I remember thinking at some point a few weeks back – maybe in Bucharest when our clutch went and although irritating, all we had to do was pull into a mechanic’s shop around the corner – how is it that about 20% of the cars on the Mongol Rally never reach the finish line in Ulaanbaatar? It doesn’t seem that hard.
Kazakhstan would soon give me the answer, with two long days of the worst roads I’ve ever seen.
When we pulled into a town that our highway was supposed to run straight through and found a dead-end, we drove around aimlessly for nearly an hour, kicking up dust in front of tilting houses and curious cows. We pulled into something that may have been one woman’s driveway and received directions in the form of two arms waving us out into the desert.
She seemed to be saying, “Get the Hell off my property,” but we’d soon discover that she may have actually meant to direct us out to the desert as that’s where the highway would randomly pick back up.
It sure didn’t look like a highway, but there they were – two tire tracks heading away from this little ghost town in the direction we needed. (East is always a safe bet.)
So we took them, following sand to patches of asphault that eventually connected into something that resembled a road. It didn’t take long to figure out that the “paved” highway was not the best option and we slid out little Panda over to the more trafficked, parallel path in the sand.
Driving on the desert roads of Kazakhstan is fun at first, like playing a video game. Your hands are planted firmly on the wheel – ten and two, just like my driver’s ed teacher taught me. Your back is hunched forward, your shoulders are tight, and your eyes are scanning – left, right, left, right, left, ahead, right, left. You dodge pot holes the size of your car like the bananas in the road on Mario Kart. At the worst points, you slow down to a crawl and dip your front wheels, straight into the gaping mouths of sand and listen to pieces of metal crunch against rock, hoping it isn’t something important that’s being ground into dirt.
Then I remember – I hate video games.
But despite the stress and painfully slow pace of driving these roads, the thrill that we’ve been looking for is all around us. It’s in the gas meter, ticking towards empty without a gas station in sight. It’s in the impossible options of soft, sinking sand versus crumbling roadway with trucks barreling past, forcing you to face craters head on. It’s in the dust that billows through our windows before we have a chance to crank them up, and coats our skin with a desert tan. From here on out, it’s everywhere.
Kazakhstan was our first taste of real, rally driving. It gave our car and our clothes a badge of honor that says, “this s#!t ain’t easy.”
From what we’ve heard from past ralliers… its going to get so much better in Mongolia. And by better, I mean, much, much worse.
You can also receive updates from team Yes We Khan on our team page, Instagram, and Twitter. Follow along as we continue on our journey to Mongolia, in support of two great charities: Cool Earth and Lt. Dougie Dalzell Memorial Trust Fund.Thanks so much to everyone who has followed and supported us so far!