Having run into Team Pop to Mongolia in their Suzuki Jimny we decided to make headway late Sunday night, driving until sunset. With the Suzuki leading our convoy we turned off our finely honed navigational noses and relaxed, only to be led up the garden path 25 miles in the wrong direction. With the quick 50 mile detour under our belts we finally set up camp on the right road just as the sun was setting over the Gobi. The beautiful sunset turned into a terrific sandstorm tearing our absurdly large tent into shreds, snapping our carbon fibre poles in several places. Team Pop 2 Mongolia gallantly cooked for us in the back of their car before piling into the only available shelter (the back of the taxi) for a dinner of horse penis pasta and cherry tomatoes.
After a geometrically constrained night’s sleep the old girl coughed into life at 0550. After much gripping of the dashboard we bumped back onto the road and straight down the wrong one for 10 miles. After that piece of Monckton navigation was rectified we careered after a minivan heading for Bayankhongor for about half a mile until our beautifully modified exhaust pipe fell off. Unfortunately we had attached it far too well underneath and it took one hell of a battering with a hammer before it came loose and stopped dragging. The remaining exhaust pipe on the roof is merely ornamental. The exhaust now blasts straight out of the side of the engine, making a fantastic rally growl but pumps carbon monoxide straight through the passenger footwell.
Two hours later we found ourselves in the unusual position of knowing where we were. Unfortunately that was slap bang in the middle of the Gobi in the midday heat with 40 mile an hour wind conjuring up a sandstorm. We had strayed way off the road and were in the arse end of nowhere with only enough fuel to go in one direction. After much umming, ahhing, taking of the Lord’s name in vane, compass perusal and a modicum of despair we saw a dust cloud on the horizon that gradually grew into a truck carrying a Mongolian family with their ger (yurt) packed up on the back. They were heading to Bayankhongor and pointed us in the right direction. We followed them until we came across a raging torrent that rather surprisingly bisects the Gobi, leading to a lake about 180km south west of Bayankhongor. There was a lorry that had been swept downstream and was now up to the driver’s cab in water. We bided our time, waiting to follow the locals example and finally headed upstream for a half a mile behind another truck with a nomadic family relocating. It was a bit touch and go when water covered our wheel arches but the old girl struggled through, slipping and sliding on the shale riverbed.
Just past the river we came across a team consisting of an Englishman and a Frenchman who had helped us in Taxistan, the 77ers. They had their bonnet up with a dead alternator. We got down our rope and did our best to tow them at 20 miles an hour over the sand dunes. About 10 miles in, whether through the vibrations or the chassis contorting from the towing, our steel front bumper sheared off on the right hand side and dragged under our left wheel, ripping the upper suspension arm clean off. It took twenty minutes of English and French muscle to free the bumper. The third item of taxi steel left in the Gobi.
We continued to tow them until our fuel tank sprung a leak again. Pissing fuel all over the place, we didn’t have enough to tow them to Bayankhongor, we got them on the main road where they assured us they would find a truck to tow them. Reluctantly, limping and leaking like a colander we left them 35km short of Bayankhongor which we arrived at an hour later at 2030. We quickly found a mechanic who welded our suspension back together for the princely sum of a fiver and checked into a hotel preparing for the final big push to UB just 630 km away.