Knowing they'll have to travel extremely slowly, Richie and Freddie set off a good three hours before the rest of us today, hoping they can make some headway before we catch up to them. In the meantime, we start the day as usual: a leisurely paced breakfast beginning with packets of instant Ye Ye or Mac Coffee.
For a special treat this morning, we have a multi-fruit beverage made of more sugar than actual juice. It has a happy warrior smiling on the front, so Gem and Tara deem it Chinggis Juice:
After breakfast, there is the morning ritual of trudging (or driving) out to a secluded spot, shovel and toilet paper in hand. Meanwhile there is lackadaisical dish-washing, or the chucking of everything into a cardboard box and leaving it for another day. Somewhere around noon, there's the putting everything away, which always seems to take ages.
Now ready to go, there is the inevitable last-minute vehicle breakage. Usually this is the fuel pump on the Fiat needing some magic incantation to get going. This morning, the taxi is the culprit – the boot won't stay shut.
Charlie and I fiddle with it for twenty minutes before I decide to jump in with our headlamp. Hopefully I can determine what the problem is when he shuts me in. Stuffing myself into the trunk, I am reminded of playing hide-and-seek with my little brothers and sisters – one of my favorite pastimes. There are few joys greater than stumping them and emerging covertly amidst their cries of "We give up!!!"
After a few closings, I figure out where we need to move the latch plate, but there is no readily apparent way to get it there. It is made of some ridiculously thick chunk of metal that we can't bend. Further inspection reveals the real problem is the latch itself; all the bashing around has left it wobbly beyond repair. The play is so great that closing the trunk pushes the latch backwards so it can't engage with the latch plate.
Charlie tries filing the latch plate opening wider to no avail. Alex and Tom lend an eye too, but eventually we give up, opting instead to secure it shut with a nylon strap so we can get moving. As Charlie is so fond of saying, "That is so annoying!"
Down the dusty dirt tracks towards Ulaan Baatar we go! We've scarcely driven ten kilometers when we see a black Suzuki Jimny off in the distance. Oh lord, this does not look good. We pull up and hear the crushing news: Richie and Freddie have been forced to stop every two hundred meters or so because their wheel keeps popping out of the axle!
Each time this happens, they have to jack the car up and shove the wheel back into place. Why the mechanics in Altai cut the axles so short is a mystery; the tiny stub that remains is all but useless.
With everyone convened at the scene, we start brainstorming possible solutions. Tom starts off by suggesting we sikaflex the wheel in place! This gets a good laugh, and sadly, the rest of our ideas aren't much better. We discount nothing as a possibility; here are just some of the options we consider:
Make some kind of a sledge for the wheel so the guys can drag it behind them.
Sledge made out of the taxi's giant sump guard.
Sledge made by cutting off the roof of the Jimny
Sledge made out of two shovel ends strapped to the bottom of the wheel.
Sledge made out of a muffler housing.
Taking the wheel off the rim and letting it drag.
Driving with the wheel completely off.
Locking the emergency break on the bad side to see if it will drag (likely destroying the tire)
Putting a wheel on from one of the other cars, since it would be smaller, it would only touch the ground when they went over bumps.
Strapping the wheel to the car with rope in such a way that it can spin freely around the axle.
If these ideas all sound insane, it is because they are. Freddie and Richie refuse to consider being picked up by another truck. Nevertheless, we all give it our best shot.
One by one, the ideas fail, as do hours in the day. We put the biggest effort into making a sledge out of a muffler. For all the trouble we've had with our exhaust, the metal turns out to be incredibly resilient. So strong, in fact, that everyone takes a turn trying to dismantle it!
I think we all realize that this is a futile endeavor, but destroying something in the desert of Mongolia is too cathartic an exercise for us to care. Richie is the first to give it a go.
When the snips don't work, Richie learns that taking a metal crowbar and smashing it with a hammer causes strikingly painful vibrations!
While Richie recovers, Freddie give it a whack, but he's a lover, not a fighter:
…and then Matt takes a turn. To our surprise, his inner wild man comes to the surface as he unleashes a fury of rage into the metal. He easily takes the crown for most brutal exhaust-beating.
Dismanteling the exhaust is proving to be more difficult than we ever could have imagined. We take a break from smashing to see if we can squish it into submission. After careful placement, Alex tries to drive over it to flatten it out. The Saxo just rolls right over the unmovable beast without even making a dent. He drives over it repeatedly, but like some cockroach, it just won't die.
This whole situation is absolutely absurd. When someone poses the question, "What are you going to do with this when you're done?", Matt replies, "Chuck it into the desert, I dunno!", and returns to his smashing.
Eventually, we manage to unfold the exhaust. We get it under the wheel, and secure it to the Jimny. Ready to go, the guys jump in and gently press the throttle. Our sledge is useless; the bad wheel simply rolls right over it. Back to the drawing board.
Though I am right there with the guys, working for the next several hours trying to find a solution, I repeatedly attempt to inject some reality into the situation, asking what they want us to do if and when nothing works. They won't commit to anything. It is slightly infuriating, but they are dead set on driving.
Their attitude is one part admirable and many parts unrealistic. And yet, their minds are made up. As for the rest of us, we have to get moving. The next town is only 80 kilometers away; daylight and our water supply are rapidly dwindling. We have to go.
In the end, we leave Richie and Freddie alone in the desert with a can of peanuts and our second-to-last bottle of water. They don't know it but we've tentatively decided that we'll pitch in as a group to send a truck to get them tomorrow. There is just no way they can make it.