After Khovd we were well-rested (more or less) and ready to hit the road!
We set off driving and were cruising along in our convoy when one of our rims was hit by a rock in exactly the same place where it had gotten so hopelessly bent out of shape during the Uzbek pothole incident. Sebastien and I stopped and got out to fix the tire (who am I kidding, I supervised and took pictures). Luckily the Roos and Team Phoenix looked back and noticed we had stopped and came over to help, which was very good because we didn’t have a tire pump! Paul helped pound the rim back into shape and we were on our way.
the boys work so hard at fixing things
After a little while we hit a stretch of about 30km of pristine highway in the middle of nowhere. It was glorious compared to the bumpy, dusty, slow going we were getting accustomed to. When I watched Ewan MacGregor’s “A Long Way Round” as my Mongol Rally preparation I couldn’t fully understand their joy at seeing tarmac. After driving through Central Asia and Mongolia I now fully appreciate the thrill that one feels – a feeling of delight with no limits, a hope that it will last longer than just a few kilometres, and the acceptance coupled with a twinge of disappointment when that beautiful pavement turns back to bumps.
Sebastien loves tarmac too
This was a big day of driving, and we couldn’t drive that close to each other because of the dust. We were absolutely covered in it and spent the day breathing through our Buffs, looking like bandits.
The boys called Sebastien Mr. Sheffield because of his salt and pepper dust hair
We came across a local pickup truck that was broken down on the side of the road. They waved us over and asked if we had a pump. We didn’t, but the Roos and Team Phoenix did, so we decided to take a little car/karma break on the side of the road and help people out. We were right near a few gers, and the people of the household were all milling around the truck. It is a pretty remote area, so I think this is the most action they had seen in a while.
Yup, that tire needs some fixing
The whole family came out to chat and were super friendly and cute. The dad offered us some fermented goat cheese, which was quite delicious and he and his wife insisted on taking pictures with us. Kids start riding horses quite young in Mongolia, and his petite daughter was off herding animals, save for a few times she came to stare at us and probably wonder why we were so dirty.
Mom and dad
Daughter takes a break from herding
We eventually came across two other teams – the dudes from Arkansas and the Rollover team – they had been driving the wrong way for a while and doubled back to a fork in the road. We flagged down a car and with our broken Russian were able to communicate with a local lady who set us off in the right direction.
Ran into some Mongolian wrestlers at the gas station
We were all burning along, following clouds of dust as best as we could. We stopped for a bathroom break and suddenly...didn’t see any more clouds of dust. Sebastien and I were mostly unconcerned since all the cars were heading in the direction of Altai, and following tracks that looked more or less well-travelled.
Convoy before we lost them
Those dusty dirt roads we were on were nothing compared to the road that we hit later that day, which was like driving on corrugated steel. It felt like our car could be in one of those cartoons where there was so much bumping and vibration that eventually bits of the car would fall off until there was nothing left but you holding the wheel and levitating above a pair of tires. We had to drive pretty slowly (even slower than usual!) on that stuff because you basically had no control of your vehicle. If you sped up, the bumps weren’t quite as bad, but we knew our car would probably end up in the ditch with that strategy.
We were all headed towards the town of Altai, but with dusk approaching Sebastien and I decided to just call it a night, pull over on the side of the road and camp. There was no one around and we were sad to lose our crew but we didn’t want to keep driving at night since we both have horrendous night vision. We figured Altai was not that far away, but even 30 miles would have taken at least another hour and the visibility was crap.
Just as we finished setting up our tent, the old dudes (Team Phoenix) pulled up with the Rollover team in tow. They had a GPS and convinced us it wasn’t that far away and that if we drove faster the bumps weren’t as bad. We decided to give it a go, but after a few clicks decided we would rather just camp than be stressed out driving. At that point our lights also stopped working (the radio had stopped the day before), so it was an extra good idea!
We made a plan to meet up the next morning and said our goodbyes. (Sidenote: When we caught up with the Roos later on they said they were convinced we were behind them for like 3 hours until they stopped and the dust cloud that pulled up next to them was the Arkansas dudes and then they were traumatized).
Sebastien and I had assembled the ingredients for a delicious pot of chili and were excited to eat it....until we realized that all of our matches were completely wet from the last time we used them in Kazakhstan. We also didn’t have a lighter.
We were basically the worst campers ever.
Sebastien made some very valiant efforts to use a rock and metal, but alas, it was not to be. A bit of cold chili was dinner and we went to sleep with plans to be up early to meet the dudes in Altai and continue our journey.