Thursday, August 25, 2005

Panda Fatigue

We reached Mongolia on the 19th and the cars had already driven about 7500 miles. Mongolia was a real shock to the system, there really wee no roads to speak off. most of the tracks seemed to be worse than driving on the ground around them. For some reason all the roads seems to be corrugated, so it's like driving over a shock absorber test track. We quickly passed through Tsaganuur and reached Olgii. in Olgii we met a Mongolian woman called Nadia who helped us find a bank and get some provisions. We had met up with a load of other ralliers at the Rusain border so there where about seven teams milling about. We got ourselevs sorted fairly quickly and pressed on, we hoped to reach Altay by the morning.
In reality our progress was quite a bit slower. We reached a wooden bridge on the road to khovd and just before crossing it the blue team started to notice a scraping sound. Once over the bridge they pulled over and had a look under the bonnet only to see the engine about 9 inches lower than it should be. The engine bracket had broken and the scraping noise was the engine dragging along the floor. After an hour or so of head scratching we managed to tie the engine up using ratchets straps and a couple of planks from the bridge. At this point the car was still drivable other than the heat from the engine would have melted the straps in about five minutes. We decided to tow the blue car with the white 4x4 and we limped the last 50km in Khovd. We stopped for the night just outside town. Mark and James from the green team were starting to really worry about catching their flight from Beijing on the 23rd. There was no way we would reach Ulaan Batur on the 22nd as the hoped. They decided to get a flight to UB and give their car to the blue team. The plan was to sell the blue car in Khovd and say godbye to Mark and James.
Within five minutes of arriving in Khovd we had effectively sold the blue car. This guy offeed $450 despite the fact the engine was being held in place with wood and straps. We were nearly engulfed by people wanting to buy the other two cars as well so we had to retreat to a side street to seal the deal. It took a long time to actually get to the money and documents part, but just a we had Mark and James found us. Its the end of the school holidays in Mongolia dn there was no way they could get a flight from here or the next town. There only option was to pay some guy a couple of hundred dollars to race them to UB in their car. It was a real shame to see the guys go, especially as it meant breaking up the team. The four of us that were left set off for Altay making reasonable progress until we got lost and started headinbg south through canyons towards the chinese border. We ended up sleeping up in mountains in the cars and had one of teh coldest nights yet.
Early next morning we set off for Altay again. After a while Rich and I noticed a loud rattling sound. We thought it was just our stuff in the back and tried to repack, but it wouldn't sort the problem. They guys in the car behind spotted the problem. Our rear right shock absorber had ripped away from the chassis. We limped to the next town to find a mechanic. One of the problem we had riving through Mongolia is the maps. For example we were making for a town called Ullan Tolgog o the map, but no one could direct us to it. When we got there we found the town was called Most and the hill in the middle was called Ulaan Tolgog. This explained why yesterday people had pointed us every diretion we asked for Bangerol. We thought it was a town but in reality it was a river than ran for thousands of kilometres so all their directions were correct in a way. Anyway while we got our car fixed a Mongolian family adopted us. We stayed in their gers, politely ate too much goats cheese and drank to much yaks milk. Everything in their diet was milk related and we all ended up feeling like we would never touch another drop of milk.
The next morning we again set of for Altay. We had a big strecth of dessert driving through the gobi whih was pretty tough as the roads were a joke, the cras got bogged down in sand and there were constant reminders that you were along way from water. All around lay the rotted crcasses of camels and horses that hadn't made it to the next watering hole. About 50km outside of Altay the blue team hit a boulder that was submerged in the sand. Before they hit it all they saw was the tip of the iceberg but as they drove into the sand the rock finished of the green car. The sump split in two and caved in back upto the engine. They lost all their engine oil and and at the same time the boulder had stapped the ball joints under the gearbox so the car was stuck in first. We had no option but to dump a lot of everyones kit and all five of us (including Friday who we had met in Most) had to climb into the white car and head to Altay. At this point the white car decided we were obviously taking it for greanted what with all the towing and oveloading. It started to overheat, we basically had to stop every five or six kilometeres to let the gine cool down on the way to Altay. We got there late in the evening and we had all made up our minds that enough was enough. It wasn't going to be safe to drive across 750 miles of desert and rough terrain with only one car, that had a cooling problem. It wasn't a problem we could fix either. Through a combination of racing, towing and a few too many river crossing we had burnt the cylinder rings. This meant the engine was now burning oil, which on the one hand looked impressive as we left clouds of smoke behind us that would impress the Red Arrows, but on the other hand it caused the engine to overheat and low speeds.
In Altay we met four other teams, two of them (both driving pandas) had also deicded to give up as their cars had no more life in them. We'd covered 8300 miles in just over 20 days across the worst roads you can imagine. This was a greater distance thatn any of us had thought the whole trip would be. In the end we'd just asked a bit too much from 15 year old cars, whose owners in the UK worry about wether they'll be able to get to the shops and back without breaking down. That night 12 of us drowned our sorrows in the "Red Rock Dico Karakoke" bar drinking beer and vodka until they turned all the power in the town off, just as I was in the middle of a Neil Diamond track - the ultimate snub.
The next morning we hired a minibus to get us to UB and sold another of the Pandas for $750. We were going to finish the trip even if the car couldn't make it. One of the remaing teams decided to take our white pnada as well as their car. It's got a reasoanble chance of making it in a convoy, especially if they keep an eye on the heat and keep it topped up with coolant. Rich and I knew we wouldn't be able to get to UB in time to get home though.
After 33 hours in a cramped minibus we are now in the capital sorting out our connections home and living it up for a couple of days. The rally has been enourmous fun and an incredible challenge, I can't see more than five of the origional forty cars making though. In the last thousand miles so many faults started happening, one litre cars are just not deisgned to take this kind of punishment.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well I think it's bloodly marvelous. My heroes.
Very well done lads!!!
Beers are chilled and waiting for you.
Sue xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

9:33 am  
Anonymous Lu said...

Very well done to you all. We are stunned. You have done amazingly well. Danny was especially impressed by your imprisonment, Rich. Kat's results today- you will not believe it. Looking forward to seeing you soon. Loads of love from us all. LSDE

2:09 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well said Ben. James and I back in Blighty back 9-5ing it in the rain, all seems like some crazy dream. Will e-mail with all the best pics once we've sorted it. Happy days

5:23 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well done the mongolian job. we are all very proud of you. come home safely. looking forward to seeing you soon. bendad.

11:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Amazing! Enjoy your time in the capital - you deserve every pint of lager plus more! It's been great to keep up to date with your experiences - can't wait to see the photos!

8:32 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

well well well, Soooooooo AWSOME! speak soon. xxx jen

1:50 am  
Anonymous Kathryn said...

Well done all of you!!! Really proud of you! Can't wait to see the pictures. Congrats to all involved, xx

12:49 pm  

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