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Mongolia: Friday, August 26th

Week 7 of the 2016 Mongol Rally with Team #weLive

Our first full day in Mongolia...and it's spectacular.

Footage from Megan, Paula, and Tabitha. Edited together by Megan of Blackstone Photography.

We're up around 7 am and OH WOW it's delightful here in the morning. The landscape is simply stunning and our minds are constantly blown by the beauty all around us. The steppe has a velvety and rocky texture all at once. The lakes are like navy blue satin. You can see for miles to the next mountain range jutting up into the every changing clouds that range from enormously white and fluffy to non-existent. Hills drape down to the steppe from mountains with visible snow that is disturbingly close.

Image by Blackstone Photography

Little white gers (yurts) and happily roaming livestock punctuate the steppe intermittently in every direction. Power lines go marching across the steppe as the only reminder that we haven't left the present. The sky is an intense liquid blue expanse; the color is like there's too much of it in one place. Tall grass springs up randomly where streams, lakes, and ponds dot the land. The animals are determined to mow down all this good grass into their bellies. Cows, goats, sheep...and YAKS. They're everywhere looking all Jim Henson-y.

So far the road is amazing. It's a perfectly winding stream of smooth black tarmac coursing through the center of the steppe. We're on the southern route, and we know this can't last forever, but we're loving it at the moment!

Image by Blackstone Photography

The pure amazement and delight of FINALLY being in Mongolia after all those miles of just trying to GET TO MONGOLIA is so real. But it's also mixed with this sensation that this is the final step. Our next goal is the finish line; the end. That is surreal.

Image by Blackstone Photography

Suddenly, Babs being helmed by Brianna veers off the road towards a lake. In Fordnando following along, I think I know what's on the agenda. SWIMMING. Bri gets in pretty much any body of water available to her. (See the previous post about the freezing river adventure.)

Image by Blackstone Photography

Yeah, there's a whole swimming adventure! The video below really is what you need to understand.

Image by Tabitha

Image by Blackstone Photography

Fresh and clean we roll out. And then....THE ROAD ENDS. Here's the Mongolia we'd been preparing for! And WE LOVED IT.

Also, there was this moment of meeting an Eagle. We have mixed feelings about it because the Eagle is so majestic that it's heart breaking. But incredibly impressive.

Image by Blackstone Photography

The steppe is full of dirt tracks that are the roads. They spider across the rolling space crissing and crossing, cutting back and forth across each other, each of them with their own (literal) pitfalls. The challenge is following because the follow cars end up in an opaque cloud of dust and cannot spot the dangers in the road to avoid them. I'm talking about boulders sticking up out of the dirt and pot holes the size of a motorcycle.

We all chose tracks that crissed and crossed knowing that each little road led to the same place. Until they didn't.

Image by Blackstone Photography

Here's where our stories split and it gets messy. Megan and Paula in Fordnando and Brianna and Tabitha in Babs. (Alice was with Team Keystone.) We have very different days with very different types of stress.

Team Babs

written by Tabitha

We pause every couple miles to make sure that we are all together. We let the dust cloud settle and look around for our convoy.

No one is around.

There is a sinking feeling in my stomach. Now we're out in the middle of the Mongolian Steppe without the team mechanic. We have all the tools. They have the tents. We have the food and the camp stove. We assume they're still with the convoy and will be taken care of, but we're alone and only about 27% sure which way to go. The destination town is still many miles away and none of the tracks we found seemed to head that direction. Suddenly, we spot a dust cloud in the not-so-far distance! We take off after it assuming it will be part of our convoy. Sort of. It's one of our favorite teams, Grand Steppe Auto! These guys are awesome! But they also have no idea where our convoy is. Huh.

We all set off in the general direction of the next town together which means we drive across pastures and a stream and past a truck that had spilled its entire load of building supplies. We FINALLY get to the main "road" and head for town.

We try to relax and enjoy the ride through the gorgeous landscape. Bri is a fabulous off-road driver and it IS really fun! The weight in our stomachs gets heavier with each mile that we don't come across our team. Are they ok? Where are they? We got so lost, how could they be behind us? Were they ahead of us in the town already?

The only picture from Team Babs. Image by Tabitha.

Late afternoon we reach the town, I *think* it was Altai. No sign of our team anywhere. The guys of Grand Steppe Auto are so nice and reassure us that they're definitely behind us and all we have to do is wait at the city entrance and we'll be good.

So we do. We wait for 4 hours. 4 hours of second guessing and wondering what was happening.

Finally we hear Team Keystone come crackling across our walkie. We convene with them at a gas station and find out what's been going on. Team So Good It Yurts is down. Their car, Judith, has a hole in the sump and they have been towed by our Fordnando most of the day. We're still totally unsure how we got separated.

Bri and I had found a hotel in town as well as a market that we directed everyone to, then we went to find Fordnando and get them to the hotel as well. Brianna and I are going to save money and camp outside town and just get scooped up on their way out in the morning.

I mention to Paula that Bri and I are going camping, I tell Alice that we are going to camp, and I tellTeam Keystone that we are heading off to camp as well before we head out of town to set up camp. It's one of the most gorgeous and peaceful camping experiences of the entire rally. So many stars, so much beauty.

Team Fordnando

written by Megan

After a morning of swimming with yaks and driving on smooth pavement, the off-roading part of Mongolia begins and it's all fun and games until we get separated from Tabs and Bri somehow. 

Photo by Paula (I think)

Meanwhile, we continue with the convoy and ford a river, lose some license plates, get off course because the dirt tracks change directions without warning, and eventually get into a seemingly-endless construction zone. We're still in the middle of nowhere, but "road" work is happening and the roads are now rough gravel mixed with the normal dirt. Which turns out to be detrimental to Judith of the Yurts' sump. It's cracked and pouring oil all over the road. And Keystone's having some issues with a tire or two.

Image by Blackstone Photography

Here is where we realize our big mistake: as a two car team, we didn't make each car self-sufficient. Getting separated didn't seem like a reality (Denial? Naiveté? Why didn't we plan for the contingency?), so for some reason we decided to put literally everything important in the Yaris. The med kit, the food, the tools (including the industrial strength tow rope), the majority of the camping gear..... but the Yurts have to be towed. And Fordnando's engine is really the only one in the convoy up to the task.

Image by Blackstone Photography

So we start out with a flimsy tow rope that keeps snapping (because the roads are windy and up and down hills and still crater-filled), and then I have an idea. One of the only things we actually have in Fordnando is the Tentstile, which has super long ratchet straps meant to hold people up in a tree. Why not try that? Paula declares it genius (Hello, Ravenclaw! Always have one on the team, folks. We're always thinking.) and we hop out to try.

Image by Blackstone Photography

Success! We end up towing the Yurts the final 53 miles to town on nonexistent roads with the mighty mighty Tentstile strap. All hail Tentstile.

We finally meet up with Bri and Tabs briefly at a gas station on the edge of town (so thankful they're okay and they have a giant bag of peach rings, so it's a sweet reunion) but then almost immediately get separated again. The sun is setting and we need to find a mechanic for the Yurts, and the Damn-Nations' Cruella needs some help as well. There are too many cars and too many people and not enough energy and patience to communicate well. Most of us end up at a hotel that only has a single room with a shower available. I'm trying to communicate with the front desk about how many rooms we need without knowing how many people are actually staying at this place; Jake from the Damn-Nations steps in to help because I am probably looking overwhelmed and confused (how are there not showers in the rooms?). I hear second hand that Bri and Tabs are leaving to camp, and Bri is planning on turning her phone into a hotspot in the morning, assuming we'll have wifi at the hotel to communicate. Meanwhile, Alice goes with Anthony to another hotel that has showers (Frank gets the only room with a shower at ours) without saying anything and with no plan to meet up or communicate in the morning. We have wifi and water for most of the evening, albeit terrible wifi. I opt to take a shower rather than eat, and go to sleep thinking most of the craziness is behind us. 

But this is the Mongol Rally, and Mongolia isn't nearly through with us yet.

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