Here is where we start to sort out the men from the boys. Gunther is torn between personal ambition,staying married and the most important thing, keeping Tilly on the road in one piece. All I can say is that it has been an amazing experience and much tougher than we expected.
4 cars have rolled, one wrote itself off after driving into one of our support vehicles after missing the finishing line at a time trial, and 25 cars have been carried on a flat top to Novosibirsk after being wrecked on very rough and very isolated roads. People have been getting to bed at three in the morning after lying under cars for hours (and not sleeping), and several teams have been sitting on the side of the road till the early morning waiting for help. All I can say is carnage!!!
Day six: 352 kms. Ulaanbaatar To Bulgan Leaving Ulaambaator was our first experience of trying to keep up with rally time and realizing that we had to fang it to get to our time check on time after having heavy traffic getting out of the city. My gentle persuasive comments that perhaps there would be allowances for the traffic fell on deaf ears and after 9 hours we arrived at the main time check 2 minutes early, Tilly feeling very hot and bothered, Gunther exhausted after driving fast over very rough and stony roads and me tight lipped and thinking that the rally was going to be a blast, only to be told that we had 2 hours penalty free. GREAT!!!!!!
Shedding make up, wearing the same clothes and geared up for more fun time trials we set out on day seven. Bulgan to Murun Camp, 406.87 kms, 9 hours driving. The backdrop to our small personal dramas was magnificent. Almost like a 100,000 square kilometer golf course, jagged peaks with smatterings of snow and a wide open land where you could see many kilometers into the distance.
Apparently in the last rally it was a brown desert and they have never seen it like this. Thank heavens for rain. When we arrived in camp at 7pm there was a line for the petrol truck and Gunther earned many brownie points by cleaning windscreens with his wiz bang windscreen cleaner. We finally filled Tilly at 11.15 pm. It is a long and laborious process. A couple of nights later, Gunther fell asleep sitting at the wheel in line and woke up an hour later with a big gap in front of him and two cars waiting patiently behind him. It was 12.15am. Our car had run out of petrol just as we got to the camp and Gunther had to borrow a Gerry can to get to the tanker. Good German organization!!!
At 10 pm on this day there were 20 cars on the track,(in the middle of nowhere) some had run out of petrol and some broken down, 15 cars jacked up waiting for some TLC and 4 mechanics still on the road fixing damaged cars. The road was the toughest they’d seen it. Washed out by rain and full of gullies, pot holes and BIG ROCKS!!! We were beginning to get an idea of what an endurance rally really is and the slow realisation that we would be spending the next 5 weeks with all these people, sometimes in very testing situations. It’s not like my meditation retreats.
Our left back shock absorber died and our virginity was over. Luckily the sweep guys were able to help and after 2 hours under the cover of a petrol station roof out of the rain we were off again, driving ever so slightly slower.
Then came our really crap day!!!! NERVOUS NELLIES
Day 9, Ullistai to Chjargas Lake. 297 kms, 10 hours driving and many nervous Nellie stops. The day started badly. Rain, sleet and cold, wet tents and frozen fingers. One girl from Portugal was left with no GPS after the chaos of the day before. They’d taken it to reset and had left the camp without giving it back. You don’t want to be on the road with no GPS!! But in the spirit of the rally, someone was able to give her a spare one.
The language has begun to change on the trip and now you often hear, “We just want to make it to Paris” yes the true meaning of endurance is becoming clear. With bad fuel, (80 Octane) we set off for the first time trial of the day.
Tilly tore up a mountain and arrived panting at the top and made a great time. BUT, 5 minutes down the track here was a rattle and not only Tilly was rattled. Gunther in true nervous Nellie style already had parts organized in Novosibirsk for a new engine, transport sorted and perhaps even thinking about what car we could buy to follow the rally in. Then, just as we were about to get out the tissues, the sweep guys came along and told us it was a loose nut on the exhaust. Gunther nearly kissed their feet and we headed off again with great relief and sharpened hearing.
Then 10 kms down the track a second big rattle started and Gunther discovered that the front left shocky had lost a bolt and was hanging on by a thread. By this time we were at the back of the pack, not a soul to be seen after all our Nellie stops.
Then came the brilliant navigation stuff up. We went 20 kms past the start of a time trial. I had thought they had cancelled it because it wasn’t there????only one kind person we passed with a flat tyre told us that we were in the middle of a time trial we hadn’t even started!! Gunther was really pleased,
“Fuck” he said as he ripped the steering wheel around and headed back in the opposite direction, “We have to find the start”
“Why dont we just go to the next one? They’ve probably packed up this one because we are so far behind”. Not a helpful statement
“Don’t you get it?” (Obviously not), “We’ll be out of the thing completely if we miss a time trial!!” He said as he madly punched in the waypoint for the start.This was supposed to be my job but it got a little complicated!!
It was a very quiet, very quick 20 kms run back to the start and they were just packing up. The rattle was even louder by this stage. Suffice to say we finished the time trial and got to camp late. Then Gunther spent the next 4 hours working on the engine with Sebastian, one of our new friends and he crawled into the tent very late. So I have learnt all about show pony shock absorber mounts and insufficient reinforcement. I’m sure it has nothing to do with fast driving over very rough roads.