Last day in China…. 7:05 time stamped and off we go…
One can never be quite certain how border crossings will go. Our exit from China seemed to be relatively seamless. “Drivers in one line, passengers in the other.” “Passengers sorry… this line”…… “No…wait… passengers merge back into that line.” It was fine. A bit of a wait, so a browse through the duty free shop where I wasn’t going to pay $10 for a small block of chocolate… and it wasn’t long before Penny and Max came around the corner after being with the Chinese ‘official car inspectors’… and then we were in ‘no man’s land’ with the wind from the north picking up the sand and dust; preparing us for the Gobi desert in Mongolia.
We were issued an orange satchel with information from Nomads tours for our week journey through Mongolia. Passports handed over … portraits scrutinised …. and once again Penny was off toward the west where the plains which were covered with a short grass which had become quite a luminescent green after recent rain; were dotted with white circular yurts and horses, goats, cows and dromedary camels.
There were fewer trucks on the two-laned motorways than in China… and here the truck drivers seemed to have a no-shirt wearing code! This tarmac form the border is a recent addition to the transport network in China and had not been driven upon in previous P to P rallies. The trip which took us a few hours normally would have been a grueling two days. I suspect that the road infrastructure is in preparation for mining vehicles and I would hazard a guess that both China and Russia are supporting this venture.
Penny whirred underneath us in the expansive space of the plains of Mongolia as the condensation trails of jets scarred the sky overhead, and the sand and wind scratched and dried my eyes. It was lovely though driving through such an expanse watching the horses huddle and shelter each other from the strong wind and sand.
It wasn’t long before we were racing along rough dirt roads in our first time trial. It was fantastic! We did hit a couple of bumps and I was catapulted many times as we bounced back on the track but Penny hung on around the bends and waddled over the ditches with grace. Max is a most excellent rally driver and we did well in the first time trial… but then looked at each other and realized we could not keep that pace up otherwise it wouldn’t be long before we would be on the ‘truck of shame’ and not reach Paris.
Since Max is trucking Penny from the UK to participate in a rally in South America with just 3 weeks to get her sorted in the UK after arriving in Paris, we reassessed our goals and decided we should back off the speed and not go hard in the time trials. We decided to drive the same way for the time trials as we would as if we were touring… which isn’t slow…LOL… but it will be far better for Penny and I actually want us all to reach Paris in one piece!
The real game started for many crews and overheating seemed to be a bit of an issue for a few cars. Car 19 – Andrew and Anne Boland; and Car 31 Steve and Ruth Lambert were having heating issues.
Car 41, Joe Robillard managed to push hard enough to bend a rear axle and two rims. Car 106 sheared some bolts on their rear wheel so they had troubles. Car 93, Nick and Jessica Sleep were dealing with a motor that wasn’t running as sweetly as Nick would like. There was lots of hammering and tinkering in the camp that evening as tent pegs secured the flapping coloured sheets of nylon into the ground on the lee of their cars.
The racing was brilliant though and I had a ‘moment’ whilst speeding across a fairly smooth section of dirt road when I looked to the north and saw a dust trail spearing out from behind a white 1974 Leyland navigated by Matt Bryson and driven by Gerry Crown who is the oldest competitor of 84 years old and has won the event twice. A Bentley and then a white Porshe followed racing across the flat secion…. and at that moment it felt surreal. There I was; racing across the desert in a 1923 Vauxhall in Mongolia!!!! How many people get to do that? I certainly do amazing things! … and what a privilege to do so.
So … tonight I’m sleeping under the stars. I want to be able to roll over and look up to the night sky of Mongolia. I will let you know in my next post how it goes.
I have a gallery for todays journey. Click here for happy snaps so you can journey with me in Penny.