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Mongol Rally – Mongoliando.com follow up
By Johnny Parsons
21, Jan, 2013
Reflections on the Mongol Rally
Back in July we quizzed Johnny P about his imminent Mongol Rally. When he got back we checked to see if some of his previous answers rang true.
AK. So Johnny, were all those months of excitement and anticipation worth it?
JP: Absolutely YES! It far exceeded all of our expectations. We had an idea, but most of what we had daydreamed-up was totally different to how it actually was.
It felt like a proper adventure, as we didn't know if we would succeed (survive), nor did we know exactly where we were at times. There is no back-up/support; you are on your own, so any issues/bother/problems, you have to sort them out yourself!
I think that a lot of teams had done a lot of social networking (and not much planning), but no plan, or a rough plan, is sometimes the best plan.
It was brilliant driving into the campsite at Goodwood and finally meeting all of the other teams, after months and months of chatting on facebook, etc...
Seeing friends and former rallies who had really helped us during the build-up, who came down to Goodwood to see us off, a very special day.
Excitement levels were at a high throughout the entire rally.
However, the Start did suddenly come round and we were off.
I had a huge list of things to do the week leading up to The Off, but in the end, I ran out of time, so we just filled the boot of the car and crossed our fingers...
One of the biggest surprises was the fact that we were alone for much of the first 3wks. We didn't see another team between the CzechOut Party and Volgograd (Russia), and as we had driven for 23hrs that day and it was 3am, we didn't have a long conversation, (we did meet the same team 4 days later in Kazakhstan). We only saw one other team that week, but then met up with two other teams, which became five teams, which became our Mongolia convoy. A mixture of the fact that many teams were on different routes and the fact that the NW Border crossing into Mongolia, acts like a kind of funnel for ralliers.
The proper rally started when we entered Mongolia, the rest had been a warm-up (although Kazakhstan had far worse roads, much of Mongolia had no roads!)
AK. What are the overriding feelings you have from completing the rally?
JP: It was a huge cocktail of feelings and emotions, leading up to the Finish Line. After almost 4wks of life on the road, where the normal worries/stresses/agro of everyday life, really didn't matter.
It was just a case of getting up, striking camp and heading east. Driving, driving, driving, stopping for petrol (frequently, only a small tank on the Silver Streak), asking for directions (very frequently, and hoping that the person you were asking actually knew the way/understood what we were asking) and soaking in some amazingly beautiful scenery. Driving, driving, driving until dusk, setting up camp, food (which always tasted amazing) and then to bed. As long as the team was in good health, the car was ticking over and we were heading (loosely) in the right direction, none of the other things that really don't matter didn't matter. A very simple and fulfilling way of life, at least for the time we were on the road.
We both had mixed emotions about reaching UlaanBaatar, as that would mean that it was over. We camped out the night before in a vast, open landscape and reflected on what had been the trip of a lifetime. We both wanted to keep on driving and to not finish the trip. It was nice to get a shower (first one in 13 days), drink cold beer (after only having not warm, but generally hot beer, stewed in the boot for a week or so), to eat a good meal, sleep in a comfy bed and chill out, but we immediately missed life on the road and both knew that a return home, back to normal life, was impending...
AK. You've left the Silver Streak behind, how are you going to replace it?
JP: The week after I got back home I purchased a 1986 Honda C90. Gloriously underpowered, but guaranteed to turn any trip into an adventure, with endless scope for epic trips and further stupidity.
I bought it off e-bay, from a bloke in Darwen (Lancashire, not Northern Territory). The last thing I had ridden was my old Lambretta, over 20yrs ago and on the Honda, one has to change gears with one's feet! It took 2wks before I actually found second gear, I kept going from top to first gear (which is the equivalent of sticking it into reverse. Almost as alarming for the person behind, as it was for me. After 4hrs I arrived home and was hooked, although nothing could ever replace the Silver Streak, the Streethawk (SuperClunk) will be used for future adventurism, including to the Big Shakeout.
As one biker friend said to me "If you have a top of the range sports bike you only get a nod from the same type of rider, everyone else looks at you as a threat or a (deleted expletive), but with a drop in performance comes acceptance by more and more people to the point where if you ride a C90 the World is your friend!"
AK. On reflection was there one thing that got you most excited?
JP: So many things!
- Meeting up with all the other ralliers at the Start, the awesome CzechOut Party in a huge Czech Republic (possibly thee best ever party, I have ever been to, I tried to leave 4 times, but kept going back in, an amazing night) and en-route (but not for the first 3wks, we were on our Jack Jones!) An amazing bunch of people and some friends for life.
- Leaving Western Europe behind and heading into the great unknown. From the Ukraine onwards we simply did not have a clue, I'd only planned a rough route and that was just wild guesses at times/distances/road conditions, to work out the dates for the visas!
- Lina's AMAZING map reading. Literally taking a photo of signs, translating it, then working out where we were and where we were going!
- Getting through the Mongolian border (an epic in itself) and finally getting to see the landscape that I had dreamt about for over a year.
- Getting lost, frequently (every town had signs into the town, but never out! It would be like driving to London from Glasgow and someone removing all of the signs from the Irskine Bridge onwards!
- My 40th birthday; waking up to pouring rain and getting stuck within 30 seconds of leaving camp. River crossings, getting stuck up to the axles in mud, helping each other out and an epic day crossing the mountains, followed by a big party with our convoy comrades on the Mongolian steppe, literally in the middle-of-the-middle-of-nowhere
- Visiting the Lotus Children's Centre, one of the two very worthy causes we were supporting (along with Martin House Children's Hospice, which we visited the week before before we left Blighty).
- Having a fantastic session at the Finish Line, with the splendid Adventurists folk; Mr.Joolz and Mr.Rob, which ended with some perilous horse milk vodka (and wrote off any planned UB tourism for me!)
AK. What was the most worrying point in the trip?
JP: There were daily things that happened which could have turned from being a shock, to something worse (like the time when we pulled onto a deserted E40 in the Ukraine in the early hours and suddenly had two Mercs flying by either side of us, going in the opposite direction. Ooooops on my part! (Somebody was going in the wrong direction and it wasn't them).
However, the two incidents which could have turned from a "good tale after the rally" into something a bit too serious were as follows:
1) Our second full day in Kazakhstan, approaching the town of Makat. Our (huge scale) map showed the A27 as a "red road", in theory a main route. As had happened at every other town, the road in was much easier, than the road out. We asked a lot of people and didn't get a clear majority. I've read since that many travellers don't really get a good feel about Makat. It's certainly not a place where one would go as a tourist. After an age, we got out of town, and then got flagged down by a group of local youths. They weren't hostile, but they weren't especially friendly either, probably just curious why a Nissan Micra with UK plates, covered in stickers, was passing through their patch!
The road led us to a big power station/factory and a dead-end. The road (which wasn't great) simply finished. It was getting late-ish and to turn back simply wasn't an option. So we started asking people, mainly workers leaving the factory. 6 said go back to the town, 6 said across there (gesticulating across a patch of ground that looked like a sandy quarry, a similar surface to a tank training ground!
A guy pulled up in a big 4x4 with darkened windows, he said "Follow me", then started taking us back towards the town, it didn't feel right, so we stopped and he doubled back, asked what we were doing, cursed (us) and sped off!
Then, a bus pulled up, the ubiquitous Russian UAZ bumpymobile seen everywhere, jammed full of blokes, most of them drunk, one of them, a Russian, who was more drunk than most, but who could speak a little English (mainly swear words!) He was the leader and held court, the rest hung off his every word. He told us that we would die, there was no way of getting to where we were going in our little car and that we should "Follow him, go swimming, drink Vodka, have a nice time". I may have been a bit paranoid, but I felt that this was one tale that would not have a happy ending!
However, we were stuck. We had to follow them, as it was the only way. It all felt very uneasy. We followed them, but kept stopping, trying to let them get away, but they kept doubling back and getting behind us. The road had gone completely and we couldn't go any faster than 10mph. We arrived at a very strangely coloured piece of water (not very far from the power station belching out smoke and fumes), we waited for them to stop and get out, then we got out and got back in and sped off! They were waving (or were they shaking their fists) and shouting encouragement (or swearing at us, whatever it was it was very vocal!) We had to get away, but by now it was going dark, the road was shot to pieces, pure potholes and broken tarmac. We found a spot to park up, brewed up, had some tea but didn't put our tent up (in case our new amigos turned up). There was a spectacular electrical storm, covering the entire horizon, which inevitably was above us an hour later. We quickly put up our Alpkit Zhota, which was an absolute home-from-home, a fortress and one of our best bits of kit. The storm (thunder, lightning, wind, lashing rain, dust) raged around our tent for 2 hours, then it went very quiet, for a short while, then I heard a rumble, very close to our tent. I looked out and saw a big truck coming straight for us. People don't always use the roads, just the general direction, so although we were a good 400yds away from the road, we were a bit too close for comfort. I like to think that the reflective guylines suddenly cleared his vodka-induced haze (one would have to be wrecked to drive on these roads at night and we had seen the truckers buying enough booze for an "end-of-the-world" party the previous night. He swerved and then we finally got some kip.
We had no mobile signal, but who would we have called anyway! The dawn was a very welcome feeling.
The next day it took us 11hrs to drive 100 miles. (We did however meet and help a Russian family whose 4x4 had given up the ghost, jumpstarting their monster truck back to life, so that was good!)
The second story involved a drunken border guard, a ferocious Alsatian and a hairy overnight camp at the Mongolian border. Ask me to show you the scars on my poor Alpkit Filet at the Big Shakeout!
AK. One day gone. What will you be up to on your first week back?
JP: It was a long old haul back from UB to Manchester with Aeroflot (surprisingly good), I'd packed in a rush and hadn't seen the two cans of superstrength Mongolian Red Bull syrup, so had to down them, on top of the two strong coffees I'd already had (it was only 6am!) So, I was pretty wired all the way home.
I found out that I'd got a new job the day I got home, so my first day back was taken up with the sad task of handing in my notice at my old job.
Lina was back to work straight away.
We'd taken 5000+ pics and several days’ worth of video footage, but the romantic notion that we'd be able to browse through all of these, didn't happen for several weeks afterwards.
We both wanted to plan another trip straight away, as soon as possible, and we have a few ideas.
Short term, we'd like to get our pics whittled down to a more manageable amount and have a short film made of our trip.
Long term, I'd really love to maybe write a book.
In the meantime, I can't wait for the Big Shakeout
(STOP PRESS!!! I just entered the 2013 Wasdale Triathlon too, so best pull my finger out. Sitting on my ass for 4wks didn't really improve my fitness!)
Since writing this piece there has been sad news when the SuperClunk was stolen, we hope you find a worthy replacement Johnny!
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