2007 – Peking to Paris

In chronological order, here are our postings for the preparation, build-up and participation in the
2007 Peking to Paris Motor Challenge

20th November 2006

The chassis last December

Today, for the first time in over fourteen months, the collection of bits that have been nestling in the depths of County Down, can truly be called a car again. At last, we have a wheel at each corner! We have been held up for a while because the CWP, that we thought was new and unused, couldn’t fit our CWP carrier so we’ve been waiting patiently for the replacement to come from the Sunbeam – Talbot – Darracq Register. For the last week, Terry Murphy has been fettling and test assembling the unit to make sure that the gears mesh properly in a rush to get the chassis / car back down to Kilkeel for Archie to make and fit the new bonnet tops and re-fit the skin on the boot lid. Unfortunately, Archie is in bed with the ‘flu so we are pushing ahead with other jobs instead of delivering the car fvor it to sit in an empty workshop.

21st November 2006

Lots of discussion about petrol tanks and how they must be mounted. I have to gather up all the bits of the exhaust system before the starboard tank can be measured and made but Terry has begun making the supports for the port side.

Wheels back on at last and Chris doing work on the bulkhead

15TH DECEMBER 2007

Well, at last I suppose you can call it a car again. It has a wheel at each corner and all the bodywork is finished. I collected the car today from Archie Alderdice in Kilkeel where he was finishing the bootlid, bonnets, the bulge to cover the air cleaner and the little covers over the rear chassis extensions. All in all a really excellent job done well by a really nice man. Thanks Archie.

The next job will be to finish making the windscreen surround so that it can be sent off for plating and then make the petrol tanks and finish the plumbing and wiring.

Thanks must go to Roger Corry for the loan of his excellent new trailer

17th FEBRUARY 2007

Robert Dickson is doing a marvellous job with the painting. The body ‘tub’ is finished and to a very high standard compared with most other cars. Before he started, he even asked what standard we wanted and I explained that this car wasn’t going to be a “show queen” but a working rally car and it would probably need painting again after the rigours of a 10,000 mile gravel rally! He’s hoping to have all the ‘flappy bits’ (door, bonnets and boot lid) finished soon too and he’s waiting for us to finish making the mudguard stays so that he can paint them and be done with us. For the last couple of days, Terry & Chris have been doing a bit of blacksmith work. The front main stays are 10mm by 150mm steel so bending and twisting them both to the same angles and spacing is quite a tough job. Nearly a whole acytelene cylinder has been used on heating these two aloneThe petrol tanks are coming along well too. These will be below the floor, inside the wheelbase and have to be folded and cut. Internal baffles, petrol gauge senders, filters, drains, and all sorts of gubbins specially made and manufactured.

Last weekend we attended a practice rally in Oxfordshire so that we could familiarise ourselves with the way the organisers are planning to use the Garmin GPS uinits in Mongolia. It was all great fun and our first chance to actually sit down and chat with a few other competitors. We made loads of mistakes but – that was the whole point. Some folk brought their P2P rally cars and the central talking point was the 1907 Itala – a replica of Prince Borghese’s winning mount. The picture of the rear is just to show how much petrol these ancient vehicles need.

2nd MARCH 2007

MORE PANIC! Woke up this morning and checked emails, as you do. There were a collection from Rally Office, attempting to download some documents relating to what is called a “CARNET de PASSAGE”, effectively a passport for the car to pass, unmolested, into and out of a country. It appears that a Mongolian government official has decided, in his infinite wisdom, that each competing vehicle must have one of these, despite it being made very clear much earlier on that they are not mandatory. Big problem that. We are in Stuart, Florida on the eastern seaboard of USA for the wedding of my nephew Christopher and his intended, RuthAnn. The documents downloaded eventually onto my new mini laptop but the hotel network won’t let me print from it. Neither will it let me download attachments to their client PC for printing. Now, everyone here is very computer savvy, so we were dispatched off to the nearest FedEx office where the downloads, in Adobe pdf format were printed off for completion. Thankfully, all the details about engine and chassis numbers are stored on the laptop so, after filling in and signing, they were eventually faxed back to Rally Office in England. I hope it works. One good thing to come out of it was a call to the workshop for some details of the radio we’ve fitted and needed for the carnet. The engine and gearbox have been re-fitted and everything, including the modified dynamo is ticketyboo.

Terry, the engineer is very pleased with progress and also with my fishing prowess while here. Forty odd minutes work with a 20lb breaking strain line landed this 50 lb(+) beauty of a sailfish. He was revived after the fight and released again. All the US Rawlings clan were suitably impressed as it’s not every day that one of these is caught.

11th MARCH 2007

Time is marching on and deadlines are being set all the time. Sometimes it appears that there is a state of near panic at Rally Office as more and more letters and emails seem to be flowing from there. Still, despite this, everyting does seem to get done on time. The build of the car is nearly complete but we have to start preparing to pack the car for the journey. Soon we will be delivering the car to CARS UK in Suffolk for shipping to China and we will have it loaded with all our clothes, camping kit, food, spares, medical and emergency kit and lots more. Over the past couple of weeks, Penny has been practising erecting and re-packing the tent in our drawing room and yesterday I had a go. We’ve got it down to about five or six minutes which isn’t too bad but packing the sleeping bags and matresses is still taking too long. We’ve put the tent up in the back garden for it to be ‘weathered’, part of the process of ‘breaking it in’ before using it properly. There is an ever growing mountain of stuff on the dining room table which will need to be sorted and packed quite soon.

25th MARCH 2007

Yesterday we put the body back on the chassis. Bro-in-Law, Alan Clarke, Terry, Penny & I hoisted it into place with far too little drama – something actually worked as planned for a change! Terry & I then spent a few hours making sure that everything is bolted down firmly, for the last time thank goodness. Today, Sunday, Terry began the final bit of plumbing for the fuel filters, pumps and for the emergency petrol tank. I fitted the trim panels and thank goodness they fitted quite well too. Penny came down and volunteered to do a really nasty bit of ‘spannering’ that involved lying, upon her back, head among the pedals,working up under the instrument panel to remove two brackets and replace them with an extra bit each to help steady up the scuttle and brace the body (perhaps we didn’t put the body on that well after all). She did a marvellous job and found out what a right hand thread is at the same time. I finished off the day by fitting up the windscreen frame ready for glazing tomorrow.

2nd April 2007

What a traumatic few days we’ve had. It started pleasantly enough with the guys from Sign Art in Newtownards turning up on Thursday evening and doing a splendid job with the graphics for the car. When they heard that we were hoping to raise money for charity, they donated their work and without us asking – absolutely brilliant! We’ll put a few quid into the kitty on your behalf so please look up their web site; you’ll find it on our “links” page.

On Friday last, 30th March, we were chasing oil pressure all over the place. Sometimes we had a low reading, about 40 lb / sq in, while at others we had almost nothing. Terry finally chased that down to a sticky pressure relief valve. Once it was persuaded to seat properly and with the right amount of resistance everything was fine. On Saturday however, after two distributors had been built up, gapped and timed we started doing the final strobe timing checks. I commented on what sounded like noisy valve gear. Unusually this was heard only on one side of the engine and not both – strange! It transpired that it was the distributor making a horrendous racket so we swapped it for what was to be my spare. This was absolutely silent so we continued the timing check. When all was set, we took the first distributor apart and the weights just fell out of it. Lots of deliberation and experimentation showed that we had a serious meshing problem with the drive gear on the cam shaft. We spent ages on the ‘phone with Cecil Schumacher, measuring some of his cams and decided that we had to revert to an older one. Terry worked miracles. With a team of chums from the Ulster Vintage Car Club, the car was stripped, engine removed, crank extracted, cam replaced and re-built – all in just 25 hours. Surely a world record for this operation on a Talbot. Serious thanks to Terry, Chris, Andy, Nick and John.

Anyway, we now have the car home and running beautifully. We have to put as many miles on it as possible to bed everything in because we’re on the ferry to Scotland on 4th April for the delivery trip to the shipping company in Suffolk for the final voyage to the Far East. There are a few more teeny weeny fettling bits and pieces to finish off tomorrow and I suppose that’s it. We’ve packed the car once but we’re going to have another go, just to see what can be left out.

11th April 2007

Oh, happy day. I’m typing this on the train from Cambridge to London, having said goodbye to the Talbot at CARS UK near Bury St Edmonds. The trip here hasn’t all been sweetness & light though – how strange!

On Wednesday last, 4th April, we took the high speed ferry from Belfast to Stranraer in Scotland. The drive across to Carlisle was very pleasant, cruising at about 2,000 rpm which is just over 50 mph in the warm spring sunshine. Because we didn’t have enough time at home to modify and fit a proper thermostat, I was resigned to fitting different blinds over the radiator in an attempt to raise the running temperature to a more appropriate 85 to 90 degrees. This was fine on the level but after a particularly long gradient and with the wind behind us, the temperature climbed over 100 degrees and the electric fan didn’t seem to make much difference. What was worse was that the oil pressure dissapeared almost completely. A half hour stop to let things cool off saw everything settle down and with the blind now off, the temperature wasn’t to rise so far again. We drove on without mishap to a lovely little hotel in Richmond, nestling in the Yorkshire moors. On Thursday we made our first courtesy stop with Bill Barott near Sheffield. This patriarch of Talboteering was very complimentary of Terry & Chris’ work. He should know, he built William & Carrie Balfour’s Talbot 105 for the “Around the World in 80 Days” in 2000. It’s nice to hear good things. One tip he passed on was that he never used an oil that didn’t begin with 20 something so, at the first oil change we’ll bung in some 20/50 instead of the thin 10/30 we’re using at present. That’ll teach the oil pressure a thing or two.

From there we drove down to see our gearbox guru, Cecil Schumacher, near Northampton. However, because the boys at home had spent so much time talking to him at the weekend and he knew the engine was coming out, he assumed we wouldn’t make it and had gone out to do a few messages. No Faith! Penny and I had a very restful time in the back garden with his wife Brenda while we waited for his return. Nothing daunted, he kept his word and performed the full ‘shake down’ and re-adjustment needed for our new gearbox. A bit later than planned, we set off once again for a little restauraunt with rooms we know of near Towcester. Next morning we drove over to Neil Huband in deepest Oxfordshire for a final calibration check for our Halda. This is a distance measuring instrument in the car that has to be as near spot on as possible so that we don’t get lost. On the way, we checked as best we could against 100m boards on the dual carriageways and Penny thought it was pretty accurate. Neil and I (Geoff) drove carefully over his very accurate 2 Km test route a couple of times and after putting his readings through the computer he declared that even if he tried, he would find it difficult to set it as accurate as ours. It reads to within 50cm in 2Km. Someting went right. Hooray. We now have a set of variation gears to suit worn tyres and miles too.

Next up we wended our way down to Dorset to have a night off with our children, Rachael & Ivan and Rachael’s beau, Mike. All three had a run in the car and are probably still grinning from ear to ear. Needless to say, we really enjoyed our dinner and wine, if you know what I mean.

From there we paid a visit to old friends in Armyshire (Wiltshire) then a night in a super B&B near Hungerford and on to a restful Easter Sunday with Penny’s sister Jackie and husband Eyre, her son Alexander and his two sons, Oliver and Giles. On Monday 9th we drove to Leighton Buzzard for a long coffee break with Penny’s aunt, uncle and cousin, Anna, Adrian and Isobel. Finally we headed up to Bury St Edmunds. As before, the driving was shared with Penny who had a trouble keeping down to our self imposed running in speed. That night, in the Angel Hotel we met another couple of competitors, David & Joanna Roberts in their Sunbeam Alpine and Jose and Maria de Sousa with their MG Magnette. Drink taken!

Tuesday saw us with Ian Polson, the Talbot Maestro in Suffolk for an oil change and quick spanner check before shipping. As soon as we arrived, the car was on the hoist and a squad of fantastic mechanics tore in. Our suspected oil leak turned out to be a known Talbot foible in that the gearbox, which is supplied with lubricant from the crankshaft, wasn’t draining quickly enough so overflowing back into the torque tube and so to the outside. With my heart in my mouth I watched the guys drilling a 1″ hole in the side of the box. Finally, a new, additional drain was fitted; dodgy brakes because all the adjustment had been taken up were rectified, some cables and wiring that might have chafed quite quickly were fixed, oil changed, head re-torqued and the tappets re-set. A new car left the workshop today for the short drive to CARS UK and we tucked her up for the long journey to China.

We thought we might be the last to arrive but as we were waiting for a taxi to take us to the train station, Robin Grant and Caroline Wright arrived in their Bentley and then Andrew Fulton and girlfriend Utte turned up with his 1917 Essex. Mario, of CARS UK told us that there were at least another nine cars that hadn’t appeared yet and the last containers were due to leave oin Friday

in the workshop at Ian Polson’s
in the shed for shipping – at last; that’s a Delage in front of us
The first 900 odd miles in 20 years for our lovely Talbot are behind her wheels

6th May 2007

Two weeks before we leave for China!

In recent days we have received our road books, a map book and what I suppose is a final newsletter from Rally Office. Logically, this is a caution from the organiser, Philip Young, in an attempt to pre-empt any complaints en route. This is the burden for every rally setter. No matter how well the route and instructions have been prepared, someone will always complain. As he says in the letter – this will be very difficult – you have been warned. The road books are a work of art, quite probably the best prepared ones I’ve ever seen. After a considerable search, there is only one typographical error and that isn’t even important. We’ve double checked the route against the map book and the maps we’ve purchased. It would even appear that the maps won’t be required on the trip. One downside though is that the road books are a bit flimsy, especially for an open car and with no hood. So, in case of rain and other natural hazards, I’ve scanned all 400 odd pages of the road books, had them printed off and bound so that we now have a ‘backup’ copy in case of emergencies. The photo above is Penny, double checking the route book and map so that we have a feel for the route. Doing this has, I’m glad to say, revealed where the rally setter will determine the final placings. We have quite a few speed tests in the far east and lots more between St Petersburg and Germany. There is one control which will have cars coming at it from two different directions – just to fool a few people.

Penny has laid out all her clothes and packed them at least twice and she thinks she needs to fine tune it all again!. I’ve laid out mine too but I think there are still too many so I’ll have a look at that too. Chris has made a little alloy tray and bottle holder for between the seats. This will let us just throw small things in there and they won’t rattle around too much. Terry is making a special tool for me that will let us remove the car’s hubs easily and without a hub puller and I might make a smallish wooden box to take the few odds ‘n sods for the car out to Beijing. This can then be easily mounted on the running board / sand ladder and used for dumping rubbish and things into. We’ve bought a couple of ready made stowage nets for the driving compartment. While we made four small cubby holes in the side trim for suncream and stuff, there is nowhere for the road books and maps so these will help keep things tidy. We also managed to find a couple of those old schoolboy pencil holder thingys for your top pocket to keep pens tidy and not lost.

I was going to take a few 4Gb USB hard drive sticks for backing up photographs but Jim. at Proserve has sourced a 120Gb external hard drive that will fit in a shirt pocket and for less than half the cost of the four sticks. if the worst comes to the worst and the laptop and the iPod are both pinced, then I’ll still have all the photographs safely stashed away.

We are both busy writing lists of contact numbers, both for looking after the house and for family to contact us.

11th May 2007
RDA Quiz Nights

A few weeks ago, Mike Bell, my trainer from the gym in Holywood – Motiv8 – very kindly organised a quiz night at Cafe Kina on High Street to raise funds for RDA. At the time, Penny & I were in the throes of rushing about trying to get the car ready to take over to England for shipping so we couldn’t get there until about 10:00 pm and just in time to watch the auction and thank everyone who’d attended.

Last night we were at another ‘Pub Quiz’ night at our local branch of Esporta. About 70 souls turned up and battled through a myriad of bizarre (to me) questions from the quizmaster Jenny Gibson. We had resurrected our old team of “Life of Riley” with Ken & Janet Ruddell and Roger & Carol Corry. The team is named after the cars but I’m afraid that we weren’t match fit and finished last. There were several super prizes and some excellent items for the lottery and ballot. Thursday evenings normally see us at Russian classes in Belfast so this was a bit easier!

Thanks go to Elisabeth Gibson and her husband Alan who did most of the work as well as all who attended to support our charity.

the winning team
intense concentration

Meanwhile, the preparations go on. We’ve been informed that the Chinese authorities are now not permitting us to freely drive around the streets of Beijing. Once we’ve collected the cars from the warehouse, they have to remain in the hotel car park until we’re convoyed out to the start and then to the border. Why bother with the Chinese registrations or driving licences? The Mongolians, however, have told us that the price of petrol has increased by ten pence ($0.20) a litre since we ordered and paid for it so now I’ve got to send another cheque to cover the difference.

Our satellite ‘phone has arrived but I’m waiting for the arrival of a special adapter so that I can hook it up to the laptop and send updates from the more remote parts of our journey. It better come soon so that I can make sure everything works.

Penny & I are finalising our packing. It’s really difficult deciding what to take that can fit into a small carry on bag sized holdall. That’s all the space we have and we will have to live out of that for six weeks. I’ve said it before that we’re more like a motorcycle tour because of the lack of space.

16th May 2007

OK Folks. Today is Wednesday and we’re on the last run in before the start. We leave for Peking on Monday and I suppose we’re under starter’s orders after that. So, I thought that I’d better alter our web page so that it is easier to keep up to date. All the old information pages are still here but now the site opens with the latest news page and now there’s a new button at the top left as well as one at the bottom of the page to access the archive of old stories.

We are still aiming to update this page on as many days as we can but if we don’t – please forgive. We have some days during the rally with huge distances to be covered and I’m sure that there will be some maintenance both to the car and us that’s outside normal servicing schedules!

I have prepared a “GOOGLE EARTH” file of our all overnight stops and including some of our Mongolian and Baltic time and navigation trials. If you really want to see where we are and when, drop me an email and I’ll fire the file off to you but please, sooner rather than later.

21st May 2007

3:30 p.m, somewhere over France and about to enjoy an Emirates Airline lunch at 37,000 ft. I suppose that qualifies as being ‘properly’ on the way, doesn’t it?
We were off very early this morning and took the BMI flight to Gatrow, or is it Heathwick. The last couple of days have been very tense; it’s not at all like packing for a couple of weeks in the sun or even a month in the antipodes. We’ve had to consider all sorts of unusual possibilities, temperatures perhaps up to 50 deg C, and as low as minus 6 or so at night; Steamy torrential rain in China and arid dry heat in Mongolia; don’t pack too much because we have neither enough room or want to load the car too much. We have to have enough to last for a week before laundering and it has to be quick drying too. Anyway, here we are with two, not so large soft bags of clothes, two smaller carry-on rally bags, mine with all the expensive electronic kit – computer, cameras, GPS, radar detector, satellite and phone – and Penny’s with the all important route books, map book, id tags (without which we don’t get fed) and all the car and personal documentation.

23rd May 2007

Well, we arrived here safely yesterday afternoon in the pouring rain and eventually got to the hotel having nearly got into a rogue taxi. A seemingly nice young Chinaman offered us a taxi and showed us his card. We duly followed him through the car park to his car wondering all the while if he was genuine. We got to his rather small car on the third basement floor of the car park and decided that we’d be stupid to get in his car; he probably wasn’t licensed and may not have had any insurance. We said we’d get an official taxi and he said they were very expensive and tried to persuade us to get in. We walked away and he came too showing us the way back to the airport arrivals area. We easily found a cab with a taxi symbol on top and drove through the steamy rain to the Shangri-la Hotel off Beijing’s third ring road. The city has five ring roads or should that be ‘ling loads’ as the local pronounce it.
The hotel is all you would expect from a fancy big international hotel except the staff are so much more friendly and willing to serve than inany other big city hotel say in London.

Penny typing this report in the hotel lounge

We have met several rally people already – they are easily identifiable as the ones wearing the quick dry camping type clothing and the slightly bewildered and panicked look on their faces. Like us they are probably wondering why on earth they are embarking on this epic journey of long days and short nights.
Earlier today we ventured out to shop for an easy to use car jack and foot pump, both required items which we forgot to pack in the car before shipping. The extremely helpful hotel concierge found us a “car laundry and decoration” shop and got a taxi to take us there. The shop was like nothing we have at home. The huge ground floor was given over to car valeting while upstairs you could buy all sorts of things to decorate your car – dangly things like furry dice, good luck charms, seat covers in every colour and the sort of bling the Vauxhall Nova and ‘Hot Honda’ crowd like. There wasn’t much to choose from for what we wanted. No small bottle jacks or the like so we bought a small trolley jack. I wasn’t allowed to lift it off the shelf, a tiny Chinese sales assistant insisted she took it to the till. It probably weighed the same as she did. There wasn’t an ordinary mechanical foot pump either so we bought a neat little plug in the cigar lighter type air compressor.
When we returned to the hotel, we shared the lift with organiser, Philip Young and he instantly spotted what we were carrying. When asked if he had any panics yet he replied that there were no major ones. Penny asked him if he’d talked to ‘the man upstairs’ about turning the rain off by Friday he replied that he was concerned about boggy conditions in western Mongolia.
The rest of today is ours to do what we wish with. and Penny is possibly going to have a swim and definitely having a Chinese massage.

25th May 2007

Last night we enjoyed an eleven course Chinese Banquet, courtesy of Blancpain, the event sponsors. We haven’t the heart to tell them that we’re not really interested in new watches without taking out a mortgage. During the meal we were royally entertained by some of the cast of the Beijing Opera Ballet Chorus. A fantastically spectacular show that we couldn’t really pay due attention to because of the food. Rally Director, Philip Young opened proceedings by announcing that this was the first time that all the competitors were gathered in the same place at the same time. We know that wasn’t true because Andy Bailey’s navigator, and first cousin Michael, hadn’t arrived yet!

A reasonably early night believe it or not.

It’s 7:00 on the evening of 25th and we’ve just made it back to the room after a long day. Don’t forget that we’re seven hours ahead of home so it is only noon in Northern Ireland.

Last night we both slept really well for the first time and as a consequence Geoff was up and about at 6:00. Cuppa in bed for Penny and then down stairs for breakfast. There was no point in doing anything else because today we were bussed out to near the airport (about 45 km away) on the other side of the city to collect the cars. The day started quite pleasantly and with a bit of a breeze but for the first time the sun shone strongly and the temperature rose to mid 30s deg C. We were in the second bus and it was a relief and joy to see the Talbot in the huge shed with all the other cars and not a hint of a dribble (water or oil) on the concrete beneath. First check was to ensure that the car hadn’t been driven but just pushed out of the container and then a quick turn over of the motor to make sure there was no water in the cylinder bores. Everything was connected back up again and she started on the second push of the button. Not bad after being in a sealed box with temperatures as high as 63 deg C and high humidity for six weeks. Geoff drove the car carefully out into the daylight, checked the brakes and things and signed the car off from the shippers with no damage. They’ve done an excellent job.

Some of the Chinese staff at the compound thankfully told us that the characters on our scuttle really did mean what we’d hoped for – Jade (or perhaps Crystal) Dragon. This was the original name we decided on for our first choice car for this event, the 1920 Vauxhall.

Today was Penny’s turn to drive. Surprisingly she has had no experience of a right hand drive car driving on the right (wrong) side of the road. It really is different from driving a proper LHD car on the right (wrong) side. Unfortunately, being her turn to drive didn’t stop her trying to navigate as well and we nearly came to blows before we’d even left the compound. That’ll have to change! The driver drives and does what the navigator says, even when it’s wrong. Traffic wasn’t too bad across the city with the only hold-ups caused by the few cars that fell by the wayside with either no petrol, fuel vaporiation or overheating and causing the rest of the traffic to slow down and look. The Talbot fluffed only a very little bit when there wasn’t enough air (cooling) passing over the engine because we weren’t moving quickly enough or not enough petrol passing through the carburettors quickly enough and evaporating slightly – same cause. Once on the go she behaved perfectly – and the car too.

Driving standards in China are, shall we say, robust. There are very few rules of the road that are universally obeyed but at least, unlike what we’ve been told of India, each side of a dual carriageway does only move in only one direction. That said, it is only generally in the same direction; lane markings are considered a decoration and the most useful pieces of equipment are the horn and a ‘spotter’ seeking out gaps in the flow. At least no one seems to get annoyed, full flow lane hopping is accepted as the done thing and if one doesn’t hoot, how are other drivers expected to know where one is; really! We have a chum, Geoff Hill, who has done this on a motorcycle in the sub-continent and he must have been on valium to cope; either that or a lobotomy.

Like the driver, the navigator did an excellent job and found the front entrance of the right hotel without wrong slotting once. Penny has since promised to behave as a driver when she’s behind the wheel and can only shout directions when she has the road book or map in front of her, in the passenger seat that is and vice-versa (she says).

Once back at the hotel and after a quick lunch, we started work on the car. This involved unpacking everything just to remind ourselves what we had packed, not packed or perhaps forgotten completely and then re-packing but this time with the contents of another suitcase filled only with spares and stuff. Amazingly it all went back in and seemed to leave a bit more space for our clothes . Maybe we should name the car “Tardis”. Geoff passed the now redundant suitcase over the fence to some spectating locals who couldn’t believe their luck at being offered a free Ulster suitcase. He probably also received an offerof marriage from the very nice young lady who took it

There was another banquet tonight (don’t the Chinese ever have just a meal?) and we sussed out endurance rallying from a table that included folk that have done both the ’97 “Peking to Paris” and the 2000 “Around the World in 80 Days”.

Malt whisky, send this up to the ‘wonder web’ and off to bed.

We’ll be doing another update tomorrow, 26th that will take us up to the start; there might be a gap until the next one, possibly from Erenhot, just before the border with Mongolia..

26th May 2007

Tomorrow’s the big day. We’ve been out, tidying up the car today, re-locating stuff to where we think it might be more accessable and then putting most of it back in the same place and generally just ‘footling’ in the scorching sun (readings of between 38 and 42 deg C have been proclaimed but it felt more like mid 30s but with a very dry wind. It was also a good opportunity to pass the time and have a chat with lots of other competitors. Incidentally, the term ‘competitors’ is used in the loosest sense, perhaps entrants might be better. Some are ‘hell for leather sprint to the next section’ types, others might well miss a lot of controls, enjoy the scenery and cruise to Paris. I’m afraid the we lean towards, but not wholly, the former. We’ll take it easy to begin with and wait for others to fall behind as things go awry. Who knows what lies ahead.

We had perhaps the most comprehensive briefing we’ve ever experienced this afternoon and quite rightly too. The rally is passing through some of the remotest parts of the world and help is rarely at hand and the RAC certainly won’t be able to come out to help. The entrants all have to be able to help each other and Philip Young (Rally Director) has gathered the largest crew he’s ever had – some thirty souls in mechanical, logistic and medical support vehicles. I for one have faith in them all. It has been a heroic task to get 130 pretty ancient cars, over 270 participants and everything else ready to drive half way around the world, against the clock. The best quote came from Kim Bannister who, when describing the route and conditions, said that after all their work, driving it over and over again several times ” You are not going to get lost – PROBABLY”. I’d be surprised if you didn’t hear the collective groan from the entrants at home in Northern Ireland.

Our start tomorrow, running at number fourty isn’t until 08:49 at the Great Wall of China tourist centre at Badaling. We are planning to get there quite a bit earlier for a team photograph with our chums from Dublin, Andy and Nicky Bailie with their navigators, Michael Bailie and Margaret Edgehill.

Before we set off, we’d both like to say thank you so much to everyone who has helped in any manner with this project. There are far too many to name individually for which we are sorry, but, we are in the debt of those who have, for instance, left dinner parties to help pull out the engine at last minute, painted the car against the clock, provided bits ‘n pieces we didn’t have to hand for the rebuild and a multitude of other large and small acts of kindness and generosity. Thank you all again.

Another dose of gratitude goes to those who have emailed their good wishes and luck from out of the blue, including one received this evening from a well wisher in California who, because of unforseen circumstances, can’t be here to compete.

The final and biggest thank you goes to all those who have given to our nominated charity, Riding for the Disabled Association. We have both been touched and overwhelmed with the unexpected and fabulous generosity.

Keep checking ours and the organiser’s web site. Theirs should be updated daily but we might be a couple of days before we get back on line – who knows what’s out there!

Day 1 – 27th May 2007 Beijing to Datong

Well, here we are in sunny Datong, about 360 kilometers West and a bit North of Beijing. Actually, not that sunny because of all the pollution.

The whole rally arrived at the Great Wall at Badaling (about 35 kilometers west of the hotel) early just to see the spectacle laid on and the first, ancient cars leaving. It must be said that some even had troubles on the way here. There was a fantastic show laid on with a children’s drum and cymbal band, some dragon dancers and a very bizarre or perhaps surrealistic performance by a group of stilt dancers. There was someting distinctly shamanistic about their performance and music. The first two cars, both 100 year old Italas, were flagged away amidst fantastic applause and cheering. Car number one is a reasonably accurate re-creation of Prince Scipione Borghese’s Itala that won the first race all those years ago and is driven by David and Karen Ayre while the second is a bit more ‘rascally’ and driven by Jonathan Turner and Adrian Hartley who have experience of this sort of event. Their car even has a cartoon of Penelope Pitstop on the side which annoys someone we all know.

The traffic on the Expressway was atrocious but at least kept moving but, as we started to come down the other side of the mountain, we mucked up; that is, Geoff didn’t tell Penny about the turning to her satisfaction. He claims he did but she was driving too quickly and didn’t see the signs – so there! Geoff admits he’s not the greatest navigator.So, we were now on a motorway going heaven knows where (no English speaking drivers so no signs we could understand) and couldn’t do a U Turn. Eventually, Penny (driving) recognised some features off to our left and worked out how to get back on the right track. By the time we’d passed the start point, our ‘wrong slot’ had cost nearly 60 kilometers and a bucketload of time. Not only that but the expressway was now completely clogged with trucks (Sunday in China means nothing – it’s just another day) moving at walking pace and we were using all three lanes, the hard shoulder and some other gaps to just dodge around and overtake ordinary tourist and commercial traffic.

Eventually we were over the first range of the Western Mountains and had to start pedaling on. The car, don’t forget, is still running in from the re-build and up to now we’ve stuck to 2,000 rpm (just over 50 mph). We pushed this up to around 2,300 to 2,700 rpm which gives us a bit over 67mph. After boiling on the ascent, the water temperature behaved itself and we started to eat up the miles. As we hared across the barren landscape, cloudy with sand in the air and barely able to see the needle sharp mountains on all sides, we were both pleased with the car’s performance, if not our own.

We kept up the pressure and decided not to stop for a meal but plug on and try to get our time back. We have a stash of dried energy bars and enough water along with bananas pinched from the beakfast buffet. We passed through some of the most amazingly squalid ribbon developments beside the road but still thousands of people turned out to watch this amazing dash of the “Mad Motorists” through their lives. The children were always in large groups, exceptionally well behaved, and cheered enthusiastically as we passed. The youngsters always received a special wave from us too. At nearly every side road or junction there was a PSB (Public Service Beaureau) Police officer at attention to stop us from wavering off the designated route and perhaps seeing (or spying on) something we shouldn’t. We passed one, then another and another of our cars, perhaps four or five in all that had fallen by the wayside but they at least had one of the Rally mechanic’s jeeps in attendance and I believe they all made it here except one that was seen on a flat bed truck heading the wrong way, back to Beijing.

We had a couple of minor hiccoughs when we had to change from our port petrol tank (about 15 gallons) to the starboard (about eleven gallons). I was surprised at first but then decided that we’d run short early because we hadn’t filled the tank sufficiently. The second tank’s supply spluttered and died twice but we stopped and checked the supply to the carburettors. One was dry, naturally enough, although there was fuel in the filter bowl but the fuel in the other was a funny colour in the bowl. We ran the pump until the fuel at the front carburettor came out at a constant rate and the colour was more what we’d expected. As soon as we stopped, we were surounded by 30 to 40 folk all jabbering away and poking about good naturedly. We were helped by a delightful girl who barked at the crowd to back off and let us work. Penny gestured to her in sign language but she started chatting in perfect English too. It turns out that she is from Italy and doing some volunteer work nearby. Talking of expectations, we were hoping for 90 octane here and the best we’ve found is 93 and not all garages have the same ‘good quality’ stuff if you know what I mean. One of our chums, who we’ve been with most of today becasuse of our ‘scenic route detour’, Jose da Sousa, has had lots of problems with his very complicated fuel re-circulating system and the poor quality juice in his high compression, 2,000 cc race MGB engined MG Magnette saloon; it also is rumored to have a ‘space frame’ back end. Our poor petrol consumption so far is down to the constant climb to just under 1800 metres. The highest road in Northern Ireland is about 300 metres. There has been a lot of commercial traffic grinding up hill at walking pace and a very strong headwind so with the temperature of about 38 deg C, lots of use of the lower gears and the inclines, our consumption isn’t perhaps too bad. We’re going to do another couple of checks on this before we get into Mongolia.

Talking of Mongolia, a few other competitiors have heard of our small, 5 gallon tank that hasn’t been used for fuel yet and have been making enquiries concerning the lack of alcohol in the campsites in the Gobi Desert, and the availability of renting our capacity for some wine storage. I’m afraid we’re going to need that for whatever sort of petrol we can get.

Towards the end of the day we stopped at the hanging monastry at Hunyuan, outside Datong for the final time control. Because of our sprint, we arrived with just 20 minutes to spare for a cup of Bouillon and some crackers with peanut butter for lunch before we were off again. We did see the outside of the monastry and it does look amazing, carved into the cliff face several hundred feet up, but, the monks, honestly, you’ve never met a bigger bunch of free-loaders and scroungers in your life. We then had an informal race, down the mountain with a couple of Lagondas and Bentleys, and into the City. We were expecting something pretty grim but, while we’ve had better accomodation; it’s not bad. The front gardens are guarded by the Red Army (mostly about 14 years old and asleep) and every car has a be-shashed girl to stand beside it and care for it’s emotional needs overnight. They are all needed. The city (2,696,800 or twice the population of Northern Ireland) has turned out in force to see the spectacle of the circus / festival / parade come to town. We’re it! Everyone displays good nature, humour and politeness that is missing from our society.

The view from our window of the crowds in Datong

A final note about the evening. About 03:00 am, there was absolutely no noise outside, traffic, trains or people – nothing whatsoever. What happened? A bloody great fireworks display, that’s what. Just what we needed.

Tomorrow we’re off to Siziwangqi (prononced sizzi wangee) and Chinese Inner Mongolia. We’ve been told that the route isn’t so fast or well surfaced so – let’s see what happens!

Day 2 – 28th May 2007 Datong to Siziwangqi

What a day ( I think you might be hearing that quite a few times from now on)!

We had a quite relaxed start time of 09:40 at a tourist site (for Chinese that is) with a cave complex containing something like 1,500 carved Buddahas inside some caves. The place was mayhem, what with locals crawling all over us and the cars. We were handed todays’ route changes that concerned a detour around some road works – through a river – not across but along. Once on the road we were looking for a fuel stop 2.6 Km from the start but it was closed so we pressed on looking for another filling station. Dataong, our stopover last night, is a large mining town and once clear of the suburbs we finally came across the complex, including accomodation. Hundreds of apartment blocks that lasted for at least a couple of miles with the mine itself beyond. We saw huge trains with hundreds of wagons freighting the fuel out. Eventually we found a filling station and quite a few other competitors had the same desparate need as us. So, after holding everyone up while we very slowly filled out tanks, we set off through some very pleasant countryside. One part of the route took us along a road that was in the process of being re-made and consisted of poorish gravel with chunks of tarmac sticking through. Every now and again, we had to detour off the road, down across a dry river bed and back up again. The dust was incredible but the driving was great fun.

Not your average road works!

After the first passage control, as before, there were PSB at every junction and when there was one blocking a road that we thought we should take, were turned up the alternative instead. We’d been briefed about not arguing or even talking to them because their powers are pretty strong. So, we gradually climbed up to about 1,800 metres with the radiator boiling away merrily but nothing as serious as the previous day at Badaling. On the ascent we passed several others that couldn’t make it without a stop for a breather for the crew and a cooloing off stop for the car. Some of the drop-offs beside the road were a bit scary but the road was brilliantly surfaced and engineered – no outside barriers though! Once over the pass there was a lovely drive down through alpine like greenery and once down onto valley bed, the road deteriorated quite markedly.and was absolutely horrible to drive on. 10 to 12 mph at most. As we traversed this section, we weren’t too worried about the terrain after this morning’s drive but Penny, in the navigator’s seat grew more and more suspicious when the navigation instructions didn’t really make sense and especially when a marked alteration on a sheet handed out in the morning didn’t appear. Eventually we drove past the TV crew so assumed we were on track but had ‘lost the plot’ in navigator speak. Finally, at a junction that shouldn’t have been there we found the Rally Director, Philip Young, sitting in his 4X4 scratching his head. He admitted that he didn’t know where he was. About half a dozen other cars arived and eventually we flagged down a local and pointed to our maps and shouted “HOHOT”, our target for our next waypoint. He gestured off to the horizon, we consulted the GPS and set off with everyone else behind us. The trail of dust was fantastic, especially as we weren’t in it. We travelled through some of the grimmest villages imaginable, words can’t really describe the complete poverty and abject living conditions.

When we came out, at last, at the right place, there was a mad scramble to get going again because we had lost so much time. The ring road around Hohot is wide, modern and well policed. This time though, they cleared other traffic out of our path and a full blown pre-war sports car race started. At one point we had four 4 1/2 litre Bentleys, two 7 litre Mercedes, our little 3 litre Talbot, a couple of 4 litre Chevvy ‘Fangio’ Coupes and a little Alfa Romeo all sprinting, side by side, and flat out – waved through red lights and all!

We arrived at the passage control but didn’t have time to stop for lunch or coffee so headed off again on the last leg, over another range of mountains and into Inner Mongolia at last. The air changed the moment we crested the last pass and we really put the foot down and sprinted for the finish, or as much as Geoff dared, what with other traffic, cyclists, tiny motorised farm vehicles and of course pedestrians and cycles. The rev-counter regularly touched 3,000 mph but the speedo is obscured by the GPS (thank goodness) so we couldn’t see the velocity. We arrived at our “Yurt” camp 25 minutes late and were quite rude to a special welcoming reception so that we could get through and check in on time.

whenever we stopped there is always a crowd
always time for a Gin in the car park
cabaret time
our “housekeeping” staff with their accomodation behind,
the three small tents.
the farewell from Siziwangqi

The first 30 minutes ‘lateness’ after your allocated time in is free and doesn’t attract penalties until you’re over that and then they all get added back on again so, for the second night in a row, WE’RE IN THE LEAD! – allbeit with about 75 others who have no penalties yet. The rest of our team, “The Celtic Crew” had various adventures. Nicky Bailey and Margaret Edgehill in the 3 litre Bentley took the same route as us and ended up with 24 minutes of penalties but we don’t know why yet. Andy and Michael Bailey had a shock absorber break when the floor of their boot collapsed under the constant vibration. The suffered 720 minutes of penalties and are out of the running for a gold medal unfortunately. The other Irish crew, Jill & Dennis Wilson from Glenavy, in their Rolls Royce suffered a string of problems, despite getting the navigation right. Faulty wiring in the magneto, fuel feed problems with their Autovac being but two. They arrived very late and have 720 penalties too.

The Yurt camp is a bit rubbish. Our ‘traditional’ yurt is concrete and has a shower and toilet, neither of which work. The food was truly dreadful it is bitterly cold. We will sleep indoors in our sleeping bags tonight. We had a superior yurt, others had yurts without a loo.

Day 3- 28th May 2007 Siziwangqi to Erenhot

Today was quite easy. A nice long lie-in to 6:30, up for Inner Mongolian breakfast (not to be reccomended), pack the car and off. There being no alternative roads, we basically took the main road to Sonid Yougi for a passage control and perhaps a lunch stop. The food looked to be the best so far but the dining room was bunged so we decided to plug on, have a coffee break beside the road and arrive early for a bit of a rest.

Straight after the control, we were on a motorway all the way to Erenhot. Boy did we get it wrong. Just as well as it turned out. We have started across the Mongolian prarie grassland which is wide, flat and devoid of any shade for a bit of respite, so the coffee break was given a miss.We’ve never seen a horizon so big. We thought we had before in the empty central Spanish region, but nothing like this. Rolling near desert I suppose, as far as the eye can see. Wildlife, not much to report, no birds, only Marmots and we daren’t go near them because they carry Bubonic Plague.

Arrived in Erenhot, had a rice and chicken lunch with a couple of beers and then went by rickshaw to the ‘supermarket’ more like St Georges but bigger, fresher (perhaps not the meat in this heat) and totally alien. You have to get used to being looked at by everyone. Don’t forget, we are now in a frontier town where very few westerners have been before, let alone a bunch of loonies in old bangers like us.

What started out as a short trip took a bit longer as we stocked up on Gin – haggled down from 400 Yuan to 160 and lemons, from 80 to 40. Probably still over priced but both parties were happy. Next stop was the other rally hotel (two tonight) to buy Mongolian Tugruts; their currency. While waiting for the currency exchange a woman came up to Penny and showed her baby to Penny, this odd looking white woman, and very forcibly made Penny touch the baby. We have no idea what significance this has.

Tomorrow we’re off to the strange land of “The Golden Horde” of Genghis and Kublai Khan fame.

Day 4- 29th May 2007 Erenhot to Saynshand via border

What a load of rubbish. The Chinese customs and border people have known that we’re coming for at least a couple of years and yet it took ages to be processed through the border.. Two passport officers and a total of three hundred people in a hurry. First the named driver had to queue, then once they were all through, only then could the navigators be allowed through. Some officials just gave each passport a cursory glance, others went backwards and forwards through it and searched their computers and rummaged in piles of other papers before applying the all important stamp. Some cars were searched as they drove through. Luckily ours was just given a cursory glance. There was a duty free shop as well and a litre of 47.3% Gordons here was only 80 Yuan: about £5:00.

waiting for the border crossing
the Wilsons from Crumlin in their Rolls Royce
the driver’s queue
into the desert for the first time
queueing for petrol in a sand storm
inside the Talbot afterwards

The Mongolian border couldn’t have been more different. Yes, we had to queue in the cars and yes, the pasengers had to walk through a different office but honestly, soo much easier. Just as well really, as we were bringing the car up to be processed, our first Gobi Desert dust storm started to blow up. Imagine standing in a grit blasting booth and you wouldn’t be far away. You can’t see, your nose gets clogged almost at once, and exposed skin begins feel like it has been sunburnt. The sand is as fine as talcum powder and gets into everything. Once through, we drove on to a ‘muster point’ on a patch of scrub behind a filling station. From here, we were told that our schedule times for the day had all been moved on one hour and that at the end of the day penalty free time in after the last time control has been extended to a full hour with a three hour maximum permitted lateness.. We were allowed to start, drove through the town and out the otherside and straight into desert. After a while, we decided that this was easy and following the GPS waypoints was no problem but gradually it got rougher. We didn’t try to keep up with those who either could drive quickly over what we thought was rough terrain (more about that later), or who had more convictions abouth their route. You see, we had observed several cars about a mile away to the west and we gradually made our way in that direction. The route generally followed the telegragh poles for miles and miles veering away a bit and coming back. The tracks to follow our numerous and you just have to hope the one you pick is the better one, at least for a while.The day’s route was only 222 kms long but boy did it take a long time. It was mainly done in third or second gear and sometimes at crawling space Some of the tracks are like corrugated iron, others soft sand and some hard sand where you can get a bit of speed up only to brake suddenly because of a gully or a rocky bit. It was very tiring constantly scanning the road ahead for pitfalls. No time to stop for much other than a comfort break as quick as possible before another car appears. Absolutely no trees or convenient bushes.

our Llama

There was one time trial during the day which we should have reached by 14.09 according to rally time schedule. Without wasting any time, we arrived at 16.44 to drive as fast as we could over the next 61 km in a specified time. We did make the time but with only one second to spare andf it was really, really tough. The car is still intact but we drove very cautiously to the final control of the time, just biting the bullet knowing we were going to be outside our permitted times. We would rather not shake the car to pieces and end up broken. There were many casualties of the day, including a rally ambulance which rolled over. No one was hurt but the roof of the vehicle is well caved in.

The day ended with a two and a half hour wait for petrol in another sand storm. We can now only use designated petrol stations and pay with vouchers bought months ago. The whole process took far too long and eventually the Gordons was broken out and passed around a select few as ‘nerve tonic’, drunk neat of course, and then we and plenty others had problems finding the campsite. If it had been daylight we could have seen the track off the road but in the dark we couldn’t. A rally official car, towing a breakdown Citroen, appeared and we followed them to camp. By this time it was after 10.00 and we very tired and hungry. A quick supper was had in the mess tent. We put up our tent and crawled in filthy with dirt but glad we had made it half way across the Gobi Desert.

the Sayanshand campsite

We later heard that some people camped out at one of the controls as it was too dark to drive further in the desert at night.

Day 5 – 30th May 2007 Saynshand to Ulaan Bataar

Our day started yet again very early, unfortunately to the sound of rain battering the tent. We lay there for a while and then decided we would have to get up and face the day. Thankfully by the time we put on our filthy clothes and packed up sleeping bags and inflatable mattresses the rain (yes – RAIN in the Gobi Desert!) had stopped. We set off to breakfast and left the tent to dry out. We didn’t have to rush too much to get everything back in the car as rally timing for today has been cancelled because some of the staff who would have manned today’s two time trials are still helping out yesterday’s casualties.We later heard that something like 10 cars suffered yesterday, one is being trucked back to Beijing and the others trucked to Ulaan Bataar for repairs.

We checked out from what would have been the first time control and set off to follow today’s first route section of 204 km, all over more of the same sort of terrain as yesterday, following the GPS waypoints and trying not to veer too far off track to find the better surfaces. We were well wrapped up to start with as it was rather cold, it even rained for half an hour or so but we quickly dried out and the sun came out. As there was no time schedule we indulged ourselves with a coffee break in the morning and a stop for a rather good packed lunch supplied by Nomad Tours who are in charge of organising our camp sites throughout Mongolia. The landscape is incredibly barren and we wondered how the herds of sheep, cows and horses managed to survive on the very sparse bits of grass in some areas. There was only a few small encampments of locals clustered beside the railway line which we followed most of the day.We had an amusing interlude with a local llama who wanted his photograph taken with the car. He was with an engineer and they were deciding where to have some sort of shamanistic blessing for a new road which is to be built from Saynshand to UB over the next few years. It was only then that we realised that we had been the driving not jus the the main road between the two but the only road.We may think we have some poor surfaces at home but compared to this they are brilliant. Words cannot describe trying to drive at any speed across the ‘washboard’ hard packed dirt with occasional outcrops of rock or very soft fine sand.

that’s a full 180 degree view of our lunch halt in the Gobi Desert
and this is the view from the other side

At km204 of the route we hit tarmac, really good smooth tarmac and that road, all 231km of it took us to Ulaan Bataar. We were again very late getting to our hotel. If there had been timing we would not have made it. It was unbelievably lovely to scrub the desert off our bodies, the sand had got everywhere and we mean everywhere. There was loads of cars to arrive in UB after us and we heard that some of the trucked in cars didn’t make until the wee small hours of the morning. Tomorrow is a rest day but with scrubbing our clothes and giving the car a good once over, we don’t think there will be much rest!

Day 6- 1st June 2007 Ulaan Bataar – Rest Day

What a luxury. This morning we had a lie in to about 6:30 and enjoyed a leisurely ‘getting up’ and going down to breakfast. We bumped into Adam Hartley who is navigating on one of the 100 year old Italas. He looked like death warmed up having arrived at the hotel about 4:00 this morning with the car on the back of a truck and after spending two nights sleeping with it out in the desert. His tale is not an unusual one, there are many stories like that. Some are even considering shipping their car by Trans Siberian Railway on to Yekaterinberg so as to avoid the nex few days torture. For us, today is the day to check over everything and make sure we’re in good fettle for the next few days gravel driving in the west of Mongolia. Geoff checked everything, or as he put it, everything he could think of and declared that it’s all still tight. Oil consumption, having been a concern is actually not bad but getting the heavier 20W/50 needed is proving to be a problem. He bought some 10W/30 in Sayanshand to top up and managed to find some 15W/40 here. He’s done a deal that involves alcohol in exchange for the balance of our light oil with Dan Rensing (1930 Chevrolet). The only major work required was to replace a handfull of small nuts that had fallen out ffrom the back of the dashboard because of the vibration and to make some new support brackets to help steady the dash and prevent more problems of the same kind. Nicky Bailey spent most of the morning screwing his dash back into the car – it had nearly taken Margaret’s legs off at the knee when it came adrift. Compared with the other cars around us, we’ve got off lightly.

Jackie Hall servicing his Chrysler
Nicky Bailey’s knees
chaos in the hotel car park

Civic reception with the mayor of UB this evening, dinner and bed early for another early start tomorrow and on to Kharkorin (Karakorum).

A final word for all those friends and strangers who have emailed their best wishes from around the world, we’re very heartened but sorry we can’t reply at the moment. I promise we will but it looks like it won’t be until we get home. Thank you all.

Days 7 to 13 – 2nd to 8th June 2007 Ulaan Bataar across the Western Gobi and into Siberia (Russia)

Another gentle start this morning but the hotel wasn’t ready for us at 06:00. When we turned up at the dining room we were given a wrapped sandwich called a ‘burger’ with some dubious contents that smelt quite ripe. Quickly rejected by most of the crowd. Eventually the egg chef arrived and Geoff had some fried while Penny, after suffering Ghengis’ Revenge for the last 24 hours, had some green tea and that’s about all – .for safety’s sake.

sand storm on the way
outdoor wrestling at near freezing point
who says it’s warm in the desert?
Mongolian dawn for our car outside the Ger (Yurt)
just an ordinary passer-by in Mongolia
early morning start at the gates of the famed Khakorum temple complex
shock absorber repairs, on the hoof and with an audience – in the middle of nowhere!

The whole rally assembled in front of the town hall and opera house in the main square for a grand send off by the mayor at 08:00. The roads of UB are truly dreadful and the driving almost makes that of Beijing seem reasonably civilised. If the paint on your car has more than three layers then you are in trouble when it comes to changing lane. Still, we left town safely although we were bellowed at by a police car with a loudspeaker although who knows why. Shortly after we were then sent off into a navigational trial, not a test, that involved finding the best way via a vaiety of possible tracks beside a road that was about to be built. Rough clay, deep sand, up onto the road and back off again. Eventually we came out onto some tarmac and pushed on to the first time control. After that we had a time trial. This was great at first along a 17Km track that was loose sand to begin with and trialling experience came good. We passed a couple of cars then the surface changed back to the rough, hard compressed near concrete quality that tends to shake the car to pieces. We lost our places gradually as Geoff decided that it is better to preserve the car for the finish.

Once the tarmac ran out we had our first set-back. We have two shock absorbers at each wheel, one friction (the really old fashioned sort) and one reasonably modern hydraulic type. Well, the modern ones at the rear had been working so hard that their fluid had boiled out and the links to the axle had broken. Geoff disconnected them and we drove on with the friction ones only.

I think this is our last camp at Tsangannur
Penny’s Kazakh chum at the Mongolian border

From there on I’m afraid that it can only be a general impression. Up to now we have used most of Mongolia’s total of 500 Km of tarmacadam roads up to UB and out to Kharakorum. From now on the main roads aren’t. They just aren’t roads as we know them; they aren’t even well defined tracks, they aren’t really anything. We have driven through sand, gravel, scrub, barren waste; across endless plains that seemed so long that there was always a rise to cross in the distance but it was really only the horizon and once we had reached it there was always more. The terrain varied but by far the worst was the ‘washboard’ corrugations built up by the passage of trucks and 4X4s with their wheels skipping over bumps and building up a horrible, vicious and dangerous pattern in the well compacted dirt that can destroy suspension in seconds if you’re not careful. Geoff did most of the driving here because of the sheer physical strength needed in our car just to hold it on track. We had boulders to clamber over and sand traps that could swallow lorries. Some of the plains had dozens of tracks and we, along with most others would zig-zag between them looking for the elusive ‘easier’ path. It was never found. As the hours progressed, we passed more and more other cars suffering accidents, equipment failure or just plain stuck. By the time we crossed the border into Russia, the original starting number of 134 had reduced to just 86 cars. During this time we had all endured the toughest conditions imaginable for a car such as a Land Rover or some such, but to have come through in a bunch of 70 odd year old cars is incredible. We have had to drive for up to 15 hours a day. Many camped out in the desert on the last run to the last camp to avoid driving in darkness. That night was as cold as we had been warned. There was frost inside the fly sheet of our tent and neither of us wanted to get out of our sleeping bags.

The border crossing was the as simple as could be. We were expecting the Mongolian formalities to be simple and the Russian ones to be interminable. How wrong! The first was awkward and the Russkys waved us through with just a nod. Of the origninal 134 starters, 86 drove under their own steam across the frontier and about 20 odd were pushed or towed through. In no-man’s-land Geoff was taking some photos of friends in their Lagonda motoring behind us and noticed that there was a problem with a friction shock absorber that had gone over top dead centre and popped out the wrong side of the rear axle. Not immediately serious but it could have brought long term headaches. He pulled into the first petrol station and disconnected everything and we both then drove on with no damping. From there we enjoyed – yes really enjoyed a very long run of 635 Km through the stunningly beautiful valleys in the Altai mountains of Siberia. Words cannot describe the stunning views and cheery waving from thousands of people of all ages. Everywhere we passed there were large and small groups just waiting to see the passage of all the amazing old motors that are trying to “drive the impossible”.

Our stop that night was in the city of Bijsk. What a dump. The hotel (for want of a better word) didn’t have dinner for us and we were told there would be no breakfast either. Arriving as we did after 10:00 pm, we were pretty p****d off to say the least. There was a crowd of P2P folk in the bar (frisked and scanned with a metal detector just to get in) trying to persuade the staff to produce food. One couple succeeded and were given a plate of cold sliced meat but, it did take two hours to arrive. The general consensus was that the menu consisted of Blonde, Brunette or Redhead, if you know what I mean!

This was our first chance for a proper, hot, indoor shower for days. We became so dirty with dust that it took three washes each in the shower before the water ran clear.

The next day we had a longish but quite easy day’s drive to Novosibirsk. No problems for us except we took it easy over the patches of poor or undulating tarmac because of the damper problem. The navigation took us to what is really a quite decent hotel – lots of chat in the bar and quite a late night. DAY OFF TOMORROW! When we say day off what we really mean is fettle the car, do the laundry and catch up with the web site. We asked a girl in reception who ‘phoned what we thought was a Mercedes dealer’s service dept about an oil change and other minor work. ‘Niet Problema’ she said and we set off and followed a taxi to the garage. When the cabbie took us to a small lock-up in a tiny side street, Geoff’s heart skipped a beat and he feared the worst. It turned out to be an absolute gem. The boss, Sergei with his gorgeous (15 yr old) daughter translating for us, scoured the city for the right grade of oil and his staff did all the jobs we needed for 1850 Roubles (£35:00) for a morning’s work for three men and 30 litres of 20W/50 oil (not all for us but when I found out we could get it, Geoff ‘phoned some other competitors whom he though might be interested. Wallace McNair from NZ who is driving with Ann Thompson in a Delage and has some fame for their very early Darracq GPcar came along for some work and both cars were spray washed before being allowed to leave. Excellent service from some really nice people.

When he returned to the Rally car park in front of the hotel Sibir, Geoff began some other jobs on the car before the start of the long haul across Russia while Penny performed a sterling job in removing as much of the Gobi desert from inside the car as she could. Talk about an uphill job, the dust is as fine as talc and nearly impossible to shift but at least we now have a tolerable environment inside the Talbot.

Tomorrow we’re off to Omsk and all points west. Our placings, by the way, having led (with most of the other cars) have been down as low as 44th. We climbed to 38th and now lie in 29th overall and 18th in class. Considering how much time we lost protecting the car in the desert and that we are also out of gold medal ranking, we’re pretty pleased. There are still something like about 50 cars following the rally on trailers and hoping to be repaired at some stage so they can be classed as finishers. The other Irish crews are enjoying varying degrees of fortune. Andy and Michael Bailey from Dublin in the Chevrolet are plodding on with bits hanging off or strapped on the car in 46th o/a and 17th in their class. His brother, Nicky with Margaret Edgehill are part of the ‘trailer crew’ and suffering from a suspected broken half shaft or diff. They’re lying in 57th o/a and 24th in class. Dennis and Jill Wilson from Glenavy in their Rolls Royce are enduring endless problems with fuel, starting and a missing exhaust system. They are lying in 62nd o/a and 26th in class.

At least two cars are have been put on the train to Yketarinburg for parts to be flown in and will be re-joining the rally there. Several, like Claude Singer, had their stuffing knocked out in the Southerm Gobi and decided that it really is too tough; Nobody can blame them, truth be told. There are tales of woe throughout the field but today, when we asked James Wheildon for some advice on the front wheel bearings, the chief mechanic, Peter Banham, commented that he didn’t know us – we hadn’t needed their services, unlike most others! Here in Novosibirsk there are a multitude of tales of help and assistsnce from garages large and small across the city and the vast majority of reports are good.

Day 15, 16, 17 & 18- 10th to 13th June 2007 Novosibrisk to Yekaterinburg

We passed the physical halfway point on the road a wee while ago and when we leave Yekaterinburg by crossing the Ural mountains, we cross the symbolic halfway stage by leaving Asia and finally entering Europe. This is being written on our day off in Yekaterinburg.

Quite an easy start on 10th as all the runners were re-seeded by class placings. We were ‘out’ at 08:46 and set off at an easy pace for the longest distance day’s run to date – 635 Km. To be fair, the road is really half decent and there is very little chance of making mistakes. We stopped early for petrol and in the Russky style, one has to go to a window in the main building and buy the appropriate quantity of litres before filling the tank(s). Our calculations, based on the previous fortnight’s running in mostly 2nd & 3rd gear were out by about 20 litres which we had the pump attendant put into our emergency tank in the boot. From there the next sequence of driving targets were pretty boring. The whole rally is trying to get across Russia as quickly as possible because there is basically only one road west -ours! The road quality varies from pretty decent to awful broken surfaces so our speeds vary from about 65 mph to 10 mph but on the whole, it isn’t as poor as we expected so times are good and the organisers are allowing early check-ins because of the distances involved. Nevertheless, there are some mechanical casualties because of the continuous running for long periods. We’ve had two very boring days exceeding 600 km and the last short hop of just 315 km to Yekaterinburg. The run to Omsk took us through a real fun lightning storm with huge bolts striking the ground not too far away and huge drops of very warm rain. The drive to Tyumen was however, very cold and wet when a real Ulster autumn set in. Don’t forget, we don’t have the luxury of a hood or top over the car – just the windscreen and waterproof clothing. We arrived at the hotel soaked through and ready for a warming shower. Not much has been happening rally-wise so we thought we’d give you some glimpses, both literal and pictorial, of more detailed memories so far.

First, in Mongolia, the number of Steppe Eagles astonished us. These beautiful raptors have a wingspan of about 4 1/2 feet, are a sort of gingery colour but with dark and light patterns on the underwing. Also in Mongolia we saw thousands of Gerbils scurrying across the roads & tracks. On occasion we also spotted what we think were Marmots; sort of ginger ground squirrels, but if someone out there knows better, please tell us. Marmots still carry Bubonic Plague (Black Death) so we didn’t bother with them.

Everywhere we looked in Mongolia, everything was the same arid sandy colour. Even the so-called grasslands had so little vegetation that the overall hue was the same. Once we crossed the border into Russia however, the first ‘photo taken was of some greenery – colour in the landscape for the first time in what seemed ages.

One night, when we were at a Ger (Yurt) camp, there was a surprise party thrown by Peter Livanos of Aston Martin fame. He is competing in a 6 1/2 litre Bentley but when we say Aston Martin, we don’t mean he has one or two or a few but he used to own the company. Real Champagne and Chateau wine all night with Tibetan prayers said on our behalf, Mongolian circular singing, Mongolian wrestling, and Penny’s ride on a Mongolian pony that Geoff missed.

Camels in the Mongolian countryside roamed free and we drove past a great many skitterish youngsters whose humps stood up, unlike the older ones who were very droopy. We drove past hundreds of herds of horses, running free but nearly all branded. Most were small and stocky but in the western regions we saw subtle changes that hinted at the re-introduction of the native short, stocky breed.

Driving through the desert, we saw very little other traffic, except in the western regions where ancient soviet 6 and 8 wheeled trucks crawled across the terrain.

In Russia, wherever we stop, for petrol, food or some minor work on the car, other cars stop for a chat (in Russian of course), to have their photographs taken (with the car, Penny or Geoff) and generally just to ask how old our Talbot is. “Skolka Machina?”. The enthusiasm experienced is near unbelievable and frequently overwhelming.

Here in Yekaterinburg, Geoff did a ‘confidence spanner check’ all over the Talbot and declared himself pleased. Nothing amiss whilst others, more experienced and allegedly better equipped, are spending most waking moments, when not actually driving, bolting bits back onto the cars or mending broken bits. We’re not pushing too hard and are delighted with the car’s behaviour.

One last thought. While Penny drove down the Altai vallies from the Mongolian border into Russia, Geoff, in a fit of boredom, noticed that Penny, on average, took either one hand or the other off the wheel roughly every twelve seconds to fiddle with nose, glasses, hair or whatever. Assuming an average of three or four seconds per hand excursion, he calculated that in the three hour drive, at about 70 to 90 kph, she drove for 17 km with no hands on the wheel!

Day 19 – 14th June 2007 Yekaterinburg to Perm

Sorry we couldn’t upload an update yesterday, everybody had trouble with the internet connection in our hotel. Geoff could connect and send and receive emails but the programme for editing the web site couldn’t talk the same language as the Russky server. Never mind.

On the first evening in Yekaterinburg, we both ‘relaxed’ with some chums, if you know what we mean. The whisky nightcaps seemed a good idea at the time! The day off, as described above was spent tinkering with the car, walking around our part of the city and looking for somewhere to eat in the evening. The only restaurant we found that wasn’t an Irish Theme Bar was called the Kasbah Bazaar but turned out to be a trendy Japanese so we returned to the hotel for a not so quick bite and an early night. We had intended to visit the impressive looking “Blood Chapel”, built on the site of the massacre of the Romanovs (the last Czars) early in the last century but when we were told that it was only ten years old and a bit plasticky we decided to give it a miss.

This morning at the start, there was a lot of discussion amongst the competitors about the changes made in the results because the organisers had cancelled a whole day’s competition way back in Mongolia. For us it meant that we had dropped from 28th to 33rd position as those cars that hadn’t made the section were given credits days after. Other competitors are rumbling that while they have driven every inch of the way, some who have had their cars trucked are not being penalised for missing time controls. We’ll wait and see what happens when the complaint is made formal.

Today’s drive of 235 miles was pretty straight forward if a bit boring and yet nerve wracking. The road surface was excellent in parts but mostly very poor, rutted and broken macadam with ridges running along the road caused by heavy lorries and huge potholes and mender’s patches so the average speed was pretty low to save the car. We developed another little niggle in the front suspension that Geoff spotted at our first time control. The bracket that holds the tail of the front right hand spring to the chassis has loose (but only just) rivets. Thankfully, James Wheildon (of London to Sydney Talbot fame) was close by and assured us that it wasn’t serious and would be a quick fix whenever we have time. Nevertheless, we motored on with Penny at the wheel and keeping a careful eye on the road to protect the spring and the mounting. Once into Perm, Geoff checked by ‘phone with Terry Murphy and was reassured that the rivets aren’t critical and will last the 1,500 km to Moscow where a proper repair can be done in three days time.

The next update may not be posted until Monday 18th June, depending on what happens and how early we finish each day. Tomorrow is 688 km, the day after 392 km and then 438 km. Long days in heavy traffic to look forward to.

Days 20 to 23, 14th to 17th June 2007 – Perm to Kazan to Niz. Novgorod and on to Moscow

It’s all getting a bit jumbled now, drive, drive, drive across this huge country. We’ve been on the road now for three weeks without rest. Yes, we have had so called rest days but they have been spent caring fore the car and fixing the ravages of Mongolia and the Russian road system.

After the stunning roads and scenery in the far eastern region of the Altai mountains, we seem to have done nothing but plod across vast stretches of open plain and through endless forest. The roads, when good are very good but I’m afraid that that’s only about 10% of this section. Everyone on the rally now agrees that Mongolia and the Gobi Desert was really quite easy. The metalled roads here are terrible; pot holes that can swallow whole herds of cattle, let alone cars. On one small section of about 14 km (the main road to Moscow don’t forget) the road was reduced to one very narrow lane with two-way heavy truck traffic inches away. Even at crawling pace in first gear it was scary. Geoff, in the navigators seat kept pulling his elbow inside the car because of their proximity. Penny did her best and put a brave face on the worst terrifying amusement park ride imaginable.

Perm: we stayed in the Ural hotel in the town centre, a huge soviet era monoltih with the cars parked out in front. We eventually snuck the Talbot into a yard at the back with a few others for more security.

Kazan: the wild west isn’t in it. The local driving standards were our first eye-opener and really defined “robust enthusiasm”. Anything goes as regards to lights, junctions, over / undertaking, the lot. We were refused entry into the official car park because we reckoned that the two guards were looking for a ‘donation’ to their favourite charities, if you know what we mean! We both got very hot under the collar and cross. Penny got in on foot to have her rally time card stamped while outside the gate a chum from another competing car threatened violence. Eventually all was hunky dory. We stayed in a different, quite charming hotel in the centre of the town but not where the car was parked.

Niz. Novgorod: another, even larger soviet style hotel was reached after a sprint, with three other cars, through the evening traffic to reach the day’s last control on time. We made it with one minute to spare. The cars were parked in the shadow of an enormous statue of Lenin, with his arm raised, pointing across the river Volga beside us.

Moscow: our arrival here was marred by what we’ve been told was only a minor traffic jam. The Talbot began overheating so we pulled off into a truck drivers halt to let things cool off and thought about how to bring the temperature down. Geoff went looking for a hose to spray the radiator with and Penny noticed that we were parked at a car laundry. 200 roubles saw the radiator hosed down and the car pressure washed and polished dry. The cleanest competitor (us) pulled into what is an unbelievably large hotel on Moscow’s ring road. Not great, but it is a bed for two nights.

On Monday we did a bit of work on the car. The major niggle turned out to desert sand that had got behind the wheel and altered the fit on the hub so it felt like either a wheel bearing was loose or the hub splines were damaged. It took Geoff ages to remove the wheel which really made him panic about the splines, despite having a spare. It turned out to be much simpler to fix. There was a constant rubbing inside the same brake drum and this turned out to nothing more than more Gobi Desert that couldn’t get out. Quick lubrication around the chassis and check all the vital nuts and bolts were firm then off to the Kremlin for lunch. That’s not a line you hear every day but we were determined to see at least some of the sights on this stop over.

We enjoyed an excellent lunch at a street cafe in the world famous GUM store on Red Square with the Baileys from Dublin and the Mykytowych father and son team from Australia. We seem to meeting ‘Myck’ and Andrew quite a bit on the rally and get on really well with them. We’re also sharing a table with them at the prize giving gala in Paris. I digress, lunch went on rather too long (beer got in the way) and by the time we’d walked for miles around the Kremlin, the ticket office shut it’s hatch in our face at 4:30. So, nothing for it but to walk the same miles back to the stunning St Basil’s Cathedral on the other side of Red Square. It closes at 5:00 but we were inside for much longer than that.

Tomorrow we’re off at the crack of dawn in an attempt to beat the Moscow traffic jams on the way out of the city to St Petersburg. We have to be there early because we’re all invited to a vodka and caviar party from 6:30 so we can’t miss that. Tough life this, being an international endurance rally team.

Last night there was talk of a ‘strange’ car in the car park. It turned out to be one of our visitors to the UVCC National Trust Vintage Trial in years past, Annabel Jones who is making the same trip, P to P in an Austin seven but completely unsupported. They’ve had problems but are running ahead of schedule. We hope to see them again in Paris.

One last thing. As at our arrival in Moscow, we are lying 29th overall and 17th in class.

We might do an update in St. Petersburg but as nothing will have changed, who knows. After that, we’re into serious timed rallying on closed road sections so any spare time might be used repairing the car. We’ll try to keep in touch.

the Mykytowych’s Holden en-route to Moscow

Outside the Kremlin in Red Square, the ‘Celtic Crew’ gathered together for the first time since Peking
Left to Right: Geoff, Nicky Bailey, Andy Bailey, Margaret Edgehill, Michael Bailey and Penny

Days 26 & 27, 21st & 22nd June 2007 – St Petersburg to Tallinn (Estonia) and Tallinn to Riga (Latvia)

One last kick in the teeth from Russia, apart from our dinner not arriving for over two hours in the hotel last night, the road to the border was truly shocking. This wasn’t the worst though – oh no. On one 6 Km stretch, there were four sets of Russian police waving down competitors, not for speeding, but because their car documents were not in order. Fat chance, given the amount of preparation and work that has gone into getting here. The drivers were told to either return to St Petersburg and wait up to four days for the proper papers or pay an on-the-spot fine. Don’t forget that all our visas run out today! These fine varied from US$1,500 and bargained down to 500 Roubles. When asked what this was all about, the officers produced a mobile ‘phone and said “speak to this man” who turned out to be allegedly the rally ‘facilitator’ in Russia. All he said was “pay the man”. One driver luckily had some genuine monopoly money in a bag and gave it all to the officer who was delighted because he thought it was hard currency!

Once at the border, roughly the first 30 odd cars passed through within a couple of hours. We, however, were in the following bunch and suffered about six and a half hours. The worst we’ve heard of was nine hours. Of course, our ‘facilitator’ was contracted to be there and speed things through, but he was mysteriously invisible.

Finally out of Russia and into Estonia. For the first time in ages we had roads that could be driven on without concentrating on just a few yards ahead. Because we were so late, all the rally controls had closed so we blasted on to Tallinn. My theory about the poor quality petrol was proven wrong with a little quantity of different Russky stuff in the emergncy tank and then some Estonian juice in the left tank didn’t make any difference.

We arrived in the old town square of Tallinn as the bars were livening up for the night so we ‘clocked in’ and sprinted back to our hotel for the night. What a change – staff that actually smile and offer to help. We can’t believe it.

Penny checked in and unpacked while Geoff put on the overalls for some more work to try and find the problem with the car’s poor running. Another ‘phone call to Terry Murphy probably caused another sleepless night in Maymore House (and not because of children), worrying about the potential causes. One of the younger rally mechanics, Rob (or Bob), came to help and worked through all the things that Geoff had checked already, but with no joy. In desperation they started re-setting all the clearances on the valves which weren’t badly out to be honest, but when they checked the distributor points, and because it was now near midnight (not dark dusky but enough to need an inspection lamp), Bob (or Rob) noticed some brass filings inside the distributor. Easy solution, the rotor arm has been a shade too long and has ground itself off on the contacts inside the distributor cap. Some of these brass filings almost, but not quite, shorted the condenser lead and this caused the random fluff or misfire. Job done, car running nicer than ever so off to bed, except it didn’t get dark.

Today, 22nd June saw our first serious rallying for weeks, starting with a time trial around a rallycross venue outside the city. We made a big mistake and checked into a passage control half way through; should have done it at the end, shouldn’t we. After that we had the nearest equivalent to gravel special stages. A bit rough in parts and lovely drifts through some other corners. We also had a time trial on a race circuit somewhere or other. From the off we had to check into a passgage control before beginning two full laps and a final flying finish. We stopped at a grandstand to ask where the control was, raced off again, found the control and began to do the laps. Then, about half way around, Penny wasn’t certain how many laps were meant in the instructions so a full blown debate with raised voices ensued while Geoff was trying to overtake another car. Finished inside our target time by four seconds – so, not bad.

More smoothish gravel roads at faster than normal speeds took us to the last control before the next border. Deep joy! Straight through in as much time as it took to write this sentence – and with a smile from the border guards.

Tonight in Riga we “mitched off” and didn’t partake of the rally dinner but instead went down to the old town for a wander and take in the sights and atmosphere. We didn’t see much of Tallinn but it looked good; Riga we saw a bit more of and both towns are now on the short list for a proper visit.

Tomorrow we have more special timed tests on gravel and then we’re off to Lithuania.

Keep in touch folks.

the excitement.
Cath Hickling waiting for the border crossing
just about all we saw of Tallinn – sunset at midnight

Day 28, 23rd June 2007 – Riga (Latvia) to Vilnius (LiIthuania)

Last night, We ‘mitched off’ and didn’t join the rally dinner in the large hotel across the square from our much smaller and to our minds, nicer one. The square itself was a joy to behold in the city centre. Children were playing, there was a beer garrden, a few dozen small craft stalls, ponds and fountains and a traditionally dressed choir belting out folk songs. We took off round the back of the hotel and into the old city which is worth another visit. A maze of tiny cobbled streets baffled us and then we found what we wanted – STEAK! To have well cooked, well matured meat for the first time since we started this epic journey was a joy. Everywhere was vibrant and we did come across a couple of hen and stag parties but everything was very good natured. That night was also ‘Jannus’ , the national midsummer festival. Every lady and girl carried bunches of flowers and many also wore garlands around their heads. Fabulous.

Our start this morning was outside the city at the Riga Motor Museum. As a rule, Geoff doesn’t enjoy these establishments with all their dead, preserved relics but this was a joy to behold. All cars are runners and several carried recent rally plates from other competitions. The jewel in the collection is the pre-war V16 Auto Union racing car. 600 bhp through tyres the same size as our Talbot’s and a car that is capable of 200 mph.

From the holding area we started our first speed test at the Riga Motor Racing Circuit nearby and in the middle of a housing estate but completely surrounded by dense forest. We had to do a lap of the kart track first, join the (approx) 6 km circuit, do a control in the pits area and then another lap. Geoff didn’t try as hard as yesterday’s effort but we both thoroughly enjoyed it. Except for one sequence of corners at the end of the main straight. This began with hard braking into a 90 degree right hander and up a steep incline with a sharp brow. The next 90 degree left hander was on the way down the other side. Very interesting lines were observed through that one.

The day became more intense with another couple of time trials on poor gravel tracks and five time controls to be met before and after the Latvian / Lithuanian border. The final time trial we copped out of because we were concerned about the condition of the car. We want to drive the Talbot into Paris and back to Belfast in one piece. On this evening’s results table, we’re lying 26th overall and 17th in class but classifications aren’t sorted properly yet we think.

Tomorrow we’re off to Poland and we expect the driving to be a bit easier. Our first test is to be televised locally and being a Sunday there should be lots of spectators too.

We’ll be in touch soon,

Day 29, 24rd June 2007 – Vilnius (LiIthuania) to Mikotajki (Poland)

Before we went to bed last night, Penny had a chat with the Clerk of the Course about the conditions we might expect on the four time trials on day 29. The general consensus was that the first test, a proper closed road special stage over some hilly terrain outside the city was pretty smooth but that the other three, over the border in Poland might be a bit rough. We are both a bit concerned about the condition of the Talbot, unlike a lot of other ‘hot shots’ up at the sharp end of the results table where every second counts and are re-building their suspension, brakes and more every night. So, with our placing in the mid 20s, and the final result really immaterial (arriving in Paris is result enough), we decided to not risk any further harm and miss out the second, third and fourth stages. The car isn’t in really bad shape but we are determined that it will arrive under it’s own steam, not only in Paris but also back in Holywood.

The first test was as described, quite an easy if twisty blast, but not that smooth, over drumlin like hills and was about 10 km long. Protecting the right hand springs slowed us a bit on the left hand corners and we were almost caught, but not quite by Chris & Nicky Lunn’s 4 1/2 litre Lagonda.

From there we drove steadily to the border and into the time control just inside Poland. We had enough time for a lunch halt and to change all our Lithuanian Litas to Polish Zlotys. When we left we could see storm clouds gathering and a few minutes up the road we were drenched and had to pull over because we couldn’t even see the hard shoulder. The car flooded inside and we both had wet bottoms for the rest of the day even with the waterproof trousers on. There were a few more downpours like that and don’t forget that we don’t have a hood (roof).

It was a truly lovely drive down through the Polish lakeland with varying scenery and a stork’s nest on what seemed like most telegraph poles. When we arrived at the second time trial of the day, we drove down the approach lane, just to have a look to see if it might be a ‘goer’ for us but that was so bumpy before the village that we turned around and headed on to the next one. On the way there we came across the Mykytowychs standing beside the road holding their heads and looking at their Holden. This very potent team and car were lying about 6th overall with a good chance of a place but Geoff feels that their game might be up. They had been driving along at about 80 kph (a bit over 50 mph) when the rear wheels suddenly locked and the car screeched to a standstill. Then they discovered that when they selected a gear, there was no drive to the rear wheels. We had a look around and the differential was still working, if a bit graunchy or noisy and all the gears were available when the engine was running so the clutch was OK, but when the clutch was let out, the car stalled, so it looks as if the diff had a problem that locked it tight and this might have broken the main shaft inside the gearbox. Not an easy thing to find in Poland, gearbox parts for a 50s Australian Holden. They are a really nice father and son team and they deserve to finish properly in Paris. While there, the Claridge-Wares passed and said that the last stage, the one we’d missed was so slippery and treacherous that it was quite dangerous so that eased our minds a bit.

When we arrived at the town for the night’s final time control, the square had been cordoned off and crowds cheered as we passed under an inflatable triumphal arch with a local radio celebrity providing a commentary for the throng around us. It’s the first time we’ve been stars you know!

That’s about it for today, we’re off to Gdansk tomorrow for our final timed tests and a day off before we complete the journey by the trek across Germany and France and the finish. We’re sure there will be more tales before the finish though.

arriving in Mikotajki

Days 30 & 31, 25th & 26th June 2007 – Mikotajki to Gdansk (both Poland) and rest day

Today, we had a very late start at 10:05 for some unknown reason. All the competitors were champing at the bit and ready to be off by 07:30 to get stuck into the final speed and time tests and then get on to Gdansk to be in early. There is a bit of a needle match at the sharp end with three cars within a few minutes or seconds of each other. One of them made a mistake yesterday and lost 43 seconds – crucial at this stage We looked long and hard at the competitors around us and came to the conclusion that, as we are now in 27th place and 18th o/a, nobody behind us can catch us with the gap to the next car measured in hours. Allowing for our maximum penalties for not attempting the three tests today, we still can’t be caught (unless we have an horrendous breakdown causing days worth of penalties) so we thought we could have an easy drive, a decent lunch somewhere and arrive in Gdansk at a sensible time. How the plans of mice and men go awry. We set off on our own route and at first the road was pretty poor so we took it easy. Following the route book eventually, we ended up trying to drive a road that was described as “good quality tarmac” but was in fact a match for anything Russia could throw at us. We crawled along for about 30 km and eventually the rally caught us up again. Eventually we came out onto what will be the new main highway to this Baltic city but this turned out to be endless roadworks and there were no cafes to be seen anywhere! Once close to the city, the traffic snarled up because of accidents so we did a U-Turn, headed back to the last junction and diverted off to the coast. When we arrived, we couldn’t see the sea because of a continuous stand of trees on the seaward side of the road. Still, the road surface was half decent and there was almost no traffic. Eventually we came upon a large river but no bridge. The map wasn’t clear about this but we spotted a little chain bridge type of ferry and didn’t have to wait too long. Driving on we then came across another river but this one at least had a bridge, a floating pontoon type though.

This diversion eventually took us into the city by a route not described in the road book but Penny performed a brilliant bit of intuitive navigation and we arrived safely at the hotel inside our time allowance

Driving around Poland trying to pronounce some of the town names, we have decided Polish would be a brilliant language in which to play Scrabble. There are so many high scoring words with lots of the letters Z, J, Kand W!

Tomorrow, Geoff will have a check around the car, try to relieve the strain on the suspension and back axle and make sure that everything is as good as it can be for the last 1,900 odd kilometers via Trzebielin, Swidwin, Maszewo, Potsdam, Oschersleben, Bad Lauterberg, Niederdieten, Koblenz, Mosel, Piesport, Nenig, Aire d’Argonne, Champagne, Reims, Montretout, Meaux, Cours Vincennes and so to Paris.

just one of the many wild poppy meadows on our drive through Poland
on the little car ferry

Day 31, 26th June 2007 – Gdansk (Poland), rest day

This morning we had a really long lie-in, to about 08:00, and a decent breakfast with no rush. Outside, there was more torrential rain and Geoff was in no hurry to go and work on the car. Eventually a decision had to be made and Penny investigated if there was a covered car park nearby to work in. Some cars had moved up to under the canopy of the hotel while others had purloined the beer garden umbrellas to work under. Some bright enterpreneur had left cards on the rally noticeboard advertising that he had five bays available in his garage. Geoff remembered seeing a Volkswagen garage on our ‘off piste’ route through the suburbs and hoped that they might have a slot free so we set off to look for it. Eventually, in the teeming rain and soaked through, we found the service department of the local Kia agency. We asked if they had a ramp or a pit free for an hour or so and, because they wanted to help a rally car that had come so far, they pushed a customer’s car out to let us in. Under the car Geoff investigated what he thought was a back axle clunk but could find no cause. The rear axle was still full of oil so he declared himself happy and did a spanner check on the front axle just to be sure. If you are ever motoring in Gdansk, the DACAR workshop, run by Mariusz Krawiecki is the best. Mariusz even ‘phoned his daughter, Paulina who works in Liverpool to translate for us. The coffee, provided by his wife Elizabetta was very welcome too. Very many thanks to the whole crew.

Back at the hotel, Geoff put some anti-freeze in the radiator to aid in keeping things cool and eventually we both set off by taxi to the old town for a late lunch and a browse around the many restored buildings in the medieval quarter of this ancient shipping centre. Like so many towns in Europe, Gdansk was all but razed during the last war but the dedicated restorations are remarkable in this beautiful city. Eventually we enjoyed a very good evening meal at a proper restaurant and headed back to the hotel for Geoff to do this up-date and for Penny to look at tomorrow’s route so that we can cut out as much of the rough gravel tracks as we can.

That’s all for now folks – keep in touch.

The crew from the Gdansk garage who gave their facilities without charge – the best!

Day 32, 27th June 2007 – Gdansk (Poland), to Potsdam (Germany)

Today we set off under a glowering sky, heavy with rain and blowing a gale from the south. Our route instructions took us out of the city pretty quickly so we didn’t become snarled up with the commuter’s morning lemming dash. After a few kilometers, we came to a junction and had to make a decision. To the right was the E28, a red road chosen by some folk, like Gerry Acher and Martin Read in their Ford model A (http://82.198.230.51:1250/index.htm); to the left was our final decision, the E20 that we felt might have fewer trucks on it and maybe more scenic. In the middle was the organiser’s route that was to take the rally back onto Poland’s gravel lanes.

As we had already decided that we don’t have to push too hard any more, our metaphorical ‘toss of the coin’ took us to the left and the more southerly path. Apart from one hold-up for road works that lasted about 20 minutes, it was a perfect choice. In general, the surface was decent and those few poor patches couldn’t be called bad by past experience. Comparing notes later with Gerry, he said the same for his route. So much for the organiser’s warnings about continuous heavy lorry traffic on the main roads to the border!.

The drive was quite tiring because of the continuous very strong side winds and the odd shower. About two thirds of the way to the border, we stopped for some warming hot chocolate and an opportunity to put on some more thermal clothing that hasn’t been seen since the Gobi Desert. When we were about to leave, Geoff was interviewed by a local cable TV company’s news crew. We think this is maybe our third talk to TV and his head hasn’t swollen yet!

We followed a late change of route to go into the very busy centre of the border town of Szczecin for a passage control. This had been organised at the request of the Polish and as a very quick way of saying thank you to the populace who turned out in their hundreds to cheer; we didn’t mind a bit. In fact, our welcome throughout Estonia, Lithuania, Latvia and Poland has been of the highest order and we would recommend a visit to the rural backwaters of these countries to anyone who has an interest in seeing the non-touristy parts of a country.

From Szczecin to the border control (dispensed with very quickly with teutonic thoroughness of course) and then onto the dream of every driver in the rally: smooth German tarmac. Unfortunately, there was one fly in the ointment in the shape of about 5 or 6 km of really old, badly stepped concrete slabs. Two inch drops between the joins had Geoff, who was driving at the time, almost crying for the car. At least it didn’t last too long and Penny took over for the blast into Potsdam, on the outskirts of Berlin. Posh, modern and trendy business hotel tonight so doubtless there will be many tales to tell in the bar.

Only three more days to go and everyone is hoping that everything holds together. Driving into Paris is a must. While we are nursing a variety of minor mechanical grumbles, some are in dire straits. An example; our freinds, Canadian Lee and wife Judy (originally from Comber in Northern Ireland) Pullen have endured a variety of travails on their trek across the globe but today, their little Rover’s clutch exploded and it looks as though they might arrive in Paris on a tow-rope. I hope not. They deserve to finish the adventure with honour and glory: they’ve worked hard for it.

On the rally noticeboard when we arrived this evening was a demand, no less, that all the competing cars are washed and scrubbed for the arrival in the Place Vendome in Paris. Someone wants a good photo opportunity we think!

More tomorrow on the trek to Koblenz if time. Keep in touch.

funny what you’ll find parked on the street in Gdansk – obviously a relic from darker Soviet times
Germany’s finest tarmac
Gerry Acher’s Ford

Day 33, 28th June 2007 – Potsdam to Koblenz (Germany)

Just a quickie tonight I’m afraid. What did we do today? Lets see; drive, drive, and drive some more to cover the 550 kilometers from Potsdam to Koblenz – what a change! The rally route actually turned out to be one of the most scenic yet and took us over the Harz Mountains and past places we’ve visited on other trips. Unfortunately, the rain gods ruled the day and we had wet bottoms for most of the time and couldn’t really appreciate the magnificent vistas. We even sheltered under a petrol station canopy for about 20 minutes to grap a cup of chocolate; the best warmer-upper; and eat our lunch; prepared as usual from the breakfast buffet as well as shelter from the worst of the downpours.

We arrived at the hotel in Koblenz in bright sunshine at least to find the hotel over-run with classic car enthusiasts and also with a visit from a couple of competitors from the 1997 event.

Tonight: shower, dinner and repack the car for our last night officially on the road in Reims. Champagne reception tomorrow so there’s something good to look forward to at the end of the day.

Day 34, 28th June 2007 – Koblenz (Germany) to Reims (France)

Today’s drive was a gem and took us along the staggeringly beautiful Mosel river (Moselle in France) from Koblenz to near the border with Luxembourg. A little flurry of rain prompted us to use the windscreen wipers but they struggled, to say the least, to reach the other side of their arc. Geoff, who was doing the morning driving as usual, pulled under a filling station canopy and gave the electric motor a quick service and when he took the cover off, what was inside? Nothing less than the remains of the sands of the Gobi Desert, come back to haunt us by setting as solid as concrete with the previous day’s rain. A quick wipe around and a spray with WD40 soon had them flapping back and forth quicker than ever before. Maybe this was an insurance benefit because the rain didn’t start properly until we’d reached a control well inside France and quite near to our finish for the night. Once in France and after a boring motorway section, we followed the route and one section involved no less than nine level crossings, seven of them consecutively within 20 km.

Eventually we arrived at Chateaux Henriot, the home of one of the nobler champagne houses. A couple of glasses and a quick visit to the 12 km of underground caves and then on into central Reims. Typical French organisation; the town square was closed for our use to park in but no-one had thought to divert the normal traffic or attempt to control the whole affair – absolute shambles! Another champagne reception and a meal in one of the many busy restaurants saw us back in bed earlyish for a busy day tomorrow making sure that the grand arrival in Paris goes to plan.

Generally, places haven’t changed much since we left Poland but there is one rumor tonight that a team had been detained by the constabulary in Metz for some traffic misdemeanor or other and when an offer was made for the benefit of the local policemen’s ball, they were locked up! We believe that the ‘offenders’ are now safe in Reims. Another incident happened when a group of us were sitting enjoying a beer in the square. Plans were hatched to ‘get at’ Jonathan and Adam, the two scallywags in their Itala. Their car broke a crankshaft in Mongolia and being 100 years old, spares aren’t readily or speedily available. They ended up buying a scrap Volga (a not very good Russian make of car), took the engine out and fitted that instead. A few days ago they accidentally bumped into the Lagonda of Nigel Gambier and Hugo Upton so a plan was hatched to water and flour bomb them as they arrived. But, they’re clever chappies, Jonathan and Adam – they arrived with a police escort who, when the attack began, drove of as quickly as they could. Revenge was achieved.

Tomorrow is the climax and the organisers are trying to orchestrate it very carefully. We’ll wait and see what happens and we will post an update on Sunday.

When we’ve returned home and caught our breath, we will post a more in-depth impression of the adventure to try and give a better flavour of the sights, countries and people we’ve met. Please be patient and also keep in touch.

the final stretch at last – Paris on the road signs
Penny surounded by about 5,000,000 bottles of champagne
the flour bomb attack

Day 35, 30th June 2007 – Reims to Paris – THE FINISH!

Our drive from Reims wasn’t without incident. After a motorway section we were directed off to follow D road for a couple of passage controls but we missed the roundabout junction and ended up back on the motorway and had to drive another 20 km for an exit and then back-tracked to the control we’d missed. After that everything went quite well until we reached Paris and the traffic clogged up. There was to be a holding control to marshal all the cars into correct numerical order for the final drive to the finish but, as is the way with French traffic, there really wasn’t much point.

We finally arrived at Place Vendome in the heart of Paris to tumultous crowds, cheering, applause and frantic excitement all around. It was really difficult to edge through and make a path with so many standing in the road but eventually Penny spotted a huge banner, above the official finishing arch that read: “Welcome Home Penny and Geoff Rawlings The Real Penelope Pitstop and Dastardly”. Our daughter Rachael thought this would be a great wheeze and if there was any possibility of media coverage then this would attract it. Rachael and Ivan were spotted soon after with Rachael’s boyfriend Mike and then we spied Penny’s sister Jackie and her husband Eyre. The rest is just a blur but a frantic rush to get some lunch, find our hotel room, shower and change for the gala dinner and prize giving. During the proceedings there was displayed on a huge screen a slide show of most of the cars competing with cheers from around the room for each car as it appeared. We think ours was the noisiest! There was also a short and as described, incomplete video compilation to show family and friends just exactly what the conditions were like. As we watched cars buried up to their axles in sand, bouncing over rough rocks, slewing around obstacles and camping in howling sand storms, the whole gathering fell silent as the competitors remebered the horrors and the guests were completely awed.

So, that’s it, we’ve done it. There’s no more to be said.

Well, actually there is. Given a couple of days and we will definitely make an effort to give a broader picture of the whole show and with lots more photographs. Be patient please.

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