The Border to Kemerovo, RU
We had 76 hours to leave Russia and three choices;
1. Drive through Siberia and enter Mongolia through the Northern border.
2. Enter the Western border of Mongolia.
3. Fly home from Barnaul, Russia.
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.
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.
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.
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 finally 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.
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.
The lead guy proceeded with destructive disassembly while the rest of the crew gathered and continuously let us know how crazy we were.
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.
It is 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