Latest Project: A Poor Man's Winter
Welcome to the bad colonies' website.This site is dedicated to the exploits of those individuals that find humor and adventure on the open road. You'll find detailed information on the 2006 Mongol Rally and extensive posts from our adventures. We are already planning the next catastrophe, which will be glorious. In the mean time we will continue to update this site with different gnarly tales of gnarly stuff.
What is the bad colonies motoring coooperative?
Way back in 2005, Dominic and I decided to participate in the 2006 Mongol Rally. We created the bad colonies motoring cooperative as catch all organization for like minded idiots that want to participate in a whole bunch of really stupid activities involving cars in the name of charity and free poorly written online literature (i.e. run on sentences). Keep your ears open cause the BCMC has just started to roll.
Life is like a Ford Fiesta on the Mongol Rally, once started it will stall if left to idle. - Seth
we would love to have more entries,if you would like to contribute, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
The Official Minstrel of the BCMC - Sven Curth
Sven is good people and makes better than average music that does not suck. Want proof, the team consistently played his solo release "Me and Jim" while driving on the Mongol Rally. In fact, the convoy has since requested copies to play on the radio in London. The real question here is why haven't you bought your copy yet. Available here.
Stop by www.hot-fat.com, say hi and buy a cd or two.
August 31st, 2006 posted by DMF
Well, it’s official. I’m home. 4 flights, 5 airports, and 53 hours of transit behind me I crossed the final border of the trip at O’hare International last night at 9:30pm. The woman at passport control barely glanced at the pages of stamps accrued in the last 5 weeks before stamping me back into the U.S.A. “Welcome back,” she said. Followed by, “Next. Come on, keep the line moving.” Customs, of course, was a breeze. Clearly I have nothing to declare.
A sign on a table at the worst airport in the world. Can’t remember the name of it, but it’s the Moscow airport. Avoid this place at all cost.
This is the leg. The leg we picked up in a car park in Prague. An utterly useless object, what could be better to have along for the ride? Border guards and locals were always curious to know why we had a leg in the car. We tried to convey that it could be used as an oar. I’m not sure they got the joke. At Dave’s Place in UB there was another leg on the bar. A team called Heather’s Leg brought it with them. Somehow we had the match. Same nail polish…as if that’s all that difficult. One night at Dave’s we passed the leg round and all teams present made their mark.
It was not easy getting home with the leg. Had I not just completed the Mongol Rally I might have surrendered it at the security checkpoints when told I couldn’t carry it on the plane. They took my bottled water, they took my toothpaste, but they could not take my leg.
This is Wayne. Wayne might be the craziest rallier of the lot. He rode some 8,500 miles from London to Mongolia on a Honda C90. Five weeks on a tiny motorbike with little more than the clothes on his back. No tent, no spares, not even other ralliers in convoy.
Wayne eating the twin bacon cheeseburger with grilled onions and fried egg at Millie’s Espresso in UB.
The last time he saw anyone from the rally was on the ferry crossing over the English Channel at Dover. He would ride up to 2 or 3 days round the clock, his speed slowly tapering down as exhaustion set in. Eventually he would fall off the bike and decide it was time for some rest. His employer granted 4 weeks away from work. It took him 5 weeks to complete the course and another week to get back to Leeds. Hasn’t got a clue if he still has a job. And, by the way, Wayne wants to do the rally again next year on a smaller bike. Specifically a Monkeybike.
This is not the actual C90 Wayne rode. His was a gold and cream colored contraption that finally died near the Russia-Mongolia border and was brought to UB on a truck.
So what now? Not sure really. I’m sort of dazed just now. Still trying to wrap my head around the experience, but I’ll get there. Imagine I’ll start answering the phone before much longer as well.
Sukhbataar Square. See you next time around
August 29th, 2006 posted by nathaniel
The Fiestavus outside Dave’s Place in UB, Mongolia, the finish line.
Losing the Seat was a tough blow to take. I felt really bad that after surviving the hand clutch for so many miles, a relatively silly electrical issue landed her in the woods (NOTE - it is a fact that all electrical issues are silly). By this point in the trip, I was really wrapped up in getting both cars to UB and probably spent longer than I should have trying to revive the Seat (another NOTE - it is a fact the the Seat would have made it had Dominic and Vaughn not picked up all the tools before she was running).
It was nearing 9 pm on Aug. 20th when the three remaining BCMC members piled in to the one remaining car. We assumed the border closed at 8 pm, giving us under 23 hours to cover the 700 or so miles. We could not afford a single mishap and would have to push the poor Fiestavus as hard as she could handle. All of us were working on very few hours of sleep since leaving the Kaza border, very safe, very rally.
I took the first driving shift, secretly hoping that the roads would get better soon. Unfortunately, I ended up with a continuous trail of broken dirt roads and I can attest that swerving through potholes while dozing off is not fun. Of course at this point we had no choice but to carry on and I did my best to keep the pace up without destroying to blue beast. Finally in the early hours of the morning, I threw in the towel after sleep driving for more time than I would like to readily admit. Dominic took the reins and the roads became paved if not better. It wasn’t all positive for Dominic as the dirt roads were replaced by a thick engulfing fog. We pressed on as I drifted off to sleep in a tight ball in the tightness of the backseat. Over the next few hours, I awoke occassionally to the same fog and the same muttering of frustration from the driver. Dom had his fill and retired to the backseat as the fog broke and the sun rose near Irkutsk. I moved into navigator position and Vaughn took the Captain’s seat.
We negiotated our way around Irkutsk and quickly started our first mountain climb of the journery. The road was a beautiful trek through the Siberian woods with tight corners and smooth pavement. I suspect it would be a blast to drive in a car that was not falling apart, undersized, and filled with three stinky ralliers and stuff for three stinky ralliers. I could feel the car groan on the uphills and moan as the momentum wanted to carry her straight through the corners. Alas ole Fiestavus descended down the mountain pass and the beauty of Lake Baikal in the wee hours of the morning over took us.
Lake Baikal in the morning, try to find where the lake ends and the clouds begin.
About 300 km from the border, we stopped for gas and a driver switch feeling pretty confident that we were in the clear. After 8000 miles, why were we so naive I will never know. As I returned from a nature break, I saw Vaughn peering under the car and heard him say take a look at this. The smell hit me first then I saw the rapidly growing puddle of precious petrol forming below the car. Dominic and I went to work trying to diagnose and remedy the source of our spill. At some point, a man in a suit wandered over and started lending advice. He disappearred for awhile, returning with some rubber, screws, and a bit of metal plate. Then he pointed out a nice pit to drive the car over for easier access. Once in place we had a good view of the 1 inch crack that had formed in the tank. I took the finger in the dyke position and Dominic worked with the suited Russian to find a fix. A bit of caution, when gasoline reaches your armpit it really burns, a really really deep burn. Finally the guy in the suit had enough of our feeble attempts and jumped in the pit. He packed the crack with soap, put the rubber over it, the metal over that, and screwed the whole assembly into the tank. The leak stopped, we thank him profusely, and departed. After only being stopped by the cops once and an otherwise uneventful trip, we pulled up to the border at 5:15 pm on the day our Russian visas expired. There was a chaotic sprawl extending from the gates, a mix of log trucks, Ladas, and folks of foot. No one seemed be going anywhere, other than the mobs of people trying to negotiate a ride across the border in the Fiestavus. Vaughn went to the border to try to expedite our transfer across and I continued to fight off the lurkers from forcefully getting into the car. Soon Vaughn returned with instructions to go to the front, keep the windows up, and not talk to anyone. We inched the car to the front as the border guard yelled at the other vehicles to move back. The Fiesta actually bumped off a few cars, but no one seemed to care. We crossed through the gate at 5:45 pm, the last car to leave Russia. We had made it out with 15 minutes to spare as the border closed at 6 pm. We later found out that most teams waited between 12 and 20 hours to cross, Vaughn’s negotiating saved us from Russian prison.
While waiting in line for passport control, we noticed a white Fiesta a couple of cars ahead of us. On further inspection, we realized not only was it a rally car but also the very same rallier that we purchased the Fiesta from back in England. Unreal. The lads in the Fiesta had been at the border all day, got bored and drank a bottle of vodka. Needless to say, they were happy to see us.
We made it through the border in fairly decent time, easily attributable to the fact it was end of shift. After a call to Jen, we were off to Ulan Bataar. While zipping down relatively decent roads, we walloped a pothole caving in the rear driver side suspension. Not to long thereafter, Vaughn started complaining that the brakes were going soft. A quick inspection revealed that the fluid reservoir had cracked and would no longer hold fluid or pressure. This essentially equaled no brakes. We opted to stay in Darkhaan and finished the trip the following day.
I was more than happy to take the final driving duties of the trip. At this point, we were braking utilizing the hand brake. Of course after the disappearing wheel incident the Fiesta was down to just one drum brake. You should know that one drum brake operated by hand is a poor method of stopping a vehicle loaded with three stinky ralliers and the stuff of three stinky ralliers.
The Mongolian countryside was absolutely amazing and really made me regret the decision to travel through Siberia instead of across Mongolia.
A remote Ger with solar power and a satellite dish.
The Fiestavus in the Mongolian countryside, at this point she leaked gas like mad, had no brakes, no suspension in the right rear, and a wheel that could fall off at any moment. Just the way to finish the rally.
We reached UB in timely fashion and played in traffic. In true Asian form, the traffic was utter chaos with plenty of horns being utilized. I subscribe to the crappiest vehicle has the right of way. Luckily in most cases, the Fiesta won this distinction with little troubles. Handy since quick stops were impossible at this point. Finally we located Dave’s, parked the Fiesta, and ended the longest road trip of my life. Reflections of the rally to come soon… Seth
August 28th, 2006 posted by nathaniel
filmed completely in Kazakhstan while convoying with BARC - British American Rally Cooperative. It is all real speed, no funny stuff here Jackie. Music by Hank III
August 28th, 2006 posted by nathaniel
Jen, Patrick and I are home in rainy VT, Vaughn is in the Phillippines, and Dom is still in UB. Though spread across the world, the Bad Colonies team members are updating the site on a regular basis. Keep checking back.
My recommendation is to start with the posts at the bottom and progress to the top. There’s still Patrick’s tale and the final push to UB to come. New videos have been added to most posts on this page, scroll through and check it out. Don’t forget to comment, it makes us feel good inside.
When asked where Dadda was, Isa responded, “Dadda in da caa.” Now she runs around the house with the Fiestavus’ reg plate yelling “Caa Caa”.
This site will be transforming into a home to many rally stories from Bad Colonies and the whole of BARC - The British American Rally Cooperative.
Off to breakfast at Snap’s - more to come…. Seth
August 28th, 2006 posted by Vaughn
I left Ulaanbaatar last week, Thursday afternoon. I made the bad assumption that I could find a cab to take me to the train station in under ten minutes, and after hailing for close to half an hour, I finally got a taxi and missed the train to Zamin-Uud by 30 seconds. A (who I later determined to be helpful) man kept trying to get my attention and yelling that awful phrase that I’ve come to utterly despise, “Machina!” He made hand gestures in the direction of the train and seemed to indicated something about cutting it off. “Oh, you’ll take me to the next station?!” He probably would have nodded regardless of what I said, but we jumped in the car and took off.
We got stuck on a pile of dirt. I had to help push his car loose to continue the chase. Unfortunately, my initial misunderstanding of his intent and the delay caused us to miss the first station connection. Again, hand signals and pens came to use as another option apparently existed: drive to the next station, 2 hours outside UB and make the connection there. Seeing as I had to make a flight in Beijing in a day or two, I said go and we went. We made a number of seemingly random stops and was finally put to ease when I say another driver escorting people of the same sort - those that miss their trains. We all arrived at Banachangan with time to spare. We paid our drivers ($70 was a deal considering the mess) and shared some treats before heading to the platform to wait.
I had purchased a sleeper ticket and a Chinese visa the day before, so I was delighted to find an empty bed waiting for me. By good fortune, I shared the cabin with Markus, a friendly German traveler who had made his way through Europe and across Siberia via train, staying with people through a service called hospitalityclub.org. He’d met up with a few other travelers in Moscow and they were all making their way to Beijing. I rejoiced at my good fortune and ended up traveling the rest of the way with them. It was a good choice, because the border crossing from Zamin-Uud, Mongolia to Erlian, China was a cluster of inconsideration and absolute rudeness. I feel confident in saying that I will never cross that border again in my life. I’ll even go so far to say that if that entire area was swallowed by the earth, humankind would be much better off, having rid itself of a festering pit of incorrigible humanity. To give you the gist of the situation, Mongolia passport control didn’t want to deal with my exit and refused to let me out of the country (wankers!), we were ripped off by a border taxi (you can’t cross on foot, so you have to pay colluded prices) who then dropped us off in the middle of nowhere in Erlian, I almost got into a fight with a Mongolian as he kept kneeing me from behind, and it took seven hours to complete the whole ordeal. Many thanks to Nicholas and Kelvin (I hope I got that right) for their language abilities, which saved us all from absolute madness.
Meandering the streets of Erlian while tired with a backpack full of dirty clothes was far from my ideal afternoon, but the company (thanks Markus, Eva, Lukasz, Nicholas, and Kelvin) made it worth it. We found a man who offered to drive us to Beijing for 1650 RMB, though first we had a feast of a meal for close to nothing. We left Erlian at 6:00 and arrived at a hostel in Beijing by 4:00, though not without the obligatory midnight dinner stop for the driver. Roads were crap, traffic was heavier than expected, and sharing a backseat with a stranger all contributed to very poor sleep. Once we arrived, sleep was imminent, and I spent most of Saturday morning just getting ready to leave. I was amazed at how little time it took to get to Capital Airport, through customs, and checked in (48 minutes in all) and further in awe of the service of China Southern Airline (we flew from Beijing to Manila via Xiamen, receiving meals on both legs - absolutely unheard of in the States).
Unfortunately, my arrival in Manila coincided with Stef coming into some illness, so I spent the night at Aquino. I’ll admit that I was briefly taken advantage of by a seemingly helpful man at the airport; though I was slightly ripped off, the whole ordeal did give me the chance to buy a sim card, which then allowed to get into direct contact with Stef and send a few texts to home and friends from the rally. Luckily, I was taken under the care of a helpful airport guard named Espinosa. She asked my situation, made sure that I wasn’t hassled by other guards or strangers, purchased me a coffee and something to eat, then watched over me as I slept until her shift expired in the morning. Upon waking, I made contact with Stef, and Espinosa stuck with. We parted by dropping her closer to home, at which point Stef and I both agreed that we need to report her kindness and hospitality to her supervisor, for treatment like that simply shouldn’t go unnoticed.
My first day in Manila consisted of a trip to Tagaytay and lunch at a fine establishment called Josephine’s. Stef and I split a small meal and then made a visit to Lake Taal, taking the afternoon to cross the lake and hike the Taal Volcano. Hot, humid, and more exercise than I’ve done in weeks, it was a fascinating experience, with lush views of the lake and the warm-water pool that has settled in the old volcano’s crater. At one point on the hike up, we passed fissures in the ground that allowed gas to escape, filling the air with sulfur fumes and causing an amplification of heat that only intensified our sweat.
Day two (today) was spent sleeping. I slept for 14 hours and woke for a much needed shower, shave, and toothbrushing. Shortly after eating lunch, I fell asleep again, this time for five hours, and woke to find Stef back from work and dinner shortly ready. With that, I find myself in this overly airconditioned internet cafe, reconnecting (though somewhat unwillingly) to the mechanic drone that will most likely seep back into my life upon my return. Plans to visit Hong Kong and Thailand (with some new friends) have been discussed and trips around the Philippines are forming at the moment as well.
I’m due for home within a few weeks, with felixibility being a major key to living right now. I’ve got a new sim card for the Philippines, though I don’t plan to post it. FYI, country code is +63, so if you see that coming through, it’s me, so respond dammit. Until then, salam.
August 28th, 2006 posted by DMF
So there we were bombing across Siberia. I could be a little off, but I think we had about 36 hours to drive 1000k to get out of the country. Doesn’t sound like much, but consider that our daily average was only around 300k. I’d been in high spirits since being told by the Benz mechanic, “You are like Russian.” Though they would never dream of driving a car with a hand clutch they were obviously quite impressed with our handiwork.
Somewhere along the way the roads went to crap, which really shouldn’t be much of a surprise by now. 50 mile stretches of dirt roads with massive potholes everywhere became more frequent. It had rained the night before and many potholes were partially filled with water. During one of our leg stretching stops Seth commented that he’d considered driving into a pothole(yes, an entire car will fit in one) just to get some mud on the Fiesta. I chuckled as I’d had the same thought earlier. Later in the day I exercised a little poor judgement and swerved to splash up a little Siberian mud. We were going a little to fast and it was deeper than I’d thought. Our cargo flew all over the place; a cacophany of pots, pans, and jerry cans. Vaughn didn’t know I’d done it on purpose andwas visibly irritated. We came out the other side with the Seat sputtering. We made it a few more yards and came to a halt. The Fiesta pulled up behind after following us through the mud. I tried to start the Seat and she just wouldn’t go. After a few moments the engine did catch and I revved it right up for maybe 5 seconds and it died as soon as I took my foot off the gas. Clearly something was amiss and it was time to get out the tools.
This is where the Seat died - note the unfortunate lack of fresh mud despite my efforts
Fiddling around for a little bit the engine reeked of gasoline we reasoned that we just weren’t getting spark anymore. A German couple in an old Lada SUV pulled up and cametothe same conclusion. So off came the distributor cap and clearly the contacts were shot. Fried even. We tried fitting the Lada distributor on to little avail. This really should’ve made us think of other possibilities, but we were exhausted and under the gun. The Germans told us that the next garage was 70k up the road and recommended we tow it there. We shook hands, they hopped in their car, and we went back under the hood.
Our main plan of attack, precious hours slipping away, was to rebuild the contacts out of any bits of metal we could bend and glue together. With the fork from my mess kit I created a new contact and got the engine to catch a few times. Strangely though, exhaust gases came puffing out of the carb. Maybe that means something, maybe not. We probably should have started to look elsewhere, but to hear the engine fire a few times with my fork doing the work really was something. We really thought we could get it going. I started to make the fork fix permanent with epoxy, and Seth wandered off to mother nature’s call.
With nothing to do but wait for the epoxy to dry I began to pack up the tools and things. I’ve been a field engineer for 5 years now, and I know that’s bad mojo. Never pack up before a machine’s running. Seth (former field engineer) came out of the woods, saw the area tidied up and immediately asked, “Why isn’t it running yet?” I put the part it in and gave it a crank. Nothing. Guess I may have jinxed it after all.
We’d been several hours now on the side of the road. Shadows were quickly growing longer now. We three huddled for a discussion of what to do. Vaughn reasoned we could tinker until 8 pm and just make it to the border by 4pm the next day. But clearly there was other work to be done in the event we’d have to leave the car. Seth got back under the hood while Vaughn and I readied the car for ditching.
Mongol Rally stickers, Bad Colonies references, telephone numbers of ralliers, embassies and other friends, the photo of my grandmother that has fascinated people the whole trip through, anything that mentioned a website or a name, all of it was removed. Fear not faithful supporters, you’re identities are safe with us. No one will ever find you.
Off to the cemetary
8 o’clock arrived, the only sound from the Seat’s engine was of a dying battery from ceasless cranking. She never fired again. The Fiesta started towing. A couple of miles up the road we found an off shoot that was shielded from view by trees and large mounds of dirt. We pushed the Seat to her final position. I popped of the VIN plate and utterly destroyed the chassis number with a rubber mallet and a prybar. The engine number would’ve required partial disassembly to mutilate and we hadn’t the time. Oh well, it was Siberia, and a fairly unpopulated part of it at that. Vaughn pulled the license plates and Seth set up a scarecrow of sorts to deter any lookie-loos using the Chair-in-a-bag and some of Patrick’s dirty left behind clothes. We posed for a quick photo, piled into the Fiesta, and motored off in desparate need of smooth roads and no vehicular hassles of any kind. Fat chance of that.
Seat Marbella 8.20.2006 R.I.P.
Guess I’ll be celebrating two anniversaries on that day from here on out
weep weep at the sappy end of Seat montage
Best of luck to anyone who lays claim to the Seat. She’ll be a tricky beast to drive. It took Vaughn and I 1,500 miles to work out the feel of the clutch and the communication necessary to drive in any traffic situation. In the end it’s disappointing to have put so much effort into keeping that car on the road only to leave it behind. With more time or on a different route, the Seat may have made it all the way. Then again, a one liter car isn’t supposed to be able to make it. Which was the whole point of the rally in the first place. We’ve had opportunity to savor both the bitter and the sweet.
The drive across Siberia may be the only time I’ve ever made a decision based purely on time and money…and threat of imprisonment. I think we chose the riskiest of the options at hand after parting with Patrick. The urgent look on the Russian border guard’s face when we rolled up behind a line of traffic 45 minutes before closing time confirms it. But that’s another story.
August 27th, 2006 posted by nathaniel
None of us were feeling very good about the situation, we had no official confirmation on Patrick’s location and were staring down a deadline with serious repercussions. Our Russian visas expired on Aug 21st and the US Consolate had stated in no uncertain terms that we should be out of the country. Jail was the likely option. It was 2 in the afternoon on Aug. 18th when we finally decided we could not wait any longer.
We had 76 hours to leave Russia and three choices;
1. Drive through Siberia and enter Mongolia through the Northern border.
It was decided that the Western border would be too difficult with the Seat’s hand clutch and there was a significant chance that a car would be lost along with the $3500 deposit. Flying home was never really an option and chances of getting a flight on time were questionable. That left driving through Siberia, 76 hours to go 3000 km. In order to be successful, we needed to drive long days and have minimal problems. Luckily we were driving highly dependable one liter cars that had withstood 2 weeks of constant abuse in Kazakhstan. I, for one, was worried.
We rolled away from the border, missing one driver and all feeling the sadness that comes with leaving one of your team. I had the reins of the Fiesta, Dominic had the driving portion of the Seat while Vaughn was holding down the clutch duties. We no longer could switch off driving duties when the hours grew long. About two hours into the journey, we got word from Anne at the embassy that Patrick was in Kazakhstan getting a train to Astana and then a flight out. We were all relieved and now could concentrate on getting out of Russia.
Dusk in Western Siberia
We had made good time and were well into the Trans Siberian highway by 2:30 am. As I descended a hill, I felt a bit of a twitch from the back end of the Fiesta followed by some strange noises. And then while traveling at 60 MPH, the wheel fell off of our trip literally. The back end dropped and the car was engulfed in a flurry of sparks. I fought the strong pull that comes from metal to tarmac contact, keeping the car on the road and out of the surrounding marsh. Finally the car came to a rest on the side of the road while I tried to flash down the Seat. I stepped out of the car shaken and sure the Fiesta’s rally days were through. The left rear tire had pulled off with the hub and was now resting on the brake drum and the strut support. We started searching for the tire. It was around 40 F and I was in flip flops. We fianlly decided to get some sleep and continue the search in the morning. I fell asleep in my hobbled Fiesta, knowing the prospects were slim.
My slumber was broken by the dull thud of a tire landing on the hood of the car. Upon inspection, we knew it was not something that we could fix ourselves. The bearings were shot and the drum was badly damaged. Dominic and Vaughn headed off to the next town for a mechanic and I stayed to prep the car for ditching. Given the time constraints that we were under, it was agreed that we would move on if a mechanic was not found by 11 am.
Fiestavus post disappearing wheel incident
What was left after the hub and wheel disappeared, notice the wear on the lower part of the drum where the car skidded from 60 mph to 0
This is a self shot video of me beside Fiestavus recounting the tire falling off.
I stripped the incriminating stickers, cleaned out the car, and prepared my gear for departure. I was about ready to knock the vin plates off when the cavalry came over the hill, the Seat and a very impressive looking tow truck. Before I knew it the car was aboard the truck and I was crammed in cab with three mechanics. The level of English and the nature of the conversation led me to believe that these were not our typical mechanics. My suspicions were confirmed when we pulled into a Mercedes Benz dealership. As the Fiesta rolled into the shop amongst a host of high priced cars, I actually started to believe that the Fiesta would drive again. It was also obvious that they fully understood our time constraints. The lead guy proceeded with destructive disassembly while the rest of the crew gathered and continuously let us know how crazy we were. Shortly, Vaughn was off to the shop to pick up parts.
Vaughn returned with parts in hand. The lead mechanic moaned and groaned like a proper rally mechanic and in about two hours had the Fiesta lowered and running like a dream. They were adamant that the wheel would only make it another 1000 km. We had close to 2500 to do yet. They were so worried they made us promise to email them from UB. When asked how much, they refused to take any money. Instead Vaughn gave them the shirt off his back literally.
The Benz mechanics with Dom and I. Lead mechanic holding up the shirt. Notice how red I am from weeks in the desert.
It difficult to describe what these complete strangers did for us, they saved the Fiestavus from being abandoned and kept us on schedule to make the border. It was one of the most amazing parts of whole trip and I will always remember how great these Russians were. On the side of the Fiesta, earlier in the trip I had written a quote from a former Lakers’ player, “Life like basketball, all round.” The mechanics at the Benzo dealership have some good karma working for them and it seemed our luck was up. 48 hours to make the border - Seth
August 27th, 2006 posted by nathaniel
‘’But right now it seems the world’s turned upside down, I got to hope that better times will come around, not going to stop and let the hard times drag me down, you know I’ll be home soon'’ - Sven Curth
For the bulk of the trip, we have utilized the Lily Tomlin quote, ‘’Its Going To Get A lot Worse Before It Gets Worse'’ whenever the times were tough. Sadly, it has proved incredibly accurate in summing up our situation, we just did not know how bad it could get.
We awoke to another miserable day, but it wasn’t raining. We all went to work trying to refit the clutch cable. After a few hours, it was brutally evident that our efforts were futile. We set the hand clutch up again with a few modifications to ease use.
The Dukes had left the night prior with our map and phrase book in tow. Luckily we are highly trained rally professionals with an amazing sense of direction. We turned left and started driving. For the first time in quite awhile we made decent time, reaching the Russian border outside of Semey just after dusk. Everyone was well worn so we decided to camp and hit the border first thing in the morning.
The wind blew and the rain fell and I got very little sleep.
Patrick breaking camp on the Russian border
We rose early and were to the border may 730 just in time for a shift change, one hour wait the guard announced. Par for course, we waited. Amazingly, he was relatively accurate in his prediction. We entered the border fiasco in good spirits, joking our way through the Kazakh side. They had already seen quite a number of rally teams and the novelty of the US passports seemed to quicken the pace. We arrived on the Russian side in good time and we were optmistic about reaching Barnaul in good time. Things were going well, Dominic was playing the insurance game, Vaughn was closing out his stamps, and I was admiring the class decor of the Russian customs booth. Unfortunately, the remaining BCMC member was not faring quite as well. Patrick was starting to draw a crowd of border guards, including the obligatory angry female guard. The attention was not completely unexpected. When Patrick flew to Kiev, he utilized one of his entries on his visa. Due to cost and time, we had purchased double entry visas for Russia and Kazakhstan. Basically, this means that when Kazakh stamped Patrick his visa was void and he had already entered Russia twice, voiding that visa as well. Kazakhstan should never have let Patrick out with his visa situation and now he couldn’t get into Russia or Kazakhstan leaving him in limbo. We all felt that given the remote location of the border and our ability to dumbfound practically anyone with idiocy that we would be able to weasel across. However the more guards became involved the more bleak the situation became. We took another shot with the female guard utilizing an unheard of number of hand gestures and trying to look as sad as possible. She finally put her hat on and gestured for us to follow. I thought we were in the clear but then she walked straight by our cars and on towards the Kaza border. We quickly realized she was escorting Patrick off of Russian soil. With a bit of pleading, we were able to get some more time and let Patrick grab his gear. We were all a bit shocked and dumbfounded by the situation. Since we did not have an operational cellphone, there was very little that we could do at the border. We made sure Patrick had cash and all the important phone numbers, said our good byes and headed for the next not knowing if we would see Patrick again on this trip.
Luckily it was a short trip to the next city. Dom and I went to sort a phone and Vaughn went to work on the hand clutch. Things change upon crossing the Kz border, the people are less Asian, the towns are a bit more developed, and there are half a thousand cell phone stores. Luckily we chose the one with two young ladies that would bypass all the paperwork and hook two very raggedy looking Americans with a phone. I think we got extra points for wearing winter hats, which everyone seemed to enjoy laughing at. Listen, 50 F feels whole lot colder when you’ve sweltered away in 100 F in the desert for two weeks.
With phone in hand, we battled through the flock of street children that seemed intent on getting money from the extremely dirty fellows driving a broken Fiesta. They kept touching our feet and blessing themselves, one even hobbled after us for nearly half a mile. Dom was desparately trying to get help from someone at the US Embassy in Moscow to no avail. He got pointed toward the embassy in Kaza and finally reached someone who cared about Patrick’s plight. Anne from the Embassy said, “So you don’t speak Russian, you don’t know where you are going, and your cars barely run, what are you doing?” Dom responds, “We’re on the Mongol Rally.” “Ahhh, ralliers.” was the answer from Anne. She promised to go to work on the situation immediately. We found a sketchy roadhouse within 10 km of the border and I headed to update Patrick on our progress.
Its sort of like a Patrick Swayze movie - The Roadhouse
Not expecting to be able to make face to face contact, I wrote a note for Patrick. To try to get his spirits up I tagged the end with a “PS Russian women are still beautiful.” I entered through the main entrance of the border with little hassles, just some random hand gestures and the typical dumbfoundingly idiocy. The anger female border guard found me near instanteously, I handed her the note to deliver to Patrick. She scanned it apparently showing her deft grasp of the written English language. Of course the only part she picked up on was the last line and she repeated, “Russian waaaameeen?” I figured I was in deep enough no reason to hide and read of the line. She turned as red as the Soviet flag and walked away towards Patrick. About a half hour later, I spot Patrick talking on a cell phone with a border guard nearby. It seems Patrick had stumbled upon two young ladies on the rally and had garnered their cell phone for use. He had then made contact with Anne at the US Embassy. Things didn’t appear to be as bad as expected for Patrick, the Kazaks were taking good care of him and he was in good spirits. I headed back to the roadhouse feeling much better about the situation.
The girls and two other rally teams ended up at the roadhouse and things got a bit messy. It was late in the night when the drunk Russian Slava challenged me to the old handshake contest, in between bouts of heavily hitting on the girls. I stared him in the eyes and squeezed as hard as possible, luckily he relented stating, “You stronger, we arm wrestle.” I quickly negiotated my way out knowing that no good could possibly come of this.
We woke up with hurting heads and the ring of our new cellie. Anne was on the other end with good news that a Russian visa was in the works and we should wait at the border for the official word. We all headed to the border and set up camp just outside the fence where Patrick could occasionally get access. Dom and I worked on the cars tweaking and cleaning while Vaughn refitted the hand clutch to near perfection. The day went on and on with no good news.
Coffee, cars, and borders - just like home, sort of
In McLaughlistan everything is wonderful, the insurance will cost you though
This video was shot through the fence at the border the last time we saw Patrick, its not about the visual but instead the audio
Finally at the end, Anne stated that the Russians could care less and our only chance was with a Colonel in Barnaul whose phone was busy all day. She also indicated that something had to happen on Friday because nothing would happen over the weekend. To further complicate matters, our Russian visas expired in 4 days and we were starting to push whether or not we could make it out of Russia on time. When asked what the repercussions would be, it was plainly stated that we should get out. We reluctantly left Patrick at 10:30 pm, formulating a plan to drive to Barnaul the following day to get the visa in person.
I arrived back at the border early the next morning while Dom and Vaughn sorted cash and more minutes for the phone. The Russian border guard hustled right over to me and stated coldly, “Patrick gone, you leave now.” I couldn’t get much more out of him, but did decipher that Patrick was in Kaza. I moved my rig a bit away from the border and waited for the others. When they arrived, Dom got Anne on the phone and she talked directly to the guards. The news was not positive, one said Patrick was in Kaza, one said he was in Russia, and no didn’t said a thing. We decided we were waiting on the border until we knew exactly where Patrick was.
August 27th, 2006 posted by nathaniel
The Dukes graciously offered to give Andy and James a lift to Mongolia. With an happier air about the convoy, we motored on making good time through-out the day. We were fairly optmistic about our chances.
Fiestavus enjoying some down time in Central Kaz, all rejoice in her glory
Then with near perfect dramatic timing, the Seat went down with a broken clutch cable. Amazingly, it broke directly in front of a garage and predictably 4-5 Kazakhs were soon huddled over the car smoking and wildly suggesting ideas that none of us could understand. Unfortunately, what we needed was a new clutch cable and that was 120 km away. After trying unsuccessfully to fit up an accelerator cable, I started looking at something a bit extreme, a passenger operated hand clutch. These cars are right hand drive but have an engine designed for left hand drive cars. As such the clutch is located on the left side on the engine, making a perfectly straight pull for the passenger. We found a near perfectly placed penetration to the interior to run the cable through. We used a piece of rebar, that Patrick had picked up a week earlier, for the lever. Vaughn was designated ‘’Clutch Boy'’ and the Seat was ready for its first go. To the amazement and enjoyment of all, the car lurched forward and off into the distance after only a couple of tries.
We drove until we reached Karragandy. A hasty campsite was located on the outskirts of town. We ate a feast of Kaza pasta gumbo and quickly drifted off to sleep beneath a sea stars.
I awoke in the morning to a bitter chill and a distinct lack of sunshine. For the first time in weeks, the sky was clouded over and the temperature was hovering in the high 50s. After spending two weeks in daily temperatures exceeding 100F, this cold snap was brutal for all of us.
We drove into town and located a garage. The mechanics were less than helpful but did point us towards the town bazaar where a clutch cable could be purchased. A few hours later, Dominic returned with two VW Golf clutch cables in hand. Another couple hours of fitting and testing and we were ready to roll. The clutch was stiff and had a much different feel but it worked.
Dominic doing the clutch cable fiasco dance
The Dukes had to be in Russia as soon as possible and were blazing a fairly fast trail. Our cars were taking a beating as a result. After one stop, we walloped a massive rock and snapped an exhaust support. Patrick and I quickly rigged the exhaust back in place but it rattled with vigor as we drove.
On the road with Mrs. Tigglywinks
It started raining and grew mercilessly dark. It was then, in the worst weather of the trip in the dark of night, that the Seat’s clutch went again. The actual clutch pedal was bending under the necesary foot pressure. We gave the Seat a tow to the nearest garage.
We were down, dirty, and sick of working on cars. The Dukes were eager to push on and it became evident that the convoy was on its last legs. In the driving rain, we said our final good byes and parted ways, the end of a good long partnership.
For the first time in three weeks, the bad colonies’ cars were on their own. We settled the cars in along side a big truck. Dominic declared that he was drinking beer and not thinking about cars, all I could do was wholeheartedly agree.
There was a really dodgy looking concrete cafe next to the gas station that looked rather warm. We walked in and had a seat by a bunch of truck drivers drinking vodka. It felt incredible to be out of the cold and the rain, however frightening the reality of the situation was. We feasted on anything we could negiotate with hand signals. At a bit past midnight we settled into the cars for the evening.
August 27th, 2006 posted by nathaniel
After a solid couple days of R&R in Bishkek, the cars and crew were recharged and ready for another trip through Kazakhstan. On the way out of town, we hit the main bazaar which is aptly named. It is basically a whole lot of shipping containers filled with just about everything, from stereos to apples to funny looking elf slippers. Patrick and I purchased the latter. The border was only 10 or 20 miles away and in that time the first signs of a stomach bug began to propagate. Both James and I were hit at the same time and were forced into the worst imaginable position, using a gas station ‘’bathroom'’. This is beyond bad and you are lucky enough that I will tell you all about it. Every time we stop, we eagerly search the premise in hopes of finding a Western style bathroom. Instead, we typically find the infamous ‘’hole in the ground'’. This fine facility is generally contained in a shack with a tin roof and no windows. This means that you can’t see a damn thing and its hot as hell, all complimenting the worst stench you could ever imagine. Its the ultimate insult to injury, first the food makes you sick, then the toilet elevates it.
We made it to the border and settled in for the anticipated fiasco on the Kazakh side. We quickly obtained stampy stampy (their own words) from the Krazystan guard and pulled forward to the Kazakh side. The guards were flying random hand gestures like they were in a Puffy video. After some further pointing and mumbling, it was deicphered that we were being sent to the exit door. We wander in and find the obligatory angry female border guard ushering us to the front of an enormous and agitated line of locals. In what may be a world record time, we zipped out of the border and forward to Almaty. Two emergency stomach flu stops later and we were thoroughly lost in Almaty in search of the Fiat dealership. Andy and James drove off and returned an hour or so later unsuccessful. We left Almaty, slowly, very slowly. Rush hour traffic in the Stans is painful at best. Luckily we have a car that doesn’t idle, luckily Patrick had to deal with it. The mountains around Almaty are spectacular, absolutely massive. Just like Bishkek, there was still a touch of snow atop the peaks. I would love to snowboard here.
We played the gas gauge game shortly outside of Almaty, with three of four cars on E for a half hour or more. Finally a dodgy gas station was located and those without raging stomach issues negiotated a decent exchange rate. With light fading quickly, we deftly located a fantastic camp site in the middle of the Steppe.
The Fiat drives into the sunset
In the morning, all were feeling better and quite confident that progress would be made. We were performing our morning car checks, when Andy declared he may have bigger issues. There were water droplets on the oil pan dipstick indicating a possible head gasket issue. No one, especially Andy was all that excited about a mid desert head gasket change. Unfortunately, upon attempting to start the Fiat it became obvious that something was definitely wrong. Amid looks of despair, the tools came out of the cars and the work began. Andy worked away as we played a little wiffle ball. Things were progressing well until he ran into the rocker cover bolts. Apparently, the Italians do things differently, this is when the state of shock sets in. Not one single allen wrench between all of our cars would fit the bolts, forcing Andy to remove with smaller wrench thus rounding the heads. A couple rounded completely so we beveled the heads with a file and hammered a socket over the top. Hey its the desert and its by any means necessary. Andy was able to negiotate the rest of the disassembly without any real issues.
Andy at work on the head gasket
With the new head gasket in place, it was time to rebuild. I went to work rotating the tires on the Fiesta to minimize the uneven wear propagating from the front left tire. Soon the murmur of new problems started making its way across the camp. Andy had snapped a head bolt while applying normal pressure. No words were spoke other than, ‘’Well all we can do is keep going.'’ The assembly continued. Upon the first fire, things looked pretty bleak, the car sounded the same as before the minor operation. The inevitable discussions started about how Andy and James were going to make it home. Before anything hasty was done we decided to throw everything at it possible. After some new sparks and rearranging of random wires, the Fiat sputtered to life. We all rejoiced and hit the road. Things were looking up for the convoy.
A montage of the time spent replacing the head gasket on the Fiat in the desert
About 30 minutes down the road, Andy and James had to stop for some radiator water. Nothing too alarming as this had become a common practice. As the day wore on and the stops became more frequent, we started to suspect the worst. One last engine rebuild was decided upon and a semi suitable campsite was located. Shortly into disassembly, we ran into a insurmountable obstacle. The allen bolts on the backside of the rocker cover were going nowhere. The towel was thrown in.
The car scavenging ceremony was performed in the morning as the remaining cars vied for differing goods. Andy and James decided to push on until the car completely died. We were leading the pack down the dirt track and managed to take the one possible wrong turn, only Andy and James were dumb enough to follow. It was upon the turnaround that the Fiat gasped its last breath. Andy and James grabbed their essentials and started the long walk to the road.
The Long Walk - Final Resting Place of the Fiat
August 27th, 2006 posted by DMF
So the tank and AK-47 guy stood us up yesterday and I skipped the night in the ger to figure out my homeward travel the day before. Just as well, finally got hit by Montezuma’s revenge and spending an afternoon on a horse would have been a nightmare to say the least.
A big celebration for the 800th anniversary of the formation of the Mongolian State has been going on in Sukhbataar Square. Some of the loudest music and shortest most jam-packed fireworks displays I’ve ever witnessed. There’s been throat singing, crazy oompha-oompha techno music, carnival games, and people just milling about. Fully expected the Backstreet Boys to walk out on stage at any moment. I watched a manget tasered last night as well. Not sure what the offense was but the guy took more electricity and kept on getting up than any of those guys on Jackass could have dreamed of.
Also managed to see the Dalai Lama do some teaching at a local monastery today. He spoke in Tibetan then it would be translated into Mongolian and I didn’t understand a word of it.
The Dalai “Big Hitter” Lama is under the awning right in the middle.
Perhaps you can make out his trademark shades.
Those of us who went were accompanied by a local child who latched onto us as we left Dave’s Place (end of the rally checkpoint) after a full English breakfast. I think the kid’s made friends with every rallier that’s finished. Haven’t got a clue what his name is but lately a few have dubbed him “Chinggis.” From what anyone can glean he’s got a family, even a home somewhere. His mother cuts his hair and his father is somewhat of an alcoholic and beats him around from time to time. Nights when he doesn’t want to go home he sleeps somewhere near Dave’s Place. Though Dave doesn’t encourage it we’ve slipped him Coke’s and bananas and french fries.
Chinggis wouldn’t let us leave the monastery before feeding the pigeons.
A good half-hour long affair.
Chinggis is fearless and quite bright. I’ve seen him walk right up to police officers and ask questions though he stands a 90% chance of being dragged away. He lead one of the Scottish girls under a barrier and past the police to get a closer glimpse of the Lama. Some of the others said that he tried to follow them to a dance club one night and paid the cover charge and was thrown out 10 minutes later. After all, he can’t be much more than 8 years old. He’s learned how to use nearly everyone’s camera and loves taking photos. Particularly the SLR cameras that rattle off 40 exposures in a few seconds. Riding on people’s shoulders and being swung around by the arms get smiles and laughs all day long.
Seth teaches Chinggis how to play Wiffle Ball outside of Dave’s Place
I was finally able to get a flight out for Tuesday. UB-Moscow-London-Copenhagen-Chicago. I think it will take nearly 40 hours to complete…assuming no delays and neither of my Aeroflot flights go down in a blaze of glory. I’m not sure what the little guy will do when the Rally tapers to a close. In the week I’ve been here the temperature has steadily dropped. Dave tells me winter will be here in another few weeks. I’ve heard someone was going to take Chinggis to the Nairamdaal Orphanage (where we turned in the car) later this week.
One of the car lots at Nairamdaal Orphanage
The entry fees from the rally alone raised over $300,000. Tom hopes to generate another $25,000 to 50,000 through the car auction. I hope what we’ve been able to accomplish through the rally helps.
See everyone back at home soon.
August 24th, 2006 posted by DMF
On my own in UB now. Vaughn headed off to Beijing on a train yesterday afternoon. Seth went to the airport at 5:30 this morning. And of course we all know Patrick is back in the States already. So I’ve been forced to make new friends and carry on for another couple of days before making my own way home. Tonight I’m planning to head off into the countryside and stay a night in a ger with a Mongolian family. Horse and camel riding may be involved. Though the option of heading to the army base to drive a tank and shoot AK-47s is still quite appealing.
The last week of travel was absolutely brutal. I’m really not sure where to start the storytelling. To be here breathing and in one piece is remarkable all things considered. The rally has lived up to and probably exceeded every expectation I had.
Vaughn and I dropped off the Fiesta at the orphanage yesterday. Talking with Tom, the official organizer of the rally, it sounds like 74 cars have made it thus far.
Mrs. Hedderwick, Tom and Guy have arrived in UB and reported that Pix and Miles were crossing into Mongolia a day or so ago. I’m not sure where their information comes from. Most have said that crossing Mongolia take about 6 or 7 days. Sven, you’ve basically been the soundtrack of the trip and kept us sane in some remote places.
ps. hi mom
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