Driving a 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4 from Peking to Paris in the June 2019 ERA Rally.

Thursday, 22 August 2019

0128 - Mongolia, Days 3-10

0128 Mongolia Days 3 -10
4th - 10th June 2019
Camping, incredible scenery, and some of the ROUGHEST roads you have ever seen !

Its a wide open land !
Until one drives across Mongolia,  one doesn't appreciate the sheer vastness and nothingness of the open plains - it just goes on and on.  And the two day drive from the border up to the capital city of Ulaan Baatar was right across the Gobi Desert - The home of the Bactrian (two humped) camel, the largest dinosaur fossil reservoir in the world, the largest Asian desert and 5th largest in the world, the home of the world's largest temperature extremes, and of course the home of the Great Mongolian Empire of Genghis and Kublai Khan.  The Mongols once had the largest contiguous empire in history.  This really is one hell of a place to visit - And we get to drive through it all, camping out in the middle of it - How good is that ?

Day 3. Erenhot to Ikhket Camp 1.   395 kms.  The border crossing, as usual in this part of the world, took ages, and half the day was lost queuing.  To get 110 cars plus support vehicles across is a major undertaking, and our NOMAD fixers did a pretty good job.   In S & Central America we always budgeted a whole day to get through a border, and then if one got through any faster it was considered a success !   Very similar mental approach required here.   Once we were away from the
Convoy across the desert
border facilities,the day was declared a Transit Day due to the time delays, and later on some localised flooding caused the cancellation of som of the timed sections.   This was really our first day of full use of the Garmin and our "Red Arrow".  This points the direction of the next way point, but sometimes it is not possible to go straight - As we found out today.  We tried to go straighter than was possible, and ended up entering an (unmanned) gate through a fence.  As we went deeper into the fenced area, we saw tanks and buildings, and even a big concrete area - What was this ?   Eventually we realised we were in a totally fenced miltary facility, and after following the perimeter fence around for a while, we realised the only way out was through the gate where we had entered.  By the time we reached the gate, there were 3 armed soldiers with guns there - Whoops !  So we waved as we shot out, and went round the OUTSIDE of the fence.  Lesson learned, but it is frustrating when you can see the dust from the other cars, but can't get through the obstacle (fence, railway line, river etc) that lies between you !

Refueling at the camp site
For the last section it was decided by the Clerk of Course John Spiller that we should drive it in convoy so we didn't get lost, so the last hour or two was spent getting very dusty as we followed the other cars across the desert.  We finally arrived at Ikhket Camp 1.   Our first task was to refuel from the tanker trucks that were provided, because not only were there no hotels out here, but nor were there any petrol stations.  We had prepaid for the fuel prior to starting the event, and everyone was allocated 60 litres, which was fine for many of us, but some of the thirstier cars needed to supplement their allowance with some of their own jerry can stocks.

Our first nights camp
Once we had our 60 litres, it was up into grassy camp area where the NOMAD team had already set
up the toilets, the shower block, the kitchen and galley marquees, and the yellow rental tents for people who didn't know how to pitch a tent !!  Even some people with their own tents obviously hadn't practised pitching them before the event, and there were quite a few people waving poles and pegs around trying to work out how to put them together - But more of this later !  Once we had our tents pitched, we found a beer / wine tent, where although they were not ice cold, they were certainly very welcome.   Dinner was in the large galley marquee with tables and benches to seat 6 or 8 were set up, and it was excellent.  The food was good, and with everyone sitting in together it was a case of making new friends as well as chatting with those we already knew.

It is worth mentioning here that, due to the staggered time starts each morning, we only tended to see the people who started at around the same time as us each day.  The slower Vintagent cars started some hour or more ahead of the Classics, so we rarely saw some of these, except for a few slower ones that we caught.  So during the day we only ever really saw (and therefore chatted with) maybe the 10 cars in front and the 10 cars behind us in the start order.

Camp site in the evening
I think Ashton and I were both in bed by about 8 pm, exhausted, after a long day in the saddle - Something that was to continue for the next 33 days.  The concentration required both in the driver's seat and the navigation seat is continuous from start to finish of each and every day, and with the morning adjustments to be made to the route book, plus the evening car checks, the days are pretty full.  Certainly I slept more soundly and continuously every single night of the rally than I have for many years !

Packing up the Illien's tent
Day 4. Ikhket Camp 1 to Ulaan Baatar.  366 kms.   The next morning was a classic.  Noele Ilien was tasked with folding up their "pop up" tent, while dad Mario checked their car over and packed everything away.  After about 10 minutes watching Noele struggle, Ashton went over to help - But little progress was being made. These tents may go up easily, but getting them folded back down is always another issue.  John Crighton came over and could scarcely contain his mirth as he watched the battle with the tent take place in the middle of the Gobi !  After maybe 30 minutes, Noele cried "Enough", and it is my understanding that the tent was left behind in the camp site, and from then on, she and Mario used one of the rental tents !

Camping breakfasts from NOMADS are as good as their suppers.  Plus they provide us with a
Heading towards UB
package lunch, which we duly pack into our small insulated bag that sits below my legs (along with a lot of other stuff !) and is kept filled with nibbles, chocolate bars, as well as sandwiches etc !

We had lost the E Type last night ! It turned out Boris and son Elliot had gone off course last night and got bogged, so they had to spend the night out in the desert !  Fortunately they were located this morning, extracted from the sand, and rejoined us later in the day.  They were not happy campers !

Wild dirt roads in the Gobi

Almost the entire day was spent off road on very rough and rocky roads, which even gave us some "air time" on a couple of occasions, Gidget seemed to survive OK, although IIRC, Ashton wasn't feeling too good, needing a couple of emergency stops !  Life in the Gobi is hard when there are no hedges !

Genghis Khan & a Contal
Heading to Ulaan Baatar, we finally got onto some tarmac, and got some fuel, and then came across
the 40m high statue of Genghis Khan on horseback.  If you know your local history (like who was China trying to keep out when they built the Great Wall ?), you will understand there is a bit of argy bargy between the two countries, and rumour has it that the statue is pointing directly towards China as a form of intimidation !  Hmmmm.  Anyway, a very impressive statue, even more so because Anton & Herman were there at the same time, but after a quick look, we drove on - It had already been a long day and we still had to negotiate the notoriously bad traffic in UB.

Contal following behind
Coming down one of the hills near UB, we both smelt petrol - Very strongly.  We stopped to investigate and found the banjo on the bottom of one of the carbs had shaken loose, and fuel was pouring out - And guess what is right under the carbs ?   Yup, the hot exhaust manifold !!    Fortunately we had installed a comprehensive heat shield between the carbs and the manifold, and it seemed to have prevented a disaster.  But it was a good lesson on the kind of things that can go wrong when you are
Heading into UB
driving over rough roads all day - On this occasion we escaped unharmed.   It then turned out that the directions provided were wrong, with a right turn indicated where it should have been left, and we ended up using our own maps to find the hotel.  The traffic really was bad, worse than Beijing, and after a few minutes the Contal came up beside us and asked if we knew where we were going.  When we said Yes, they asked if they could follow us, as they were hopelessly lost as well as being totally exhausted.  (Many others also got very lost coming in to UB !)  We did eventually arrive at the hotel, with Anton close behind, and heaved a sigh of relief - Coming into busy cities at the end of a hard day is very hard on both the driver and the navigator - Let alone on the car !We learned later than many cars had suffered mechanical issues today, and a number of them had to be trucked into UB for repairs.  This is one tough event. 

Working on the car
Day 5.  Rest Day, Ulaan Baatar.   Well, not really a rest day,
Other cars being worked on
more a "work on the car" day ! After some discussions, we realised we had to lighten Gidget's load because the rear suspension was taking such a pounding that the rubber bump stops were already almost completely destroyed !   So we emptied out most of the heavy "emergency" spares,
Our weighty box of spares
plus some of the heavier tools, and put them in a box, which we were then almost unable to lift !  We had never put all the spares together and weighed them before - It must have been over 30 kg.   Once that was taken car of, and Ashton had checked everything else, we went off to fill up with fuel so we would be ready to go in the morning.  Gidget was still very grumpy in traffic, seemingly running rich, but we eventually negotiated the crazy traffic and put her to bed.  The evening was
Mongolian entertainment
spent at a small "cultural show" in the top bar in the hotel, which provided great views out over UB.  The ERA supports a Children's Home in Mongolia, (ironically called the Lotus Home !), and tonight was to support that charity.  I also found time to not only learn a bit more about the Garmin, but also to share that knowledge with Steve and Alan from the Rolls - It turned out they had been really struggling with directions up until this point !

Sukhbaatar Square

Gerard Brown on Contal
Day 6.  Ulaan Baatar to Unitiin Brigada Camp 2.  457 kms.    Today's start was from the imposing Sukhbataar Square, the home of
the Mongolian Government, and fortunately (traffic wise) located right opposite the hotel.  However with brass bands, string ensembles, plus speeches and vast crowds of onlookers, it turned out to be both a long and frustrating time before we finally got away, once more to battle the crazy traffic that is Ulaan Baatar.  The situation isn't helped when 90% of the cars want to pull along side us and take photos, especially when it is sometimes the driver taking the photos !  Even harder when Gidget is in a grumpy mood due to the heat and the slow traffic not enabling her to clear her throat.

200 kms of tarmac to start the day
We had some 200 kms on tarmac to start the day, a lot of it passing through very empty countryside for as far as one could see.  We did pass groups of yurts along the way, presumably the nomads with their animals who move every so often to ensure greener pastures for their horses, cattle and goats.
Once on the dirt, it was rough and dusty for the rest of the day.  After one particularly bumpy section, the car started crabbing, but luckily Skippy was close by in the sweep car (having just righted Keith in his Pontiac who had managed to roll on a particularly bumpy section), and after jacking the car up, we found we had broken one of the U beaut heavy duty
Fixing our first broken spring
rear leaf springs that we had purchased new from the UK.   Not so U beaut after all - Pretty sure that on closer inspection we found evidence of manufacturing damage in the crack!  Grrrr.  Anyway, he was able to jury rig the spring using a ratchet strap and a bit of chain, and much to my surprise we were off again in less than an hour.  We then limped on for the rest of the day, and once in camp Ashton took Gidget over to the mechanical triage area where Dave the mechanic was able to fit one of our reserve springs that to this point had been masquerading as a front bumper.  Note to Ashton - Don't run in to anyone tomorrow as we have no bumper !

Camp site for the night

Mending Gidget's spring
Apart from the late night due to car repairs, the camp site was
located in a stunning spot, and with the NOMADS stoking up the boiler, good hot showers were available, followed by their usual great feed in the social environment of the mess tent.  Bit of car damage today, and lost time, but the scenery out here is unbelievable.  And Steve and Alan in the Rolls were heard to say that they didn't get lost today, which made me very happy !

Day 7. Unitiin Brigada to Tsagaan Uul Camp 3.  381 kms.  We packed up early and as usual then
John & his VW in the Gobi

Camp site in morning
had to wait around for our MTC start time, although this gave us the opportunity to chat with some of the others, or to take some photos of the great camp site  out in the middle of Mongolia.    We started with almost 200 kms of black top, which was a relief for our tired rear suspension, but included a couple of toll roads, which really surprised us as they were in the middle of nowhere, and the road really wasn't good enough that they could realistically charge us for using it !!  But as the fee was
Horse at Toll Gate
about 50 cents Australian, we really couldn't complain, and when we saw a local on his horse which was standing cross legged and seemingly leaning on the telegraph poles, it at least put a smile on our faces !
Rocky dirt roads
After a TC in a cafe in Murun, we headed off road for a timed stage section.  Once again this turned out to be rough and unforgiving, and a lot of cars had problems - some serious and requiring the truck of shame, and others able to be fixed by the road.  There were also many people suffering punctures - sometimes multiples !   Ashton looked after the car, and this enabled us to make it through relatively unscathed.   At one stage we came over a crest and
Choose best track !!
there in front of us were the much photographed multiple tracks that we know from pictures of previous events, and they really demonstrate the "choose best track" statement written in the route books !  Let me assure you that when travelling at speed it is not easy to scan them all and work out which are wet, which are bumpy, and which one you should use.  Suddenly you are off the hill and down on the tracks and just doing as best you can !!

Typical rocky roads !
Arriving in camp, there were many tales of woe - Probably the unluckiest being a Mercedes that was just driving over the grass into the campsite and fell in an enormous pot hole that was hidden from view, damaging his front
Helping to fix the Alfa
end.  Phil and Laurette were having all sorts of electrical issues with their Alfa, in addition to the multiple tyre issues, and several people were helping them with their repairs.  Even David & Stephen Gainer who were leading in their 240Z suffered major suspension damage that meant they not only lost the lead, but were never able to regain it.  Lost wheels, collapsed suspension, failed wheel bearings - The list of dramas was endless.  It was to be a long night for some.........

Crossing rickety bridges
Day 8.  Tsaagan Uul to Undurkhangai Camp 4.  341 kms.   Today was a wild day, and one in which we never saw an inch of tarmac all day. There were a number of changes to the route due to deteriorations since the original recce was done, and we had to do the whole day with no fuel stops - This was going to determine whether our fuel consumption calculations had been correct !
There were a lot more mechanical issues for many people today, yet somehow we managed to get through.  One section where a number of cars got bogged in deep sand cause us no dramas - The low down torque of the big 4 cylinder engine enabling Ashton to get us through. Many wooden bridges too, most of them in very poor state of repair so much care required !

Finding air !!

Another sandy section we took at speed in order to get through, but it ended up with a lip at the top which caused us to get airborne ! Since Gerard was there with his camera, the moment was captured,  and provides us with one of the great shots of the rally !

A dusty day in the saddle
The camp site at the end of the day had been moved, and yet no one had told us !  So we followed instructions implicitly, but when the camp was not there, quite understandably it caused a bit of discussion in the cabin !   Eventually, more by luck than skill, we spotted the yellow rental tents, so it must have been a lot harder for people who arrived after dark !  A long day, yet again, but we survived.  We SHALL get to Paris.

Missing head light trim
Day 9 Undurkhangai to Achit Lake Camp 5.  449 kms.  Yesterday we lost a head light rim.  We also lost a small chrome ring around a front side light.  That all ?  No worries then !!   Don't know where we lost them - They just vibrated off somewhere !

Oldsmobile in the air
Awaiting our morning MTC
As we left the campsite this morning, we saw some tales of woe.  The Fiat had a hole in the back where their shock absorber had just broken loose
and punched through the body work, leaving an exit hole like from a rocket !   There were cars on jacks, front wheels off our friends in the green Porsche, and we had growing cracks appearing in our front bodywork !  Worst of all was the sight of Erik and Mary-Anne's Oldsmobile with the front of the car suspended up in the air on a crane, while they tried to find a fix for some suspension woes.  This was truly a difficult event.   We gathered on a nearby hill top to await our start time at the morning MTC.

Beside Khyargas Lake
After only about 30 mins on the gravel roads, we came out onto some smooth tarmac at last and breathed a sigh of relief.  We then drove alongside the scenic Khyargas Lake, and eventually a TC in a gas station where many of us took the opportunity to fill up.  
Modern nomads on the move
There was a drop loo which seemed to have no bottom, and a dead eagle lying beside the telegraph pole. Not a very imposing spot, but sights that were starting to become not just expected, but even acceptable !   In the gas station was a van with a family of Mongolians inside, and a complete yurt packed on the roof, with the wooden central roof frame strapped to the back of the van.  Obviously a family moving house !!

Chris & John arrive just in time !
As usual, Chris and John in the Beetle arrived two minutes before their allotted start time, and barely had time to turn the engine off before they were on their way again !  But not far up the road we entered the little town of Uulangom, where the police had blocked
Storm clouds gathering
off every junction so allow us to pass through ! We then continued on the black top for a while, but there were very black and ominous clouds directly ahead of us.  Ashton and I discussed the chance of us missing the storm, and wisely agreed that this one was a "bad one", and stopped to erect the roof.   Shortly after that we turned off onto more dirt, and headed up into the hills, straight towards the storm.  First of all we had a TC that was the start of a timed Hill Climb, on relatively smooth gravel, and Gidget stormed up the hill.  Around one corner we met a
Struggling up the hill
herd of sheep in the middle of the road, but by using part of the bank, Ashton managed to get us past them without too much delay.  A steep section visible ahead took some searching for the best route, and while Ashton concentrated on the road imediately ahead, I suggested he take the high track, which looked less steep and rough.  He did that and we got to the STC almost bang on time - a great hill climb in the dirt !
Snow at the top

After that, with the rain clouds closing in and the temperature dropping fast, the track got rougher, rockier, wetter, and steeper, as we wound up and up, eventually almost to 3000 m.  There was snow on the hills around us, and sleet falling in places, but somehow we kept going.  As we neared the top, Gidget was becoming more and more breathless, and eventually Ashton ended up traversing from side to side in order to reduce the severity of the hill.  This of course meant we were totally off the "track", and had a lot of rocks and gullies to clamber over and through, while we were peering through the murk of the windscreen,
We finally made it to the top unaided
fogging up on the inside, and with the brilliant (not !) Healey wipers struggling to clear the windscreen outside !   Somehow we made it, courtesy of Ashton's skill behind the wheel, and it was with some relief that we summitted, and got out of the car.    We had seen some nearby cars stop or have problems on the hill, but it wasn't till much later that we found out that we were probably one of very few that made it to the top unaided.  Even cars who finished much higher in the results than us at the end were unable to get up the hill unaided, and for me, that was a major turning point - Gidget still was running unaided, not being towed or trucked - And given how few cars did make it up the hill is a testimony to her capability.

After we had conquered the hill !
Once at the top, the skies cleared, and from there it was a long run across sandy plains and lake beds until we reached our last camp site in Mongolia, Achit Lake.  As the lake came into view, it was just a just a stunning view, with the storm clouds still gathered on the other side of the lake.When we got out of the car, we realised that we had now lost the entire LH headlight - It had obviously come unscrewed and fallen out somewhere on the hill !   Someone later admitted they had seen a headlight beside the track, but weren't about to stop while on the steep hill to pick it up !   So somewhere soon we will need to track down a replacement
Achit Lake
!  With the tent pitched, and supper eaten, we realised that there was a problem with this scenic
Achit Lake
lakeside camp site - Billions of what appear to be sand flies.  Fortunately they don't seem to bite, but Ashton wisely lit a small fire in the sand to keep them at bay. And one has to ask - What was the story about that black Volvo that was bogged up to its axles down on the beach ??  Some questions to be asked in the morning !!

Sand flies on the fly sheet

Day 10. Achit Lake to Kochevnik Camp 6, in Russia.   When we awoke, the extent of the fly problem was evident - The fly sheets were covered, the tents were covered, the cars were covered, wheels, and anything left lying out were covered, and even the toilet tents were covered !   And as soon as one stood still, you were covered.  So packing up was done quickly, and in silence so the mouth didn't have to open !

In the Altai
The start of today continued on the dirt roads, but increasingly scenic as we wound through hills and
beside rivers through the Altai mountains.  There were sections of tarmac, then more dirt, and on the way to the border we passed the steam car which we hadn't seen for a while on the wild dirt
Broken down brake down !
trails we had been on.  We also passed a Dodge on the back of a truck, and it seemed the truck had even broken down, so they were definitely having a bad day.  Mongolia wasn't finished with us yet !

We finally arrived at the border in a small village, where we
Queuing to leave Mongolia
queued and waited as usual.  We changed our Mongolian money into Russian, and then found we needed some Mongolian money to get across the border, so we, and several others, then had to borrow some Mongolian money back off people who
Trucks carrying wounded cars
hadn't yet changed theirs !  A German family in a Unimog came through the other way, and we chatted to them for a while - They had taken over 2 years to get this far - even stopping en route for a couple of months to have a baby !    They had taken half the day to get through the border, so my assessment of assuming it will take a day once again proved useful so one didn't get overly frustrated.  There is nothing you can do about it, so just chat with others and enjoy the moment !  As mentioned before, we normally see very few cars during the days, and in the evenings everyone is busy, so the border crossings give a chance to catch up with some of the others.

Cars being towed across the border
Damaged cars were being towed through the border.  Car carrying trucks rolled up and had to unload
their cars since Mongolian trucks could not cross the border - The car owners had to push their cars across the border, and then get Russian trucks to load their cars on to for the ongoing journey. Meanwhile we ate our sandwiches, caught up with everyone's news, and waited.  And got upset when locals pushed into the line
In Mongolian border post
as soon as there was 2 ft of space between cars !   Finally we started moving - Apparently the border crossing closes for lunch !  And eventually we got through the Mongolian border and set off through about 8 kms of No-Man's land to the Russian border.    We found out later that a few cars were stuck in Mongolia because the border closed at 5 pm !  And as the next day was a local public holiday, the border would remain closed !  They eventually got through on the day after that !!

We survived Mongolia and were still running.

All the pics for Mongolia can be found here :-  https://photos.app.goo.gl/j5g3nCKjXkkW9VhS8

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Ashton & Giles welcome any visitors, support, and comments as we prepare for our Adventure !