The Final Push
I awoke occasionally to the same fog and the same muttering of frustration from the driver.
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 the 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 occasionally 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 negotiated our way around Irkutsk and quickly started our first mountain climb of the journey. 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.
Finally the guy in the suit had enough of our feeble attempts and jumped in the pit.
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 disappeared 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.
Soon Vaughn returned with instructions to go to the front, keep the windows up, and not talk to anyone.
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 on 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.
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.
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