Day 13 Wed 22nd Sept – Border to Belokurikha (Russia) – 581 km

Day 13   Wed 22nd Sept – Border to Belokurikha   (Russia)  – 581 km

Update 23/09/10 21.21: Sorry for the late post today. Having received three separate phone calls (nearly 6 minutes of voicemail) there’s lots to tell…

They left the camp at 07.22, got to the Russian border by 08.00 and didn’t get to Belokurikha until 21.40. I think the timeline of the day offers us some insight into why this is no Sunday drive in the countryside.

The re-route because of the fires added 2 hours/120kms to the day. Having had no contact with newspapers, tv or coffee shops for 8 days none of the participants knew about the fires in Russia and still only have sketchy details beyond their impact on the route of the rally.

Julie says Tim drove really well but as there was the customary  requirement to stay awake they pro-pluused the whole distance. This must add a certain edge to an already tough driving scenario.  Luckily the tarmac roads meant they could at least drive fast again.

Quite soon after they had crossed into Russia they began to notice that no cars were over-taking them and they realised that the border had closed for lunch behind them. This means that some cars did not get through until 16.00 and then faced 9 hours of driving in the dark.

And that’s the worst of it – the driving in the dark. The headlights on these old cars just don’t work very well. Many have fallen off during the long desert drive and others simply don’t work at all.

While all of the participants found Mongolia beautiful many have left feeling somewhat fleeced by super elevated mechanic and taxi charges. One car, up on a tow truck, had all of their tools stolen which was also a real downer. This was no opportunist theft as the booty was hidden behind panels in the car.

The scenery is complelty different from Mongolia which was striking in the lack of trees. Here, whilst it is still subsistence living, it appears wealthier because the houses are made of wood and the properties are fenced in. An immediate visual confirmation of a greater access to natural resources. For some of the route they were driving beside a stunning, really wide, turquoise river (ideal for fly fishing) flanked with lush green trees.

So far in Russia people have been much more friendly – lots of waving and photos being taken. When they arrived at the hotel there were crowds of people taking pictures of both the cars and the participants.

Tim called with a technical update about Benson. The repaired Russian springs are holding up well . Whilst the front of the car is more bouncy than before he’s hopeful that now that there’s hardly any off-road driving to speak of these should hold out for the duration.

Another niggle is that there is a clunk from the drive train that might be the rear diff orthe drive shaft. This is resulting in Benson moaning and groaning and Tim having to change gear really gently so as to not put too much stress on it. This should be OK now they are on tarmac.

Another odd issue is with the steering wheel. On leaving Beijing there was a piece of tape on the steering wheel marking dead ahead, located not suprisingly at midday. For some reason this is now positioned at 3 o’clock! Tim isn’t sure if this is because of the repair work on the front springs or because the steering column is rotating thanks to the somewhat bumpy ride through Mongolia.

They were both quite content with the hotel, although no luxury spa (in fact somewhat disgusting) it’s far better than “that poxy little tent”. It is based around a nightclub so the whole building is pumping with Russian music which is a little incongruous considering the average age of the clientelle is somewhere north of sixty.

Luckily for us all the voicemail cut-off Tim’s story about the most disgusting toilet experience in his life in the mechanics’ yard in Khovd!

Minus 8 degrees this morning after a bad night of sleep due to cold. It took nearly 3 and half hours to cross the border and they are now in Russia. They have been told that due to the recent fires 200kms has been added to the route. So the destination today is Belokurikha not Biysk as planned. Rally Results report from yesterday shows Benson back on a silver medal – good effort guys. Does this mean another night of camping?