Well here we are in Novosibirsk, our third day in Russia. My first impression will always be the enthusiasm of the Russian people for this rally. Crowds of people along the roads as we come through and even in small villages they were standing in the pouring rain waving and cheering us along! The first of the serious time trials started two days ago. These are a series of timed passages between places and hard on the cars. We did all the trials the first day but our car is slow compared to many of the others and we only have three gears which makes going up hill difficult. The classic cars of course are very powerful and even if you pull over to let them pass they will not slow down and you are constantly covered in stones and dust ! We did complete all the trials but had been thinking that it was putting a lot of strain on Ruby and our main goal is to get to Paris. Yesterday we were discussing at breakfast what to do. To maintain the gold medal status you have to compete in every trial. Neither of us wanted to make the decision to take it easier. However the decision was made for us one hour into the day, our brakes failed and we narrowly missed crashing into a truck ! We pulled over and Lloyd discovered that we had lost a spring that connects the brake pedal to the rod( my mechanical knowledge is lacking here) anyway we realised we had to have it fixed. As we were under the car , car 31 pulled up, Ruth and Steve Lambert from Australia, they had just lost their clutch and they have had so many problems. We called the mechanics and they arrived and managed to fix our brake problem, unfortunately car 31 ended up on a truck. Because of the time it took to fix our car we missed the time trial so now we are at silver which is fine with us. We will continue to compete but if we miss a trial it will not be so important. Novosibirsk is an industrial city here in Siberia. We are in the central part and parking for the rally is in the Opera House parking lot. The Opera house is very impressive and was built during the Second World War.Tonight there are two concerts one outdoor and the other in the Opera house which we hope to attend. At the moment Lloys is in a garage checking over the car, switching wheels and fixing a shock absorber!
We have been without Internet connection for the last week so here is an update on what the rally has been up to . We left Ulan Bataar after a ceremonial send off in the main square. Lloyd and I were surprised when the Canadian Ambassador arrived to send us on our way. He had heard there was a Canadian entry and came to see if we needed anything. I believe we were the only country to have their Ambassador there! We then started the most toughest of the rally days. Seven nights of camping and extremely rough road conditions. Ruby managed very well and we maintained our gold status throughout so we were very happy. Not so for many of the other crews who suffered damage to their cars. Three cars rolled over with no harm to the crews, but some shaken contestants. We had a very deep water crossing where they towed some cars and the tow rope broke and one or two cars had water damage. The campsites on the whole were good but one night some rather drunk local Mongolians came into camp and the Nomads the camp organizers tried to control them. However in the end the police arrested half the Nomad team and the local people and so we had sparse food the next morning.Mongolia is such a beautiful country. It is unspoiled and there are stil Nomadic tribes with their herds of goats and cattle on the plains. This time we travelled a different route and the scenery was less desert and because of recent wet weather very green with lovely spring flowers.
We crossed in to Russia, the border crossing slow as usual and arrived at the next camp ground to find that the camp had had to be moved ,there was one shower for two hundred people which in fact was a bucket to pour over yourself and three washrooms with flapping plastic curtains so one could see all! The Altai area is beautiful and we had a concert by local people depicting the various ethnic groups in the region. Kazak and Russian. I will continue about Russia in the next post. Unfortunately I only have photographs on my camera for this part which I cannot download to the I pad. But will have some in the next few days.
Shortly before noon yesterday we arrived in the beautiful Gobi Dessert. However as soon as we were on the track we had to tackle two time trials! Now when it has been four yeas since your last rally panic sets in . Can I remember how to bring up the waypoints? Can I give Lloyd quick enough directions? We set of on the first trial driving as fast as we could over stones and sandy tracks, the problem being which track should we take! We were doing well when suddenly we realised that we going further away from the waypoint. We decided to head across to join the right track but had drifted completely off course. Then Mark Buchanan in his Mustang appeared he had lost all his waypoints in his GPS but knew where the check in was. So we led him to the check in and both cars managed to get clocked in in time! The next trial we did really went well so we were pleased and headed off to the campsite.
At least it is light here in the evenings and we had time to get the tent well organised and have time for a beer befor dinner. Then we were entertained by Bruce and Harry Washington, father and son from Australia on the bagpipes! Rather weird being in Mongolia and singing Waltzing Matilda to bagpipes! Lloyd and I were both tired so settled down in the tent for what we hoped would be a good nights sleep. Somebody decided to work on their car and was constantly revving the engine. At midnight somebody shouted( cannot repeat the words) that he should turn off the engine which thankfully he did and we could at last get some sleep. Today we had three more time trials and we did well for us at least again. Now we are in Ulan Bataar for a rest day, heaven!
We left the border town of Erenhot in China yesterday morning and after the usual border wait we entered Mongolia. We certainly remembered the border towns from our last visit but China especially has changed so much in the past six years. Huge growth, many new high rise apartments and now very few bicycles except in rural areas. Everybody has a cell phone and are mad about taking photos of the car. In fact they are terrible drivers and pull up close to take a photo and then drive slowly in front for more views. The funniest moment was when an ambulance came from behind with sirens blaring and lights flashing, it then pulled in front of us and slowed down! We thought perhaps the patient was not doing too well but after a kilometre we decided to overtake whereupon the paramedics all lent out of the windows to take photographs and then carried on their way at a fast speed!! I was glad I was not the patient. Later in the day we reached the Gobi!
After a sleepless night and breakfasting at 5am. we drove the 60kms. to the Great Wall at Badaling for the start of the rally. Chinese drummers and dragon dancers welcomed us and there was certainly an air of excitement and some trepidation as we line up in position. Being #8 we were flagged off at 8.04 and we were on our way. It has been sometime since I have done any navigating and was worried I had forgotten especially with a new GPS but all went well. It was a good day apart from the huge numbers of trucks on the roads belching out black smoke as they struggled up the hills with us trying to over take when we could. We had a nice clean lunch stop and then drove on to the hanging monasteries at Datong. Quite spectacular to see and well worth the climb to the top. Unfortunately I had only my point and shoot camera with me which decided to die when reached the top! The funny thing is that this is the camera we bought six years ago in Ulaan Batar because our previous one gave up the ghost in Datong!! Tomorrow we head for Erenhot and the next day we shall be in Mongolia. Ruby ran brilliantly today and so far no punctures!
We arrived in Beijing yesterday and today we were taken to the warehouse to collect Ruby! Luckily she started straight away and we then had to drive forty Kms. Back to our hotel, not an easy task in Beijing traffic. However we managed well without getting lost which was another milestone achieved. Tomorrow we have the scrutineering and final check. It is hot and humid here, 35C
Last week we drove Ruby to Vancouver for her long awaited voyage to China.We shall next see her in the warehouse in Beijing assuming all goes well. Now that we no longer have the car to keep us occupied our minds must now turn to applying for the visas. This time we only need three, China, Russia and Belarus. However all three countries require letters of invitation and the Russian form is long! They need to know where you have travelled in the last ten years and date of entry. The ancient brains here have been working overtime. We shall keep our fingers crossed that they will be processed within the next three weeks.