Saturday, 28 July 2012

Now in our 15th country

Phew-we’ve had a manic few days, making progress on our route!

 After Minsk we headed straight into Ukraine, taking just 4 hours at the border this time however the quicker border was made up for by slightly shoutier guards. Unfortunately the insurance buying place was closed so we had our first night camped in the car, while we waited for the hut to open in the morning. Insurance bought we headed into Kiev. The Ukrainian roads we’re slightly less pot holey compare to Belarus however, they drive like Maniacs. Overtaking into oncoming traffic is common place; on several occasions we thought we were about to witness a serious road traffic accident. For all the mental driving Kiev is a fantastic city, one which we’d all like to go back to. The historic centre was particularly pretty, unfortunately we were too busy attempting to navigate to take many pictures.

The next day we carried on through Ukraine, it’s really quite a big place and seems to be quite affluent in many areas. As night fell we tried to find a wild camp spot, as soon as we started to pitch the tent we heard dogs barking, and after a while saw a flash light searching for us. We quickly embraced the brave tradition of running away. After another uncomfortable night we resolved to find camp spots earlier.

The Russian border was the order for the next day. We had researched this the day before to find a previous team had been stuck there for 99 hours! We approached to border with trepidation, and were pleasantly surprised to be entering Russia within 2 hours. That night we found a nice early camp spot by a river somewhere in Russia.

 As we drive further east navigating by compass is becoming more necessary due to the sheer lack on road signs and the fact that Cyrillic is difficult to read at driving speed. We are also pleased and a bit surprised to report that so far we have not met any corrupt officials:  Rory has been stopped by the police who after checking the paperwork was correct allowed us to continue.  Also the weather is hot, really hot, we got so sweaty that tonight we have caved in and are staying in a hotel in Astrakhan, to get showers and air conditioning. In doing so we had the pleasant surprise of meeting two other teams staying in same hotel (Red Dog Racing and To Infinity and Baatar), these are the first other ralliers we’ve met since Goodwood, so it‘s been nice to catch-up and swap stories.

 Tomorrow we attempt the Kazakhstan border…

Tuesday, 24 July 2012

Cracks, Jets and Monuments

Whilst driving through Lithuania, we came across an airfield with a series of Ex-Soviet fighter jets as gate guards. Naturally, we had to take a closer look at some post World War 2 to Cold War aviation history.

The three jets included a MiG-21 (shown below); the worlds most produced supersonic fighter. It was originally produced in Russia in 1959 and is still in service with some air forces today.

Also included in the line-up was a MiG-25 (centre of the three planes above) and capable of speeds up to 3.2 times the speed of sound. A Sukhoi Su-15 also featured (below), a type made infamous when it was used to shoot down Korean Air Flight 007 in 1983, a passenger carrying Boeing 747.

As an update on our previous post we made it to Carglass in Lithuania, ok we didn’t really have a chip on our windscreen so much as a large crack growing at about 7cm per day… clearly we needed a new windscreen. We hadn’t been very hopeful that we’d be able to get a new screen, Suzuki’s don’t seem to be very common in Eastern Europe.

The guys at Carglass confirmed we needed a new windscreen and no they didn’t have one in stock. However one of their other branches had a Chinese import which they could get over within the hour. Nice. While we waited for the windscreen to be fitted, we were driven to the local market where Rory got a new hair cut! The car was ready to roll before we knew it and we were back on the road to Belarus. Thanks to Marius Hoppenas and the team at Carglass Lithuania we were really impressed with the speedy and courteous service we received.

Unfortunately speedy is not a word we could apply to the Lithuania-Belarus border crossing, to cut a long story short we started queuing at 6pm and finally cleared Belarus customs at 3am. The next day we headed into Minsk for some sightseeing. Next stop Ukraine border…

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Rallying on!

Since our last post we’ve been making our way South and East, before leaving Sweden we noticed our back wheel was sticking a little bit. On further inspection we discovered that the handbrake was binding onto the rear left wheel. We found a garage in Vidsel where the local mechanic Alexander managed to release the cable for us.

We’ve passed south through Finland marvelling at the many expanses of water that cover the country. In usual style as we got to the port in Helsinki we realised we’d just missed the ferry. We faffed about for 2 hours trying to find somewhere to eat, it seems eating out is not a common thing to do in Finland. Eventually we found a yha where we got pizza before getting on the ferry to Estonia. After a remarkably calm crossing we camped on an unused road on the outskirts on Talnin.

In the morning we crossed into Latvia where we stopped for a couple of hours by the beach, before heading into Lithuania. Petrol has now become much cheaper much less than £1/l ,  as has everything else, last night we had a traditional Latvian dinner involving pigs ears, ‘pixie’ chicken and strongmans roast plus for super cheap. This monring we are headed to Autoglass (Lithuanian equivalent) to see if they can fix a chip we found on the windscreen before attempting the Belarus border crossing.

Illuminate Design - Many Thanks

Our thank go out to Robin and the team at Illuminate Design for their support in our adventure to Mongolia.  They have kindly supplied us with four spot lights for our car.  We have filled them full of sealant, rigged them up, run the cables and, because of my technical-theatre-ness, frosted them too!

"Illuminate Design deliver a new approach to the provision of technical services to the entertainment industry.
They offer a forward thinking technical and production management team which can add that little extra to any show or corporate event that might have been missing in the past."  I had the pleasure of working with Illuminate Design on the Queen's Diamond Jubilee Pageant in Battersea Park, London and cannot recommend them enough.  Professional, accomodating and very friendly.

When we arrive in Ulaanbaatar we will donate the spot lights to The Lotus Children’s Centre, one of the charities we are raising money for.  You can support them too by clicking HERE.

Thursday, 19 July 2012


Apologies for use of kayak jargon in this post
We couldn’t let our trip through Scandinavia go by without a visit to Storforsen; the largest rapids in Europe.
These big volume rapid fall over 50m in the length of 600m, we could see the spray being kicked up from some distance away, above the height of the trees. The rapids themselves were incredible, the sheer power of such a volume of water falling so far is phenomenal.

After we picked our jaws up off the floor we had a quick game of fantasy line, however just imagining someone attempting to paddle it was enough to make me feel slightly queasy. Essentially for any route down the rapid one would encounter a terminal hole followed by another terminal hole above a steep drop with a further terminal hole at the bottom, lather, rinse and repeat several times and you sort of get the idea.
We spent sometime trying to capture Storforsen on camera and video, but I don’t think the pictures really do it justice, you have to go and see it for yourself. These were by far and away the biggest stoppers any of us had ever seen. The first picture is just upsteam and out of sight of the second picture, and there is still much more gnar both up and downstream of these pictures.

We spent another night in a mosquito infested campsite. Inspite of covering all exposed skin, (I even wore purple nitrile gloves for cooking), we have all been bitten a lot. Rory however has the most bites, possibly due to his aversion to marmite making his blood the tastiest.

Wednesday, 18 July 2012

The Arctic Circle, we made it!

After a Looong day of driving we finally reached the Arctic circle at 1.30am!

The final stretch of driving involved duct-taping an iPhone to the dash to keep a check on our GPS co-ordinates. The suspense was immense as the road has several bends that took us back south before heading north again. however the constant daylight kept us awake (even if it did have a bit of a jet lag feel to it). We saw a few moose and with Rachel's careful driving avoided any too intimate meetings!

Here we are at the arctic circle polar station, its about 1.30 in the morning and look how light it is even with the overcast sky

We pitched camp within the Arctic Circle with a mostly successful, midge avoidance speed entry to the tent.

(that's midge net on my head, not a bag over my face)

Today we got up at a leisurely pace after the previous late night and headed to Storfossen (we will post regarding this at another time as there is only so long we can park outside the hotel and steal their wifi).

So far as we know we have reached the most northerly point of any Mongol Rally team (unless anyone can correct us)

Heading North

(16th July)
To achieve our aim of getting to the Arctic circle, we’re spending some days driving North. Happily the weather situation has vastly improved, which makes for much more pleasant driving and camping.

After crossing the border into Norway we made a quick detour to meet up with Maggie (who studied at RADA with Rory), and visited her family at their summer home near Svinesund. We stopped off for a quick dip in the fjord, this was believed to be a sufficient substitute for a shower, and thus we are all now super clean.

It should be noted that while getting changed for a swim, Rory found a slug, inside his shoe, right at the end, it had been there All Day- poor slug. Every morning we now have a shoe-slug check.

In the evening Maggie’s family kindly invited us into their house for a lovely dinner. The house itself had stunning views over the fjord and was built by her great-grandad and his brothers in the 1930s!

We continued the drive north, while we aren’t in the Arctic Circle yet it certainly doesn’t get fully dark at night. Current position 62.42 degrees North and counting.

Monday, 16 July 2012

We are go

We set off from London Friday, before we even escaped the M25 we have to pull onto the hard shoulder for an emergency stop (roof issues). Undeterred we carried on to good wood in the sheeting rain, on arrival it was raining so hard we got instantly soaked just getting out of the car. We pitched camp alongside some other teams in a field that was rapidly taking on swamp-like qualities. The rain continued well into the night, (the good news is that we now know our tent is solidly waterproof).

The next morning we packed up camp and headed onto Goodwood race course during a brief break in the rain; here we met Rory fresh from the previous nights graduation. The rain returned along with the arrival of various parents and supporters, all attempts at organised packing were abandoned in favour haphazardly shoving everything into the car. Many thanks to team ‘4 Stags’ for letting us use their undercover garage!

Surprisingly soon it was time to say our hasty goodbyes before climbing into the car for our lap of honour around Goodwood Ant drew the lucky driving straw. Halfway through the lap the rain returned in earnest and didn’t stop until we got on to the ferry. The bad weather made for a fairly rough crossing, however we celebrated leaving the country with a small mountain of food provided by assorted mums.

Once off the ferry France quickly became Belgium; Flemmish roads it seems are not really coping with the soggy weather. After a couple of cheeky aquaplanes from Rachel, we set up camp for the night in another sodden field somewhere west of Antwerp

Morning greeted us with small specks of actual blue sky, and we set off Eastward, we’re currently somewhere in Germany heading up towards Denmark.  (actually uploaded from via Mcwifi in Scandanavia)

Monday, 9 July 2012

In which we attempt stunt* driving

It's now only a few days to go before we set off and the team spent the weekend getting prepared trying our hand at stunt* driving! Our local supermarkets came up with the goods, donating a small mountain of boxes for ‘packing’ purposes.

“who needs a tent; we could sleep in these boxes like a tramp!”

After scouting out a couple of potential locations, we snuck into college to make use of a quiet back road. Boxes were put together and we started to build a wall. Annoyingly the unfortunate weather blew the wall down several times, fortunately however we had a Joanna to hold the wall steady while we stuck on the I C Gradual Progress logo.

Once cameras were set up, we drove down the wall.

The video footage will be combined into our final trip video (the driver face-cam may have recorded a small squeal as we sped towards the wall). Oh and we took a cheesy team photo too! Check out the free T's we got from Lotus and Mountain Rescue.

*driving over some card boxes may not actually count as stunt driving but in any case we had a lot of fun.

Thursday, 5 July 2012

We have a roof rack!

Over the last few weeks we’ve been in touch with the lovely folks at Wilco racks. For people who don’t know, these are the guys who build the excellent roof racks for the ICU minibuses. While they don’t usually do cars, they kindly recognised our charitable endeavour and have built us a custom designed roof rack for the Ignis. Today I went to pick up the result...

I'm really pleased with this piece of kit, it's way sturdier than any of the roof option you can get on  the highstreet and hopefully it will hold all the extra stuff we can’t fit in the boot all the way to Mongolia!
Many thanks to the team at Wilco.

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Car Preparations (Part 1!)

With less than two weeks to go before the "Festival of Slow" at Goodwood, I thought it was time to start giving the car a good clean and a thorough check over!

Sadly the car arrived in a less than clean and tidy state on the inside, so I would like to say a big thank you to my mum (Frances) for following my vacuuming with a shampooer. (Sorry Rach, but there is no longer chocolate embedded into the rear seats!)
Of course, I couldn't write this without also acknowledging Becky, the perpetual distraction - shown here helpfully modelling the boot space mid cleaning:

It would appear that at some point in the car's past someone used the jack in the wrong place, damaging a join in the body work.  Unfortunately, this also bent part of the actual jacking point in the process, which made it difficult to get the jack in place properly:

Careful application of a 2 lb lump hammer via a die (piece of wood) put it right though:

The second problem of the day was one of a (very) stuck wheel nut. It also turns out that the car's own wheel wrench is not very strong - it bent surprising easily. Not to be outdone, I found a stronger, longer wrench - but failed again and had to look for a bar to extend the wrench. It would appear these are either missing in action, or buried in the garage - so I had to improvise with the peculiar sack-truck contraption below*:

Despite applying approximately three times the torque to which the wheel nuts should be done up, I still couldn't get it to shift. There is now a thread un-locking solution (hopefully) working its way in. If that doesn't work, it's going to be an embarrassing trip to the garage! (I hasten to add that I had no such issues with the other 15 wheel nuts...)

Otherwise, the car appears to be in a very good state mechanically. A set of new windscreen wiper blades and re-fixing the number plate using bolts (instead of peeling sticky pads) finished the work for the day. Once we've fitted a new alternator belt and the new roof rack, we should be ready to go!


*Before someone points it out, the wooden block is just to hold the sack-truck up for the photo, it isn't a pivot point!