Drinking Whiskey until 3am with old mate Tugso then woken again by Grant headed to the airport at 5.30am! So now we are two and we’ve up to 16 hours ahead of us to the finish line in Ulen-Ude.
I have a shortage of clothes: This morning when the sniff test proved inconclusive I decided on those that had been ‘rested’ a couple of days! Despite this with the Aussie gone the fragrance in the car is still markedly improved! UB, you’ve been a blast and the ache in my kidneys is testament to that.
Oh Grant Jacobs, you dodged a bullet! 11 hours from Ulaanbatoor and we’d covered just 284kms! The roads must have been built by Genghis Khan and not maintained since. Heavy rain had turned the way to mud and it felt as if we were driving a dodgem car through the maze of tracks, sliding, grounding and bumping until our sump guard broke free and radiator dropped down, digging into the ground like an anchor, snowploughing through the earth until we beached, imobile!
Like an F1 pit crew we leapt into action, changed the wheels for the chunky treads, dug beneath and buried carpets for added traction. The result: Absolutely no difference at all although we were eaten alive by swarms of mosquitoes. Deflated but not beaten we needed to flag-down a truck so when I saw a truck driver stop for a pee I pounced! (I hope he washed his hands!)
After 2 x broken tow ropes we finally got free via a 4×4 who towed us to a town for $15 and some fuel, the Panda sliding behind more like a sleigh, metal on stone grinding for 35kms.
They say things look better after a good nights sleep and in the cold light of day but we had little sleep and things looked worse!
The radiator is hanging out of the bottom of the car, the base of which has been ground along the road creating numerous holes.
We got a tow to a mechanic but when we nearly ran into the back of the car towing us we realised that without the engine running both steering and brakes were so poor you’d have thought Grant Jacobs was driving!
We waited at the garage 2 hours for their top mechanic to arrive and assess the situation. When he did arrive he glanced under the car, crossed his arms and said something that roughly translates to: ‘Your cars screwed mate’.
Long negotiations resulted in us riding in the back of a cattle transporter truck to the Russian border for $97. The truck stank of cow dung and for a moment we were nostalgic for our departed team mate. (He’s not here so fair game!)
The car was lowered from the inspection ramp onto the truck but how to get it off? No problem the guy says: ‘Small mountain at end!’ 5 minutes after setting off we got a tug from local law enforcement who initially objected to us being in the Panda on the back of the truck! We were allowed to stay put but had to recline the seats fully and cover our heads with our coats!
And so it was we spent the next 2 hours shrouded in Gortex, eating processed cheese and listening to our 80’s greatest hits compilation to the aroma of cow dung and rhythmic thuds of every pot hole and arbitrary speed bump.
At the border the Panda (Lazarus) actually spluttered back to life and we drove cautiously over. 4.5 hours of bureaucracy ensued until finally ejected the other side we powered forward on a perfect road until…..we didn’t! A few kilometres in and everything blew and OBH stopped dead! I’m not sure what exactly but the radiator hung trashed out of the engine bay, water pooled on the road, white smoke rose from the bonnet and oil was being ejected. Even we, the eternal optimists could see that Ulan-Ude was looking unlikely!
After flagging down every passing motorist I left Tony with the car and hitched a ride to town with an off-duty policeman who whilst convinced our car was adorned with Marijuana Leaves was happy to help and introduced me to a Russian version of Tintin who had a rather unroadworthy tow truck.
At 2am we made Ulan-Ude or at least that’s what he told us. The windscreen was so smashed I couldn’t see and had to jump out to confirm. Glad to be here not least as we were concerned that driver fatigue could result in disaster, Tintin stopping to do roadside press ups to keep awake!
And so it we find ourselves in a Russian hotel eating breakfast to a cover version of Careless Whisper, the finish line podium just a 250m push away! Can we pull off one more Panda resurrection and drive on to that podium….?