SEPTEMBER 18TH, 2010
Peking to Paris Motor Challenge update. More about the race here
“Mongolia has the best scenery in the world.” That’s the summing up of Catriona Rings, navigator in the pretty red Alfa alongside Alastair Caldwell, who has probably rallied in every country with a road worth rallying. And it sums up the mood of the event as we struggle with hammer and tent-pegs yet again, beside another fast-flowing river.
We have just driven 300 kilometres and just as we had all thought “the scenery surely can’t get any better” today has proved to be absolute stunner, and the best so far. Many are saying it’s been the finest driving-day of their lives, even your Syd Stelvio reckons today makes it onto a short-list of three of the world’s greatest roads.
We have crossed a vast open plain, beneath big skies, with a line of mountains on either side, and not seen a soul. Not another car. Not another shepherd, most of us have not ever seen an animal, although a few claim to have seen a herd of camels.
Where else can you begin the day on a sandy, gravel road, so unused there is grass growing up the middle, and run up and down valley after valley, and every time you crest a hill, have your breath knocked away from you by yet another vast prairie. You discover just how it must feel to be a single-handed oarsman rowing the Atlantic when you realise you are looking at horizon that displays the curvature of the earth… and when you get there, you crest a hill for another far horizon. On, and on, and on…and finish up beside a river without one kilometre of tarmac, and, joy oh joy, not a single pot-hole.
In case you are wondering where this treasured spot of utter tranquillity exists on the map and plan a parachuting holiday, check it out on Google Earth at 48.29137°N 93.48999°E only don’t bother with the bathing costume as Andy Inskip says the water in these parts is icy-cold.
So, it’s been a great day. Not easy for the navigators, as some found themselves going off route and skirting round the back of a mountain before realising they now had some real navigating to do to plot a course across country to get back on route.
Confronted with a Y-junction, a lot of cars swung left as it seems the main track to take, as Rupert Marks and Simon Mackenzie-Smith said at on arrival in their Ford Model-A at the campsite: “We got lost with the lads in the Lagonda, Car 25, we went 7km off track, Nigel Gambier said “it’s just the other side of that mountain”, got a puncture driving over the grassland looking for the correct track, our first one, cracked front cross-member, but what stunning scenery – this is the day we entered this rally for!”
The beer tent is doing a roaring trade, the sun is setting, so a Sundowner has obvious appeal, and the chefs are chopping up a small mountain of raw cabbage for a coleslaw salad, there is distinctive smell of barbecued chicken coming out of one kitchen tent… and there are log fires under several large rusty drums of water for hot showers. The team of campsite workers are hard at work… and so are the roving mechanics.
Chris Elkins and Ed Rutherford have gone off in their Vauxhall Fronterra to rescue some ten cars that are reported bogged on the side of a very sandy hillside about 12 kilometres away, so while today was planned as a short day, and with no timing – a chance for everyone to recover from the rigours and hardship of the appalling roads of the last two days – it looks like some will still be in late tonight.
Alastair Caldwell broke a gear-lever today, as well as a shock absorber mounting, and is under the car. Catriona is passing him paper cups of what looks like either brake fluid, or, a slurp of red wine. But given she is sipping her own, it’s surely just another bottle of Australian Cabernet. Not that this matters a jot – the Alfa has been without brakes for days.