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The Race That Never Ends

If it really truly ended, what would be the point? A final dispatch from the Mongol Rally.

by Justin Hamilton
Sep 10 2015, 3:20pm

Late-night Mongolian traffic jam. Photo: Mad Bombers

This is the final installment in a series of dispatches from the Mongol Rally. Read more about why Motherboard sponsored a rally car in this year's rally.

Mongolia! After weeks of driving and months of planning, we made it, and it was even more desolate and amazing than we could ever have dreamed.

We crossed into Mongolia from Russia and were immediately presented with a fork in the road. There were two choices for crossing the country: a northern route through the mountains with a major river crossing, or a southern route—the "easier" of the two—through the Gobi desert. We went south, but only after running into another Mongol Rally team from Italy who had turned back from the northern route after encountering treacherous roads and rivers swollen from recent rainstorms.

We expected to make great time across Mongolia, leaving plenty of opportunity to explore the country. The first hundred kilometers were promising; cruising at a cool 65 MPH along smooth tarmac, we were all excited. Then we met the true roads of Mongolia.

Sometimes we would pull over and shut the car down just to have ten minutes of silence.

Imagine sitting in a tub of loose nuts and bolts vibrating on the paint-mixing machine at your local hardware store. For 12 hours a day. The bone-jarring shaking was so loud we were unable to talk with each other, or even hear ourselves think. Sometimes we would pull over and shut the car down just to have ten minutes of silence.

Time to find another route. Photo: Mad Bombers

After nearly 8,000 kilometers of driving, the weakest point on our car was the suspension. A brief stop in Altai to repair the shocks and lower the torsion bars marginally reduced the effects of the terrain, but all we could really hope for was that the pavement would begin again.

In Bayankhongor, we finally saw the Mongolia we had dreamed of. Golden eagles used for hunting. Herds of camel 100 strong. Lots of sheep and goats. And the ever-elusive yak, which I declared the coolest looking animal there. It's like an uncoordinated cow with long bushy hair.

Holy raptor. Photo: Mad Bombers

As part of the fundraising efforts, contributors could donate funds to force our team to complete challenges. One of our most popular involved the drinking of fermented horse milk. Before we arrived in Mongolia, I thought it would be difficult to locate the stuff. I was wrong. Locals all over the country enjoy this wonderful concoction. At a farmer's market, we found a guy selling some out of the back of his car. A large yellow container, probably once used for cooking oil or fertilizer, was brought out and the yellowish milky liquid was sloshed into bowls for us to try. I was driving that day, so I opted out of the fermented type and drank some yak's milk instead.

Matt and Tyler held the bowls of fermented horse milk to their mouths and took a large sip, trying not to smell it as they drank. Both grimaced, stared at the bowl a moment, and then took another sip to verify the results. "Not bad," Matt said. They described it as warm and sour, with a strange wild taste, but not something they would want to buy. It was definitely cheap at around $.50 a liter.

Only a few eight-hour days were left between us and the finish line. Nearing the end of the journey was bittersweet for me. We were within days of finishing a trip few others would ever even attempt. But I was also only two days away from seeing my wife. We had gotten married just a month and a half before I left—I had spent most of our marriage so far on this trip! Fortunately, she was on board with our hare-brained idea and our efforts to raise money for the EOD Warrior Foundation.

As we neared the end, I asked the guys about the highlights and low points of the trip. For Matt, raising more funding for the Foundation than we had expected meant the most to him. For me, the best part was the hospitality we were shown, no matter where we stopped, invited to weddings and into people's homes. For Tyler, the highlight was reaching pavement again, after four grueling Mongolian days of removing tires every few miles to pound in sidewalls.

But we all agreed on this: the worst part was watching our car, Desire, fall to pieces mere miles from the finish line.

Mechanic checking severity of gas tank pulling through the frame. Photo: Mad Bombers

Being EOD techs, we're accustomed to finding the best outcome in terrible situations, but this was pretty bad. We had just pumped a few hundred dollars into Desire, fixing the suspension for the fourth time, when the brakes went out a few miles down the road. We were only an eight hour drive from the finish. Our options: pay to make the car serviceable and road worthy, scrap the car and have it crushed, or donate the car to someone who could use it much more than us.

If it really truly ended, what would be the point?

We decided that it wasn't so important that we cross the finish line with our car, but that we, as a Team, finish the journey together. The mechanic was a hard-working man without much money, and he showed some interest in the car prior to our leaving. So it was an easy choice: donate the car to him, make life easier for him and his family, and save us money that we could donate to our charities.

In the end, a local man provided personal car service for the remaining eight-hour trip to Ulaanbaatar. To pass the time, Matt and Tyler played chess in the backseat. On our final night together, we relaxed and reflected on what we had just accomplished, before returning to our normal lives. If anything, part of us will always be in the race, because this was a race that has no end. If it really truly ended, what would be the point?

This trip would not have been possible without the support of our families, the EOD Warrior Foundation, and the generosity of our sponsors: MOTHERBOARD, USI, GXM, ADVOCARE, Vehement Knives, and The Floor Guys. And remember this: This entire haul, as challenging as it was for us, was nothing compared to the day-to-day lives of those the Foundation serves.

Brian Castner contributed to this dispatch.

Previously:

The 'Greatest Race in the World,' in Photos

Three Countries, Two Crooked Cops, and a Wedding

A Fender Bender Along the Russian Border

What Happens When Your Rally Car Breaks Down in Croatia

Essential Tech for Rally Car Racing 10,000 Miles Across Eurasia

A Rally Car Named Desire

We Are Three Former Bomb Techs Driving a Rally Car Across Europe and Asia