What follows is a fun Mongolia travel blog story from an overland tour I led in 2015. The adventures that ensued on this tour quickly established Mongolia as my favourite overlanding destination.
The tour was part of a four month trip from Mongolia to Istanbul along the fabled Silk Road. Along this route we passed through China, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia and finished in Turkey.
In this post I share one of the days from this trip that will certainly live long in the memory of both my passengers and myself.
No trucks were (permanently) damaged in the making of this story!
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A Mongolian Adventure
As I pull up to the river, I squeeze the brake pedal and the truck trundles to a halt. After a cold start my toes tingle as the warmth begins to creep back in. The steering wheel gently vibrates as our truck, Suyra idles.
“This one looks like it’s flowing pretty fast. How deep do you think it is?”
Neill scans the river for a brief moment. “Not so bad. Looks knee deep at worst”
“So you fancy getting wet then?” I ask.
“Nope, it looks freezing” He replies. “You?”
I turn to him and give him a wry smile.
We were 7 days into our 3 week tour around Mongolia. In the back of our custom built expedition vehicle we have 13 passengers looking on eagerly. Some have been on an overland trip like this before but for others the experience is a new one.
The previous day my colleague Neill quipped about how we were almost a week into this trip and hadn’t got stuck yet. In Mongolia where there are very few paved roads, that is almost unheard of. After that point we inevitably got our 10 ton truck bogged down in deep, wet, Mongolian mud.
However after a small amount of digging and the use of our ex-military sand mats, we were on our way. It didn’t stay that way for long though before once again we were out digging in the rain.
I have a quote pinned up in the truck which says life is not about waiting for the storm to pass, it’s about learning to dance in the rain. As I’m once again running ahead of the truck to check if our plan b (or was it c) route is possible, I think of this and chuckle to myself.
Finally Neill and I have the chat neither of us wanted to have. We agree it’s time to turn around, backtrack and try an alternative route. The valley we are trying to navigate through is simply too sodden from the recent rainfall.
The rest of the day continues to be a wet and cold affair. Most of the drive was spent on a partially constructed road. Corrugation interspersed with muddy sections, where I fight with the steering wheel to avoid spending too much time sliding sideways.
We cross a high pass with fresh snow where we briefly stop for an obligatory snow ball fight, before finally we decide we’ve covered as much ground as we can for one day. We pull up and make camp for the night.
I scan the river again looking for an obvious entry and exit point. There are tyre tracks entering the river at two places, straight ahead and slightly off to left. Take the track to the left, suggests Neill.
In my overlanding career to this point I’d driven through a handful of what I would call rivers but what most people would call a stream. So with neither the confidence or experience to question this decision, I roll forward and take a leap into the unknown.
At first the river crossing is easy with Suyra’s wheels gliding effortlessly through the icy water. But suddenly we plunge deep into the river and water rapidly gushes up towards the chassis body.
Go, go go I hear Neill shout and I slam my foot onto the accelerator.
Unceremoniously, the front end of the truck clambers onto the riverbank, however the back end doesn’t fare so well. The rear axle wedges itself into the riverbed and we come to a grinding stop. I try to reverse and produce nothing but wheel-spin. Again I try to move forward, praying as I push on the gas.
Nothing. Our only hope is to get towed out.
Our usually quiet and shy Mongolian guide Byra leaps into action. We see him chatting with locals at a nearby ger and within minutes he’s galloping bare-back on a borrowed pony in search of help. We stand in awe as he glides across the plains with ease on his newly acquired stead, from one small ger camp to the next.
With the passengers having climbed out onto the riverbank through the front cabin of Suyra, we wait hopefully for help to arrive. Locals from the ger entertain us with a Mongolian wrestling show and we dare to impress with our amateur footballing skills.
Between brief moments of local entertainment, I stare at our big orange truck abandoned in the river, water incessantly rushing up against the diesel tank. I wonder how waterproof they are? Much later in the day, I regrettably discover the answer to this question.
It’s a long wait on the side of the river bank.
An eternity later, Neill and Byra return to our part-time river camp accompanied by a battered old Russian truck. After several attempts to tow us out from the front fail, I get a sickening feeling in my stomach. It hadn’t occurred to me until this point that this problem might not be fixable. How would I explain this to the boss?
In a change of tact we ask the Russian truck driver to try pulling us out from behind, back across the raging river. I jump back into the cab and signal to the driver that I’m ready to go.
Much to everyone’s relief, after the second time of asking, Suyra jolts down from the riverbank, lunges sideways in the deceptively strong current, before being pulled back to where we had started.
Sat once again looking out across the river I had come to know so well that day, I think to myself:
I should’ve taken the other track!
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