Olgiy to Hovd
20 August, 2012; 07:31
If every day in Mongolia continues along this line, I may find it quite hard to leave this place in another two weeks. Yesterday I held an Eagle, we met up with a convoy, forded streams, pushed cars out of the mud, and gave candy to children. It’s almost as if everything up to this point was just practice for the incredible time we’re going to have in Mongolia.
Two nights ago, I had a miserable sleep. Since we were still at a pretty high elevation, I slept in the tent with Michael and Chase, but, as our tent is now only the two person one that Alyx left, there wasn’t a great deal of room; also, my crappy Wal-Mart sleeping bag just can’t handle these temperatures, even in between two other people. I toss and turn a lot in my sleep, and with no room, I just couldn’t get to sleep for more than 30 minutes at a time. Eventually, just before sunrise, I crawled back into the car with my bag and turned the heater on for a bit. I couldn’t fall asleep, so I sat and read until Chase woke up.
After that, the day was absolutely wonderful. We continued on the road South toward Hovd, forgetting about the oil change we had planned. Honestly, we’re only about 6500 miles in, and I think we can probably do without it. If someone else remembers, we’ll change it. We stopped at one point to climb a hill. I’ve got to get in shape when I get home, because I had to stop about a third of the way up (we are a a pretty high elevation, though, so nobody had an easy time of it). While Chase and Michael continued on to the top, I waited overlooking our little car. I saw a motorcycle pull up next to it, and I began ambling down to see what they were up to.
As it turns out, they were a pair of brothers who were out hawking, or maybe eagleing since they had an eagle with them. The older brother let me take his picture and then insisted that I hold the eagle so they could get a picture of me with it. I later found out this was so they could try to charge for that privilege, but it was worth the $1.50 I gave them. As I was there carrying on a half conversation with the two, three other teams pulled up, though not ones we’d driven with the day before. Excited by the eagle, they all got out and took pictures. The brothers offered to let us go hunting with them for an hour and see the bird at work, but we couldn’t afford the $15 or the hour out of our driving.
The other teams were an interesting mix. One pair of Canadians, a trio of Aussies, and three well aged Brits made up our new convoy. I have to say, these old guys amaze me. One is probably only in his fifties, but the other two are comfortably on the other side of sixty; most amazing, they are as game as anybody we’ve met on the Rally. It was a bit comical when, at one point we stopped for lunch, two of them started getting out their supplies and the third, in his own words, worked on “sorting out all these pills.”
When we started again after the eagle, it was apparent that these guys were having a much rougher time of it than us. The Canadians had a Perodua Kenari that is big and roomy, but has tiny tiny tires. The other two were in Hyundai coupes, and the rear ends of their cars were all but riding in direct contact with their tires. They set a much slower pace than that to which we’ve become accustomed, and we, with our big tires (never thought I’d call them that) and ample ground clearance, became the lead car, blazing our paths through creeks and over gullies.
When the Aussies stopped for a bathroom break, we moved on ahead until we came to a particularly dicey creek crossing. We and the Canadians made it without much trouble, but the Brits got stuck in the mud; a quick push later and they were dislodged, and we all decided to make lunch and wait for the Aussies to catch up so we could show them the sweet spot to cross.
They eventually caught us up, and, as we all ate, we were joined by several other teams. At one point, I counted 11 teams stopped with us. It was during lunc that I got my war wound for the trip; when I tried to stretch a bungie farther than it wanted to go, it popped loose and came flying at my face. Being atop the car when this happened, my first concern was not falling off. Once I’d accomplished that, I moved my attention to the windshield, to make sure in my stumbling that I hadn’t cracked it. Only then did I remember my brow, and when I reached my hand up, it came back covered in blood. The older Brits, who’d just come off an emergency medical training course in Wales, offered to stitch it up for me, but I declined, figuring a band-aid would probably serve just as well.
We left lunch and situated ourselves within a different convoy, this one moving much closer to our preferred pace. This time, we were with a trio of Brits who’d rolled their car earlier in the race but were still pressing on with plexiglass windows, a vanload of Aussies (though these were only an incidental part of the convoy), three Romanian ladies, and a lone Romanian motorcyclist, affectionately dubbed the Road Warrior. With our new companions we covered ground swiftly, and only when the Road Warrior’s clutch cable snapped did we have to stop. After a quick fix we were back on the road, but we were again stopped by the problem 2km outside of Hovd. The ultimate fix this time was to push start him and have him just jam it into gear until he got into town and found a mechanic.
In Hovd we shopped around a bit and found some more dumplings. It was quite a city by Mongolian standards, but everything is just so far behind over here that it’s easy to forget you’re in one of the big cities by the look of everything around you. We got some more water and gas and headed out, leaving town about 30 minutes behind our convoy and planning to catch them up. Evidently, the Romanians had sped off, because right around dark we met up with the Brits who were elated to see another Rally team, and we stayed with them for the night. This morning promises to be a good day, with warmer temperatures and good driving company. We hope to make Altay, and possibly farther.