Day 13 Jiayunguan to Alashan: yesterday was a long day, about 800 km on the road but no off road because of the sand storm; so we were eager to get back into the action, and arrived at the beginning of the stage feeling good about oursleves and ranked just below the top 20, which is very high (for amateurs).
But, this is rally racing… always expect the worst! and in only 6 km into the special, we hear a BANG, followed by an ugly nasty grinding sound… in a few minutes we discovered we just broke the front differential, the mechanical part that transfer power to the front wheels and allow them to spin at different speeds, basically what allows a car to turn. without it, we cannot cross todays dunes. we call Vilder’s crew over the satellite phone, and very slowing turn back to try to meet them at the nearest town. after 2 hours of slow progress, in which we completely ruined the already broken diff, we arrive in the town and meet our crew. In additional 5 hours of heroic effort the job is done, and we are good to go, but since it was almost dark, decided to skip today’s stage (already officially closed) and drive on road to camp in Alashan.
Day 14, Alashan to Wuhai in inner Mongolia. Really beautiful sand dunes, very different than the prior days; they are also very high, but somehow gather rain water between them, so every once in a while you see a blue pond, even small lake, between the dunes.
Today was really a good day for us, no major problems, and a beautiful smooth stage among huge dunes and blue ponds.
Day 15, Wuhai to Hothot, we can start to smell the end of the race. But the organizers surprised everyone, and picked a really long, difficult section of sand tracks and gravel, with a 100 km soft dunes section at the very end as the cherry at the top. we are all exhausted, mostly dehydrated, the cars are held together with chicken wire and duct tape, but somehow made it to the end. what a race!!!
Next day, Day 16, its 500 km on road to Beijing in a convoy; the Chinese authorities closed the highway to all other traffic, and we see hundreds or thousands of Chinese trucks stand idle by the road side waiting for the convey to pass… at last, we are at the Bird’s Nest, the Beijing Olympic stadium, we drive over the podium, and just like that 16 days and 7,000 miles (11,000 km) come to and end….