Onward to Zoumod in the Southern Gobi Desert!


On hearing someone say, “I want to go to Zoumod again” I felt a pulse of excitement like a mild electric shock.
That’s right, when you think of Rally Mongolia, you think of Zoumod, the Mongolian oasis.
Amid ever changing situations, we find ourselves in areas like this that kept themselves safe from trouble by way of the isolation provided by harsh lands and long distances.
However the hospitality they offer rally participants has gotten totally better in every way.
Well now we want to take up the rally challenge one more time.
This will be a route crossing vast distances like those of a wide ocean.
Then, SSER has completely reorganized the route again to allow seriously challenging among other things, the mysterious dry lake widening to the west of Zoumod in the “Valley of Dinosaurs” which is full of strange shaped rock formations.
The climb along these tough roads will only end when find ourselves standing on the vast plains where the special gods reside.

 

■ETAP-1 13 AUG. 2017 ULAANBAATAR⇒DALANZADGAD
L:49.91km S:285.94km L:93.90km S:251.43km L:34.36km TOTAL:715.54km
THE BATTLE STARTS! MARATHON STAGE DAY1、RUNNING FULL-ON ALONG CAP180

On this day the route runs full-on to the south. After a grand start, the rally faces its first SS (Special Stage) from south of Ulaanbaatar. The high speed dirt road calls for a lot of care and focusing, trying to anticipate problems, we start trying out our machine and navigating with it. Just before CP-1 (check point 1) navigation got a little bit difficult but other than that was comparatively easy. Just the first day’s grid map (pace notes) had a hefty size that we had to deal with. The first half of the SS-2 is itself a high-speed dirt road but gradually there are a greater number of dried out riverbeds (dry arroyo or wadi) and sand, along a route full of mountains grassy plains, constantly changing terrain, and more sand. After a while things appear totally dry and there is a lot of sand everywhere and you start to really feel you are in the Gobi Desert. We keep driving along while watching out for unfamiliar dried out riverbeds. Navigation gets tougher just ahead of the CP. We refuel at the final town after finishing the SS. Finally we move to the bivouac along a paved road. We reach the goal while staying painfully aware of the remaining liason time and head straightaway for the Parc ferme or namely “closed park” where no one can touch the cars. The motorcycle division is careful to carry their grid maps (pace notes) along with them because if they don’t change them at places like the fueling stations along the liason then they won’t get another chance until after the rally starts the next day. If you have a removable map holder then swapping maps is no problem.

 

■ETAP-2 14 AUG. 2017  DALANZADGAD⇒ZOUMOD
L:66.89km S:220.63km L:7.38km S:244.04km TOTAL:538.94km
ONWARDS TO THE SACRED GROUND OF ZOUMOD!

The marathon stage covers a thousand kilometers in just 2 days! In other words you can get absolutely no vehicle service during that time. The support car movement routes such as used by mechanics are also restricted. We move along a new paved road to the SS start point. Right after the start of SS-1 we encounter tough going from a lot of trees and shrubbery but eventually reach a high-speed piste or trails. After passing through groups of small dunes we arrive at the town which is our finish point. Setting out on SS-2 we find the first half bumpy and cannot pick up the pace. In the middle part of the stage we focus on a dried out river section (dry arroyo or wadi) that lets us run at high speed. This dried out river has deep yet soft sand that accumulates from the tremendous rainfall that only comes once every several decades. Then to our surprise we run into a small forest. After that we encounter a dry lake. This is dinosaur valley full of fantastically shaped rocks and stones. Once we pass through the valley, we see Zoumod soaring upwards and glistening like gold against the sunset on our left.

■ETAP-3 15 AUG. 2017 ZOUMOD⇒ZOUMOD
L:75.67km S:212.29km L:0.31km S:151.31km L:75.76km TOTAL:515.34km
RUNNING AROUND ZOUMOD PART I

This liason is a course section from Zoumod to Shinjinst. But this liason is special in that you really enjoy the scenery! We refuel at Shinjinst and start SS-1 outside the town. We pass through a narrow mountain road and reach the CP at the edge of a dried out marsh. After finally leaving a bumpy road surface, we see a mysterious lake on our left and just beyond is the SS finish point.
We refuel at that town and immediately start SS-2. The road surface has many cracks so we have to drive carefully. Passing through a dried out riverbed and then a small village, a gate comes into view. Then we reach the finish point at Shinjinst. We refuel and return by the liason route to Zoumod. The route is a loop but consists of two SS so care is needed to avoid problems.

 

■ETAP-4 16 AUG. 2017  ZOUMOD⇒ZOUMOD
S:119.94km TOTAL:119.94km
GOING TO MEET THE MONSTER!

The rally starts at night on August 16 with the clock hands point straight up to 12 o’clock. This is the so-called full-on night stage. This is a unique experience one can only savor along with a mysterious feeling only found deep in the Gobi Desert at night.
* This is basically a loop route leaving Zoumod and heading west, runs counterclockwise, and after going through dinosaur valley and returns to Zoumod
We start heading out with Zoumod to the west. There is no afterglow from the late sun already in the western sky. The moon will come out a little while later. Going through the unmanned earth at midnight is like traveling through space and time. The Grand Canyon appears on our left hand side. If you don’t stay right on the piste there is also the risk of dropping down a cliff. On the right you can see the symbolic triangular mountain. The moon is in the south sky around 1 am. It is a waning moon. The place to be careful is where you have to make really sharp turns along the high speed piste. We then went down the plateau and proceeded through a dried out riverbed. This dried out riverbed gradually widens and once we lose track of the course we have to aim for SSER OVOO while driving with the GPS. From there we keep driving by GPS until sure we have merged with the piste. After proceeding along the piste we reach the entrance of dinosaur valley. Once we cross the valley we can see the light from the bivouac far off in the distance.

 

■ETAP-5 17 AUG. 2017 ZOUMOD⇒SAYHAN OVOO
L:74.38km S:258.42km L:1.25km S:186.09km L:19.45km TOTAL:539.59km
REFRESHING GREENERY AND SOVIET TYRANNY

We head out to Shinjinst out along the now familiar route and after refueling start the SS. We move ahead in this area which has many ground cracks and dried out rivers while watching the square shaped mountains and finally reach the town. Navigation is a bit difficult here. We move ahead along the dried out river without going through town and reach the CP. Then we finally come out on the main piste and from here proceed straight along it. There are many dried out riverbeds and ground cracks along the route. The town can be seen far off in the distance and we finish SS-1. The SS-2 has plenty of deep refreshing greenery and the route is now pleasant and easy bringing a smile of relief to our faces. We finish the SS just in front of a town, cross the river there and refuel. It is not far now to the bivouac. On a mountain to the west of there are the remains of a Buddhist temple (Lamasery) destroyed by Soviet oppression that also reveals the sorrows of the Eurasian continent.

 

■ETAP-6 18 AUG. 2017  SAYHAN OVOO⇒BAYANGOBI
L:24.31km S:226.83km L:2.01km S:223.20km L:24.37km TOTAL:500.72km
GREAT FEELING AND MAGNIFICENT WEATHER WITH A SIMULTANEOUS GROUP START (MASS START) IN THE GOBI DESERT!

We move to the start point and set off on a mass group start. We head southwards lined up side by side while trying not to get lost in the sand and dust. We try to keep ourselves calm without getting too grim. After a while the course turns to the left, runs along the side of the Grand Canyon and proceeds through an area of nomads having many wells and gels (portable nomad houses called yurts). Moving ahead at high speed we finish SS-1. The SS – 2 route has even deeper greenery and many nomads. Far off in the distance, the sand dunes come into view and the sand gets thicker on the road surface. The scenery where the river, greenery and dunes can all be seen at once is superb. Once we are through the dunes the SS ends. It goes through the front of the bivouac and heads for GS. Surprisingly we pass by in front of the bivouac and head for GS. After refueling there then return to the bivouac.

 

■ETAP-7 19 AUG. 2017 BAYANGOBI⇒HARHORIN
S:256.70km L:96.64km S:157.77km L:39.59km TOTAL:550.70km
CAPITAL OF A WORLD EMPIRE IN THE CENTER OF EURASIA

Even without a history book, just about everybody knows that this area was once the center of the world. The Mongol empire ruled the world with its matchless and overwhelming military power and their descendants while constantly changing, were a definite presence up to the end of the 19th century. We start off the next leg of the rally with this thought in mind. Leaving the bivouac we start out on the SS and almost immediately reach the dunes. Passing through the area with beautiful rivers, greenery and sand, we proceed along the main piste by a mountain route, and head down southwards to an area the rally has never before entered. This is also a mountain which we cross and then drive along the side of a small lake. A big lake next comes into view, and we finish just in front of a small town. We move out on the liaison along the paved road towards SS-2. We again hit a dirt road, start the SS and head for the mountains again. After passing through a number of mountains we cross beautiful grasslands and reach the banks of a huge lake. Crossing a concrete bridge, we finally get through a dirt road that is difficult to drive along, move ahead while skirting the edge of a town, cross over a hill and finally finish the SS-2. There we find the “Orkhon Valley Cultural Landscape” which is now a world heritage. You think “Wow” to yourself, knowing that this is definitely the place where the capital of the world was first created.

 

■ETAP-8 20 AUG. 2017 HARHORIN⇒ULAANBAATAR
L:51.93km S:140.32km L:214.94km P:25.88km TOTAL:433.07km
TRIUMPHAL RETURN WITH OUR BACKS TO THE SETTING SUN!

This rally with SS of 3000 kilometers and a 1000 kilometer liaison or namely a constant battle of 4000 kilometers is finally reaching its end as we head towards Ulaanbaatar (Ulan Bator) from Harhorin. The paved road from Harhorin to the SS start point leads to the final SS. Each of us feels countless thoughts running through one’s mind such as the tiny time difference with other racers and awaits the countdown to start the final race. We head out on an easy-to-drive piste and proceed along a great prairie with beautiful mountains around us. A stony mountain appears ahead and we enter the forest. The road surface is sandy. We go through the forest, cross a river, climb up a mountain of sand and find a mysterious rocky mountain. On the left is a mountain that makes you thinks you are seeing a pyramid. We climb the next steep mountain and reach the CP. The scenery with its aerial views reminds one of ‘Laputa: Castle in the Sky’. We can see the road extending below as we drive. We keep descending the mountain while cautiously taking the tight downward turns. As we drive along the prairie, a paved road appear above the tips of the grass, marking the end of the entire SS. This is a long journey but just a tiny bright spot in the long span of Eurasian history. I think this journey somehow makes you sense some type of mysterious “eternal” link through space and time.

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