The morning was crisp and bright as we did the usual morning maintenance work and had our last camp breakfast. The eggs were great and expertly prepared by the catering staff.
We then did the impossible and actually folded the tent in one try. For the last time. It now lives with a nice family in Kazakhstan. Sorry, Charley.
The morning drive was frankly dull with endless straight, flat highways. The cultivated fields were Saskatchewan sized, but devoid of trees.
We enjoyed the off tarmac runs but were alarmed to see one of our fellow competitors truly planted at the bottom of a deep ditch. Driver and navigator are fine.
They move large and heavy equipment on the main roads, as we experienced with these rigs – three times! The off road sections are often loops that return to the main road. We did several and seemed to rejoin just in time to pass the behemoths again…
We finally finished the drive with another enormous welcome in Kostanay. We had another stressful arrival as the clutch refuses to disengage. No young children were seriously hurt.
Then the surprise of the day loomed. We have all experienced accommodations that didn’t meet our expectations. The Hotel Medeu surprised in so many ways.
The brick entry sidewalks were in an early stage of construction. The entryway was marked with old, tattered throw carpets. Well beyond their life span. We were provided with a key – a real key. We proceeded to the world’s second smallest elevator and alighted on the fourth floor. Room 451 beckoned.
The first impression of the window view was breathtaking.
Oh, but wait. The bathroom was…difficult to describe. Just for yourself.
Those trained in the art of plumbing will take an interest in the combination shower/sink fixture. Most places don’t stock such an item.
Not surprisingly, the towels appeared to be sourced from 3M, the sandpaper people – somewhere between 100 and 200 grit. There was little risk that any of the bath linens would be stolen.
And the main part of the room? Just yummy.
We were sorry that we had left the tent behind.
This room would never pass the James/Bryony test. Ever.
But if this is the worst that we experience on the trip, we’re pretty lucky.
One more day in the books. The people of Kazakhstan are warm and welcoming. We leave tomorrow for our return to Russia. One more day closer to Paris.
The Previous Day – Day Seventeen
We spent most of the day on highways, which helped us considerably with our clutch issue. There is a feeling that we may have mud on the disk. We may have replacement parts in a couple of days to fix the problem.
We visited National Park Burabay, a lovely recreational area with lake access.
We did have some rougher gravel late in the day as a result of road work. A new road is nearing completion and the temptation to use it was only stopped by makeshift dirt barriers and random appearances by the construction crews. We had a final water crossing less than a kilometre from our camp.
We arrived at a party! The local residents were out in force and made us most welcome. The local governor spoke (with simultaneous interpretation), songs were sung by a hand and people were in traditional costume.
Fleece was being ’carded’ by hand, something that our mother would have loved to have seen.
Later in the evening a roaring bonfire warmed our bodies and spirits.
Speaking of spirits, there was a steady flow of beverages that led to singing and even a form of dance. Hopefully the alcohol warmed some on a cold night.
Before calling it a day, the wiper motor was removed and the electrics checked. That is a fairly miserable job. But it appears to have worked. This perhaps means that it won’t rain again!
This was our last night of camping. And we are just over halfway on the trip. On to Paris.
Between the two Beresford brothers, they have stayed in a variety of hotels for a collective couple years (mostly due to Chris’ travel for work). In all that time, they have never used the hotel laundry service. This trip has changed that.
In Ulaanbaatar, there was a need to have two pairs of cargo shorts and a shirt (formerly light green) attended to. On the night of arrival they were dispatched to the hotel service with a promise of return the next day before 5 PM. The service was better than advertised with a return by noon and a great job done. The one grease spot remained in the shirt, as anticipated. The cost was minimal.
The second effort was taken in Novosibirsk at the lovely Marriott hotel. The cost was somewhat higher but the need was great. Same shorts, same shirt. Yes, others were taken but this was the ’day wear’. The items were returned in the advertised time frame but a letter was received later, as seen below.
Our items were not mixed up with others. In fact, we presume that the hotel determined that the shorts and shirt were likely some form of industrial equipment as they were sealed in a plastic bag. Upon opening the bag, we were surprised not to smell the friendly aroma of freshly dried laundry. We thought that they had perhaps been washed in either iodine or brake cleaner. It was not an pleasant smell. We are equally sorry to report that the aroma has been lasting. On the positive front, the clothes were clean, although the grease spot remains. So our overall rating to date is 50%. The next test shall be Ufa, although a ban on toxic smelling clothes in the car had been put into effect. John is convinced that his new cargo pants can survive the entire trip with only wipe offs using hand towels. It is nice that he thinks that. Some of the apparel taken on the trip will never again be worn after Paris…
We can also provide consumer rating on the best means of stabbing holes in the plastic lids of water bottles to create a spray effect (please refer to the entry in driving in the mud without wipers). First, do not attempt with the stronger, reinforced plastic tops. A softer, more forgiving plastic is better. The Mongolian bottled water was better than the Russian bottles. Then, use a better quality ink pen, such as a Bic or those provided by ’nice’ hotels. The Beijing sourced pens, at a cost of $.85 per dozen, had disappointing results. In summary, cheap bottles and more expensive pens worked for us.
The Previous Day – Day Sixteen
What a difference a day can make. No, the clutch/shifting issue remains and causes great stress at the end of the day as we navigate city lights and traffic. But the rest of the day was markedly better than the previous one. It didn’t rain. There was very little mud in spite of an offroad section. And the sun was out.
We left Pavoldar with the usual fight with traffic lights but then headed to main roads. They are very straight in Kazakhstan, for long distances. We have traveled over 60 kms with no deviation from straight ahead. So far, Kazakhstan has been very flat.
We had a slow speed run on a tight path between Pavlodar and Nur-Sultan, with lots of ruts and pitches.
The countryside was generally green but changed from crops to pasture as the day progressed. Nur-Sultan is a modern city with large impressive buildings. And lots of traffic.
The support from fellow participants has been overwhelming, with the offer of parts and mechanical assistance. We may be far, far away from home and the shop in which the car was built, but we are certainly not alone.
Two of our fellow travelers are Ashton Roskill and Giles Cooper, driving an Austin Healey 100. The car offers limited comforts and protection from the elements, but completely captures the spirit of the event. The picture below was taken in Mongolia after a spirited (and very dusty) day of top down driving.
The interior shows the effects of ”open air” driving in difficult conditions.
Giles and Ashton are supporting two causes on their run. They are raising awareness of the need to identify and provide treatment for depression, and the are supporting the Cancer Society. Both admirable causes supported by two very admirable people.
We will continue to make efforts to address our mechanical issue and to improve our overall outlooks. Fatigue is taking its toll. But all will be good. We maybe getting further away from home, but we are slowly getting closer to Paris.
Previous Day – Day Fifteen
June 16 was significant this year for at least three reasons. It was Father’s Day. We want to send our best wishes out for that and to wish all of our Old English Car Club friends a happy gathering in Beacon Hill Park.
June 16th would also gave been our Uncle’s birthday. John passed away in 2016. Our uncle was a keen car enthusiast who always had something of interest in his garage. He was the first in the family to have a Volkswagen, a 1957 Deluxe with sunroof. It was followed by a 1961 Karmann Ghia convertible. His future tastes included English (Rover 2000), German (Mercedes and BMW) and Italian (Fiat 850 Spider and his beloved Alfa Spider, that is still in the family). During his late teens and early twenties, John drove for Brewsters in Banff. In addition to bus service to Lake Louise and local ski hills, they had a limosine service locally in Banff, using Packards. One afternoon, John was dispatched to pick up a young woman from the Hudson Bay store and take her to the Banff Springs Hotel. When he arrived, a young Marilyn Monroe stepped into the car. She was in town filming part of a Western movie. Apparently the young John Watts and Marilyn rode in silence to the hotel. John would have loved to hear about our trip, although he may not have always enjoyed being on the run itself!
The third significant part of June 16th to us was that it was far and away the the most difficult and challenging (and unpleasant) day of the event.
We left Novosibirsk and in short order found out that the clutch cable replacement was not ’the fix’. Our problem is likely within the clutch mechanism, and may be the pressure plate. We are seeking a source for a 200mm kit that we could install at the next 2-night stop.
Then the rains started. And the fun and games. First one wiper blade (the driver’s side) parted company from the arm. It is somewhere in the Russian countryside. We stopped to transfer the passenger’s blade over. The rain intenified as the remaining blade developed a mind of its own. Sometimes it refused to stop when turned off, or start when turned on. Finally it decided to quit.
We thought that driving in the rain without wipers was challenging. That was before we arrived at the 12km road of mud. With really big puddles. Which we hit often. Each one coated the entire screen with fresh mud.
What did we do? We poked holes in the top of water bottles and the driver reached out from splash to splash to try to create a space to see. The navigator used the GPS to determine the next corner, counting down metres. Thank goodness we were on a grid road system! Meanwhile, the soft mud and ruts were pitching the car from side to side of the road. It was a very long run. At the end, some kind local residents used buckets to clean off the front and side windows. Very thoughtful. Next time we we will roll up the side windows to the top…
What did it look like from inside? Here is the pre-mud view.
Thoughtlessly, we didn’t record the muddy section as we were too occupied with navigation issues.
Was that all? Oh, no. The copious amounts of dust in the engine bay were now mixing with water, forming a muddy substance. This resulted in the throttle sticking in the open position. Frankly, we wanted to get the day over as soon as possible, but not by crashing. Some Chinese form of WD40 did the trick.
We arrived at the border to enter Kazakhstan and had all the necessary papers provided by the local agents of the ERA. The only challenge was to answer the question ”what is the colour of the car”? The familiar black was now mostly muddy brown.
The border staff were efficient and within a short time we were headed to Pavlodar.
When we arrived at the car park there were hundreds of spectators welcoming the teams. We gathered up our personal effects, headed for the hotel and made a beeline for the bar. We were done, and so was the day.
It will remain an unforgettable day. No matter how hard we try…
On a much brighter note, we wanted to thank the recent donors to the Drive for Deirdre campaign. We will try to personally thank you as soon as we can. Thanks to everyone the fund is over $40,000 and within sight of the $50,000 goal.
Previous Day – Day Fourteen
So what would you do if you had a non-driving day in an artistic centre in the largest city in Siberia? Of course – you would spend a good part of the day doing maintenance on your car…
We did that. The first job was to replace the clutch cable. Those familiar with pre-1958 Beetles will know that removing and reattaching the pedal cluster is not ’plug and play.’ On top of that, the cable was binding in the rear cover. However, upon getting the cable out we found a small area of questionable compromise. We think we have found the problem. Our thanks go out to those of you who sent us ideas and sites to review. It us yet another reminder that we are not ’out here’ alone and that we have so much support and encouragement. It is truly appreciated.
The rest of the maintenance work was without incident. Oil is fresh, brakes are adjusted and good, all bolts tight and the inside tidied up. All set to go.
So what did we do in the afternoon? After refreshments (Guinness for John, gin and tonic for Chris) we headed for the mall! Plastic bags, gloves (work ones) and suspenders were on the list. Suspenders? Yes. John seems to be getting trimmer and the belt isn’t doing the intended task.
A short walk revealed a shopping mall that could be anywhere. Signs claiming ”up to 50% off” in English were everywhere. And the suspended were found in a men’s fashion store.
An enjoyable dinner at a nice Italian restaurant completed a pleasant day. All is good with the world.
Some pictures from Novosibirsk…
The Previous Day – Day Thirteen
Day thirteen started with great fanfare as we were sent off from Novokuznetsk before a large crowd, with an announcer calling out the cars and participants. We heard our names and ”Beetle”, so we took off. Before leaving the city limits we were again reduced to the top three gears. Oh, dear.
The early drive was on a main highway, then onto a secondary roads through farming country. All very pleasant. The participants were offered a choice in the afternoon of either driving on three gravel stages, or heading directly to the hotel in Novosibirsk. We chose the gravel and were rewarded in two ways. The gravel was probably the best that we had experienced so far. The Beetle was able to maintain 70 to 90 kph and all time goals were met. As a bonus, we saw some amazing country and one of the largest mines in Russia, if not the world.
The villages were rustic, with the appearance of limited changes over the last century. The one giveaway was the appearance of satellite dishes. Several spectators were out to wave us on, often with great enthusiasm.
We stopped for fuel outside Novosibirsk and the station operator came running out wanting pictures of the car! Fueling took second fiddle. By the way, paying for most things in Russia is pretty simple – just tap the card.
We then headed downtown, with our low speed and startup challenges. It was hot and unpleasant. However, we all survived and parked in front if the opera house, a wonderful piece of architecture.
With a none-driving day to follow, we just gathered personal effects and headed for some needed refreshment.. To John’s surprise and joy, Guinness was in tap. Darkness was turning to brightness.
In the evening hundreds of spectators were looking over the cars. Many asked what make our was, reminding us that Beetkes were not exported to the USSR during the 50s and 60s. Mind you, most of the spectators were not born in those decades, either…
Some views from the day:
Lee and Bill, proudly displaying their roots.
War wounds – the loss of a headlight and removal if the front bumper (which was actually a rear spring)
The hometown favourite – the only Russian entry in the event, a wonderfully prepared and stock looking Lada.
Not all the classic cars are on the run. This lovely Moskvitch was owned by a local enthusiast.
Some, dast gravel made for a fun afternoon.
A rather large crane at the minesite near Novosibirsk
A great drive but still there is worry about the source of our mechanical challenges. Maybe they will be clearer tomorrow.
The Previous Day – Day Twelve
We headed off from Lake Ata full of optimism that out shifting problems were resolved, and were happy to have an earlier start time of 8:57. Sadly, we were unable to select first gear within the opening hour. This presented a challenge when starting out (in second gear) or maneuvering in tight spaces. We adopted a different approach at the timing stops (with the navigator getting more physical exercise) and sought downhill parking spots to take some of the load off the clutch. We survived the day well, all things considered.
We started with a nice drive on pavement then had a medium stretch on fairly good gravel. We returned to a form of pavement and are starting to understand the meaning of “Russian potholes”. Care and attention is required.
Did we mention the butterflies? Today the thousands seem to multiple to millions. The Beetle’s flat windshield became a magnet for too many, resulting in ‘visual impairment’ for driver and navigator.
Others suffered more serious problems. A couple of cars suffered overheating challenges as a result of airflow restrictions to their radiators.
The team running the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow had to remove their radiator (a big job) to remove what seemed like a colony of flyers.
The motoring challenges faded a bit when we arrived in Novokuznetsk. Hundreds of spectators were amassed around the parking area across the street from our hotel. Each car received a warm welcome and cheers. The spectators stayed for hours. A tour about in the evening resulted in a series of interesting conversations between local residents speaking Russian and foreign visitors that didn’t. Pictures, smiles and handshakes overcame any language barriers. People recognized the maple leaf flags on the car and chanted “Kan-ada” to us.
We had a wonderful dinner, but noticed that the banquet room was not full. Several cars – perhaps as many as 30 – are undergoing repairs or awaiting transport in other locations. We feel fortunate to have survived this far. And greatly look forward to a non-driving day after tomorrow. We have a long drive to Novosibirsk and hope that we have a full set of gears available to get there.
The Previous day – Day Eleven
We experienced a day of contrasts on this day. The scenery in Russia has been spectacular since crossing the Mongolian border. It has reminded us if the Canadian Rockies and the interior of BC, but with distinctive differences. We left the more mountainous area and were treated with a vista of massive farmland.
A particular highlight was a stop at the Denisova Cave, an important archeological site that was home to early humans. It is worth looking up.
Later in the afternoon we arrived at Lake Ata, after a long drive. It was harder by the inability to select first and reverse gears, a situation the we through could be resolved by adjusting the shift linkage. Not so. Some degree if consternation and pre-panic set in as possible causes were considered, including the need to remove the transmission. A fellow traveller (to be featured in a coming update) helped to adjust the clutch far on a trial basis. Just prior to darkness and depression, all gears were recovered. Whether this provides a continuing awaits further travel. But for one night, all was good. We set off for a late dinner just as a lengthy thunderstorm arrived with amazing colour in the sky.
Two small things of note. The flowers are quite striking. There is a type of poppy that looks very similar to the California poppy. The field of orange are beautiful. And then there are butterflies – by the thousands. Many gave met their end on the grills and windshields of the participating cars. One car even suffered overheating as a result!
We noted again what a toll this trip takes on vehicles. Nearly every car has war wounds and has been subject to considerable work for either maintenance or repairs – or both. And we are only at the one-quarter mark. This is a challenge.
While we are only passing the ’quarter pole’, we are thrilled that the Drive for Deirdre’ is getting closer to the finish line. Donations are about to surpass the 80% mark and we thank everyone who has been so supportive and generous. We will get to Paris and the goal will be met.
The Previous Day – Day Ten
The day started with the usual fight to fold up the ‘self rising’ tent. We managed – only with assistance and derision. One more night of tent camping next week and then the tent will remain with someone else. Sorry, Charley.
The rest of the morning was very dusty as we had a high paced rocky run beside a flowing river. We made very good time until…the engine ran short of fuel. In spite of adding a reserve “jerry” can, no startup followed. The diagnosis led to a bad fuse – not blown, just not conducting electrical power to the fuel pump. We rejoined and all was fine. It was a bordering crossing day to Russia with a long stop on the Mongolian side. As in about 3 hours. Once into Russia, the pace of officials speeded up and we were travelling again. In completely different terrain. We arrived at Kochevnik camp – a delightful spot with cabins. It reminded us of Banff – heavily forested with a resort feeling. The usual refreshments (with cool beer) and dinner followed after a clutch cable adjustment.
Some pictures from the day are following, starting in the morning.
Day 11 features a combination of tarmac and gravel. The teams have high motivation to reach the destination – a hotel, after five nights of camping. Can’t wait.
Nomad Tours (www.nomads.mn) have hosted us while camping in Mongolia. They have set up the facilities in advance and have everything ready when the first cars arrive.
What is everything? For those who purchased “tent service”, a two person tent has been put up with the car number marking it. The dry toilets – which would never be approved by James or Bryony Beresford – are somewhat better upon arrival than on departure the following morning.
A shower tent has 10 individual units, with water drawn from a backyard plastic inflatable swimming pool by an electric pump and heated by a wood or coal burner. There is abundant hot water upon arrival and early in the morning.
About 4 army style tents are used for food preparation, and a very large tent serves as the dining hall. There is abundant food for all, with noted vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options. And bagged lunches are prepared for the following day.
Most important of all is the beverage tent. A selection of wines, beer and spirits are on offer. Sadly, beverages are sold without refrigeration, a setback for those that prefer their Chardonnay or beer at something other than room temperature.
At most locations all services are offer with sand on the side…
A good day – with a wide variety of road surfaces.
We left camp and arrived at a beautiful, new road (yes, paved) for the journey past Khyargas Lake. The views were wonderful.
As we continued the sky became foreboding and the first real rain of the trip arrived.
The weather cleared as we returned to gravel for a spirited run.
The surface deteriorated a bit but we arrived at a scenic viewpoint that was the end of the timed events. We enjoyed a nice lunch and took in the amazing scene around us.
We were warned that a variety of events lay before us. It was very true. The temperature dropped to about 11 degrees and the road became rocky and very wet. At times we appeared to be driving in a stream. A long, steep climb challenged both cars and drivers.
We finally arrived at the summit and stopped to catch our breath.
The trip down was faster and smoother.
And the sky cleared, too.
All was good with the world…until close to the camp. The road changed again, becoming dry, rutted and rough. A steep, sandy hill required a second run. But we finally arrived at Achit Lake. It might have been a near perfect setting but for the flies. There were millions. They didn’t bite but there were unpleasant. Fortunately a brisk wind arrived to give us some relief.
All in all, a great day. Just like the others.
The Previous Day – Day Eight
What could possibly go wrong by turning left a little early? Quite a lot, actually.
We started the day with a great sunrise and the usual shower and breakfast. More on the camp facilities in a future report.
We had a couple of local people come to see us off.
Then is was off into the dust. And more dust.
About halfway through the run, navigator Chris directed driver John to turn left – too soon. Although the alternative route would join back to the main (proper) route, not before it crossed paths with a diagonal track that was lower. Without any chance to stop, the Beetle entered the narrow opening. The front wheels made it through but the rear got hung up and the car was high sided. With the rear drive wheels unable to touch. We were stuck. The good news was that one of the organizations’ photo trucks was nearby and offered to tow us out. The ‘bad’ news? Our indiscretion was caught on both still camera and video. We may be featured on the ERA website, for all the wrong reasons.
We carried on with less conversation for a while. But our better humour eventually returned. As did the dust.
The day featured several water crossings, all on purpose.
Here are some views from the drive:
And some video. Sorry for the camera work – it was rough!
This truly is an event of endurance. We noted that we are scheduled to be in Paris in a month. It feels like a month since we left Beijing! But the toll on the vehicles is even greater. Each evening every vehicle experiences either preventive maintenance or repairs. Or both. For the team members, a good dinner and an early night are the ‘maintenance’ requirements.
The Previous Day – Day Seven
An idyllic morning drive on pavement gave way to a brutal afternoon of rocks and ruts. An more dust. We plodded along and were fortunate to avoid flats, bent rims or other mechanical gremlins. The rock guards did their work.
We saw a nice local horseman at the tollbooth and exchanged pictures.
The morning drive was pretty with a couple of slow downs for animals crossing the highway.
The early gravel had lots of washboards, but a pretty view to the horizon.
Here’s a view in motion.
The sky was pretty even if the road was not.
We finally reached camp. The morning view was quit nice.
Day eight promises to be a tough one. All off pavement and all rough. The spirit of Deirdre is strong this morning and will see us through, whatever may lie ahead.
The Previo us Day – Day Six
The day started with a display and ceremony in Sükhbaatar Square in downtown Ulaanbaatar. We headed off to fuel the Beetle, taking about an hour to travel the 6km round trip. We met many people with a connection to Canada, including embassy staff and a young family that had recently moved back from Vancouver. Their daughter just received her Canadian passport:
Thanks to fashion designer Valerie Barrie, we were able to give her a new necklace which brought much happiness.
Even the police took an interest in the car – the right kind of interest:
Too bad they didn’t give us an escort out of town! We were unleashed to battle city traffic for the next hour. It was brutal. We finally cleared the city limits and enjoyed a pleasant drive on tarmac. Then it was time to take to the ruts, rocks and dust. The route took its toll on many with several flat tires and even a tip over for one team – minimal damage incurred. Between the bounces the views were spectacular.
We arrived at a beautiful camp, with terrific views in a tranquil setting.
A good dinner and conversations ended a most enjoyable day.
They say that you meet the nicest people when you travel. Lee Harman and Bill Ward fit that catalog perfectly. The are driving Lee’s 1931 Ford Victoria, a beautifully prepared car that captures the essence of this Challenge.
Several great pictures of the car in action are on the ERA website. In addition, their trip is raising funds to end polio. In 1985, Rotary International launched PolioPlus with a goal to raise $120 Million. Great progress has been made, and while the finish line is in sight, it has yet to be crossed. Car 42 is going to support this worthy cause and we would encourage you too, also. More information can be obtained at http://finishpolio.com
Speaking of donations, we want to thank everyone who support The Drive For Deirdre. We have had limited opportunities to send along our personal thanks but we hope to soon.
We woke to a beautiful morning in Camp #2 today.
We have done the Beetle’s morning maintenance and all is fine. No more bent rims. Yet.
The Previous Day – Day Five
There is a difference between a “rest” day and a “non-driving” day. Yesterday was the latter. We headed off to the local Mercedes Benz dealership with many other teams to use their shop space and to have our bent wheels repaired. Although the Beetle had taken a beating through the Gobi desert, it is in good shape. The rear skid plate did the job of protecting the transmission, engine and related parts. It took a few good blows, as it was designed to. An oil change and general check was followed by a thorough wash.
The traffic back to the hotel was entertaining, with cars appearing to move at random in all directions. One more battle left with city traffic tomorrow morning.
We enjoyed a walk around the city centre, and were again impressed with the friendliness of Mongolians.
The day ended with a reception on the 23rd floor of the Blue Sky hotel, offering a great view.
We are assembling in Sukhbaatar Square tomorrow morning to display the cars. Then it is back on the road.
Previous Day – Day Four
What a day! We had a relaxing morning with a later start – 10:03. The early going was fast and relatively smooth. The Beetle does about the same speed off road as on – between 40-50 mph/70-80 k/hr. Some of the cars from the 60s and 70s on the run go twice that speed in spots. We took a couple of short side excursions but always found the main route. The guidance offered by the organizers through the trip preparation is very impressive. We have many GPS waypoints and directions with mileages to show the way. Even so, you have to pay constant attention. As a result, we have few pictures of the day. But do check the ERA webpages for photos and information (https://www.endurorally.com/events/the-7th-peking-to-paris-motor-challenge/)
We had some local visitors at the camp in the morning:
We actually passed a vehicle – the incredible team taking the Contal Tricycle:
The Tricycle Sorry about the video quality. It was bumpy!
Later in the morning we hit some much rough patches. So what happens then? Well, the car bottoms (which is why there are skid plates), the passengers bounce (which is why you like to have good seats and harnesses) and the stones do their work (damage). Several vehicles had flat tires. We were lucky – very lucky. No flats but a check at the end of the timed runs turned up two bent rims.
We stopped at the very impressive Genghis Khan Equestrian statue, a 40 meter high rendition of the leader on horseback:
Genghis looked down on us as We changed tires in the parking lot. We send out our thanks to our friends at Harbour Air for providing those giant plastic bags that luggage is put in for protection when placed in the pontoons. The recycled ones were perfect to keep the dirty wheels from mucking up the interior!
Speaking of muck, the dust is everywhere in the car, and probably will remain evident for years. Here is the engine compartment after one day in the desert:
We finished the day with the worse traffic we have ever experienced in downtown Ulaanbaatar. It took about 90 minutes to cover 15kms. Proof again the air cooled cars don’t overheat, but their passengers do.
A rest day in Ulaanbaatar awaits. It will be spent doing routine maintenance and getting those rims straightened. And hopefully having a walk around downtown.
The previous day – day three:
We spent most of the morning crossing the border into Mongolia. Although it took time, it was without incident. We then had a drive on paved roads to Sainshand, at which point we left pavement for “the rough stuff”. Flooding caused a change in program, and we were escorted for about 25 kilometres and then let loose. The next hours were unforgettable. The Beetle performed well, running between 70 and 90 (kph) over rocks and ruts. The dust was “impressive”.
No time to stop and see the camels up close!
We arrived at the camp for our first night in the desert. Good food and great company before a good sleep.
The morning is crisp but will warm up quickly.
Routine maintenance was all the Beetle required – everything good so far.
Today will be a cross between difficult and brutal. We are off the Ulaanbaatar in an hour.
The previous day – day two:
The drive today was somewhat shorter than day one, and was on pavement except for the special section. It started with leaving Hohhot, something that is easier said than done. Traffic downtown is dense and chaotic. The lines on the road, usually meant to define lanes, have no actual meaning here. And although most of the cars are new and many are expensive, none appear to have turn signals. Cars meander from curb to the center of the road (and beyond) at will. Pedestrians also roam at will, oblivious to oncoming traffic. By comparison, the overflowing bike lanes seem tranquil…
It took about an hour to reach the site of the special stage – some 15 km from the departure. Video will follow but the test was to drive a dirt track with many bends and a few dips as quickly as possible. We achieved a good result, and then headed toward Erenhot, on the border of Mongolia. Along the way we saw some impressive monuments:
We were provided with boxed lunches and decided to make a roadside stop in the grasslands area. We were soon joined by two couples who wanted pictures of the car and drivers. It was a friendly Chinese/Canadian gathering in the middle of a vast countryside, something of a contrast to the published news of the day.
We finished off the drive and were welcomed by the dinosaur arches just outside Erenhot.
Tomorrow we leave China and take on the Gobi desert.
We have noticed some restrictions to our access to all things internet, and must apologize that we have been unable to send thanks to many that have contributed to the Drive for Deirdre. We hope to catch up on that soon.
The Previous Day – Day One
Oh, what a day! A mostly wonderful day. We were up early for final fussing, with breakfast at 5 AM. A short but violent thunderstorm cooled things down a bit, but it was hot and humid as we set off for the Great Wall shortly after 6. The 50 minute drive was mostly on expressways, but the final stretch was different. The Great Wall is an amazing sight.
And the cars and teams were ready to go.
It was finally time to strap ourselves in and and start the journey of 14,000 kilometers. One final check of the trunk…
The first part was…a bit boring. Back to the main highway for a couple of hours. Then the driving changed. A freeway became broken pavement, then gravel and dirt.
We slowed through small villages as people waved at us – probably more cars coming through in a day than often appear in a month.
Then we headed up to an area that used to have the Great Wall, but it has been removed and paved for vehicles. The views were spectacular.
The trip down was swift and pretty.
And some of our fellow travellers entertained us by passing on all sides, regardless of coming traffic or road conditions.
We arrived in Hohhot, tired but happy to the first day under our belt. Only 34 more to go.
The Previous Day – Getting the car
It is early Saturday morning in Beijing. We survived an eventful Friday series of events, starting with the collection of passes and information from the organizers. All the participants turned in their GPS devices to have the trip waypoints loaded, and were then dispatched to buses to head out to the warehouse where the cars were located,
We were pleased to see our Beetle waiting for us, ready to head out into Beijing traffic.
Thanks to a briefing by the police the previous day, and armed with a brand new Chinese driving license, we felt ready to ‘hit the road’. A short drive to a gas station to fill the tanks was followed by about an hour of…awful traffic, high heat and a missed turn or two. We were not alone as many of our group abandoned the printed directions in favour of Google maps. Adding to the fun was the interest shown in the cars. Many cars and motorbikes slowed to take pictures and videos of something never otherwise seen in Beijing – old cars. Even a bus driver tapped his horn and waved. If only the interest could have been translated into helpful directions!
We finally arrived at the hotel and set to preparing for the scrutineers. Number plates and decals were installed and all the required equipment was prepared for approval. Open cars were covered from the heat of the sun as we waited (and waited some more) for our inspection.
Finally we were inspected and approved for the event. The elation is not entirely evident on John’s face, but the relief is real.
The late afternoon brought a sense of relaxation. The organizers put on a lovely reception in the outdoor gardens, followed by a grand multi-course dinner. It was a lovely end to a packed day.
We finished the day with a walk through the car park to reflect on the diversity of the vehicles. We will feature some of the cars throughout the event.
Tomorrow will be spent doing the final packing of the car and shopping for small items. Early Sunday morning we head for the Great Wall and the adventure beyond.
For the latest update on the Drive for Deirdre campaign in support of the Arthritis Society, check the website at: http://arthritis.ca/hostyourown/DriveForDeirdre
To view the location of the car: