Driving in Mongolia

September 15, 2011 7 Comments »

driving mongolia
It’s like your own personal video game when driving through Mongolia

We get in the car, adjust the seat so that the pedal distance is just right, buckle up, and put two quarters in the slot. I choose three players, level of difficulty, my route, start the engine, hear the rumble of a muffler-less rally car, and I’m off…as if I’m in a video game.

Driving in Mongolia has been the highlight of the trip for me. I’m not one who even really likes video games, but for me, driving through western and central Mongolia is the ultimate video game.

Which Way?

When you are driving, you are faced with constant decisions, mainly – which road do I take? In fact, I have a hard time calling them roads in Mongolia – they are more like paths, and they spread out like tendrils of a complex spiderweb. You can’t drive very far before you are faced with a decision of left or right. But you are forced to make that decision in a split second as you are going 30 mph. It never fails; as soon as you decide to take the left tendril, you begin to beat yourself up because you think the right would have been a better choice! Truth is – they were all pretty much the same…full of holes, bumps, divots, dips, and sharp rocks…sometimes boulders.

mongolia roads
Left or Right? Choose quickly!

Scanning for Pitfalls

When driving, you can do absolutely nothing else; there is nothing relaxing about it. You are on watch constantly. When I drove I couldn’t look around me at the landscape because my eyes were constantly scanning for pitfalls about 20 ft. in front of me. I honestly could barely even have a conversation with Dave or Deb when driving as I was unable to multitask with my brain so focused on the ever-changing road that lay ahead of me.

Mongolia nomads – learning about the culture firsthand

In fact, I would realize that I would forget to blink I was concentrating so hard which made eye drops a necessity. Many times, we reverted to ‘group watch’; the other person in the front seat would be responsible for the road on the left side of the car and tire and would call out potholes and big rocks.

mongolia road
Jagged rocks are the most dangerous for our bald tires!

Speed Racer

Most days, we never got out of 3rd gear when driving in Mongolia. The moment you would get up any speed on a good patch of ‘road,’ you’d have to slam on the brakes to avoid falling in a crevice that would certainly engulf your car and spit out your shocks or tire. It had actually been three days since we had used 5th gear at one point. Dave exclaimed that it excited him and frightened him at the same time!

mongol rally
Speeding…I mean, crawling through Mongolia

Get a Grip!

Most of the time, I had visions of the Dukes of Hazard in my head as I drove. I felt like I was constantly moving the steering wheel; yet this wasn’t for a TV effect, it was to avoid pitfalls! They say to be a safe driver that, you should have your hands at 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock, but that was impossible as so much downshifting was necessary that I could only have one hand on the steering wheel and the other had to be on the shifter. Driving was a constant process of stops and starts, which required a lot of shifting and concentration.  I realized that I had been gripping the steering wheel so hard out of stress that I started to get callouses on my hands!

I am behind the wheel – gripping the steering wheel and downshifting…

Driving in Mongolia in an inappropriate car with low clearance was the ultimate adrenaline rush. Who needs video games when you have the real thing?

Where was the hardest place you’ve ever driven in the world?

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