Saturday, 30 August 2008

The Final Week

Now that the Car has been delivered to it's final resting place and I have managed to wash off the 7 days of dust, oil, petrol and grime off my clothes and I, it is time to give a few more details about the ups and downs of the final weeks of the trip. Apologies for the long post!

It is fair to say we were both immediately amazed by Mongolia. Our first day in the country was filled with incredible scenery like nothing we had seen before. The driving was spectacular too, along fantastic dirt tracks (which constituted the main roads) over mountain passes and through lots of rivers. Navigation was tricky due to the lack of roads, you basically drove anywhere, following sometimes faint tyre tracks in the dirt hoping that they are going in the correct direction. At one point we asked a local for directions and ended up being invited into his Yurt to drink fermented Mare's milk with him and his family, not ideal for Cedric's delicate stomach!

Things were going well, we were making good progress and our fix to the car to re-route the fuel line into the fuel tank by going through the filler cap was working. Then came the Gobi desert and things started going wrong. Firstly, late one evening we hit a pothole. This wasn't a normal pothole but a canyon rivalling anything in America, that stretched the full width of the road, hidden from view until your fate was upon you. We crashed down into it and realised quickly that something had broken, something had fallen off the car. Something pretty important... we had just lost the engine. The hit had caused us to loose two engine bolts and the engine literally fell out of the car, almost onto the sand. Bugger! Thankfully we had two spare bolts that fit and some careful use of the car jack, a very big rock and a piece of wood and we managed to get it back securely in place, we had been very lucky!

The next day we hit it an enormous sandstorm and at the same time came across our first big river crossing. This was one very big river and right in the middle of it was truck that had got stuck trying to get across. In the limited visibility due to the sand we watched as other trucks failed to pull it out and pondered how to get out little car across. A local taxi driver showed us the correct route and with water almost pouring in under the doors we slowly made it across, few!! An hour later, things started to go wrong, the car suddenly started spluttering and then cut out. A water pipe had burst, spitting water all over the engine, normally an easy repair but not so in a sandstorm! However the car continue spluttering and eventually cut out again. All we could think was that the water had got into the electrics and broken something. A few hours of unsuccessfully trying to track the problem down and another team arrived and gave us a tow (we were 120 miles from the next town) until their petrol tanks developed a large leak and they had to leave us in the desert or they would also be stranded.

We were properly stuck, broken down with a problem we didn't understand in the middle of the Gobi desert, 100 miles from the nearest town, on a road which wasn't a road, more a collection of tracks. We tried to flag down every truck or bus that came past (2 in an hour) and after 4 hours we were starting to calculate how long we could survive on our food and water (4 days before it ran out we thought!). Then, like an oasis, another team in a Suzuki appeared on the horizon and sprinting across the desert we managed to get their attention. This was a miracle as not only were they driving the same car as us, Rick, one of the two guys in the car was a brilliant mechanic and diagnosed our problem as a broken ignition straight away. Ten minutes later we were back on our way in convoy with some new friends.

However it hadn't fixed the spluttering which got worse and worse. We spent most of the next day trying to fix this and came to the conclusion that the fuel pump was dying on us. No suitable replacement pumps could be found in the town so we carried on carefully, having to pause every few miles until it got too bad and we decided to try to build a new pump from the dodgy one we had bought and a windscreen washer bottle. It failed. At midday the following day we gave up on the fuel pump and were out of ideas, the engine had now seemingly seized and it wouldn't even turn over, let alone start. The rally was over for us, a very emotional time. Rick and Oli said they would tow us back to the nearest town so we could dump the car and fly to Ulaanbaatar. End of Rally, 400 miles short of the finish.

Then lady luck popped in to say hello and a last attempt to start the car whilst being towed worked and he coughed into action. The spluttering was still continuing and progress back to the town was slow but somehow Oli and Rick persuaded us not to quit but to carry on towards UB with them towing us all the way if necessary. They were crazy, abandoning their own route and plans in order to get us to the finish line, what amazing guys!

So on we went, very slowly, especially as early the next day the car wouldn't drive more than 10 meteres before cuttting out and we had to be towed for 60 miles to the next town where we would have a final attempt at fixing it. We were still 270 miles from UB and towing for that distance was out the question. We had three ideas, the first 2 failed after less than 5 miles but third and final idea (tying a fuel tank to the roof and using a hand pump to force fuel directly into the engine) worked. It hadn't stopped the spluttering but we were able to drive for more than 5 minutes without stopping.

We carried on in that fashion, filling up at petrol stations caused lots of odd looks as we climbed onto the roof of the car and filled our new fuel tank, but it was just about working and we were getting closer to UB. We had also noticed that the front suspension had snapped one of it's two springs and the front left CV joint was failing badly. The last 100 miles were driven very carefully indeed and it was only when we stopped the engine at the finish line (using the interior light switch which was how we started and stopped the car!) that we realised that we had made it.

The relief was immense, we had pretty much given up on reaching the finish twice during the last week but had somehow got through. It is impossible to thank Rick and Oli ( enough. Without them, not only would we not have finished but we would still be stuck in the middle of the Gobi desert trying to catch Marmots to have for dinner. Two fantastic guys that really got us out of a very deep hole and then nursed us to the finish line.

We will have more to add soon about the adventure and some photos will also appear showing us sporting some very dodgy facial hair, but now - time for another beer!


Anonymous said...

Cédric, tu vas maintenant en apprendre a ton père sur l'art de dépanner une voiture bonne pour la casse.Je le vois bien avec un reservoir sur le toit.
La biere doit etre inoubliable apres cette aventure
Au plaisir de te revoir.
tonton Gérard

Anonymous said...

Salut cédric,
comment te dire notre admiration devant cet exploit, ce défi sur les éléments et toi même. J'imagine que tu ne seras plus tout à fait le même homme. Je suis très fier de mon cousin et encore félicitations.Bon courage pour le retour et le choc de la vie moderne. Bisous

Anonymous said...

Thank you Paul for this very interesting post !! We thought it has been a great adventure for both of you but not in such a way !!!
Enjoy your beer ! We are very proud of you ! It's time now to come back to a "normal life" ! Hope it won't be too difficult !! Take care !
Jean-Luc , Françoise et Plume

Anonymous said...

Glad to hear you are safely in UB, congratulations on making it all the way and looking forward to seeing the photos.


Anonymous said...

Wow - looks like you've both had a pretty tough time! Well done for making it against the odds - you did say that you wanted a challenge before you left. Enjoy your rest and relaxation. See you soon. Ali and Julia