Mongolian Road Mishaps

Trip Start Mar 13, 2007
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Trip End Aug 10, 2007


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Flag of Mongolia  , South Hangay,
Monday, June 25, 2007

I read somewhere that in Mongolia it's possible to ride on a horse from one end of the country to the other, roughly the distance from Denver to Washington, Dc, without ever crossing a paved road.  Well, we certainly didn't see any paved roads beyond a mile or two from the edge of couple towns, and characterizing most of the rest of what we traveled on as dirt "roads" would be overly complementary.  Actually, most of the 3,800 kilometers were drove through Mongolia were on some of the worst rocky or sandy rutted tracks I've seen anywhere.  Additionally, sometimes we had to go very, very off road, as in fording rivers because Tonka's 16 tons couldn't quite safely make it over the many  bridges with 7 ton weight limits.

The road conditions seriously slowed our progress with some road-related disaster befalling us on an almost daily basis.  Tonka repeatedly got bogged down in the mud, stuck in the sand, and on one occasion crashed through the permafrost, a variation on the theme of getting stuck in the mud but one with potentially far more dire consequences.  Additionally, Tonka suffered broken springs, punctured tires, and getting stones stuck between her tires while fording a river near Tariat, the last one of which I attribute to Gods that were angry at us for walking around that volcano crater in the wrong (counter-clockwise) direction the day before.  Or maybe it was because someone urinated on the road at a toilet stop, something considered to be bad karma in Mongolia.

These breakdowns, though, did have some advantages.  For example, the broken spring Tonka suffered in Arkhangai Province happened at a particulartly scenic spot below a high pass and took about three hours to fix, a great opportunity for the type of short hike most of us had been itching for while trapped on the truck.  This led me to think about ways to sabotage the truck when passing through other pretty places.

Getting bogged down in the mud was our most recurring problem, and we got quite skilled at digging underneath the wheels, laying sand mats, and collecting stones.  Collecting stones when the truck gets stuck in the mud is one of things like boiling water when a baby is born, something everybody does but nobody quite knows why.  You end up throwing the stones in the holes the wheels made in the mud for better traction, but I'm convinced it's just a busywork activity to make passengers feel like their contributing while the drivers are fixing the situation.  So, when a spring breaks and everyone asks, "Charlie, is there something we can do to help?", the usual answer is, "Ummm, yeah, go collect some stones".
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