Side Notes

A few observations from the trip are offered, without judgement.

Those of us living in North America are far more concerned about getting water on the bathroom floor as a result of showering than people living in Asia and Europe.

The towels in more expensive hotels are not necessarily softer than those in less expensive hotels.

Charging for the use of ‘public’ toilets is cruel. Especially when you don’t have the correct change.

The world will be a better place when all hotels have the very same method of unlocking the guest room doors.

In some of the most remote areas of the world you can buy gas with a credit card using a machine that asks for your PIN in English.

Beer is not served cold in all parts of the world.

Young children get excited about things that are new to them. They wave – enthusiastically – at strangers as they pass by. Some adults do likewise. Maybe we all should.

Things are done differently in different parts of the world. And it works.

And in conclusion…

We drove a total of 9,423 miles/15,164 kilometres. We used about 1,400 litres of gas. We used 6.5 litres of oil – 5 on oil changes, 1.5 on top ups. We changed the right side wheels as a result of bent rims. The left side wheels and tires did the entire trip.

We experienced the true meaning of friendships and generosity. Kurht and Derek are true adventurist with hearts of gold. Lee and Bill are people you would…travel around the world with. John and Marian always make you feel welcome, and better. And on it goes.

Everyone who followed us is a part of the team and gave us the support that we really needed. Your thoughts and emails were far more important than you could know. We were never alone – even when there was nobody else around. We can try to thank those closest to us for indulging us in this adventure, but we will probably come up short.

And then there is Deirdre. She inspired us when she was physically with us, and her spirit and joy of life sustained us on this trip. Thanks to you and others, our goal of raising $50,000 in her name for the Arthritis Society will not only be met, it will be exceeded. We have commitments that will take the total to $60,000. And that is the best off all the outcomes of this truly great challenge.

We close with two simple words.

Thank you.

In Paris

The frustration of Paris traffic was quickly replaced by the thrill of seeing familiar faces as we approached and crossed the finish line. After the celebration refreshment we headed to the hotel to get prepared for the awards dinner. Familiar tee shirts and pants that should be retired forever gave way to much more formal wear.

Charley had brought the tuxedos, shirts, shoes and ties with her. Susie ironed the shirts to a crisp edge. The results? Who are these guys?

The setting and the dinner itself was tres grand, although the presentations went on a bit and delayed dessert. The main course was not a vegetarian’s delight…

Much too late, we called it a night.

The Beetle spent the night on display near the finish line with the other cars awaiting shipping back home. It was picked up by transport truck in the morning and taken to England via Calais. According to the tracker, it is somewhere north of London. The batteries in the tracker should last a few more days. We hope to get word that it will be back near home in mid to late August.

And so it ends. We set out to do a few things. One was to ‘simply’ get from Beijing to Paris, in one piece. We were very fortunate to do that. Another thing was to answer the question “can a basically stock car – now over 60 years old – with some suspension, brake and engine upgrades, make it over the roads, tracks and paths that comprised the route?” The answer is mostly yes. But it is a close thing. If the route gets tougher each time, it will become even more difficult. We had four equipment challenges that slowed us – a bad fuse that stopped the fuel pump, the bent rims that required repairs, the windshield wipers that developed a demonic mind of their own and, of course, the clutch pressure plate. The latter could have stopped us. We didn’t count the horn as a delaying factor as it was easy to replace during the routine servicing. The car was very well prepared and made it. And that’s what counts.

We had the benefit of expert advice from several teams that had done the event previously. They were generous and thorough in their descriptions. They were so right about everything. But even armed with that knowledge, we were surprised, even overwhelmed at times, at how physically and emotionally challenging this event is. The pace, at times, is relentless (especially in a car that is not ‘fast’). There is a feeling that you are always on the clock. You know you are headed toward the end destination but you wonder if you will ever actually get there. You want the event to be over, yet you don’t want the experience to end.

And then it ends.

The Previous Day – Ypres to Paris

The streets of Ypres were quiet as we headed to the car park to take the Beetle for a wash. Several Euros later, the worst of the mud and dirt was gone.

It was a far more relaxed group that headed off toward Paris. The scenery was not as spectacular as the previous few days, but that didn’t seem to matter.

We crested a rise and suddenly our destination for the last five weeks (weeks? Surely it has been months!) was in view. But the view didn’t show us…the traffic. The final 15kms took about 65 minutes!

And then it ended. Thanks to all those who greeted us across the line – those in person and everyone who has followed us through the blog. You were all there with us.

We retired for more hydration and then prepare for the gala dinner. Description and pictures to follow. An advanced warning is offered. It was black tie. We will be sen in…formal wear.

Two more entries will follow. In addition to a description of the closing dinner, a final set of side noes will have our observations of what the past weeks have meant to us.

The Previous Day – Liège to Ypres

There have been days that focused on the drivers, and days that focused on navigation. Today was the latter.

The route books set out the instructions in distances and directions using the tulip guides.

Some days have had as few as 15 pages of directions, but today was quite different. The day spanned 35 pages, with frequent turns and notes. It was not boring. Because the overall speeds were low, it suited the Beetle well.

Have we mentioned that Belgium is beautiful? This day was more of the same. We had frequent desires to stop and take pictures but as with everything over the past five weeks, we were ’on the clock’. Some views:

We stopped for lunch in Chievres and were treated not just to lunch, but also to a wonderful collection of local collector cars.

This was the final day of competition and it closed with a delightful circuit that included cobblestones as well as local roads. Once completed, we headed into Ypres.

The day also included a stop at the Tyne Cot cemetery, the final resting place of so many – far, far too many – young men who died in The Great War.

There was a different feeling to the festivities in the evening. The only remaining task is to drive to Paris, less than 300km away. The start of the trip in Beijing seems to have been months ago. On one hand, we are anxious to see the finish line. On another note, surely this can not be the end? All in all, it’s time.

Two blog entries – or series of entries – to go. Your thoughts, wishes and encouragement have meant a great deal to us.

On to Paris.

The Previous Day – Wolfsburg to Liege

This was a day of two completely different driving experiences.

Year’s ago, many young drivers dreamed of being let loose on the German autobahn. Unlimited speed limis awaited those so lucky to drive there.

Well, we had our opportunity and found the reality different than our expectation. Speed may not kill, but the difference in speeds can! We stayed in the truck lane whenever possible. It was scary. And then we departed the highway, a process that took up to 45 minutes at one place. We were rewarded with a trip through cities that took up to an hour each. We were only 2/3 of the way through the day by 5PM!

Then it all changed. The air temperature dropped, our temperature dropped and we were back on two-lane backroads again. We departed Germany for Belgium and proceeded to the track test. All was good.

We spent the morning studying the rear locks on transport trucks. In the late afternoon, we had prettier sights.

The evening was lovely as the sun set on the second last competitive day of the trip.

Tomorrow it is off to Ypres.

Side Notes

There are driving rules, and then there is driving etiquette. Here are our unscientific observations.

In China, and in particular Beijing, traffic moved at a brisk pace in what appeared to be a form of controlled frenzy. The rules were clear – observe the traffic lights and don’t crash into your fellow motorists. And there was a somewhat friendly etiquette of letting cars (or perhaps a single car) in if they are attempting to change lanes. Pedestrians are not mobile objects to be hit. On major highways, passing is done on the left side. In spite of the warning given to us by the police at our briefing, attending to emails or watching YouTube videos while driving is normal behavior. Taking pictures or videos of old cars from any seat in the vehicle, at any time in any situation, regardless of the chances of placing fellow motorists in danger, is acceptable.

In summary – clear rules, good etiquette.

In Mongolia, outside UllanBattor, there appears to be no discernible rules. On tarmac, cars enter from side connections without stopping (or looking). Motorbikes stay to the right side of the road. They usually have a rider and one or two oassrngerd, except in the more remote areas when they have more passengers. In UllanBattor, there are no rules whatsoever. Green lights mean go, usually while honking your horn. Red lights mean continue to proceed, but at a slightly slower pace. To turn left at an uncontrolled exit (controlled and uncontrolled are completely interchangeable terms here), simply steer your vehicle into the oncoming traffic. It may stop, or not. You can quickly tell who doesn’t live in Mongolia. They are the ones who stop. In spite of all this, the drivers seem friendly and love to take pictures during the brief times they are not talking on their phones. Chaos. There are no driving schools in Mongolia.

And then there are the pedestrians. They appear to have an equal desire to meet their maker as they do to reach the other side. They just walk. At a very slow pace. They are deaf to the sound of cars, trucks, motorcycles and horns. They are clearly at peace with themselves and their lives, which could end imminently.

The vehicles in Mongolia often come from Japan. Japan limits the age of cars for registration, resulting in many good used cars available for export. From our observation, there may be more Toyota Prius in Mongolia than any other car. Most are right hand drive. Other cars in Mongolia are left hand drive. The mix sounds awkward and dangerous. In fact, it makes no difference whatsoever. Adds to the confusion and excitement.

In summary, no rules whatsoever, but happy people.

In Russia, there are the standard rules if the road. Few are observed, none are enforced. The aim is to get to your destination as quickly as possible while terrifying as many others as possible. Pass anywhere, regardless of oncoming traffic. If the road has three or four lanes going in your direction, use all of them equally. Take pictures. Do email. And if you miss your exit on the highway, simply stop and reverse back to the exit. In the country, stop on the highway to address bsture’s calling – no need to pull off the road. Outside of their cars, the Russian people were unfailingly warm and friendly.

Russian pedestrians are very rule bound. They only walk when the lights allow, even at 5:25AM when there is no traffic. They use crosswalks. We assume that they have never driven cars.

In summary – driving here is a blood sport. The drivers match the road conditions – okay right now but just wait, there are unhappy surprises ahead..

In Norway and Estonia, there is order and precision. Rules are followed, and there is a most friendly and helpful etiquette. For those who rebel or want to speed, these are not countries for you.

In Latvia, many drivers attended driving schools in Russia. Less so in Lithuania. Polish drivers seem to emulate those in Norway.

We are still in Germany so further study is underway.

The Previous Day – Szczecin to Wolfsburg

We departed Szczecin with a wonderful test on a cobblestone track made up of closed city streets that was very suited to the VW. We then left Poland for Germany, convinced that we would no longer be able to enjoy less travelled secondary roads. We were wrong. The organizers once again found a wonderful variety of routes on the way to Wolfsburg. Not before another morning test, however. An abandoned airfield near Berlin was the location of a faster, longer track that gave the more powerful cars a great opportunity to stretch their capacities. We stayed out of the way as best we could. A third timed event was offered in the early afternoon. This track had tarmac, gravel and grass – something for everyone. In addition to the test, we enjoyed seeing some local classic cars.

We then finished the drive to Wolfsburg, the birthplace of our Beetle in late 1955. We were greeted warmly by company representatives and enjoyed a hosted gathering with food (and beverages) in the training centre. A variety of cars were on display – not all from the VW family.

Two prototypes of the Beetle were featured. The earlier 1937 version set out the basic shape.

The 1938 version was the final form in most regards.

Just to ensure that we will make it to Paris, our friends Daniel and Scipione bought us a brand new car!

There are many kilometers to go, but the end of the trip is almost in sight. It is starting to be time to take stock of things. More to follow in some upcoming side notes.

The Previous Day – Bydgoszcz to Szczecin

We had a day of some adventure today. The day started with another track run – this time on the same course run in the opposite direction. We left some rubber on the road but are pretty sure that the tires will see us through to the end of the trip. We then headed through the back roads toward an interesting special stage that had everything – tarmac, dirt, sand and grass. A few navigational errors didn’t help. Perhaps the navigator was too busy reading his press clippings and not spending sufficient time looking at the route book…

We saw some interesting sights, including a person shovelling coal and historic tanks. Not usual sights.

We had a nice stop in Drawski for lunch and saw a suitable ralky car for a future trip.

It was then off to Szczecin for an arrival ceremony at the dockyards. A ramp was built for the cars to drive up, and we were pleased to see the Canadian flag displayed.

We headed to the hotel to soothe our wounds and prepare for the trip to Germany and the home of Volkswagen tomorrow.

Speaking of wounds, we have been remarkably fortunate on this trip – so far – to avoid serious injury. John attacked the car door with his head, resulting in a nasty cut that probably should have been stitched up. He settled for a bandage. Two other incidents to note – and a word of advice. First, exhaust systems get hot and you don’t need to check them with your arm:

Second, sharp pieces of metal are…sharp, and don’t need to be tested with the back of your hand:

Pretty minor stuff. We both had cold symptoms, as have many of our fellow travelers.

Just a few days left to go and we intend to finish without further mishaps.

The Previous Day – Mikotajki to Bydgoszcz

While some have suggested that Poland has a national shortage of vowels, there is no shortage of scenic views and historic buildings. This has been a beautiful country with fascinating sights. Yesterday saw a variety in the weather, from warm sunshine to torrential rain, with an equal variation of road surfaces, from smooth and fast to cobblestones and other irregular rocks. (This might be the appropriate time to send thanks to Dr. Phillips and the entire team at the Royal Centre Dental Group – great call on the implant! This trip is hard on fillings…)

Some sights from the road:

We stopped for lunch in Orneta, offering a chance to meet many local residents who came out to see the cars. Then we headed toward our destination for the second track run of the day.The drive was lovely.

The morning track run was a repeat of the previous day’s second run. This afternoon’s was on a track that would have been perfect for a go-cart. Short with tight corners, it rewarded the firmly dampened, smaller cars. Once again, our all-purpose tires rose to the occasion, and even squealed a bit with joy. Or something. We didn’t threaten the faster cars.

An evening walk revealed a lovely river in another nice location.

We are not there yet – but we are getting there. Our thoughts are just as much on the next few days they are on the past few weeks. We are also so incredibly pleased to see that the Drive for Deirdre is getting near the goal. Thanks to all of you who have made that happen. We are pretty sure that we can cross both finish lines at the same time.

And now a word from John:

The blog has been produced by Chris and full credit to him for his daily updates following a full day of navigating using the sometimes cryptic route book and our GPS unit.

And a few words about the value of a competent navigator or co-driver. He (or she) is the key member of the team, especially when driving a car such as ours in an event like this. Navigational mistakes and consequential loss of time are difficult to make up for. We simply don’t have the speed to make up for time lost. So full marks to Chris for agreeing to take charge of this perhaps less glamorous but vital task in the really. Our success, to date, is mainly due to his navigational expertise.

The Previous Day – Riga to Mikotajki

Happy Canada Day to all. We enjoyed a lovely one.

Under sunny skies – with warmth but not oppressive heat – we travel south through Lithuania to the Nemanus Ring for the morning track test. This was a longer paved track that rewarded power and skill. We found ourselves lacking in at least one of those areas. The navigator repeated the same instructions as we powered (?) down the track – ”this is a really right corner, so slow down.” They didn’t appear quite so tight to the driver…

We survived and were rewarded with a simply lovely drive into Poland. The villages were close together, some spectators were waving and we survived a rain shower with working wipers. Some views:

This little video captured the late afternoon fun.

We had a final track test to end the day – more on that later.

This is a wonderful part of the world and beckons for a return.

More to follow but the day’s run starts about…now!

The Previous Day – Tallin to Riga

Estonia is a lovely county and Tallinn is a city that deserves exploration. We headed off on another sunny day (but of course – the wipers work!) and enjoyed a short trip to the Laitse Rally Park. Many enthusiasts from the area were ready to be entertained by the antics of the participants as we ran the combination tarmac/gravel course. Much tyre (for our UK followers) noise was heard as teams enjoyed the right confines. Great fun for all, except for some of the navigators. We had time to spare and enjoyed seeing some interesting cars on display.

It was then off to a small but interesting museum at Halinga (with the option of lunch for those needing refreshment). More cars of note from around the world, including a Packard limo of the type that our uncle would have driven Ms. Monroe in (see June 16 entry).

There were others that caught our eye.

In the afternoon we drove down the coast with glimpses of the ocean. Without fanfare we left Estonia and entered Latvia by signpost.

The driving etiquette changed from that in Finland and Estonia. Speed limits became vague suggestions and the shoulder/bike lane was the slower car lane. Passing anywhere at any time was the norm. A nasty collision was the inevitable result. A passing note for those contemplating such behaviour – in an argument between a smaller car and a large transport truck, the truck wins. Thanks to airbags (and good fortune) the participants survived. They appeared to be picking up small fragments of what was a car but was now beyond salvation. The sight had no material impact on others.

We made it to the Riga Motormuseum track for the day’s closing event. This was a paved track that encouraged bravery. Once again the VW’s snow tires kept the rimns off the riad and we retired to the museum satisfied that we had done little damage. The museum was wonderful. Full of…cars.

We finished the day with a short drive to the Radisson on the water.

A nice day in a wonderful part of the world. Have we mentioned how lucky we are? We are.

The Previous Day – Tallinn to Riga

This was a near perfect day – the right combination of driving, being taken for a ride (in all the right ways) and seeing very wonderful places.

We had two special stages in the morning, starting with a track test on a combination dirt/tarmac track and finishing (sorry) with a forest track run. The Beetle provided slow motion entertainment to the spectators. We then drove to the ferry terminal in Helsinki for the 2-hour trip to Tallinn. A brief shopping interlude resulted in more paper towels, apples and cough drops. (A complete medical summary will be provided at the end of the trip as more opportunities remain for bruises, burns and puncture wounds.)

We also had a hydration break in a nice pub near the ferry terminal.

Walking back to the car we noticed this fellow who has done a great deal of hydrating…

The ferry to Tallinn was wonderful – the next size up from the BC ferries on the main runs, and complete with what seemed like a shopping centre. The trip passed quickly.

Tallin is lovely. After a visit to a bookstore with a surprisingly large English language section, and yet another buffet dinner, we set off for the ’old town’. It was amazing.

The ’flower shop’ was still open at 10:30 (22:30 in rally time).

A great day and another reminder of how incredibly lucky we are to be doing this.

Off to Latvia tomorrow with a full day of driving.

Side Notes

We have field tested several types of plastic ’zip lock’ type bags on this trip. Here are our observations.

We have tried three different types of closures. We started with a supply of a name brand using a double row closure.

These bags were made of the most robust plastic, lasting up to two weeks of continuous use. In fact, the plastic outlasted the closure mechanism. Eventually, the ’zipper’ suffered equipment failure and the bag required retirement. Overall, the performance was fairly good.

We then tried a single row closure type of bag. These were very economical, purchased in some bulk in Beijing.

The benefits were two-fold – they were cheap and added no material weight to the car. The downsides were more plentiful. To start with, closing the bag was challenging. The zipper is narrow and did not respond well to a single press. The plastic was exceedingly thin and prone to tear. They stuck together, resulting in one bag ready for use and several falling away, often to unreachable places. If used for food storage, be warned that chocolate adheres to the inner bag, resulting in a revolting appearance. We rated these as the least robust and do not recommend that you bulk order them from Beijing.

We then tried the type with a tab used for closure. They promised to have the benefits of the name brand with easier closing processes.

In spite of the early promise, these also disappointed us. The white tab works for a few closures then separates from the bag. Reattachment was frustrating and resulted in the destruction of the bag and our serenity. Even if the tab works for more than three days, the plastic splits at the seams. They are, at best, for temporary, short-term storage.

Which leaves us with a question. Are these bags really designed for a 36-day trip through dust, dirt and rain? Our experience suggests that they are not.

All three types suffered from one other common problem. In spite of the advertised size (small, medium, extra large), the contents to be bagged are ALWAYS greater than the size of the bag itself. More often than not this results in a torn bag, a diminished mood and foul language. It’s possible that a health warning should in included on the box.

We also tested packing bags for clothes. These gave proven useful.

Two bags have been used since arrival in Beijing. One has housed the coveralls that were were so wonderfully prepared by Shelly. For the first 10 days the closure tab (not present in the picture above) worked to seal the bag. Then it didn’t. The tab is believed to be somewhere in Russia, perhaps near the missing windshield wiper blade. But don’t worry, the bag still works. By rolling the open end closed, the bag can be compressed and the air evacuated. This results in a smaller, flatter (albeit unsealed) package. If the bag could only wash the enclosed coveralls, it would be perfect. The second bag is being used for tee shirt storage. It’s fine but retains any industrial cleaner smell.

We recommend the larger clothes packing bags. Small ’zip lock’ bags should be used at your own risk.

A final word on bag – or baggage to be precise. Many fine hotels have baggage carts in the main lobby. Fine brands of luggage and carrying cases can be seen on them. It offers a reflection of the guests staying there.

The same applies to the travellers on this trip. At the two-night stops, the baggage contents reflected the crowd.

The hotel staff have been wonderful in attending to the guests (with the notable exception of our stay at the Chateau Merde in Kostanay) and have moved tires, clutch assemblies and other auto parts without complaint.

The Previous Day – St Petersburg to Hyvinkaa

Under brilliant sunshine, we left the Baltic Star and headed toward our last border crossing (with processes) and entry to the EU in Finland. There was a blustering wind as we joined the toll highway to make our way out of this large city. We soon arrived at the magnificent bridge that heads north. We were happy to be on a multi-lane road as we used several of them during our crossing thanks to a fierce crosswind. Those familiar with the aerodynamics of early Beetles will recall – with some horror – the thrill of trying to keep things in a straight line. The wind continued for the next hour. There was little conversation in the car as we proceed with grim determination.

Then it all changed. We were off the main highway and going through a beautiful area of lakes and trees.

We were soon at the border. Our past experience suggested that we would have a quick passage through on both sides. Sadly, this was not the case. The wait on the Russian side was close to two hours.

The Finnish authorities were faster, and we departed for Helsinki through lush farmland. The contrast between countries was significant. Finland is an affluent country of 5 million people. There is an order to things, and projects have been completed. In Russia, many of the projects are still ’underway’.

The organizers laid on some off tarmac sections that were wonderful. Finland is the home of many famous and successful rally drivers, and our tiny glimpse of country road shows why.

We arrived in Hyvinkaa and were surprised by the lack of people on the streets. Things became apparent as we arrived at our hotel – the parking area was full of cars and people. Everyone was there – even Santa!

We are pretty sure that gifts of air filter elements, fuel pumps and other essential items were given to various participants.

Our accommodations were lovely. Nicely finished (sorry) and highly efficient. The evening meal was very fine (sorry about Rudolph’s fate but it sure tasted good) in a lovely setting.

The overhead lights were enclosed it pieces of 2X2, an inexpensive but tasteful alternative to glass.

This is as far north as we will be on the trip. It was light long past our falling asleep and long before we awoke. Tomorrow we have two driving tests in the morning before heading to the ferry terminal for the sailing to Tallinn. A day in Finland is not enough. But it means we are one day closer to Paris.

The Previous Days – Zavidovo to St Petersburg

We left Zavidovo under cloudy and threatening skies. No worries – the wipers were working and there was little threat of mud (or mud-like droppings on the road). We were on a major toll highway in short order that would have been nearly perfect had the wipers continued to go back and forth. Sadly, they self parked once and failed to do a return engagement. We acquired a window cleaning squeegee previously and it became our means of cleaning a sight path. We are pretty sure the views of the driver reaching around the windshield post to clear a small patch was far more entertaining to other cars than it was to the occupants of the Beetle. We pass along a suggestion to others who may be thinking of doing this in the future. Get the longer handled squeegee.

The rain stopped and eventually, the spray from the other vehicles stopped and all was good again. Once again, we were reminded of the small things that we take for granted in our more modern machinery…

The toll road was smooth and fast. We cruised triple-digit speeds. Yes, 100k/hr is triple digits. There were more overhead lights than couId be imagined. We counted 19 to the kilometre for a couple of hundred kilometres.

We were incredibly fortunate to stop at Veliky Novgorod, a UN heritage site and a placed considered to be the home of Russia. Within the walled complex are a number of treasures and a great museum. A quick walkthrough and pictures were available.

Back in the car, we headed for the St Petersburg autodrome for late afternoon track test. We again tested the adhesion limits of our mud (and poop) and snow tires. This was followed by the drive into St Peterburg. Very modern freeways that could be anywhere took us to the ’end of the road’ and the Baltic Star hotel complex. The digs were very nice in the main building, but nothing compared to the villas in the high-security area. These are apparently used by very important people connected to the President. A full security check was required each time to access the villas. Was it worth it? You decide.

The next morning started with rain but tapered off in time for routine maintenance on the cars. The wiper motor was removed for a thorough inspection. A fault was found deep in the inner workings and a repair made. Early testing is promising. The other items on the list (oil change, valve adjustment and related checks) were completed without incident. Shortly after noon we were done.

We took an Uber equivalent to downtown, about 45 minutes away. It is actually an hours drive but our driver wanted to impress us with his driving skills. He didn’t. But we were happy to stop and evacuate the car with our lives mostly intact. The sights were beyond description.

We took the opportunity to have some refreshments, once again taking the advice to hydrate.

We ended the day with two lovely events – a cocktail party in one of the villas, and a return to the city centre for a fabulous dinner. St Petersburg has been wonderful and is a destination to return to.

Back on the road tomorrow for the final leg. The run is far from over, with some 4,000km to go. We have one last ’hard’ border crossing into Finland, then just signposts through the EU countries. But we feel rested and ready.

The Previous Day – Nizny Novgorod to Zavidovo

Our dad grew up on a dairy farm in what was then Alymer, just across the river from Ottawa. He often told the story of getting a ride to school on a neighbour’s manure wagon – in the winter. The downsides were more than offset by the positives. Much like our current experience.

We could have used his wisdom during the drive to Zavidovo. As the day went on we picked up a fair bit of traffic with a great number of trucks. They haul everything by truck. We were driving through a smaller town when several lots of dirt appeared on the road. They had come out of the bed of a truck after the rear tailgate had failed to remain closed. Strangely, the dirt was soft and didn’t immediately get disbursed by the passing vehicles. And it had a distinct agricultural aroma. It was not dirt. Our dad would have immediately recognized the sight and smell of manure. Fresh manure. It has now coated the bottom of the car and splashed (if manure actually splashes) up under the fenders and into who knows where. We will know during the service day in St. Petersburg. Won’t that be fun.

Mr Lenin pointed the way to Paris and we set off on a beautiful summer morning.

The first stop was to another race track for a two-lap trial. We had great fun (at least the driver did) as we stayed out of the way of the faster cars. We are not sure that snow tires are the best for paved track use…

We had some nice driving on secondary roads but were eventually steered on to the main routes with lots of traffic. The afternoon special sections had to be cancelled so it was a straight drive to the resort hotel in Zavidovo.

The area is a retreat for the Russian President. We didn’t see any shirtless Russian men so assumed that he is not currently here. The hotel complex and grounds are large, complete with docking facilities.

The rooms and interior appointments are modern, and there are large open spaces. My Corrections Branch friends may see some vague similarities to the living units in our centres, albeit on a very different scale.

Everything is ”nice” but as one person aptly described it, it is soulless. Maybe after seeing the people in Mongolia, or rural China and Russia, coming into manufactured modern luxury places is now different. Or perhaps this nice place actually is soulless.

Tomorrow it is off to St Petersburg with a long drive and probably lots of traffic. We will be more alert to the presence of dark, soft ”dirt” in the road.

We are pretty certain that everyone is wondering about the engine deck lid prop to combat high temperatures. Here it is, in three steps.

FIrst, cut and notch a piece of PVC pipe.

Second, place the notched end on the latch.

Finally, secure the deck with rubber cords.

Patent pending.

All is good.

The Previous Day – Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod

We had been advised to be on the alert for Russian potholes. Some people suggested that they could swallow cars. We thought we had seen some previously. Today we saw something different. The chosen route appeared to have been previously used for bomb testing. Between the craters the road was actually not bad. Following some local drivers gave us warnings and suggested which side of the road offered greater chances of survival. Some visuals.

Potholes were not the only entertainment. How about this bridge?

The day was a passage day, with no special stages. We greatly enjoyed driving through rural Russia viewing farms and small communities.

A special arrival had been arranged for us in the town square. As is becoming the norm, pictures were taken if the car and occupants.

The setting on the Volga river was stunning.

Then it was off to the hotel for another welcome.

Even Mr. Lenin welcomed us to the Park Hotel.

We went for a walk in the evening and enjoyed the local architecture.

A very good day. Some more consumer tests will follow.

The Previous Day – Ufa to KazanWe left Ufa on a beautiful summer morning, no longer apprehensive about traffic lights that had to be navigated without a working clutch. Bring on the red lights – we were ready. Of course, we sailed through a whole series of green lights out of town.

We drove past green field after green field, after green field, followed by more green fields. After remarking on the state of each crop for about an hour, the conversation diminished. The temperature of the engine oil didn’t and although we harbour some doubts as to the accuracy of the gauge, we actually stopped to do further analysis. John checked the exhaust temperature (accidentally) and pronounced it ”hot” in Russian (at least I think that was the word used). We had discussed using the deck ’stand off’ kit to open up the engine cover and now decided to use a variation. We used a device to raise the bottom by the latch and hold the deck in that position with a rubber cord. Incidentally, those heavy black rubber cords that should last forever – don’t.

On our way again, the oil temperature dropped about 20 degrees (on the F scale) and we were good. It was a hot day with the high reaching 35 (on the C scale). The green fields were replaced with towns and traffic.

The off tarnac stage was great, albeit dusty. Regular traffic was also on the road, poor souls. They were passed and left in clouds of dust.

Back on the main road we went. We were surrounded by traffic, mostly in the form of large trucks. They didn’t have the benefit of our pace notes, especially the one noting ”sharp left” for a turn. But turn the tanker truck did. Right over!

Sawdust was being used to mop up the contents. Some type of petroleum product was eating into the surface and creating very slippery conditions.

We headed to a local race track for an end-of-day test. Two laps were allowed and the Beetle was, once again, not the fastest car. But it was great fun.

We headed unto Kazan to a lovely hotel. Before doing the evening maintenance we found it necessary to take on some fluids after such a long, hot day. Our family stressed the need for regular hydration during the day, and we have taken their advice seriously.

Once again, the local people have made us so welcome as they viewed the cars and asked questions. The Beetle remains something of a mystery to them.

A working clutch, supportive colleagues on the trip, great weather (maybe a touch warm at times) and unbelievable memories remind us of how lucky we are to be able to do this.

We will close today with a view from the 22nd floor of the Korston hotel.

Off to Nizhny Novgorod tomorrow. A shorter driving distance but with certain other challenges. All is good.

Side Notes

A few items related to hotels and cleanliness.

The third trial in hotel laundry services took place at the Crowne Plaza in Ufa. As advised, the items to be cleaned were bagged and deposited shortly after arrival. Sometime the following day they would be returned. Cargo shorts again? No. As awful as they were, they were surplanted by the jeans that had seen action since the last camp in Kazakhstan. Some tee shirts of uncertain colour were added.

Day two passed by and a check at the desk late in the afternoon brought assurances that housekeeping would be contacted and all would be good. The same events took place as we left for dinner. For these very reasons, it is wise not to put all essential wardrobe items in the bag – better to have something available from the options bag than leave the hotel in the supplied bathrobe.

By 10 PM all was good. Jeans were cleaner and the tee shorts were either retuned to gray or washed with other things of that colour. And no scent of brake cleaner or other industrial elements. No scent of soap, either, but a distinct improvement over the last session. So the hotel laundry service is batting at 2 out of 3. One more test in St. Petersburg.

Speaking of clean things, are these shoes clean?

The correct answer is both yes and no. Or rather no and comparatively yes. They were subject to the Mongolian dust for several days, and then soaked during the day of rain. On one hand, they look awful. But compared to other things, they are not so bad. For example, the sands, dirt, car liquids and ’stuff’ that have coated our hands have had an interesting effect. My phone used to unlock with a press of my thumbprint. Not any more. Either the print has been worn off or there is ’stuff’ that is now embedded in the skin. The worst thing about that? It is starting to feel normal…

We frequently wash our hands and then use the hotel hand towels. Two washes and they are no longer useful for another day. Bathmats have become disposable items. Which brings us to another hotel issue. Housing some 250 people even for a night is an undertaking. Sure, we drink enough to cover most of the extra costs, but it must take some time after we leave to get back to the pre-visit state. Given that some of the establishments had previously hosted the Peking to Paris runs, hats off to them for doing it again.

Hopefully we will be clean again. Some day. Just not today.

The Previous Day – in Ufa

We enjoyed a day of not driving in the lovely Russian city of Ufa. The Crowne Pkaza hotel became an open air shop as teams attended to both routine maintenance and necessary repairs. As the day progressed, at least two wedding ceremonies started from the hotel. It was quite the sight as the brides walked amongst the mechanics in coveralls…

We were greatly assisted by a team from ’the sweeps’, the mechanics that travel with the teams. In fairly short order the Beetle’s engine was out and the clutch parts were under inspection. The rivets on the pressure plate were loose, giving unwanted play when the clutch was depressed. The enterprising team decided to weld them in place. The process was then reversed and the engine re-installed. We are very appreciative of the assistance provided to us. Here are some pictures of the operation.

And the results? We have returned to having all five ratios – four forward and one reverse. Immense relief.

We took the car on a test drive to a local car wash. It was the most thorough $7 wash we will ever experience.

In addition to the ERA mechanics who were so generous with their time and talents, we also want to highlight the support of other teams. Mark Gudaitis and Nico Samaras – two very nice men from the United States – offered us the use of their clutch disc. The significance of that generous offer will be clear to all who have participated in an event like this. Both Nico and Mark seem to be enjoying the event and helping others cope with the challenges.

Kurht Gerhardt and Derek Boycks are another US based team also driving a Porsche 912. Driver Kurht is coping well with being ”told what to do” by navigator Derek. Derek us also an expert mechanic, and not just on German air-cooled machines. He was a diversity of interests, even beyond cars!

Otto, Mark, Derek and Kurht represent the best of their home country and have provided immense assistance and great company for the rest of us.

We finished the day with dinner and a stroll in Ufa through the university district.

Tomorrow it is back on the road. And an updated report on hotel laundry services.

The Previous Day – to Ufa

We did something quite different this morning. We visited a real racetrack and were ’let loose’ to do a lap. Although we were the fastest Volkswagen, we were far from the fastest car! Yes, we are the only VW…

The country was very pretty with thick forests and those hills that are not quite mountains but have long climbs and drops. There is a distinct shortage of passing lanes, resulting in some interesting passing situations when coming upon slow-moving trucks.

The off tarnac section was very pleasant with mostly smooth and dry gravel and dirt. The impact of the event is significant on a variety of communities. We have been welcomed by large crowds in the larger cities, and waved at by the residents of small towns. Today presented another image. We came upon a village of perhaps 200 residents. All of the lawns bordering the road had been freshly mowed. It was a lovely touch and reflected the pride of the community.

With our ongoing clutch issues, we were worried about another city arrival with many traffic lights. We were actually doing quite well with our timing to avoid stops when we reached a crest on a five lane (in our direction) highway to be greeted by total gridlock. All lanes were stopped. Each moved every few minutes about five feet. Starting the car in first gear on the ignition just didn’t work. So Chris got out every few minutes to push the car. Several people rushed over to help. The traffic jam was about 1 kilometer in length, meaning that at least an hour would be required. Just as we resigned ourselves to an afternoon in the hot sun, something happened and the jam started to break up. We then drove (without assistance) to the hotel. We parked the car for a while, as tomorrow is a non-driving day.

Ufa is a very pleasant and old city, dating back centuries. We were greeted with music and traditional sweets. The hotel we were in was lovely in all respects and promises to complete laundry service on time.

A walkabout gave us views of impressive architecture and public art.

We’re pretty sure that the artwork above is a crankshaft.

There were lots of visitors in the carpark, often families with young children. The cars are a real curiosity for them.

Tomorrow is the day to remove the engine and finally try to figure out our clutch issue. A good night’s rest seems assured in such a nice hotel.

The Previous Day – Day Eighteen

We’re back – not in the USSR, but in Russia. We checked out of the palatial digs without fanfare and did another adjustment on the clutch cable (without beneficial effect) before heading to the border. The final kilometres in Kazakhstan were a little more interesting with some rolling hills and trees. The border crossing was the second last of the trip. Once leaving Russia for Finland, we will be in the EU for the duration.

We did the morning off tarmac session, but passed on the afternoon run to focus our efforts to navigate into Magnitogorsk for the Return to Russia celebration. Although we had the usual challenges with stoplights, we were rewarded with an enthusiastic welcome by a very large crown. We heard our names announced in Russian, followed by “Volkswagen Beetle”. We stopped for picture taking and friendly conversations in two languages. Nobody understood a word, but it didn’t matter.

Everywhere that we have stopped, people gather around the car and ask what it is. Here is a picture from a fuel stop in a tiny town that shows the effect.

The last kilometres to Bannoe Lake were fabulous. It reminded us of the Okanagan in central BC, but with its own character. The lake is lovely.

We had a truly excellent dinner at the lakeside with wonderful conversation with a team from Switzerland. They have forsaken all of the competition in favour of pure enjoyment. They look totally relaxed, unlike so many of us. A lesson, perhaps.

Tomorrow we are off to Ufa for a two-night stop. We are arranging shop space and will remove the engine and view the damages within the clutch mechanism. We don’t have all the parts we want, but we will make do with what we have.

We should be assured of good weather from here on in. The windshield wipers now work perfectly! And so does the horn. It was so packed with sand, dirt and dust that it didn’t make a sound. A blow out with the air compressor and a few good taps with the big wrench brought it back to life.

All in all, another day of incredible experience and a bit closer to Paris. More stamps in the passport, too.

The Previous Day – Day Eighteen

The morning was crisp and bright as we did the usual morning maintenance work and had our last camp breakfast. The eggs were great and expertly prepared by the catering staff.

We then did the impossible and actually folded the tent in one try. For the last time. It now lives with a nice family in Kazakhstan. Sorry, Charley.

The morning drive was frankly dull with endless straight, flat highways. The cultivated fields were Saskatchewan sized, but devoid of trees.

We enjoyed the off tarmac runs but were alarmed to see one of our fellow competitors truly planted at the bottom of a deep ditch. Driver and navigator are fine.

They move large and heavy equipment on the main roads, as we experienced with these rigs – three times! The off road sections are often loops that return to the main road. We did several and seemed to rejoin just in time to pass the behemoths again…

We finally finished the drive with another enormous welcome in Kostanay. We had another stressful arrival as the clutch refuses to disengage. No young children were seriously hurt.

Then the surprise of the day loomed. We have all experienced accommodations that didn’t meet our expectations. The Hotel Medeu surprised in so many ways.

The brick entry sidewalks were in an early stage of construction. The entryway was marked with old, tattered throw carpets. Well beyond their life span. We were provided with a key – a real key. We proceeded to the world’s second smallest elevator and alighted on the fourth floor. Room 451 beckoned.

The first impression of the window view was breathtaking.

Oh, but wait. The bathroom was…difficult to describe. Just for yourself.

Those trained in the art of plumbing will take an interest in the combination shower/sink fixture. Most places don’t stock such an item.

Not surprisingly, the towels appeared to be sourced from 3M, the sandpaper people – somewhere between 100 and 200 grit. There was little risk that any of the bath linens would be stolen.

And the main part of the room? Just yummy.

We were sorry that we had left the tent behind.

This room would never pass the James/Bryony test. Ever.

But if this is the worst that we experience on the trip, we’re pretty lucky.

One more day in the books. The people of Kazakhstan are warm and welcoming. We leave tomorrow for our return to Russia. One more day closer to Paris.

The Previous Day – Day Seventeen

We spent most of the day on highways, which helped us considerably with our clutch issue. There is a feeling that we may have mud on the disk. We may have replacement parts in a couple of days to fix the problem.

We visited National Park Burabay, a lovely recreational area with lake access.

We did have some rougher gravel late in the day as a result of road work. A new road is nearing completion and the temptation to use it was only stopped by makeshift dirt barriers and random appearances by the construction crews. We had a final water crossing less than a kilometre from our camp.

We arrived at a party! The local residents were out in force and made us most welcome. The local governor spoke (with simultaneous interpretation), songs were sung by a hand and people were in traditional costume.

Fleece was being ’carded’ by hand, something that our mother would have loved to have seen.

Later in the evening a roaring bonfire warmed our bodies and spirits.

Speaking of spirits, there was a steady flow of beverages that led to singing and even a form of dance. Hopefully the alcohol warmed some on a cold night.

Before calling it a day, the wiper motor was removed and the electrics checked. That is a fairly miserable job. But it appears to have worked. This perhaps means that it won’t rain again!

This was our last night of camping. And we are just over halfway on the trip. On to Paris.

Side Notes

Between the two Beresford brothers, they have stayed in a variety of hotels for a collective couple years (mostly due to Chris’ travel for work). In all that time, they have never used the hotel laundry service. This trip has changed that.

In Ulaanbaatar, there was a need to have two pairs of cargo shorts and a shirt (formerly light green) attended to. On the night of arrival they were dispatched to the hotel service with a promise of return the next day before 5 PM. The service was better than advertised with a return by noon and a great job done. The one grease spot remained in the shirt, as anticipated. The cost was minimal.

The second effort was taken in Novosibirsk at the lovely Marriott hotel. The cost was somewhat higher but the need was great. Same shorts, same shirt. Yes, others were taken but this was the ’day wear’. The items were returned in the advertised time frame but a letter was received later, as seen below.

Our items were not mixed up with others. In fact, we presume that the hotel determined that the shorts and shirt were likely some form of industrial equipment as they were sealed in a plastic bag. Upon opening the bag, we were surprised not to smell the friendly aroma of freshly dried laundry. We thought that they had perhaps been washed in either iodine or brake cleaner. It was not an pleasant smell. We are equally sorry to report that the aroma has been lasting. On the positive front, the clothes were clean, although the grease spot remains. So our overall rating to date is 50%. The next test shall be Ufa, although a ban on toxic smelling clothes in the car had been put into effect. John is convinced that his new cargo pants can survive the entire trip with only wipe offs using hand towels. It is nice that he thinks that. Some of the apparel taken on the trip will never again be worn after Paris…

We can also provide consumer rating on the best means of stabbing holes in the plastic lids of water bottles to create a spray effect (please refer to the entry in driving in the mud without wipers). First, do not attempt with the stronger, reinforced plastic tops. A softer, more forgiving plastic is better. The Mongolian bottled water was better than the Russian bottles. Then, use a better quality ink pen, such as a Bic or those provided by ’nice’ hotels. The Beijing sourced pens, at a cost of $.85 per dozen, had disappointing results. In summary, cheap bottles and more expensive pens worked for us.

The Previous Day – Day Sixteen

What a difference a day can make. No, the clutch/shifting issue remains and causes great stress at the end of the day as we navigate city lights and traffic. But the rest of the day was markedly better than the previous one. It didn’t rain. There was very little mud in spite of an offroad section. And the sun was out.

We left Pavoldar with the usual fight with traffic lights but then headed to main roads. They are very straight in Kazakhstan, for long distances. We have traveled over 60 kms with no deviation from straight ahead. So far, Kazakhstan has been very flat.

We had a slow speed run on a tight path between Pavlodar and Nur-Sultan, with lots of ruts and pitches.

The countryside was generally green but changed from crops to pasture as the day progressed. Nur-Sultan is a modern city with large impressive buildings. And lots of traffic.

The support from fellow participants has been overwhelming, with the offer of parts and mechanical assistance. We may be far, far away from home and the shop in which the car was built, but we are certainly not alone.

Two of our fellow travelers are Ashton Roskill and Giles Cooper, driving an Austin Healey 100. The car offers limited comforts and protection from the elements, but completely captures the spirit of the event. The picture below was taken in Mongolia after a spirited (and very dusty) day of top down driving.

The interior shows the effects of ”open air” driving in difficult conditions.

Giles and Ashton are supporting two causes on their run. They are raising awareness of the need to identify and provide treatment for depression, and the are supporting the Cancer Society. Both admirable causes supported by two very admirable people.

We will continue to make efforts to address our mechanical issue and to improve our overall outlooks. Fatigue is taking its toll. But all will be good. We maybe getting further away from home, but we are slowly getting closer to Paris.

Previous Day – Day Fifteen

June 16 was significant this year for at least three reasons. It was Father’s Day. We want to send our best wishes out for that and to wish all of our Old English Car Club friends a happy gathering in Beacon Hill Park.

June 16th would also gave been our Uncle’s birthday. John passed away in 2016. Our uncle was a keen car enthusiast who always had something of interest in his garage. He was the first in the family to have a Volkswagen, a 1957 Deluxe with sunroof. It was followed by a 1961 Karmann Ghia convertible. His future tastes included English (Rover 2000), German (Mercedes and BMW) and Italian (Fiat 850 Spider and his beloved Alfa Spider, that is still in the family). During his late teens and early twenties, John drove for Brewsters in Banff. In addition to bus service to Lake Louise and local ski hills, they had a limosine service locally in Banff, using Packards. One afternoon, John was dispatched to pick up a young woman from the Hudson Bay store and take her to the Banff Springs Hotel. When he arrived, a young Marilyn Monroe stepped into the car. She was in town filming part of a Western movie. Apparently the young John Watts and Marilyn rode in silence to the hotel. John would have loved to hear about our trip, although he may not have always enjoyed being on the run itself!

The third significant part of June 16th to us was that it was far and away the the most difficult and challenging (and unpleasant) day of the event.

We left Novosibirsk and in short order found out that the clutch cable replacement was not ’the fix’. Our problem is likely within the clutch mechanism, and may be the pressure plate. We are seeking a source for a 200mm kit that we could install at the next 2-night stop.

Then the rains started. And the fun and games. First one wiper blade (the driver’s side) parted company from the arm. It is somewhere in the Russian countryside. We stopped to transfer the passenger’s blade over. The rain intenified as the remaining blade developed a mind of its own. Sometimes it refused to stop when turned off, or start when turned on. Finally it decided to quit.

We thought that driving in the rain without wipers was challenging. That was before we arrived at the 12km road of mud. With really big puddles. Which we hit often. Each one coated the entire screen with fresh mud.

What did we do? We poked holes in the top of water bottles and the driver reached out from splash to splash to try to create a space to see. The navigator used the GPS to determine the next corner, counting down metres. Thank goodness we were on a grid road system! Meanwhile, the soft mud and ruts were pitching the car from side to side of the road. It was a very long run. At the end, some kind local residents used buckets to clean off the front and side windows. Very thoughtful. Next time we we will roll up the side windows to the top…

What did it look like from inside? Here is the pre-mud view.

Thoughtlessly, we didn’t record the muddy section as we were too occupied with navigation issues.

Was that all? Oh, no. The copious amounts of dust in the engine bay were now mixing with water, forming a muddy substance. This resulted in the throttle sticking in the open position. Frankly, we wanted to get the day over as soon as possible, but not by crashing. Some Chinese form of WD40 did the trick.

We arrived at the border to enter Kazakhstan and had all the necessary papers provided by the local agents of the ERA. The only challenge was to answer the question ”what is the colour of the car”? The familiar black was now mostly muddy brown.

The border staff were efficient and within a short time we were headed to Pavlodar.

When we arrived at the car park there were hundreds of spectators welcoming the teams. We gathered up our personal effects, headed for the hotel and made a beeline for the bar. We were done, and so was the day.

It will remain an unforgettable day. No matter how hard we try…

On a much brighter note, we wanted to thank the recent donors to the Drive for Deirdre campaign. We will try to personally thank you as soon as we can. Thanks to everyone the fund is over $40,000 and within sight of the $50,000 goal.

Previous Day – Day Fourteen

So what would you do if you had a non-driving day in an artistic centre in the largest city in Siberia? Of course – you would spend a good part of the day doing maintenance on your car…

We did that. The first job was to replace the clutch cable. Those familiar with pre-1958 Beetles will know that removing and reattaching the pedal cluster is not ’plug and play.’ On top of that, the cable was binding in the rear cover. However, upon getting the cable out we found a small area of questionable compromise. We think we have found the problem. Our thanks go out to those of you who sent us ideas and sites to review. It us yet another reminder that we are not ’out here’ alone and that we have so much support and encouragement. It is truly appreciated.

The rest of the maintenance work was without incident. Oil is fresh, brakes are adjusted and good, all bolts tight and the inside tidied up. All set to go.

So what did we do in the afternoon? After refreshments (Guinness for John, gin and tonic for Chris) we headed for the mall! Plastic bags, gloves (work ones) and suspenders were on the list. Suspenders? Yes. John seems to be getting trimmer and the belt isn’t doing the intended task.

A short walk revealed a shopping mall that could be anywhere. Signs claiming ”up to 50% off” in English were everywhere. And the suspended were found in a men’s fashion store.

An enjoyable dinner at a nice Italian restaurant completed a pleasant day. All is good with the world.

Some pictures from Novosibirsk…

The Previous Day – Day Thirteen

Day thirteen started with great fanfare as we were sent off from Novokuznetsk before a large crowd, with an announcer calling out the cars and participants. We heard our names and ”Beetle”, so we took off. Before leaving the city limits we were again reduced to the top three gears. Oh, dear.

The early drive was on a main highway, then onto a secondary roads through farming country. All very pleasant. The participants were offered a choice in the afternoon of either driving on three gravel stages, or heading directly to the hotel in Novosibirsk. We chose the gravel and were rewarded in two ways. The gravel was probably the best that we had experienced so far. The Beetle was able to maintain 70 to 90 kph and all time goals were met. As a bonus, we saw some amazing country and one of the largest mines in Russia, if not the world.

The villages were rustic, with the appearance of limited changes over the last century. The one giveaway was the appearance of satellite dishes. Several spectators were out to wave us on, often with great enthusiasm.

We stopped for fuel outside Novosibirsk and the station operator came running out wanting pictures of the car! Fueling took second fiddle. By the way, paying for most things in Russia is pretty simple – just tap the card.

We then headed downtown, with our low speed and startup challenges. It was hot and unpleasant. However, we all survived and parked in front if the opera house, a wonderful piece of architecture.

With a none-driving day to follow, we just gathered personal effects and headed for some needed refreshment.. To John’s surprise and joy, Guinness was in tap. Darkness was turning to brightness.

In the evening hundreds of spectators were looking over the cars. Many asked what make our was, reminding us that Beetkes were not exported to the USSR during the 50s and 60s. Mind you, most of the spectators were not born in those decades, either…

Some views from the day:

Lee and Bill, proudly displaying their roots.

War wounds – the loss of a headlight and removal if the front bumper (which was actually a rear spring)

The hometown favourite – the only Russian entry in the event, a wonderfully prepared and stock looking Lada.

Not all the classic cars are on the run. This lovely Moskvitch was owned by a local enthusiast.

Some, dast gravel made for a fun afternoon.

A rather large crane at the minesite near Novosibirsk

A great drive but still there is worry about the source of our mechanical challenges. Maybe they will be clearer tomorrow.

The Previous Day – Day Twelve

We headed off from Lake Ata full of optimism that out shifting problems were resolved, and were happy to have an earlier start time of 8:57. Sadly, we were unable to select first gear within the opening hour. This presented a challenge when starting out (in second gear) or maneuvering in tight spaces. We adopted a different approach at the timing stops (with the navigator getting more physical exercise) and sought downhill parking spots to take some of the load off the clutch. We survived the day well, all things considered.

We started with a nice drive on pavement then had a medium stretch on fairly good gravel. We returned to a form of pavement and are starting to understand the meaning of “Russian potholes”. Care and attention is required.

Did we mention the butterflies? Today the thousands seem to multiple to millions. The Beetle’s flat windshield became a magnet for too many, resulting in ‘visual impairment’ for driver and navigator.

Others suffered more serious problems. A couple of cars suffered overheating challenges as a result of airflow restrictions to their radiators.

The team running the Rolls Royce Silver Shadow had to remove their radiator (a big job) to remove what seemed like a colony of flyers.

The motoring challenges faded a bit when we arrived in Novokuznetsk. Hundreds of spectators were amassed around the parking area across the street from our hotel. Each car received a warm welcome and cheers. The spectators stayed for hours. A tour about in the evening resulted in a series of interesting conversations between local residents speaking Russian and foreign visitors that didn’t. Pictures, smiles and handshakes overcame any language barriers. People recognized the maple leaf flags on the car and chanted “Kan-ada” to us.

We had a wonderful dinner, but noticed that the banquet room was not full. Several cars – perhaps as many as 30 – are undergoing repairs or awaiting transport in other locations. We feel fortunate to have survived this far. And greatly look forward to a non-driving day after tomorrow. We have a long drive to Novosibirsk and hope that we have a full set of gears available to get there.

The Previous day – Day Eleven

We experienced a day of contrasts on this day. The scenery in Russia has been spectacular since crossing the Mongolian border. It has reminded us if the Canadian Rockies and the interior of BC, but with distinctive differences. We left the more mountainous area and were treated with a vista of massive farmland.

A particular highlight was a stop at the Denisova Cave, an important archeological site that was home to early humans. It is worth looking up.

Later in the afternoon we arrived at Lake Ata, after a long drive. It was harder by the inability to select first and reverse gears, a situation the we through could be resolved by adjusting the shift linkage. Not so. Some degree if consternation and pre-panic set in as possible causes were considered, including the need to remove the transmission. A fellow traveller (to be featured in a coming update) helped to adjust the clutch far on a trial basis. Just prior to darkness and depression, all gears were recovered. Whether this provides a continuing awaits further travel. But for one night, all was good. We set off for a late dinner just as a lengthy thunderstorm arrived with amazing colour in the sky.

Two small things of note. The flowers are quite striking. There is a type of poppy that looks very similar to the California poppy. The field of orange are beautiful. And then there are butterflies – by the thousands. Many gave met their end on the grills and windshields of the participating cars. One car even suffered overheating as a result!

We noted again what a toll this trip takes on vehicles. Nearly every car has war wounds and has been subject to considerable work for either maintenance or repairs – or both. And we are only at the one-quarter mark. This is a challenge.

While we are only passing the ’quarter pole’, we are thrilled that the Drive for Deirdre’ is getting closer to the finish line. Donations are about to surpass the 80% mark and we thank everyone who has been so supportive and generous. We will get to Paris and the goal will be met.

The Previous Day – Day Ten

The day started with the usual fight to fold up the ‘self rising’ tent. We managed – only with assistance and derision. One more night of tent camping next week and then the tent will remain with someone else. Sorry, Charley.

The rest of the morning was very dusty as we had a high paced rocky run beside a flowing river. We made very good time until…the engine ran short of fuel. In spite of adding a reserve “jerry” can, no startup followed. The diagnosis led to a bad fuse – not blown, just not conducting electrical power to the fuel pump. We rejoined and all was fine. It was a bordering crossing day to Russia with a long stop on the Mongolian side. As in about 3 hours. Once into Russia, the pace of officials speeded up and we were travelling again. In completely different terrain. We arrived at Kochevnik camp – a delightful spot with cabins. It reminded us of Banff – heavily forested with a resort feeling. The usual refreshments (with cool beer) and dinner followed after a clutch cable adjustment.

Some pictures from the day are following, starting in the morning.

Day 11 features a combination of tarmac and gravel. The teams have high motivation to reach the destination – a hotel, after five nights of camping. Can’t wait.

Previous Days

Side Notes

Nomad Tours ( have hosted us while camping in Mongolia. They have set up the facilities in advance and have everything ready when the first cars arrive.

What is everything? For those who purchased “tent service”, a two person tent has been put up with the car number marking it. The dry toilets – which would never be approved by James or Bryony Beresfordare somewhat better upon arrival than on departure the following morning.

A shower tent has 10 individual units, with water drawn from a backyard plastic inflatable swimming pool by an electric pump and heated by a wood or coal burner. There is abundant hot water upon arrival and early in the morning.

About 4 army style tents are used for food preparation, and a very large tent serves as the dining hall. There is abundant food for all, with noted vegetarian, gluten-free and vegan options. And bagged lunches are prepared for the following day.

Most important of all is the beverage tent. A selection of wines, beer and spirits are on offer. Sadly, beverages are sold without refrigeration, a setback for those that prefer their Chardonnay or beer at something other than room temperature.

At most locations all services are offer with sand on the side…

Day Nine

A good day – with a wide variety of road surfaces.

We left camp and arrived at a beautiful, new road (yes, paved) for the journey past Khyargas Lake. The views were wonderful.

As we continued the sky became foreboding and the first real rain of the trip arrived.

The weather cleared as we returned to gravel for a spirited run.

The surface deteriorated a bit but we arrived at a scenic viewpoint that was the end of the timed events. We enjoyed a nice lunch and took in the amazing scene around us.

We were warned that a variety of events lay before us. It was very true. The temperature dropped to about 11 degrees and the road became rocky and very wet. At times we appeared to be driving in a stream. A long, steep climb challenged both cars and drivers.

We finally arrived at the summit and stopped to catch our breath.

The trip down was faster and smoother.

And the sky cleared, too.

All was good with the world…until close to the camp. The road changed again, becoming dry, rutted and rough. A steep, sandy hill required a second run. But we finally arrived at Achit Lake. It might have been a near perfect setting but for the flies. There were millions. They didn’t bite but there were unpleasant. Fortunately a brisk wind arrived to give us some relief.

All in all, a great day. Just like the others.

The Previous Day – Day Eight

What could possibly go wrong by turning left a little early? Quite a lot, actually.

We started the day with a great sunrise and the usual shower and breakfast. More on the camp facilities in a future report.

We had a couple of local people come to see us off.

Then is was off into the dust. And more dust.

About halfway through the run, navigator Chris directed driver John to turn left – too soon. Although the alternative route would join back to the main (proper) route, not before it crossed paths with a diagonal track that was lower. Without any chance to stop, the Beetle entered the narrow opening. The front wheels made it through but the rear got hung up and the car was high sided. With the rear drive wheels unable to touch. We were stuck. The good news was that one of the organizations’ photo trucks was nearby and offered to tow us out. The ‘bad’ news? Our indiscretion was caught on both still camera and video. We may be featured on the ERA website, for all the wrong reasons.

We carried on with less conversation for a while. But our better humour eventually returned. As did the dust.

The day featured several water crossings, all on purpose.

Here are some views from the drive:

And some video. Sorry for the camera work – it was rough!

This truly is an event of endurance. We noted that we are scheduled to be in Paris in a month. It feels like a month since we left Beijing! But the toll on the vehicles is even greater. Each evening every vehicle experiences either preventive maintenance or repairs. Or both. For the team members, a good dinner and an early night are the ‘maintenance’ requirements.

The Previous Day – Day Seven

An idyllic morning drive on pavement gave way to a brutal afternoon of rocks and ruts. An more dust. We plodded along and were fortunate to avoid flats, bent rims or other mechanical gremlins. The rock guards did their work.

We saw a nice local horseman at the tollbooth and exchanged pictures.

The morning drive was pretty with a couple of slow downs for animals crossing the highway.

The early gravel had lots of washboards, but a pretty view to the horizon.

Here’s a view in motion.

The sky was pretty even if the road was not.

We finally reached camp. The morning view was quit nice.

Day eight promises to be a tough one. All off pavement and all rough. The spirit of Deirdre is strong this morning and will see us through, whatever may lie ahead.

The Previo us Day – Day Six

The day started with a display and ceremony in Sükhbaatar Square in downtown Ulaanbaatar. We headed off to fuel the Beetle, taking about an hour to travel the 6km round trip. We met many people with a connection to Canada, including embassy staff and a young family that had recently moved back from Vancouver. Their daughter just received her Canadian passport:

Thanks to fashion designer Valerie Barrie, we were able to give her a new necklace which brought much happiness.

Even the police took an interest in the car – the right kind of interest:

Too bad they didn’t give us an escort out of town! We were unleashed to battle city traffic for the next hour. It was brutal. We finally cleared the city limits and enjoyed a pleasant drive on tarmac. Then it was time to take to the ruts, rocks and dust. The route took its toll on many with several flat tires and even a tip over for one team – minimal damage incurred. Between the bounces the views were spectacular.

We arrived at a beautiful camp, with terrific views in a tranquil setting.

A good dinner and conversations ended a most enjoyable day.

They say that you meet the nicest people when you travel. Lee Harman and Bill Ward fit that catalog perfectly. The are driving Lee’s 1931 Ford Victoria, a beautifully prepared car that captures the essence of this Challenge.

Several great pictures of the car in action are on the ERA website. In addition, their trip is raising funds to end polio. In 1985, Rotary International launched PolioPlus with a goal to raise $120 Million. Great progress has been made, and while the finish line is in sight, it has yet to be crossed. Car 42 is going to support this worthy cause and we would encourage you too, also. More information can be obtained at

Speaking of donations, we want to thank everyone who support The Drive For Deirdre. We have had limited opportunities to send along our personal thanks but we hope to soon.

We woke to a beautiful morning in Camp #2 today.

We have done the Beetle’s morning maintenance and all is fine. No more bent rims. Yet.

The Previous Day – Day Five

There is a difference between a “rest” day and a “non-driving” day. Yesterday was the latter. We headed off to the local Mercedes Benz dealership with many other teams to use their shop space and to have our bent wheels repaired. Although the Beetle had taken a beating through the Gobi desert, it is in good shape. The rear skid plate did the job of protecting the transmission, engine and related parts. It took a few good blows, as it was designed to. An oil change and general check was followed by a thorough wash.

The traffic back to the hotel was entertaining, with cars appearing to move at random in all directions. One more battle left with city traffic tomorrow morning.

We enjoyed a walk around the city centre, and were again impressed with the friendliness of Mongolians.

The day ended with a reception on the 23rd floor of the Blue Sky hotel, offering a great view.

We are assembling in Sukhbaatar Square tomorrow morning to display the cars. Then it is back on the road.

Previous Day – Day Four

What a day! We had a relaxing morning with a later start – 10:03. The early going was fast and relatively smooth. The Beetle does about the same speed off road as on – between 40-50 mph/70-80 k/hr. Some of the cars from the 60s and 70s on the run go twice that speed in spots. We took a couple of short side excursions but always found the main route. The guidance offered by the organizers through the trip preparation is very impressive. We have many GPS waypoints and directions with mileages to show the way. Even so, you have to pay constant attention. As a result, we have few pictures of the day. But do check the ERA webpages for photos and information (

We had some local visitors at the camp in the morning:

We actually passed a vehicle – the incredible team taking the Contal Tricycle:

The Tricycle Sorry about the video quality. It was bumpy!

Later in the morning we hit some much rough patches. So what happens then? Well, the car bottoms (which is why there are skid plates), the passengers bounce (which is why you like to have good seats and harnesses) and the stones do their work (damage). Several vehicles had flat tires. We were lucky – very lucky. No flats but a check at the end of the timed runs turned up two bent rims.

We stopped at the very impressive Genghis Khan Equestrian statue, a 40 meter high rendition of the leader on horseback:

Genghis looked down on us as We changed tires in the parking lot. We send out our thanks to our friends at Harbour Air for providing those giant plastic bags that luggage is put in for protection when placed in the pontoons. The recycled ones were perfect to keep the dirty wheels from mucking up the interior!

Speaking of muck, the dust is everywhere in the car, and probably will remain evident for years. Here is the engine compartment after one day in the desert:

We finished the day with the worse traffic we have ever experienced in downtown Ulaanbaatar. It took about 90 minutes to cover 15kms. Proof again the air cooled cars don’t overheat, but their passengers do.

A rest day in Ulaanbaatar awaits. It will be spent doing routine maintenance and getting those rims straightened. And hopefully having a walk around downtown.

The previous day – day three:

We spent most of the morning crossing the border into Mongolia. Although it took time, it was without incident. We then had a drive on paved roads to Sainshand, at which point we left pavement for “the rough stuff”. Flooding caused a change in program, and we were escorted for about 25 kilometres and then let loose. The next hours were unforgettable. The Beetle performed well, running between 70 and 90 (kph) over rocks and ruts. The dust was “impressive”.

No time to stop and see the camels up close!

We arrived at the camp for our first night in the desert. Good food and great company before a good sleep.

The morning is crisp but will warm up quickly.

Routine maintenance was all the Beetle required – everything good so far.

Today will be a cross between difficult and brutal. We are off the Ulaanbaatar in an hour.

The previous day – day two:

The drive today was somewhat shorter than day one, and was on pavement except for the special section. It started with leaving Hohhot, something that is easier said than done. Traffic downtown is dense and chaotic. The lines on the road, usually meant to define lanes, have no actual meaning here. And although most of the cars are new and many are expensive, none appear to have turn signals. Cars meander from curb to the center of the road (and beyond) at will. Pedestrians also roam at will, oblivious to oncoming traffic. By comparison, the overflowing bike lanes seem tranquil…

It took about an hour to reach the site of the special stage – some 15 km from the departure. Video will follow but the test was to drive a dirt track with many bends and a few dips as quickly as possible. We achieved a good result, and then headed toward Erenhot, on the border of Mongolia. Along the way we saw some impressive monuments:

We were provided with boxed lunches and decided to make a roadside stop in the grasslands area. We were soon joined by two couples who wanted pictures of the car and drivers. It was a friendly Chinese/Canadian gathering in the middle of a vast countryside, something of a contrast to the published news of the day.

We finished off the drive and were welcomed by the dinosaur arches just outside Erenhot.

Tomorrow we leave China and take on the Gobi desert.

We have noticed some restrictions to our access to all things internet, and must apologize that we have been unable to send thanks to many that have contributed to the Drive for Deirdre. We hope to catch up on that soon.

The Previous Day – Day One

Oh, what a day! A mostly wonderful day. We were up early for final fussing, with breakfast at 5 AM. A short but violent thunderstorm cooled things down a bit, but it was hot and humid as we set off for the Great Wall shortly after 6. The 50 minute drive was mostly on expressways, but the final stretch was different. The Great Wall is an amazing sight.

And the cars and teams were ready to go.

It was finally time to strap ourselves in and and start the journey of 14,000 kilometers. One final check of the trunk…

The first part was…a bit boring. Back to the main highway for a couple of hours. Then the driving changed. A freeway became broken pavement, then gravel and dirt.

We slowed through small villages as people waved at us – probably more cars coming through in a day than often appear in a month.

Then we headed up to an area that used to have the Great Wall, but it has been removed and paved for vehicles. The views were spectacular.

The trip down was swift and pretty.

And some of our fellow travellers entertained us by passing on all sides, regardless of coming traffic or road conditions.

We arrived in Hohhot, tired but happy to the first day under our belt. Only 34 more to go.

The Previous Day – Getting the car

It is early Saturday morning in Beijing. We survived an eventful Friday series of events, starting with the collection of passes and information from the organizers. All the participants turned in their GPS devices to have the trip waypoints loaded, and were then dispatched to buses to head out to the warehouse where the cars were located,

We were pleased to see our Beetle waiting for us, ready to head out into Beijing traffic.

Thanks to a briefing by the police the previous day, and armed with a brand new Chinese driving license, we felt ready to ‘hit the road’. A short drive to a gas station to fill the tanks was followed by about an hour of…awful traffic, high heat and a missed turn or two. We were not alone as many of our group abandoned the printed directions in favour of Google maps. Adding to the fun was the interest shown in the cars. Many cars and motorbikes slowed to take pictures and videos of something never otherwise seen in Beijing – old cars. Even a bus driver tapped his horn and waved. If only the interest could have been translated into helpful directions!

We finally arrived at the hotel and set to preparing for the scrutineers. Number plates and decals were installed and all the required equipment was prepared for approval. Open cars were covered from the heat of the sun as we waited (and waited some more) for our inspection.

Finally we were inspected and approved for the event. The elation is not entirely evident on John’s face, but the relief is real.

The late afternoon brought a sense of relaxation. The organizers put on a lovely reception in the outdoor gardens, followed by a grand multi-course dinner. It was a lovely end to a packed day.

We finished the day with a walk through the car park to reflect on the diversity of the vehicles. We will feature some of the cars throughout the event.

Tomorrow will be spent doing the final packing of the car and shopping for small items. Early Sunday morning we head for the Great Wall and the adventure beyond.

For the latest update on the Drive for Deirdre campaign in support of the Arthritis Society, check the website at:

To view the location of the car:

Past newsletters: