The Mongol Rally: Return to the Desert
We left Almaty feeling refreshed and ready for the road ahead, knowing we would face another tough stint on the open and deserted roads of Kazakhstan.
Unlike the low-lying desert basin of Central Kazakhstan, the northern and eastern regions gently rise up to a high altitude plateau that extends east into Russia, China and Mongolia. The grass here was longer and greener and gentle hills were faintly visible in the distance.
We were heading for a town called Semey, about 1,000 miles away on the border with Russia. We were nearing the 6,000 mile mark in our journey – two thirds of the way to Mongolia – and our car was beginning to struggle.
The treacherous terrain was taking its toll and over the next two days we limped from one mechanical challenge to the next. About 155 miles outside Almaty, the condition of the roads sharply deteriorated, becoming virtually unusable.
The gravel surface in between stretches of badly ruptured asphalt reduced our progress to less than 10 miles per hour and we swerved and skidded to avoid giant potholes that could have engulfed both front wheels of the car. It felt like the car would shake itself apart.
Around 29 miles later, we had suffered two flat tyres and were left with no spare wheels in case we had another puncture. We had no idea how long we still had to travel before we reached a road with a better surface.
On our map we could see no towns nearby where we could seek help or buy spare wheels. We had not passed any traffic all day and 93 miles later, we were exhausted and beginning to worry about our progress.
The next day saw no improvement in the condition of the roads and we struggled on at a crawl. After several hard knocks against lurking potholes we started to hear a heavy, dull metallic thud coming from the belly of the car.
The sound was unnerving. We stopped to check our luggage, we checked the engine for leaks and broken parts, we checked to see if the exhaust had come loose but could not locate the source of the thumping.
It took us some time to realize that our rear suspension springs had snapped. The car was simply unable to withstand the impact of so many potholes.
We needed to repair the suspension urgently, but it was getting dark and we didn’t know where we were. The only sign of habitation we saw all day was a ghost town, completely abandoned.
We decided the best option was to set up camp and wait for daylight.