Alternative Caption: The Ralliest Day of Them All.
First Part Written by Megan
Morning comes to the tiny ger camp, and our normal convoy plus James on his bike and Rowan and Grant in their nice functioning car slowly but surely get moving. We set out, the dudes racing ahead, the rest of us behind. Roads are many and varied and it's basically pick your poison; they're all going to the same place. We hope.
Yurt Camp. Photo By Blackstone Photography
At one point we stop and wait for everyone to catch up, and once we're together I hop on the Damn-Nations roof rack with Charlie driving and Gus in the passenger seat. Charlie, Bri, and Joe seem determined to keep up with Grant, Rowan, and James, who are fast moving maniacs, and we quickly leave the rest of the cars behind.
WAAAAAAIT!! Photo By Blackstone Photography
We stop in a town around lunchtime with the hopes of food, and James needs to fix his bike up. We wait for a while, our food hopes dashed but James' bike in works, assuming the rest of the cars will catch up. Unbeknownst to us, part of the road kept going around the town and turned into another bit of highway entirely. Which is what the other cars took. So at this point, all of my stuff, including my purse and camera, is in the Fiesta, which is now far away from me (meaning iPhone-only shots from this day, because no camera). Cam and Jake of the Damn-Nations are in other cars, Gus is separated from his team, and Joe and Alyssa of Keystone are separated from the rest of theirs.
Thanks, Orange Jump Suit Men. Photo By Blackstone Photography
We carry on for a bit, me hanging onto the roof for dear life as Charlie also drives like a maniac in attempts to keep up with the pack (my beloved beanie flies off at one point and I start screaming bloody murder, making him panic and think I'm injured, only to ask him to turn around so we can retrieve it. The Beanie is saved). Around early afternoon we come across a river and decide to pull over to wash up a bit. Bri, Alice, Tabs, Alyssa, Rowan, Grant and I all get in the freezing, fast moving river to shampoo, lather, and get relatively clean. The boys cook up some noodles, and eventually we get back on the road.
At some point after that, we get separated from James, Grant, and Rowan. And for a while, Babs and Cruella get separated from the Pony Express. We end up on this sandy, rocky, insane track that's apparently off the main road. To get back on, we decide to off road. Across a field we go, driving nice and carefully for the first time all day, and yet somehow Cruella loses her bumper. As this isn't the first time it's happened, Charlie simply bungees it to the roof and we carry on. We then reach a creek bed, which looks more solid from afar. Upon entering the creek bed, we promptly get both cars stuck. Cruella gets stuck twice. With some pushing and maneuvering, we finally make it out of the creek bed and find the road once more, where we are reunited with Joe and Alyssa.
Charlie. I feel we need to talk about where the bumper goes. Photo By Blackstone Photography
After a while we come across the rest of our convoy! Reunited! Joy! ...... Except we quickly learn that Fordnando has a giant hole in his sump, despite us having the beefiest sump guard. Cam had been driving at the time and managed to somehow put a hole in our tough guy. A giant local truck is nearby and apparently has offered to tow us, so we get out the trusty Tentstile strap again and attempt to find a tow point on the Fiesta. None can be found, so naturally Frank gets out a tomahawk, attacks the bumper, and we're in business. Until the truck driver decides to drive like he normally does, ignoring the tiny car he's towing behind, and manages to snap the mighty Tentstile strap. We say thank you very much but we don't need your help anymore and somehow the Pony Express becomes the most viable option to tow. Since the rear bumper looks like it might fall off anyway, we decide to be preemptive and just take it off.
Why WOULDN'T he bring a tomahawk. Photo By Blackstone Photography
The convoy sets off again, the Pony towing Fordnando (with Paula eventually driving the Pony and Harry steering Fordnando), me in Cruella with Cam and Jake on the roof, Adam and Gus in Judith, Tabs, Bri, and Alice in Babs, and Anthony and Frank in the Admiral's Opus ahead of the Pony spotting potholes and such.
Please note our sponsor faces still in tact. Photo By Blackstone Photography
Babs takes a track off to the right to avoid dust, but it's tricky Mongolia and what they don't realize is that particular track doesn't meet up again. The rest of the convoy realizes we're off the main road once more (it's so hard to tell, guys. The main road looks no different from any of the other tracks) and we go off roading to get back to the main track. We basically pull a giant u-turn, which Babs unfortunately doesn't see because their track has already taken them away. So they're once again off on their own.
Somehow, the spot car and the towing cars get way ahead of us. We have to creep along because the Yurts are babying Judith's sump guard, and it's not long before we're also on our own.
And then, a crack. We stop, jump out, and see that Cruella's rear anti-roll bar has snapped in two. Which means we need to go even slower than our already slow pace. The back tires suddenly seem squirrelly and it feels like we're sliding all over the place. Jake jumps in the back of Judith to take weight off of Cruella, and we limp along - two cars in horrible condition all alone with no backup in the middle of nowhere in Mongolia and the sun is quickly setting. But this is what we signed up for, right?
After hearing much rattling, I ask if there is some way we can stabilize the anti-roll bar. Cam hops out, takes a spacer and a million zip ties and "fixes" it. The fix lasts approximately 15 minutes. There's nothing else we can do, so we crack on and I take a majestic photo of Judith in the middle of the sun backwards out the window, and we generally remain in good spirits.
And then Judith pulls ahead of Cam and I, as they've apparently lost 1st and 2nd gear and can't slow down or stop. We hold our breath every time they go over a bump. As we approach what I like to call a Mongolian travel plaza with the sun nearly set, Cam and I notice the sump hanging down underneath the Yurts' car at the same time they hear a horrendous sound. We yell at them to stop, which they're already in the process of doing, and we roll to a stop in front of a lot of very curious locals.
Judith is dead. She's an ex-car. Oil pours from her 6-time-repaired sump as Adam mourns with many loud expletives in the background. The engine mount has failed and the engine hangs precariously low - it's the last straw. We collect the oil and try to keep the locals from getting in the way. Tow options are discussed. One lady offers to tow Judith with her van for $20, but we figure it might be the same situation as before with the crazy driving, so we politely decline. Several trucks are parked around and we try to ask if we can get the car on one of those, but are met with "no's."
You were valiant, dear Judith. You will be forever cherished in our memories. Photo By Blackstone Photography
The sun's nearly gone now. It's getting darker and solutions aren't happening, so I suggest we just attempt the tow with Cruella since we only have one small tow rope to use for the remaining 20-something miles to the next town. We thank everyone, get them off our cars, set up the tow, and begin the longest few hours of our lives.
We set off across a super dodgy bridge, over a minor dirt pile, and come across a giant hill. Valiant Cruella begins the trek up the hill, gets about halfway, and the wheels begin to spin. Out we get - Adam, Jake, and I - and get behind Judith to push. With a lot of yelling and grunting, the cars begin to move.
Which is about when my lungs decide to stop working.
The boys carry on pushing, and with great celebration get the cars to the top of the hill. I slowly follow behind, attempting to control my breathing, knowing that my inhaler is in the Yaris, which is who-knows-where. The boys realize I'm lagging; Cam runs towards me to ask if I'm okay. I manage to choke out, in between wheezes, that I'm having an asthma attack. He calls for the other guys; Jake brings me water and Adam gives me breathing instructions - head up, chest out, arms above my head.
It's at this moment the men from the Mongolian travel plaza pass us and, seeing us all out of the cars, stop to see if we're okay. Adam runs over and tries to explain that I'm having an asthma attack. This, I believe, ups our pathetic factor so much that the men decide enough is enough and they're going to tow us with their van. They start to fashion a tow strap out of some industrial wire while I attempt to get my breathing under control. By the time we're ready to go, it's shallow, but non-wheezy, so doable.
I stay in the car with Cam, Jake jumps in the van with the helpful men, and Gus and Adam carry on in Judith's corpse. Cam and I get on by making dramatic noises every time they go over bumps or the wire yanks the car. Said wire snaps and frays at one point, so we hook the original tow rope up to the wire and carry on. This happens several more times, so we're continually forced to stop and add more and more knots to the rope/wire hybrid. A giant hill and valley are conquered, and we inch our way towards Bayankhongor, where we hope our teammates will be waiting.
Note: there are multiple observations throughout the evening along the lines of, "This is stupid. There's no reason for us to be in this situation whatsoever. We brought this all on ourselves. We are stupid." Followed by laughter and shrugging because what else are we going to do?
After about 4 hours, we finally roll into town and up to a dodgy hotel where we thankfully see all the other cars. We tumble out, share a celebratory hug and exchange 'we made it's' and greet our other teammates, who we find haven't gotten on much better. The back tow point came off the Pony, the sump guard was ripped off, and they'd gotten a truck to tow Fordnando the rest of the way. As a result, they've only been at the hotel for about half an hour.
We make some parking lot noodles, exchange stories, and go to bed. What. A. Day.
The day starts off MARVELOUSLY! We leave the gers all together just reveling in the gloriousness that is driving through Mongolia with all cars working!
This girl *heart eyes*. Photo by Tabitha Bigbee
And then...QUITE SUDDENLY Fordnando is taken down by an inexplicable hole in the sump despite a 5-mil sump guard being completely fine! And when an extremely large truck driven by nice, if not judgement impaired, locals try to tow Fordnando (who is inoperative) over the crazy dirt tracks going 40 mph, we realize that our only REAL option is for the Pony to tow Fordnando. And so we set off. Babs, The Damn-Nations, and The Yurts get pulled away from the Fordnando tow by the crazy roads and the necessity of giving the tower space. It's just Team Keystone ferrying Fordnando.
Yeah. Get it, Harry. Photo by Blackstone Photography
And it's completely mental. The Pony is a Hyundai Atos with good intentions and many problems of their own. The crowning moment though: after crossing what is easily the sketchiest bridge we have seen during the entire rally, the Pony takes a flying leap over a veritable canyon in the road that was invisible until you were right on top of it! Keep in mind that leading up to this point the Pony had lost it's sump guard.
Somehow, against ALL ODDS the Pony and its exposed underbelly lands with no injury. We're still confused by how that was managed. Also, Babs finds the Fordnando towers right before the sketchiest bridge and re-joins the convoy, but still no sign of the others!
We "rally" and re-attach Fordnando to the Pony, until the rear bumper mount gives out completely and then it is bad news bears. Mere miles away from Bayankhangor, we're just sitting with no real options. Babs can't tow because she's the most gutless (although the toughest) of them all. The Pony has no more tow point. The Admiral's Opus is already limping and cannot tow anything, and we genuinely have no idea where the Damn-Nations and the Yurts have gone to. Also, they have Megan.
Enter fate: Fordnando is offered a tow into Bayankhangor. It's a necessary miracle. Team #WeLive rolls up to the "hotel" with Team Keystone.
These roads! Alice, Bri, and Tabitha get separated from the convoy again. And what's infuriating is we were trying very hard to stay together. Alas, we end up off in the wild completely on our own. This is the part of the story where Tabitha has to be calmed down by Alice and Bri who are lovely and patient. We go on like this for miles and miles, continually checking the radio for our convoy.
We've stuck to the main road, so we know that they HAVE to be nearby because they had also wanted to take this route. We keep thinking that they must be just out of sight over the next hill, across the next ravine, or maybe in trouble somewhere behind us on any of the HUNDREDS of tracks we could see snaking back across the steppe from where we had just come.
After A LOT of stress we come to the scariest bridge in the world. It's also the one and only point at which the river can be crossed and so we KNOW our fellow teams MUST come this way in order to make it to Bayankhangor. We only wait a little while when here comes Team Keystone barreling towards the bridge with Fordnando in tow. We hold our breath, and they make it across the bridge! We follow along at a safe distance from the towers. Before long we hear their expletives across the radio and see the Pony Express and Fordnando LAUNCH over an enormous crack in the road!!
We press on to the city. Eventually and miraculously Fordnando is towed by a helpful passer-by! We make it to the strangest hotel ever and then hope and wait for the other teams and OUR MEGAN!
We wait about an hour and then - THE YURTS AND DAMN-NATIONS ARRIVE! Megan is worse for wear, but we're so happy to have her back with us that we overwhelm her with hugs and talking and offers of noodles. We make noodles next to our forlorn vehicles and talk about the day. Every one is settled into their rooms and sleeping by 3 am.
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