless there were discussions and almost fights with the local people. In Iran they would have put us on a golden stretcher across the border but here….. you can already see the difference in hospitality between some cultures/countries.