8am can’t sleep in on the day after a great evening in the ballroom of the Grand Hotel in Paris.
So many mixed emotions and it feels a bit strange not to be getting back in the car for yet another day. The film last night and the stills reminded all of us what we have been through. What an adventure!
It’s difficult to convey what we have done but if you imagine that someone challenged you to drive your family car on a motorway from Beijing to Paris you might think that would not be easy. If then they said you had to do it in a 50 year old car you might think that would be more difficult. Then if they said you had to drive on minor roads and dirt tracks only, relying on GPS only for 9 days in the Gobi desert in Mongolia where sometimes there are no tracks at all or if you take the wrong track you may have to go across country to find your correct route, then that would be a bit more tricky.
If then you had to fit in up to 5 competitive stages on each day where you drove your car absolutely flat out against the clock, sometimes overtaking up to 20 cars on a 50 km stage, eating their dust, not being able to see, you get an idea of how competitive the event is. Then when you roll into camp late evening with no brakes ( it happened twice to us), cold, tired and hungry, forget about a shower or food and start fixing your car, run around the camp trying to find the welder, still putting it back together at midnight then putting up your tent, crawling into your sleeping bag and crashing out to sleep, up again at 5 for another similar day. Need I go on?
There were only 8 mechanics for 100 cars and whilst they were brilliant, they could not help everyone at once, you just had to get on and fix your car yourself, in my case using skills I’d forgotten I had 40 years ago.
The Gobi took me to the edge of my physical and mental endurance a couple of times. Towards the end of the rally in Austria we had another night trying to fix the dead electrics on the car in bitter cold and rain, and I felt the same again. The relentless grind of 500-600 km a day along with the pressure of the competitive element wears you down bit by bit.
How did we do? We finished 27th and 13th in class which was very disappointing. We were really unlucky to have a rear hub shear off the axle on the first day in the desert. We fixed it but got 87 minutes penalty for lateness at the end of the day. That put us on the back foot because we were re-seeded 39th but were running at a top ten pace, so every stage we had to overtake many slow cars with poor visibility in their dust clouds meaning we hit many ruts and rocks that we would not choose to hit normally. This put undue stress on the car which meant more time fixing it each day. By day 6 in the desert we had recovered to 15th but then the relentless pounding on the car caused metal fatigue in the front upper suspension arm and the front wheel assembly fell off. This was late in the day at 7000ft and bitterly cold. The sweep mechanics did a brilliant job to fix a temporary solution and we limped down a mountain pass with no brakes to the camp to effect a better welded repair, but got a 12 hour penalty for being over maximum lateness, which was very harsh but that is the rules of the rally. If you deduct those two time penalties from our overall aggregate time we would have finished 5th overall and second in class. Given that our car was way down on power compared with the other top cars, and was running period shock absorbers and not trick 2013 items that the organisers had turned a blind eye to, I am really proud of our efforts.
Did I enjoy it? Not sure. I think time will be a better judge of that. It was without doubt the toughest challenge of my life, and I have put myself through many challenges over the years to raise monies for charity.
Would I do it again? No. They say its a once in a lifetime adventure and I think once is enough for me. At 61 I’m not sure if this will be my last adventure or not, or if there are others what they will be. Right now I need to rest, gather my thoughts and get on with my normal life, which I’ve missed very much, particularly my family.
Two great things that have come out of the rally are my friendship with my navigator, John Wright, who has been my best pal for 43 years since University and I’m pleased to say still is!
For a novice he did a fantastic job and made no significant errors at all on the whole rally, which is quite remarkable. More importantly, he was a rock for me in the tough times and his calm, unflappable nature was just what was needed. Not sure I was as reassuring to him! He looked a bit ashen after some of the very fast stages….
Secondly we aimed or raise £100,000 for the Princes Trust charity. Today we are up to just over £82,000 and I hope to be able to raise most of the balance on my return to the UK. The PT is a great charity that helps disadvantaged young people, often with no hope or future, to help themselves get on in life. Our Justgiving page is still open if you wish to make a donation, it will be gratefully received.
For those of you that have supported me and been following the blog thank you so much, it’s been really appreciated. I hope you enjoyed reading about our adventure. I tried to be as open and honest about my thoughts and feelings, so as to convey exactly what we were going through, but sometimes when it’s late at night and you are exhausted it may not come across quite as we’ll as intended! There may be a few post scripts in the next few weeks.
Bye for now.