Long-lasting friendships, long days in the saddle and relatively easy riding — at least for this Paris to Dakar veteran — make Rally Mongolia an experience not soon forgotten
Story by Lawrence Hacking
Photos by SSER
I was faced with four more long days in the saddle of my Honda CRF450X rally bike. It was the halfway point of the 20th edition of the Rally Mongolia and I was already knackered. The 12-hour time difference and respective jet lag were taking their toll. The first four days of the eight-day rally were 550 km each day that took nine hours or more to complete and I was surviving on bowls of rice and energy bars that I had brought from home. Understandably, under these conditions one begins to question why one chooses to put oneself in such circumstances. In this case, the upside far outweighed the hardship: I was treated to spectacular vistas, incredible sensations while riding, great fellowship among the competitors and a cultural exchange that was unparalleled.
Mongolia is changing fast. Vast natural resources have brought new wealth to the landlocked country of 2.9 million. Wedged between China and Russia, the country had existed in the shadows on the world stage. But Mongolia is currently enjoying one of the world’s fastest-growing economies; mining and foreign investment, including a strong Canadian involvement, have many rural dwellers moving to the capital city of Ulaanbaatar for jobs and a more modern way of life. Construction cranes dominate the skyline of Ulaan, luxury hotels are springing up and, surprisingly, the first Porsche dealership is being built.
The 20th anniversary of the Japanese-organized Rally Mongolia was sure to be a special event. This trip was the third time I’d made the trip to the other side of the world to ride in the wide open spaces of the Mongolian steppe country, and each time has been a memorable experience.
An Exhausting Rally
The 2014 rally covered 3800 km in eight days. Usually a rest day is included, but not this time. By the fourth day I was joking with my friend Kunio Iwasaki, suggesting he petition the organizer, Yamada-san, to have a rest day. Kunio laughed and pointed to me, saying, “You team leader.” This was the fifth event Kunio and I had ridden together. Some days we rode side by side for hundreds of kilometres. He’s a solid rider who took home the 250 cc class win this rally.
Ultimately, the second half of the rally became easier. The days were still long, but the higher elevations toward the north meant cooler temperatures and a greener landscape. Day six, at more than 10 hours, was the longest I spent on the bike, and we rolled into the bivouac just as darkness fell.
Fortunately day seven was a short 400 km and the most picturesque of the rally, as we rode up and over mountain passes and through lush valleys. A 200 km transfer section on busier roads led us past the historic site of Kharkhorin, which was once the capital city of the Mongolian empire. Now all that remains is a walled temple and a gathering of tourist shops out front. Mongolia has recently become a tourist attraction of some importance. People from all over the world are taking tours, riding camels and populating the pristine landscape.
Wide Open Spaces
The rally itself is a great way to visit the remote hinterland and see areas where no tourists have been. The event promoter, Japan-based SSER Organisation, does a great job of putting together a challenging route that is fairly well supported. In an off-road rally, generally speaking, you can…