We had been in Mongolia for eight days already and we had missed our self-appointed finish line deadline – the last Finish Line Party, which had already happened three days before.
We were tired and frustrated with Mongolia’s roads. Day after day we saw how our plan to get to Ulaanbaatar in just five days got delayed again and again.
First, we got lost in the Gobi Desert for nine hours, then people felt sick in Altai, we got lost again, we had several mechanical problems, and whatnot. It seemed like no matter how hard we tried to get to the finish line on time, Mongolia threw a curb ball at us each time while yelling, “haha, idiots… I win again!”
But now, we were finally close to the end and we were starting to see some signs of civilization – like, sporadic sections of paved roads!
During the past week, we debated whether it was better to drive on dirt paths with its horrible “washboards” (the little sand dunes that make your car vibrate worst than a washer machine spinning uncontrollably) or on paved roads in an awful state of disrepair and full of car smashing potholes.
From experience, none were desirable. We smashed our suspension by driving too fast for hours on dirt washboards in order to take one of our teammates to the hospital in Altai.
No worries, she was fine in the end, and it was just an allergic reaction. But at the moment, it was a bit scary and it is not cool when stuff like that happens in the middle of the desert!
In addition, we also scored a few flat tires by hitting some potholes on this “precious” (unrepaired) pavement we so much looked forward to driving on after days of riding dirt tracks.
It was the morning of August 26th, and we were just past Bayankhongor – the second to last major town before Ulaanbaatar. There were only 375 miles between us and the finish line, and according to word-of-mouth news, the last 300 miles (or kilometers, since no one was sure) were fresh tarmac. Great news! Mmmm, nothing like smooth roads!
Google maps said we were only about 9 hours away from Ulaanbaatar. We knew it would take at least 15 hours since we never met Google’s timeframes –especially in Mongolia– but this was it, the last day of the rally!
I woke up that morning with a lot of energy and enthusiasm – almost too much energy for my own good. In the process of packing our camp for the last time, I managed to annoy a few of the guys with my overjoyed silly pranks.
My increasingly annoying presence prompted them to throw cold water at me. Thank you, Alex and Mads! Anyways, it was all good and we were all really excited to finish the rally.
Spirits were high and the day was fun-filled. As we drove, we raced against each other on dirt tracks, and when we had some tarmac (not the fresh one but the wrecked one) we even compared who drove faster – the cars avoiding the lethal potholes on the tarmac or the cars riding the wavy dirt tracks with awful washboards and random pits.
Not surprisingly, the dirt tracks seemed to be faster (sometimes).
It was a really good day filled with fun emotions, but at about 6 pm, the fun was abruptly cut short. We were about 100 miles from Ulaanbaatar when The Great Danes car hit a pothole that broke the front right wheel.
I don’t know anything about mechanics, but all I can say is that it was bad – really bad. The wheel was completely loose and had no steering. Something broke and we didn’t have the means to fix it on the road, and of course, we were far from any mechanic.
The Great Danes car was crippled. We couldn’t even tow it since the flat tire and loose wheel would just get pinned under the fender as soon as the car was pushed forward.
We didn’t have a way to contact a tow truck since there was no phone signal where we were.
We knew we would have to wait there for a good while and that there was the possibility we would have to camp for the night. Sigh… so much for finishing today.
After failing to stop a few trucks that passed along, one small truck stopped and asked if we needed help (in Mongolian). We definitely needed it. The truck driver had a flatbed, which was great to just tow the car to the finish line.
One problem though… How do we lift the car onto the flatbed? There’s no crane, nothing! Just us, the car, and the truck.
Not knowing what to do, a few of the guys decided to walk to a house not too far behind us to see if they had a phone we could use to call for a tow truck we could actually use.
I’m not sure what happened during that call, but I can say that not much came out of it. Our only option at the moment was the truck we had on-site.
While at the house, some of the guys saw a few wood and steel planks and some rocks that could help us to create a ramp for the car and to jack it higher. Great plan! Or so we thought.
A few hours had passed already and things were starting to progress. The truck driver got his truck off the road and parked it perpendicular to the road to lower the flatbed in relation to the higher road. This allowed us to have a better slope on our plank-ramp.
Now, we had to turn the car perpendicular to the road too in order to push it into the truck; but since the car could not steer, we had to rotate it by shaking it side by side.
A few guys stepped on each side of the car and started pushing it back and forth as if they were bullying the car. With the sum of each tiny rear wheels jumps, the car was rotated 90 degrees and was now facing the truck.
Uff, good thing the rally is done with small cars!
But still, we had to figure out how to push it forward without pinning or rotating the front right wheel.
After some thought, the most ingenious idea flourished!
“Let’s use the shovel we have on the back of one of the cars!”, said one of the guys.
We placed the shovel under the tire so it would not have any contact with the ground, and as we pushed the car, we would push the shovel with it. Smart, eh?
The plan worked. After a great deal of struggling and pushing, we were able to push the car into the truck; and that’s when we noticed the next big problem.
The car was bigger than the flatbed. The car was fully in, yet the two rear tires were still outside of the flatbed. Sigh…
Again, we were not sure what to do. It was around 11:00 pm and we were all tired and cold.
Then, another great idea came after a team brainstorm. We would jack the car, take off the rear tires and place them (along with extra spare tires from the other teams) under the car by the end of the flatbed. They would serve as jacks and support for the car, so the rear axis can float outside the flatbed.
We struggled a lot to make it happen, but again, the genius plan worked!
It was midnight already, the car was up and the truck was ready to go. We still had 100 miles to go. The truck driver was not sure if we could drive at night since it had rained a bit earlier in the night and he didn’t want to drive under the rain.
But then, after some debating (and after setting a price with The Great Danes), he decided we could drive during the night.
Those last 100 miles were supposed to take not more than 2 hours under normal conditions, but they took us almost 6 hours to complete! We drove slowly, very slowly.
We feared the towed car, which was secured on the flatbed with shady ropes and held in position by spare tires and rocks, would just fall on the road or tip over from the truck after hitting a pothole. Luckily, it didn’t happen.
At about 5:30 am of August 27th, The Thunderyaks, The Great Danes, and Team TED entered the capital of Mongolia and crossed the finish line together in a convoy!
It was a really odd and anticlimactic moment – certainly not the over the top celebration I had played over and over in my head. We were excited to finally have reached the finish line in Ulaanbaatar, yet we were all exhausted and all we wanted was to eat and sleep.
We gave each other hugs of joy and a few congratulations with our long, tired faces and red eyes.
Since I was the navigator, every now and then on the road I would say how many miles away we were from our next target (i.e. 253 miles to Altai!). We had reached the finish line, so I had to finish it with a high note by saying, “zero miles, bitches!”
We were supposed to take the group picture in front of the finish line at that moment, but our exhaustion was so big that we decided to do it the next day. And look how pretty, refreshed, and excited we look in it!
We did it!! The Drama of Llama officially crossed the finish line as team #178 (even without a car, but thanks to the help of The Thunderyaks, The Great Danes, and Team TED).
After 46 days, 17 countries, 11,457 miles, 40 tanks of petrol, 4 flat tires, 3 tows, 1 lost bumper and broken suspension, and 1 car crash; I can proudly say that I’VE DONE THE MONGOL RALLY! An epic journey from London to Ulaanbaatar I’ll never forget!
LET ME HELP YOU TRAVEL MORE BY GETTING ADDITIONAL TIPS AND INSPIRATION VIA THE MONTHLY NEWSLETTER.
Plus, receive a short e-book with 15 Beginner Tips and Tricks to Start Travel Hacking!