A story of “Time Management” part 2 – a Mongol Rally story

It was probably all the nerves of the day, the fear of getting into an unknown and remote place without phone service, the idea of getting near the Afghan border in an area where one year before some western cyclists were killed, or maybe all of them combined in a “red mist” (*Something that I recently discovered defined as: To fall into a state of extreme anger, excitement, or competitive arousals, such as might cloud one’s judgment or senses). What happened from that point is that we started to drive like maniacs, doing a veritable rally raid with our cars. I felt that the red dust that we were on had a weird adherence, would let the car slide over a long distance but offered a good stop, and after a few turns, I started to feel it really good. The road also had a lot of ups and downs and I managed to find a good point where to accelerate and when to let it slide, so we would go over the tops as fast as possible without jumping over it… and potentially landing into the creek next to us. The road was going up and up on the mountain shoulder and the creek next to us was getting bigger and bigger, but after passing some waterfalls also, the night took care of that as we could not see it anymore, and what you can’t see cannot hurt you, right? We continued our run through the darkness as fast as we could, letting the car drift just as long as it needs in every corner, gaining more and more altitude as our app was telling us. Vali was cursing in the Sandero and over the radio with every kilometer that we did because all the dust raised by the Suzuki was getting inside through the air vents. The Sandero soon had as much dust in it as it had on it. After a few hours of rallying, we started to lose our speed. The road was having the main path broken or interrupted and we had to take small detours along it. The offroad element was getting more and more noticeable. With every small detour, we would find small rivers and waters that we needed to pass through, and for every big bridge that was coming our way we would hope it is still standing so we can cross over it. As we got deeper and deeper into the mountain the detours were less obvious, so when the road was suddenly stopping we needed to find our way around it and make sure we were staying on our planned route. Even at this point, so far up in the mountains, we had to yet again leave the main… bigger road, and go for the small ones. We even found an old wooden bridge that in daylight we would not want to cross by foot, let alone by loaded cars in the night, and to have even more fun we crossed it three times because we couldn’t realize if it is the right way. Theoretically, it was the right way, but just after it was another large bridge over a river that was broken and another path up the mountain that was turning into a walking path. After trying even the walking path we stopped and cursed some more, it was the first time we felt blocked. If we would go back over the wooden bridge we could continue with a slightly larger road but I insisted it was not taking us on the right path and refused to go on it, but the right path had a broken bridge and a river underneath it. As we stayed and argued, we could see someone with a lantern on the side that we wanted to reach, I think he was trying to tell us something, but we were too busy fighting each other to understand Russian at that hour of the night. As we continued our productive monologs at the same time, that light disappeared under the bridge and after a while, to our stunning stupidity, it reappeared on our side of the river, near us. We looked at the person, it was an old man with an old lamp and he didn’t look like he has just swim, he looked at us, looked at the cars and started to smile, I have the feeling he saw this year’s logo of the Mongol Rally already. We pointed the obvious, the other side, he nodded his head to a yes, we gave him two beers as a thank you and he got as excited as we were at our launch party. With the biggest energy in the world he started to show us the way, it was some really steep paths under the broken bridge, through the water at a certain point, and up again on the other side, no problems for our beasts of cars. We departed a little happier and lightheaded as if we had just drunk those two beers. After some more kilometers in the dark, something red started to be seen up ahead. As we got closer we could distinguish it, but not comprehend it. In the middle of the mountain, in the middle of the night, it was that type of sign that you can find in the center of most large cities and metropolis, that “I <3 the city” type of illuminated sign, we made pictures with the one in Teheran, and here we just found the “ I <3 Tajikistan” one. Looking back on it, I think that was the perfect place to put up that sign, and we even saw it at the perfect moment but didn’t realize it then. Next to it was the standard checkpoint and barrier. The guards were a little bit taken by surprise by our arrival in the middle of the night, they asked for our passports and local transit permit and asked a few questions. They were really friendly and probably understood that we didn’t have the best night. They offered us some freshly baked bread, it was so hot and good, we were happier than if they offered a full meal. We tried to ask how much more until Kalaikhum, in KM and hours, so they started to draw on the back windscreen of the Suzuki, on the dust of it. They wrote 80 KM and drew a round clock that was showing “01:00”, so we were more than happy to get to our destination in about one hour.

With that in our mind, we’ve put together our last drain of energy and speed up on our route. We got a higher speed for a while but after a few kilometers and some road bifurcations, we realized that we will most probably not get 80 KMs in 1 hour. The road started to go up once more and turn from bad to worse, every few hundred meters we could hear our engine guard hitting the rocks buried in the road. At this point, I felt in a deep negation state and accelerated even more. Although the road was getting higher and higher and it was full of tight corners around the mountain I didn’t care, I just knew I had to get those last 80 KMs and get through it and I know without looking, that Tudor next to me was not happy about it. I pushed on and on, at a point the road started to get really bad but I continued, in just a few meters the sport had changed, from rally raid to technical offroad but I still wanted to go on and pushed the car up around three actual steps, hoping that after the next step it will turn to a straight road again. But it didn’t, after the last climb I ended up with the car’s headlights pointed straight to a kind of wall, less than a meter tall but it was clear that no car would make it over it. The moment I saw it made me more furious than I was the whole day, I started swearing and stopped the car. Tudor got his flashlight and got out to see the area, looked left and right, and then I saw him going to the wall, climbing it, and pointing the light around. Vali was saying something through the radio but I didn’t want to hear it. I only heard Tudor saying that I should get out of the car and come see for myself. I sensed his restraint. When I got out of the car I saw that the Suzuki was almost suspended, went in front of it and climbed that “wall”, got a 360-degree view, and realized that the road ended about 200 meters back and we were on top of a landslide. There was no more edge of the road on the right side of the Suzuki, it was just the mud and dirt that went down as long as the light from the lantern let us see. In front of us, we could see the road but it was absolutely clear that we would not get there. At that moment I went from anger to acceptance, I knew it was the end of the road. Tudor helped me back up the car onto the road. Vali was insisting (still is to this day) that I got them lost but I knew exactly where I was, even where North was, as I always do. The problem was that this time we had no alternative options, no old men with lanterns to guide us. The checkpoint was too far away now, and the last and only bifurcation looked like it would take us straight towards a river and we couldn’t see a road on the other side, we agreed that it was too dangerous to try it in the night. After going back and forth for a while we gave up, we have been defeated on our first day in the Pamir mountains. It was the middle of the night, our “Time Management” didn’t work. We found a small place where we could park our cars until the morning, out of the road and we prepared to sleep for the second time in the cars, after Darvaza. The sun would have probably been up faster than our tents anyway. I got myself on the driver’s seat, gazed into the stars, took a beer, and just tasted the hours we paid for it. Vali took a selfie before going to sleep and showed it to me months after we got back, that picture is the only moment in my knowledge of him when he is not smiling.

In the morning we got up with a lot more energy, we counted our cars logos but this time none went missing, we gathered our imaginary tents and started to explore. The maps had no info to give, we encountered no one around, all we knew was where East is and that we needed to continue towards it. We tried the alternative road, saw even a sign saying “Kalaikhum”, one that Vali was telling me about in the night but refused to acknowledge, went down the road towards the river and saw the way back. After this, we were almost on a walking path, on some hills, south to our roads on the map from our app. We opened all of our navigation apps, none was showing a road around here. As it was the only way we went with it. In a short while, we started to see some houses and actually entered a small village. The road was now getting narrower from the fences of these houses, Tudor was driving now and I was trying to find a way on our maps. The apps were showing us moving through the mountains, but could not find a path to our destination. As we continued to the narrow street we just saw what we think it was the village center, it was a small opening similar to a central square, where we could see a large number of people gathered and looking towards a point where three men, in military uniforms and with rifles on their shoulders where standing on some logs or something that made them much taller. It was around 1 hour after sunrise, we were going straight to them on this street, the military men raised their eyes from the crowd and noticed us, the whole crowd turned around and looked at us, the GPS app suddenly reconfigured its curse and told us to make a left, I yelled it to Tudor and I swear we made a left through the backyard of an old lady that was sweeping her yard. We got beyond the houses, two donkeys and a horse, started to go up a hill, a dirt road appeared, our GPS route was established and we went on. I can only imagine what was going in the minds of those people that saw us that morning. After that, we were out of the “woods”, the road was as good as it could be, the Suzuki showed its huffs and puffs for the first time (we would get to have much fun with this until Almaty), we got into the mountainous area and descent. In daylight and in the right-side seat, just looking down from the road I was so scared I wanted to go the whole road on foot (To get a better idea, every week we were sending videos and photos to the organizers and they would do the week highlights of the rally. When we got in Kazakhstan and saw the intro of that week video, I saw a car driving on a mountain edge road and just said “Look at where these retards ended up! I would never… And then I just realized it was us, filming from that morning…). We managed to get down from the mountains, through some minefields (yes, the exploding kind), saw the bluest water rivers in the world, saw the bluest waters unite with the most violent ones and getting grey forming the new border, ended up in Kalaikhum where we could only see children on the streets, shared some candy and chocolate, looked for the polish girl’s team but didn’t find them, bought some bread from a local store where the owner kept his pistol next to the cash register and had our first breakfast and coffee on the side of the road, next to Afghanistan. The Pamir mountains would get to share even more interesting places, people, and festivities with us, and without even knowing we got the hardest part beyond us already.

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