Teams had been rolling into UB for the past several weeks. Mr. Rob, founder of the rally, looked weary of the hotel lobby that he had spent so much time in, listening to the same slow jam versions of already slow rock songs that used to (perhaps still does) plague the office workers at G5. Few people listen to ‘Imagine’ and think, “You know what this song needs? To be slowed down by a large factor and played just on a piano without vocals.” Few think it, but the ones who act on that thought should be shot.
Anyway, music notwithstanding, the lobby of the four-star Chinggis Khan hotel was packed with excitement. Dirt bag adventurers rolled in from the steppe, parking their cars in the VIP slots (which, actually, were reserved for rally cars). Just a few steps away, Mongolian wedding parties, shuffled in and out of the hotel. The backgrounds of their wedding photos will likely be cluttered with broken down Fiat Puntos, piles of used camping gear, and unwashed ralliers.
Speaking of weddings, a huge shout out to James of team Elephant Gynocologists, who proposed to his girlfriend somewhere on the steppe near the large Chinggis Khan statue. His teammate, Bones, had faithfully kept the secret since the Ukraine, when James had decided he would pop the Q in UB.
I had rolled in a couple nights after Shane and Roberta, wanting one more night on the steppe. So, it was with delight that I found the two in the lobby of the Chinggis Khan hotel, in much the same way we found each other two months ago in London. They looked happy and well-rested, and, after a bit of food (they were having pizza, and I had just had Mongolian cuisine, which, unlike the BBQs we purport to be Mongolian in the US, consists invariably of mutton and flour mixed together in different ways), we set about checking in the car.
The check in process was simple. A worker for the charity that sells the cars walks around and asks you if you still have various bits of your car.
The parts don’t really need to work, but they do have to be present. The Ulaanbaatartans, a group of Scottish med school students who had worn kilts (and saved on underwear laundry) for their drive, were asked if their car had an exhaust. To this, they pointed to their muffler strapped to the roof of the car. Apparently, this was good enough for the charity.
Surprisingly, the Marabby still had all her important bits, and received a clean bill of health. Shane did note that she needed a good cleaning. This is true. When we opened the door to get out the last of our possessions, Roberta doubled over and looked white.
The river water that flooded in four days ago had combined with the carpet and heat, creating a stomach-churning smell.
Shane, near the beginning of the trip had bragged about being able to leave his body-sized ruffle bag in UB, so he could return with just a backpack. It was to my amusement and Roberta’s dismay that he pulled out item after item from the rank vehicle and decided to keep them. I was half surprised he didn’t take the croquet set.
The next couple days were spent mainly in the lobby of the Chinggis. A target portion of the trip was spent bullshitting with ralliers in hotel lobbies. This was no exception. However, unlike the Soviet lobbies in Kazakhstan, this one was upscale and had good beer and drinkable coffee.
For me, there was a definite rally slump. The extra night of camping had helped, giving me a bit of a transition to post-rally life.
The three of us had been planning the rally for a year. It was a year ago we woke up early in the morning to register for the event. A year ago we began meeting for coffee and turning this crazy foolish dream into a reality.
A year is longer than I have planned anything in my life. Shane claims the same.
My five year plan has always been, “Dear lord! Five years? I’ll probably be… Let’s talk about something else.” Needless to say, this answer never works well with management types or financial planners. Luckily, the rally has given me the confidence to create a non-bullshit five year plan. It involves travel, play, and dabs of work. And bicycles. Lots of bycicles.
Other ralliers were afflicted with similar post-rally depressions. Drinking Golden Gobi beer and recounting stories from the rally helped a great deal. The combination of all these rally adventures is what makes the rally special.
We have had highly interwoven lives over the past six weeks. Gobi or Go Home convoyed with probably around ten percent of the teams, and maybe met a third of the ralliers in one way or another. So, it is exciting to hear about how Taksim Square got tear gased briefly before I wad there, or how one of the Caspian Sea ferries was a short joy ride while the other ferry leaving shortly after it spent three days on the water.
After a couple days of mucking about in UB, people began to dissipate. Shane and Roberta headed for a week living in gers in a national park. The Dixie Chickens bus drove off with a skeleton crew, heading to Vladivostok where a ferry will take it to Japan and then Tacoma. And I turned my sights to home and a long journey there. For me, the first step on this journey is Vietnam. Which is almost due south of UB. So, the first step is a little out of the way.