Day 13: Aya – Novosibirsk ( 560 km )

The first part of today’s route took us through small villages in the countryside. The areas were relatively poor but the villages were well kept with the inhabitants visibly taking pride in their homes. The houses were single story, made of wood and often had a Lada parked in front of them. What was wonderful to see were the decorated window frames which each house had. Brightly painted and elaborate in their design, the window frames injected an element of fun and individuality into the otherwise monotone surroundings.
Today we had three time trials on sandy surfaces which were great to drive on and felt a bit like snow, however it was pretty dusty and as a result almost impossible to overtake. On one of the trials in particular we lost a lot of time because we couldn’t pass the car in front of us. Right after the second time trial a car drove into a ditch before our eyes. Luckily the car could be pulled out and carry on without any additional problems.
After we had completed the third time trial the rest of the drive to Novosibirsk was on a main road that fulfilled the sole purpose of getting us to our destination in the most direct manner.

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Day 12: Border camp – Aya ( 470 km )

During the night we were absolutely freezing in our tents. It was -5 which coupled with the strong wind made it feel even colder and difficult to get warm. In the morning, all of the water buckets were not surprisingly completely frozen.
Despite the cold, Mario got up at 05:00 to see whether he could make adjustments to the car in order to find a reverse gear. Although we could now put 1-4 in, we were not yet able to drive backwards. However, before he could get started on this someone asked him whether he could help them put together a brake master cylinder so he worked on that instead.
Our campsite was located close to the border and we left early in order to once again get there for 08:00 which is when the border opened. Our roadbook estimated that it would take us 2 hours to pass the 6 border checkpoints, however it took us 5 hours and we were even one of the earlier cars to make it through. Due to the later than planned start all of the scheduled time trials were cancelled which resulted in the total distance that we needed to cover also slightly decreasing.
Only a few kilometers after crossing the border it was obvious that we were in a different country. For one, there was an old hammer and sickle sculpture only a few kilometers after entering Russia, but most noticeably the condition of the roads had improved. We were pleasantly surprised by just how good the roads were all the way to our hotel in Aya. Driving through the dramatic landscape we were able to fully enjoy it rather than constantly have to watch for the next hole.
Another noticeable difference between Mongolia and Russia was the level of enthusiasm which the locals displayed for the rally. In Russia, hardly a car passed by without a passenger taking photos or the driver flashing his or her lights and waving out the window. Even when we arrived in the evening, the car park was packed with well wishers and car enthusiasts who had travelled to come and see the group arrive. Some had booklets with details of all the competing cars and would ask for autographs from the participants which was a rather bizarre experience.

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Day 11: Uureg Lake – Border Camp ( 271 km )

The roads may have been good on Day 10, but the drive to the final campsite was even rougher than usual. Although we had not experienced any technical difficulties the previous day, about 145 km from our final camping spot, we could suddenly no longer start or stop the car through the ignition key and it was permanently stuck in second gear. On top of this our rear shock absorbers also gave way, so we well and truly limped to camp.
We thought that we would be able to make it back in second, but shortly before the end of the drive we saw that there was a steep hill that we still had to cover. We tried to reach the top but without first gear we didn’t make it very far.
Mario walked to a nearby construction site to see if they had any vehicles which could tow us up but all the drivers had already left. Luckily a competitor in a Mercedes 300 SE offered to try to pull us up. The first attempt failed but the second time around we just about made it by zig zagging our way up.
Later in camp we discovered that the reason for our problems was that a number of bolts had broken on the gearbox mounting and as a result the gearbox was resting on the chassis frame. Because the gearbox had dropped, it also broke the gear linkage. The really tough roads and the resulting vibrations had essentially led our car (as well as those of many of our competitors) to fall apart.
At the camp we once again started to take the car apart with the help of friends and also a local Mongolian. Fixing the gearbox mounting would have been a huge job and was not very plausible because of the harsh conditions. The camp was located in the midst of what felt like a wind tunnel, which coupled with the sub-zero temperature would not have made working all night very pleasant. The soft ground also made undertaking such a job dangerous as the jacks kept on sinking into the group. At one point Mario had just come out from under the car when one of the jacks gave way, making the car come tumbling down. As a result, we decided to strap the gearbox to its correct position with tie rope and welded the gear selecting linkage back together in order to be able to drive in something other than second. Although this is only a temporary fix we are hoping that it will hold until Paris!

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Day 10: Chjargas Lake – Uureg Lake ( 259 km )

Today was the best day in Mongolia so far. Not just scenery wise but also because the tracks were good and smooth, compared to the other days that is. This morning there was a tense moment in the car when Noele was driving and a rock once again hit the petrol tank. Luckily this time the underfloor protection was able to absorb the brunt of the impact and the tank remained intact, but otherwise it would have meant another long night.
Our route, which led us further North took us over more mountain passes. Often up to the horizon we would see nothing other than the cars of those competing in the rally. There were not many signs of habitation but every known and then we would see a shepherd or someone on a horse and wonder where they could have come from.
The ending to the second time trial was so exciting that we stopped to watch a few of the other cars attempt it. It required driving up a steep incline, which was made even more difficult by the fact that a flock of sheep had positioned itself right at the foot of the slope. This meant that it was particularly hard for the competitors to gain the momentum required in order to make it to the top. We just about made it by zig-zagging quite significantly but some of the cars had to reverse up and others even needed to be towed.
This penultimate campsite was again located on a lake and was surrounded by mountains. In the far distance we could even see some snow-capped Russian peaks. The temperature at Lake Uureg was far cooler than at the other locations and coupled with the strong wind was the main reason for everyone making their way to their sleeping bags earlier than usual.

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Day 9: Telmen Lake – Chjargas Lake ( 288 km )

Today work started early in order to get the car finished before our start time of 09:02. At 04:00 Mario got up to change out back shock absorbers which had also given way as a result of the brutal roads and by 05:00 we had a lot of help from mechanically able friends to carry on fixing our fuel tank. Although it was quite a push, especially getting the deformed floor protection to match up to the chassis, luckily all the work could be finished 15 mins before we were scheduled to start.
The roads continued to be rough today and as a result we decided to take it easy to try to prevent us picking up additional problems. Everything went well until we made a short stop directly after finishing one of the time trials. The starter relay got stuck and as a result the starter motor stayed engaged. A lot of competitors kindly stopped to see if they could help and consequently the problem was quickly fixed.
Managing to make it to the day’s finish without any further issues, we set up camp right by Chjargas Lake. Whilst putting up our tents we were caught in a sand storm, which was so strong that we had to crouch behind the car until it passed. Although we wouldn’t have thought it possible, we managed to get even more covered in dust than before.
At dinner we discovered that one of the Canadian cars has a beer cooler and wine cellar built into their boot, whilst the Chevy truck has a projector and screen with them to play movies. Our car on the other hand is packed with tools, spare parts and more tools.

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Day 8: Murun – Telmen Lake ( 293 km )

The drive to Telmen lake took us through vast open planes dotted every known and again with a yurt and some grazing animals. The lack of permanent structures made the nomadic lifestyle of the inhabitants particularly apparent. There were fewer animals today than in previous days but this is largely due to the change in landscape. The dust also returned in force, making overtaking difficult and once again completely covering us and every inch of the car.
The day’s route took us over a number of mountain passes with car 46 reaching a maximum altitude of 1800 m. Although the views were wonderful, the roads were once again extremely rough. As a result many of the competitors experienced problems which led to our position in the overall ranking improving to 12th. We have not been gaining places by driving faster than those ahead of us on the leader board, but instead been fortunate that our issues have not occurred during critical stages.
We thought that we had managed to arrive at camp unscathed but that didn’t turn out to be the case. Waiting in line to fill up our car from the fuel tanker, a local lady pointed out that something was dripping from the back of our car. Taking a closer look we realized that the small leak was originating from the petrol tank.
With a lot of help from friends the fuel tank was removed and possible solutions were assessed. A stone must have hit the drain plug and caused the crack in the insert, which led to the leak. Although we have underfloor protection, this had been extremely deformed from previous impacts and was as a result not able to prevent the damage. Removing the protection was challenging because of the new shape that it had taken on, however it was necessary in order to get to the fuel tank.
The decision was made to apply cold weld to the drain plug, let it set overnight and cover it with fiber glass in epoxy in the morning. Although we are not certain which particular impact led to the leak, as Mario had been driving all day we at least know who caused it.

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Day 7: Bulgan – Murun ( 350 km )

Moving from our camp in Bulgan to Murun, we covered the whole 350 km on rocky and potholed roads. As a result the relatively short distance took us almost 9 hours to complete without taking any breaks other than to fix the car. Today we had three time trials which were all in not very good stretches. We found it challenging to cover the distance in a quick time and as a result we didn’t have a particularly smooth ride. At one point we hit such a big rock that it caused both of our sunglasses to fly right off.
Luckily this incident only appeared to cause cosmetic damage with one of the indicator covers falling off and the right wing bending upwards, however we did experience a minor issue with the car earlier in the day. Whilst driving we suddenly lost all gears again. Mario was able to see that a pin had slid out and moved to a position where the linkage locked. He could relatively easily secure it with a piece of wire, and as a result we were able to continue quickly.
Even though we have only been in Mongolia for a few days, the diversity of the landscape we have been able to experience is amazing! Whereas just days earlier we were driving through sand, today part of our route took us through rolling hills that could have been switzerland. The bumpy ride did however remind us that in fact we weren’t.
When we arrived at camp we saw that another car had rolled today. A mustard colored Datsun looked in far worse shape than the Beetle had, with the body being far more damaged and most of the windows broken. The car didnt have a roll cage but the drivers could be freed unharmed. Their lucky escape doesn’t appear to have put them off though as they have vowed to make it to Paris!

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Day 6: Ulaan Baatar – Bulgan ( 343 km )

This morning we lined up our cars along the side of the main square in Ulaan Baatar in order to receive the mayor’s welcome speech. At the same time in another corner of the square the city’s marathon was about to start.
The day’s drive took us west, away from the sandy conditions that we had experienced prior to UB and into the grasslands. For the first time since Beijing we saw a lot of animals. Although we had expected to see yaks, surprisingly we didn’t pass any, but instead our paths crossed with horses cows, goats and sheep. The animals had a tendency to gather around large puddles that had formed by the sides of the roads and didn’t leave when we would drive past. On a number of occasions we had to wait for animals who were crossing the road at their own pace and did not appear to hear the repeated sounding of the horn.
As a result of the grassier conditions there was also hardly any dust which was a welcome change to the night of camping we had done prior to Ulaan Baatar. We were also glad that the wind was not as strong and that the temperature was slightly cooler.
At one point we had to stop for fuel and a number of other competitors must also have chosen the same petrol station as a group of locals had gathered there. Whilst we were waiting to fill our tank the young boys would dare each other to touch our exhaust which was very hot! They found it very funny whenever someone touched it for slightly too long or they could convince someone new and unsuspecting to feel it.
We didn’t experience any difficulties today until about 200 m in front of the camp. Suddenly it was no longer possible to shift gears or find any gear at all. Mario was able to manually put first in so that we could get into camp and look at what had gone wrong from there. He discovered that a pin out of the gearbox linkage had fallen out. It was still in the undertray so it could be fished out and fitted back into position. Although it took a while to fix, luckily this very minor compared to the problems some of the other cars experienced. During one of the time trials a VW Beetle rolled over causing a lot of damage to the car. Luckily the drivers had installed a roll cage so they remained unharmed, but because of the condition of the car decided to pull out of the rally.

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Day 5: Ulaan Baatar ( rest day)

This morning walking through the lobby we came across two competitors who just arrived at the hotel. It turned out that their car had broken down the day before and had to find their own way to make it back to Ulaan Baatar. They had managed to get their car towed by a truck but they themselves couldn’t fit on it so they had to take the train which took them all night. We hope the same doesn’t happen to us!!
We spent most of today in the workshop checking up on our car but also investigating the problems that the others had with theirs and as a result weren’t able to explore the city. It was children’s day in Mongolia which is a day when the children receive gifts and is slightly similar to Christmas. As it was also the first of the month it was a dry day with no alcohol being served anywhere.
We are about to head into the wilderness again for 6 additional nights of camping. Sounds like it will be quite an adventure.

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Day 4: Altanshiree – Ulaan Baatar ( 426 km )

Our day started a little earlier than anticipated. In the middle of the night we woke to find the tent lying right on top of us. The wind had caused some of the pegs to come loose and so we were the only thing stopping the whole tent from flying away. We put some more pegs in but it didn’t help too much as the winds continued to get stronger and stronger.
The first part of the drive consisted of 200 km of off-road. For almost 80 km of this we had a time trial where we were able to push the car harder than yesterday. It did however mean that we were sliding all over the place but our time is what largely enabled us to improve our overall position in the ranking to 17th.
We passed through a number of rural villages along the way which consisted of a mixture of temporary tents and permanent buildings. The nearer we got to Ulaan Baatar the larger they seemed to get.
We were able to drive on a stretch of road that ran parallel to the train track for the last 200 km. Although it was relatively new, there were already large holes in it which constantly had to be swerved around. The closer we got to the capital the more mountainous the landscape became. The temperature also significantly dropped with there even being a number of snow patches on the sides of the mountains.
Ulaan Baatar itself is far larger than expected with a population of around 1 million. We were surprised by how the majority of the people speak very good English. The driving style is also a little different from China with the locals making use of their indicators to show a direction change, however they are slightly more aggressive with no gap in a traffic line staying open for long.
As we have a rest day coming up we are able to stay in Ulaan Baatar for two nights, but afterwards we have 6 days of camping as we move closer to the Siberian border. It sounds like it is going to get even colder as in the last rally the competitors would wake to ice having formed inside their tents by the morning.

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