Russia was a surprising blend of pristine tarmac, rolling woodland and men in tiny shorts. It provided some great camping spots including one right next to a beautiful river, but Mongolia is where the rally really began in earnest.
When crossing the border from Russia to Mongolia we found ourselves in a 20km no man’s land. Finally leaving the Russian controlled territory it became pretty apparent what Mongolian roads were like as we hit a massive gravel track. Seriously, the lovely tarmac runs right up to the border fence and then just stops.
Mongolia has two roads, the Northern Route and the Southern Route, no prizes for guessing what separates the two. We opted for South as it’s a bit longer but we’d also heard rumours that the road was slightly better.
Sure enough the first 100km of the Southern Route was in fact brand new tarmac, but not before long we on the potholed dirt tracks.
The Road Gods
Throughout Mongolia we kept coming across these shrines, which we deemed as offerings to the Mongolian Road gods, we kept meaning to leave something at one of these shrines, but somehow managed to forget every single time. Probably why further down the line in Mongolia we had car troubles. (These are more likely to be also town or provincial boarders, but shrines to road gods made much more sense after facing them).
Living on the road
Since Mongolia is such a vast country when we passed through little towns we would stock up on supplies, the essentials water, bread and food for dinner.We camped under the stars for the first 5 nights in from Russia to Mongolia. After 6 days of no washing, and unexpected visitors in the night to our tents (horses, mice) we managed to find a hotel that offered a cold shower, giving some comfort. No matter how much we washed, more and more dust seemed to run off in that shower. The great thing we found was that we could drive and drive and when we felt like stopping and setting up camp we could. The camping also meant we could attend to our male egos and build a camp fire, Russia was much easier as there was an abundance of wood to burn, Mongolia however was a challenge, as the majority of was endless desert.
While the days were baking, the nights started calm and fairly warm, but as the night went on the wind always seemed to pick up, causing the tent to flap in the wind. But it did mean the skies were clear from clouds allowing us to be able to see an array of things in the sky, including shooting stars, pulsars, satellites, Mars and the Milky Way as well as point numerous constellations
Lexi – Challenges on the road
Mongolia threw us lots of ups and downs, as you read on you will understand exactly what we mean by ups and downs! The roads would rarely be like the smooth tarmac we felt when entering the country, more often than not Lexi was put through the punishment of half foot deep potholes, rumble strip like roads (miles and miles of endless shuddering and shaking), dusty off-road and uneven tracks, sand traps, wet mud and off-road terrains.
Before leaving Russia, we visited a garage to help us bend our right steering wheel ‘wishbone’ back to the correct shape (no idea what the piece is actually called, if you can tell from the picture feel free to tell us). The Russian mechanics basically used brute force and heat to bend it back to a shape. Lexi was certainly not safe to drive with this bent, the tracking was way off and she would randomly pull side to side while driving, it was a nerve racking at times.
Our terrain troubles began with a simple case of being stuck in the mud, after a short period of digging Lexi out and pushing, we wised up and put mats under each of the tyres for traction, letting us drive straight out. Something from all those survival television shows proved useful, thanks Ray Mears!
The next obstacle was a river crossing, when we saw the river, we paced up and down it bare foot to gauge the depth, it was rather deep in certain parts, which lead us to search for shallower water both up and down river. But with no success on finding a better point cross, and having watched and talked to the locals, it seemed like the only advice they would give us was to go quickly. After putting it off, it came to the point where we just had to go for it as at the time there were no other options.
Carefully planning a route, we drove fairly quickly into the crossing, trying to keep the revs going to prevent much water from going into the exhaust. Lexi just didn’t have the power and the engine cutout halfway through. It was then down to us to push her out, but not before water had flooded into the car, as well as partially filling the exhaust with water. Lexi was on dry ground again, after a pull up the bank from a lorry that turned up. But when we tried to start her back up, the car wouldn’t tick over… after a little panic and the help of a local with more hands on knowledge of cars, we drained the exhaust, and dried all the HT leads, etc and hay presto, she lives to battle another day.
Soon after we had crossed the river and got Lexi running again after a mild fright, a convoy of other ralliers showed up at the crossing. They listened to our warning about the depth of the water and the lack of power our cars have to push through the water, we arranged for a 4×4 to tow them all across for a small fee, which made their crossing virtually risk free. Unfortunately for us the 4×4 wasn’t there when we tried to cross and only turned up hours later!
Another day and another problem, the exhaust had fallen off, the temporary fix was cable ties and thick wire. The same day part of the radiator broke, meaning the hose that connects the coolant tank to the radiator would not stay attached due to a broken lip. Not ideal for being in a desert, with a car that overheats easily. So a few modifications using super glue, multiple jubilee clips and and duck-tape we managed to reattach the pipe and keep the coolant flowing. A secondary measure, we decided to bypass the temperature sensor, so that the fan constantly runs.
We had also been having some difficulties starting the car, when turning the key the starter motor wouldn’t engage, we were lucky that a mechanic and rallier from the Isle of Man driving a Mini had joined us in convoy, he told us that the starter motor sticking was a common problem with the Favorits and the top tip to get her up and running was to turn the key and hit the starter motor with a hammer. We thought it was slight absurd to start with, but it was something that kept us moving when the car wouldn’t start eighty percent of the time.
Another added challenge was that our front right and rear left shock absorbers had now gone, which meant when the car would go over a bump, it would bounce and rock back and forth and side to side. Something that we just get used to, as we agreed it wasn’t worth replacing as they would just break again, so we relied on the springs.
Our Iranian sump guard had served its purpose, but it was time to upgrade to a ‘super sump guard’, something that became a bit of a battering ram, and sounded like it. Our fear wasn’t the sump guard would give it was more likely that the chassis would break before the new super sump guard would! The ground clearance on the new sump was much lower, which meant people could hear us coming from a mile off and give us some funny looks whenever we would pull up.
We were taking no chances with the next set of river crossings, after crossing one river successfully, we realised that both rear brake cables were hanging off the underside of the car and, on inspection, it also turned out there were a number of other problems. Three of our fuel lines were leaking petrol and the bracket holding the front wheel axle was completely rusted/broken off (explaining some of our tracking issues while driving). This was when a man on a tractor appeared, and before we knew it another tractor arrived and a group of Mongolians insisted they would help us. After some hammering, a new makeshift bracket using a questionable piece of metal, some superglue, quick cement, electrical tape all our problems were sorted for the time being. The tractor driver then towed us across a very deep river, water was coming up to the windscreen, thankfully no water came in the car this time! We were then led into a nearby yurt on the other side of the river from some food, spiced noodles, potatoes and Will’s favourite meat, lamb.
We were approaching the final 150km mark to Ulaanbaatar and Will in the excitement, hit a pot hole rather hard, should be noted that these pot holes were everywhere and almost impossible to avoid them all! So as Will hit this pot hole, the car made a loud banging sound, the shock absorbers were swaying the car back and forth, the right wheel had gone and we came to a skidding halt. As you can see from the photo, the rim had completely gone. Once we replaced the tyre, we slowly trotted a long at a safe speed, as lexi had a mind of her own now. She would pull in all directions when making any adjustments. We just had to drive on slowly and patiently trying to protect the Lexi frail joints as she felt like should could give in in numerous ways if we hit another pot hole at the wrong angle.
Who we shared the road with
Transformation over 5 weeks
Wherever we went in Mongolia there was always a fascination with our beards, so much so they would laugh and say ‘Sakhal’ – beard in Mongolian. We just went along with it..
The Finish – WE MADE IT!!
Mongolia had certainly destroyed Lexi, there was a sadness on the last day, as we knew that it would be the last time we would drive her. Even though her joints creaked, sounded like a truck and with a lot of key parts broken and being held together with duck-tape and cable ties, she was our home for the last 5 weeks.
As we entered the finish line, the teams there heard us coming, giving expressions of “oh dear”, she’s definitely going to be on the scrap pile.
Thank you to everyone who has supported us on this rally, whether that is with donation, time or advice, it has been great adventure! Thank you to those who helped us prepare before we left by servicing the car, providing invaluable spare parts and tools, or giving us encouragement and a send off. While we were on the Rally it was great reading the comments from people and knowing that you were following our travels. It was when things were going wrong and the Rally was punishing us the hardest that your support was most strongly felt. We know the blog posts weren’t as regular as you would have liked but consistent and reliable internet access is one of the many things we take for granted back home. There are many things we have learnt during the past 5 weeks and this is certainly one of them!
One of the special things about the Mongol Rally is the people you meet along the way, either fellow Ralliers or locals, and we cant name all of them individually or this blog would never end but it truly was a privilege to share the road with you!
Finally and most importantly thank you to all of you have donated to Chance UK, they are such a great local charity we and over the course of the rally they have been tweeting about us and spreading the word, thanks guys! We hope that this will inspire others to go on an inspiring journey like ours.
We hope that you enjoyed following our progress and once we’ve properly washed and shaved we’ll do some serious photo and video editing and share some more of the best bits with you all.