Our charity rallyist from EC Harris finally reaches the finish line in Ulan Bator - although not quite in the manner he had hoped
Entering Mongolia was a refreshing experience. The warm and friendly border guards had been told we were coming and knew that we were doing it to raise money for Mongolian charities, and we were ushered through with smiles and greetings in less than 15 minutes - a dramatic improvement on any border we had experienced since Europe. With kind words echoing in our ears, we started the final leg of the journey.
A brief stop at the border allowed us to glean some information on road quality from a local. Through some well-practised sign language and a few words from a worn phrasebook, we gathered that the first 200 miles of road were in reasonable condition but thereafter conditions would worsen dramatically.
The warning of poor conditions ahead became even more daunting when, several miles later, we realised that the allegedly reasonable roads the local had mentioned were in fact the rutted tracks we were on. A primary road in Mongolia, it seems, is not one main road but a collection of tracks heading in the same general direction - if you are lucky.
We arrived in Olgiy, our first city, a lot later than expected. The going was slow and the van felt like she was going to shake herself to pieces. Deep potholes, steep climbs and unforgiving terrain had taken their toll on a number of other teams, who were held up in Olgiy awaiting mechanical help, but at first light we had to push on.
The rest of Mongolia passed by us at 20mph, with corrugated roads breaking our suspension every few hundred miles and stones puncturing our cooling pipes. We met many friendly teams willing to lend a hand, and even friendlier Mongolian mechanics. It turned out to be the slowest moving, most tiring section of the adventure, but also the most rewarding.
However, with around 400 miles to go to Ulan Bator, our faithful vehicle gave up the ghost. A fuel pump that we had no time or ability to replace had packed in - probably thanks to the terrible quality of the fuel - so we had no option but to seek another means of transport to the capital.
After four weeks of travelling we had come to expect the unexpected, but the arrival of a crane and associated crew just minutes after our breakdown - promptly followed by an empty flatbed truck en route to Ulan Bator - did manage to surprise us. A few minutes of negotiations later and we were back in our van and on the road again, admittedly on the back of a truck. With nothing else to do we sat back, opened the Mongolian vodka and toasted our efforts. While not entirely under our own steam, we had made it to the finish line and celebrations were in order.