OFFICIALLY FINISHED!!! 5 weeks, 16,000km, 18(ish) counties and one hell of an adventure later, we made it to the official finish line! Doinit and 4 Wheelies were alongside, and we celebrated a monumental trek through Mongolia together with fermented and distilled horse milk (not recommended)!
We took some convoy photos, individual team shots, Craig climbed the fence, Steve jumped off the bonnet and Brooke gave the car a good thrashing through the mud pit near the finish line...then Dan from Doinit put a solid dint in our door with one last "nudge".
Besides shredding a tyre, cracking our windscreen, breaking a power window, overheating repeatedly in 45+ degree heat, losing our exhaust, flooding the air filter and breaking bumpers and roof box, the mighty Micra survived like a champ, and it's a shame it will be scrapped! Thanks to Sam and the Mahle guys for a phenomenal effort getting the car ready, and for building a sump guard that took a beating and survived!
Good times on the finish line, hard to register that the adventure is (mostly) over for now!
We celebrated first with an gigantic feast of a late lunch at 3pm (first meal of the day) at a German restaurant, then by heading out with other finished teams to a local night club, before the party moved back to the hotel until sunrise.
Thursday 21 August
Getting up was hard work after a late night, but on the road by 8:30, still hoping to reach UB by the end of the day!
We ran into one of the Dracula Khan teams early on, who had already finished and were driving home along the same route. They told us it was another two days driving to UB, which really wasn't what we wanted to hear, but we pushed on.
Today had some of worst roads of the trip, between tough off-road in the morning, potholed mud plains just after lunch (needed to tow 4 Wheelies out at one point after they beached themselves getting creative with the off-roading), and dangerously bumpy and potholed highway the rest of the time. We drive past a tragic bike crash, a car with shattered suspension over a pothole, and another rally car with broken suspension on the back of a truck. Definitely no easy run to the finish, but we were making good time nonetheless.
As we got within 300km of UB we noticed little outcrops of touristy areas (camel rides, rent-a-yurts, and buses of people who will probably never see far western Mongolia).
While passengers switched cars with 4 Wheelies, all but the drivers did their best to finish last stocks of vodka and by the time we snuck into UB at around midnight (decided to leave official finish line festivities for the morning), spirits were high in the back seat!
We also got to have showers for the first time in almost a week, which was quite the occasion in itself!
Wednesday 20 August
This was another long day of Mongol Rally madness, driving from 7:30am until nearly midnight through light rain most of the day, stopping only for lunch, and we nearly managed to split our convoy in half!
The first surprise of the day came in the early morning, where overnight rain had washed away a large section of the road, leading to more wading through mud for Craig and Steve, checking depth, and another fun mud crossing for the cars. It was day four without showers and the muddy water may have actually been an improvement!
The rain cleared later in the morning and at one point we spotted the team in the awesome little Mini Scamp who had broken their chassis and weren’t going anywhere fast. Half their team was ahead in Altai trying to find a truck to get them to a mechanic.
The second fun surprise for the day came a little after stopping for lunch at a Korean restaurant in Altai. Similar to Khovd, there were about 100km of decent tarmac roads on the eastern side of the town, which we were following happily, even getting up past 110km/hr at some points (had no idea what the actual speed limit was). We were second with Steve driving, behind Ivan’s Skoda, as we were heading up to a slight crest, when we saw him hit the brakes suddenly, and hard - we reached the crest of the road still doing over 100 and saw that the good tarmac disappeared right there, without warning it turned into a rough dirt road with a little drop-off. We narrowly avoided running into the back of the Skoda as it braked, and 4 Wheelies and Doinit also made similar lucky escapes behind us. We’d seen good roads disappear without warning before, but right at the crest of a hill was one of the more scary moments of the trip behind the wheel!
As we crept closer to Ulan Bator, having fun with cars escalated, and playing bumper cars nearly every time we stopped became a constant source of laughs, as did Craig and 4 Wheelies chasing a herd of camels at one point, and flat out racing with Ivan’s Skoda across the steppe.
Our Micra and the 4 Wheelies’ Yaris were usually faster (more reckless?) than the other half of the convoy, and we usually ended up ahead of them pretty quickly. At one point we stopped to wait, seeing them in the distance behind us, but after disappearing behind some hills, they never showed up where we were! We spent an hour waiting and backtracking, finally deciding to continue on the 2hrs to the next town (we’d nicknamed it B3 as it was the third town of the day starting with B and we couldn’t remember the names) which had been our goal for the night.
We’d completely given up hope of seeing them at B3 as we’d had trouble getting there even with GPS while Doinit and Ivan had no GPS, however as we drove into town around 10/11pm, by a stroke of insane luck we saw the familiar headlights just leaving town and flagged them down. They’d taken a different “road” to us originally, found the main tracks, lost them again, followed a riverbed, and STILL ended up in B3, at around the same time we arrived, even after we’d stopped for an hour earlier. The reunion was marked by plenty of cheering and story swapping, as we were all happy to have the convoy back together!
We continued on until after midnight and eventually pulled over to camp. It was back to 2400m and another rather freezing night, but it had been an eventful day, we were on a high from our lucky reunion, and the end was in sight!
Tuesday 19 August
Turns out camping at 2400m, in the rain, with zero degree temperatures is about as much fun as it sounds, even with four layers on inside our sleeping bags! We all woke up freezing, wet from the tent sides, and struggling to breathe from what we thought was the altitude, but turned out to be that our cheap, partially erected tent had stuck itself closed with the water leaving no vents, and us with no oxygen. It was a bizarre and unpleasant feeling to wake up to!
The day itself was pure rally, another epic highlight of the trip! We covered only about 350km, of mostly off road tracks, trails and steppe...countless ditches and puddles, got partially lost a couple of times as the road literally disappeared, or had huge unmarked detours due to swollen rivers. Even 4WDs were having trouble, but we thought they were a little soft!
Meanwhile, 4 Wheelies caught up bringing the convoy to 4, Doinit lost their exhaust like we did in Russia, our bumper cracked, our roof box had to be held down with a ratchet strap as it started to break, and we had to modify our air intake after one deep crossing flooded it and the engine started to struggle.
Highlight of the day was crossing a deep fast flowing river, being towed by a local shepherd in a huge truck. Lucky Craig went out and found the truck and driver when he did (he also stopped a family lunch for them to get the truck going, hand crank and all) - Brooke and Steve were about to attempt the crossing anyway, which as it turned out would have been somewhat suicidal, as the water was up to the wing mirrors as we were towed across...
Around lunch we ran into an Aussie past rallier, who was now riding a bike solo in the other direction through to Portugal.
After posing the cars side by side for photos, a drag race ensued - we're claiming the win with Steve driving, but the finish line wasn't exactly well defined!
Another night camping, though only 1400m and somewhat cooler tonight.
Monday 18 August
The first sight in the morning was the no-pants Russian guy from the previous night still not wearing pants, and still drinking vodka from a bottle...talk about stereotypes! The next sight, after packing up, was unfortunately an epic queue at the immigration office, which opened late, and was processing people one at a time
6 tedious hours later, WE MADE IT TO MONGOLIA!! It felt great crossing the last border, and convoying with the 6 other teams who were through at the same time, also doing the Southern Route through Mongolia. It was just 30 minutes until the first team got a flat, thanks to (of course) a broken vodka bottle!
Ivan, a Czech adventurer driving around the world in an old Skoda, and team Doinit (Maz, Dan, and Jess who had jumped ship from team South Afristans) were on the same tight schedule as us, and we continued on into the night as the other teams stopped earlier. The Mongolian steppe was every bit as spectacular as we'd hoped, and in places the sky was full of eagles hunting smaller birds and rodents...not bad for first impressions of our final country. We got to hold a giant eagle too, courtesy of an eagle hunter near the road as the light faded.
It had been wet on and off all day, and we had a few big puddles to cross and some fun off-road action, before we ran into what looked like a small lake, compete with bogged bus, and decided to call it a night and investigate options in the morning. Don't know how cold it was, but definitely single figures and we needed the thermals.