Monday, 29 April 2013

Come on in ......... Sir

Les always has a story to make you giggle and this is no different .....

Today was a tough day in some ways but ended on a promising note (some might say).  Due to the rough roads they're now on, one of the little Jimnys suffered a broken shock absorber bolt.  They stopped at what looked like a roadside cafe with some sort of engineering/repair shed to one side.

They were lucky, there was someone there to weld  what ever was necessary to get them on their way again ... great, now off for a coffee before heading off again.

After coffee Les needed to pee before they left and found the toilet was in another block separate from the cafe.  He headed off in that direction.  As he approached the toilet a girl walked past him clothed in only bra and pants ...... Les did a double take, they were out in the middle of nowhere after all.  When he'd got over that shock, another girl dressed in only bra and pants walked past ....... WHAT!!

He was only heading towards a roadside brothel ..... "Come on in Sir" Les was invited.

Japan .... to go or not to go???

As they cross the border in Russia and head for Samara, there's trouble brewing in the Heaven Can Wait I'm Busy camp.  As Les is now putting in long days on difficult roads ...........  to try and regain the 9 day delay, there is a question mark over whether they will be able to take the Jimnys to Japan.

Les made the assumption there would be paperwork required at the border, similar to what he has completed on his journey so far ... but that is not turning out to be the case.  The restrictions, paperwork and cost involved, coupled with the container ship rules saying the Jimnys now have to be on the container 5 days before the vessel leaving for Seattle when they get to the other side of Japan make it pretty much not viable. 

Talks with the Japanese Embassy are going on but just in case they can't go, research as to whether they can get them onto a container directly from Vladivostok to Seattle as a back up plan is also happening. Then there is the question mark about ferries and timescales at Vladivostok port, will they get there to coincide with a container ferry as they're not very regular it seems.

First, though, they're still 9 days behind schedule, due to be in Samara tonight.  They will have to drive more very long days and take short cuts to get to Novosibirsk on time to met the next crew.

So all is not well in the camp at the moment .... watch this space!!

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Ukraine Border crossing experience

After kicking their heels in Warsaw for days they finally got on their way and crossed into the Ukraine yesterday morning ….. and as usual there's a story.

Now they've left what we all consider to be the more modern Eastern European countries they're now entering into the more communist influenced countries ….. the contrast was frightening according to Les. I put an humorous image of the bridge they may cross in the last blog, after looking at the video they sent back it seems it wasn't much better in reality. here's a snap...

It seems an individual can't cross into the Ukraine owning more than one vehicle …....... so after considerable discussion with the border guards, the guards worked out how to 'manage' their system so as to let them in.

Then there was the issue of vehicle insurance, Les researched that you could buy insurance at the border …........ what he wasn't prepared for was how. Basically it's 3 ladies sitting a large shipping container like building as their office, doing the paperwork for everyone. He did, however, emerge with the right paperwork to allow them to be in the country for a month.

Les in his usual style charmed them all with his banter, through Mariusz's interpretation of course and before he left one of the ladies insisted she have her photo taken with Les and the Jimny.

An lastly, they exchanged some money ....

They're hoping to be at the Russian border by Saturday so after the experience of the Ukraine border Les is just a little nervous.

After being 8 days behind schedule leaving Warsaw if they get into Russia without any hiccups they will start clawing back some of that time.

Les is OK, a bit tired from the long driving days they're doing now, a bit stressed that he's still so far behind schedule but still laughing.

Les missed his radio interview this morning due to not being able to use his phone, he hasn't got a local sim card yet but will do his best to get one when he crosses into Kazakhstan next week, so hopefully we'll hear him live with an update next week.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The New Route

They've finally left Warsaw with all their passport and visa problems are behind them. Up until this point Les has been feeding information, pictures and video back as to what they've been up to, but for the next 10 to 15 days they're going to be putting in long driving hours and having very little time to have a look around the places they will be passing through. So I thought, along with the new route I would give you a little information on the places they will be rushing through.

From Warsaw they are heading for Zosin, a village on Route 74 and 816 situated on the River Bug in the eastern most point of Poland, close to the border with the Ukraine. It seems Zosin is not really on the tourist trail, it's very rural with considerable crop growing and it's not easy to find out much information about it but I did find this picture .....
They will cross into the Ukraine from Zosin, I'm hoping this is not the crossing!!

Their first town in the Ukraine is Ustilug, from there up to Kiev, the capital and largest city of the Ukraine. It's situated in the north central part of the country and is an important cultural centre of Eastern Europe. Kiev, historic, beautiful, a very modern city and home to many high tech industries.

Probably a place for Les to get lost in!!

From Kiev they'll travel slightly south east to Kharkiv where they will spend a night then further south to the Ukraine / Russian border crossing of Luhansk. Luhansk traces it's history to 1795 when the British industrialist Charles Gascoigne founded a metal factory there - the British get everywhere!! The city is now an important industrial centre of Eastern Europe.

An older region of Luhansk

From Luhansk they cross the border into Russia, hopefully on the 26th, head for Volgograd and onto Samara where they will then be back onto their original published route. Although they might be back on their original route from here, the push will still be on to get to Novosibrisk in time to meet up with the new crew. Lets hope both the crew and the little Jimnys are up to the job.

Monday, 15 April 2013

An update from Les currently in Budapest

Hi every body, it has been a few days since I wrote anything for you, what with one thing and another I haven't been able to get around to it. However, you will have a pretty good idea as to what we have been able to achieve as we've travelled through Europe through the updates the team at home are putting online for you.

First I would like to say what a pleasure it has been to have Roland Spencer and Keith Twyford as travelling companions on the first stage of our journey, it has been a laugh a minute. As an aside though, you do not want to get lost in their company, they never let you forget it, trust me I know.

When putting the itinerary together I thought it was a bit ambitious and deep down did not think that I would actually tick all the boxes, but so far I have. To this point the journey has been one of laughter and sadness. I have been nearly frightened to death driving around the Nurburgring, delighted to receive a 1,000 Euro donation from Suzuki Europe and exhausted on the long drive to Gdansk in Poland to meet Mr President Lech Walesa. Who would had thought it, a lad from Hackney East London shaking the hand of Lech Walesa. My mum would have been proud of me.

We then drove south to Poznan and the pleasure of meeting my friend Iwona who has been helping to put the Polish part of the journey together, then further south to Katowici and the sadness when we visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. It is difficult to imagine the suffering that took place there, it is a place everyone should visit as reminder to the atrocity war creates and how we should constantly fight against anything like that happening again. It was absolutely chaotic when we arrived and I have never seen anything so disorganised. Never the less, it is an incredibly sad place and a visit that I will never forget.

At this stage we had some time to spare so we decided to divert to Bratislava and Vienna for a short stop over and then drove on to Budapest in readiness for our visit to Magyar Suzuki Corporation. Mr Hisashi Takeuchi, Managing Director, and his team made us very welcome. We were given a tour of the factory and received a box of gifts to hand out to the children that we will meet as we travel through the Ukraine.

To some up, it has all worked out fine so far and I am thankful for the team at home, my wife Vi, Maureen and Keith, who have been keeping you posted on the web, then to the reprobates travelling with me and Gary behind the camera.

We are waiting for Gary to receive his new passport with the visa's for Russia and Kazakhstan, we hope to receive them when we are in Kyiv in the Ukraine. Time is getting short but we've got our fingers crossed they arrive in time. While we are waiting I am going to try and organise a visit to Chernobyl, another visit which I think will be both sad for what has happened and hopeful for their future. I will let you know what happens there.

I want to end this with a quick reminder to everyone supporting us now, that all the costs for the Ultimate Challenge journey are paid for by the people taking part and every penny we collect along the way and online goes directly to the charity. So if you feel you can spare a little click here to donate. Every penny is gratefully recieved.


P.S. I've been asked for an update on the fruit cake.  It's still hidden underneath me and is not coming out until the first camp, I've still got my razor blade to sharpen, I don't want to see it disappear the first time it's out!!

Saturday, 13 April 2013

Introducing Michael Bailey

While the guys have some down time in Budapest and Les prepares for the next stage of his journey on his own I thought I would introduce you to the latest member of the team .... Michael Bailey.

Mike is married with two daughters and 4 grandchildren. A Career Army officer, REME, 1954 to 1977 serving in the UK and Malaya followed by 15 years as a management consultant on contracts in the UK and the Sudan.  Change of scene in 1990 he developed a wedding and portrait business in the Christchurch area.  He retired from the business in 2002 to carry out all the administration, for his wife's ladies fashion boutique in Christchurch.

Sydney Telegraph photograph of the Works prepared Rover 2000TC taken in Western Australian Outback

He was also an early member of the British Army international rally team from the mid 1960's to the mid 1970's.  Experienced in all the UK International Rallies and a member of the two car team on the 1st Daily Express London to Sydney Marathon in 1968 in a Rover 2000TC, in 1970 as a member of the 3 car team entered in the Daily Mirror World Cup Rally to Mexico in a Peugeot 504 and in 1965 as a member of the first crossing of the English Channel, Dover to Calais in an Amphicar and onward drive to the Frankfurt Motor Show, the event was featured in the ITV and Salvage Squad.

Crossing the English Channel, Dover to Calais in an Amphicar
Mike's more sedate interests now include photography, long distance walking and oil painting.

He says he's much looking forward to the Jimny Challenge, which he will join on May 9th on the stage from Novosibirsk, (Russia) through Mongolia, back into Russia and on to Vladivostok to catch the ferry to Japan and flying home from Japan on the 11th June.

Monday, 8 April 2013

What the rest of the team DIDN'T know about ........

...... before Les left on his crazy journey.

The journey is broken up into stages. Les is the only one driving the entire journey, for the rest of the journey he's joined by various other old geezers. All these old geezers have got together on numerous occasions, discussed what sections they want to drive, trained together in the art of tent erection, first aid etc (we still wonder if they'll give each other the kiss of life when it comes to it) packed the Jimnys, test driven the Jimnys, chewed the fat over the whole project and until the night before Les left no one (not even me -Maureen) knew he had 26 days where there were no other old geezers driving with him. It was just Les on his own!! He had kept that very quiet, I had been asking him for probably two weeks prior to them leaving who was doing each stage and he kept telling me it was all covered.

Unbeknown to the rest of us he had arranged a hungarian driver to drive the other Jinmy for these 26 days. They'll be driving from Budapest all the way through to Novosibrisk entirely on their own. That's Budapest in Hungary, through the Ukraine, into Russia, out of Russia into Kazakhstan, then back into Russia again.

Needless to say Vi (Les's wife), Carol (his Daughter) and myself had a panic!!  How could he have kept that to himself, why didn't he tell all the rest of the guys that no one was covering that section?? Why didn't he tell me so I could put it out there and see if there were any other old geezers mad enough to take the challenge?? The problem at this late stage is, it is impossible for anyone else to get their injections, visa's weren't a problem they can be obtained pretty quickly. What to do??  Should we do anything??  Les went off happy enough with his own arrangements should we interfere??  Of course we should we were worried.

We spoke to the guys already driving the other stages, but they couldn't do it, they asked around to see if they knew anyone else crazy enough to do it without worrying about injections etc but we came up empty handed.  All the while Les is still saying he's perfectly happy with the arrangements he's made.  We had one last shot ....... the cameraman Gary, who joined at the last minute had no reason to rush home from Budapest so lets ask if he can stay on.

Yes he could BUT.

His passport will run out before they got to Novosibrisk. The backup team (Me, Vi and Keith) envisaged our input would calm down after they left ..... NO .... it's increased 10 fold!!  MEN!!!

So we set about organising, through Tayfun at Scott's Travel, how we can get Gary's passport renewed and get the relevant visa's before they're due to leave Budapest on April 14th. To do this we're relying of the guys to fill in paperwork, organise photos and find a post office in Poland where they get it all Fed exed back to the UK. Well surprisingly enough they did manage to do MOST of it ...... they forgot to put Gary's Passport in with all the paperwork ...... we thought it might be to good to be true!!

Les at the Post Office in Gdansk

In the mean time, they've met up with the Hungarian driver and everything is organised.  So what do you think about all that????

Driver, Max, in the red shirt, looks very nice in the video they took of him.

Next blog we'll let you know if we manage to pull off a miracle and get Gary a new Passport and visas before April 14th.

Thursday, 4 April 2013

Hi guy's, my apologies for not making contact sooner, but what with the excitement of finally seeing an end to preparation and actually starting the journey, focusing on getting things right at the beginning I haven't had time to get something typed up for you. However I have been told by Maureen that if I didn't do something pretty quick I will be in trouble, trust me you don't mess with Maureen, so here I go.

I think you are ahead of me in as much as Maureen and Keith have feeding the web site with up to date info so what I have to say will fill in the gaps so that you get a picture as to what has been going on. Sunday was absolutely perfect, I had hoped that there would be a good turn out but it was far better than I expected. I tried to make sure  I said hello to everybody, but if I missed anybody out please except my apologies.  Thanks also to Vi my lovely wife, Maureen, Keith and Penny, Alun, Guy, Robert, Trevor, Alan, Glyn, Roger, Graham, Mike, Roland,Keith, Julian and everybody that helped me bring the project together.

Well guys I started this article with the full intention of bringing you up to date but it is 12.30 and I am having trouble keeping my eyes open. We are driving to Gdansk in Poland tomorrow from Leipzig, about 650 kilometres so I had better get some sleep. More soon.


Somewhere in Poland

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Great send off for The Ultimate Challenge

The Novotel at Southampton really looked after us well on Sunday morning.  Lovely bacon butties, pastries, tea and coffee to keep us all happy and smiling in the cold.  A great atmosphere as the crew chatted with all the people who came along, gave interviews to both the TV stations there filming, and to Viewpoint Productions who are putting together the While We Have Time film.

Les was in his element being a star, but the final goodbyes with the family did bring a tear to the big guy's eye. Julian Clegg read a poem put together from extracts from poems from famous travellers which was really lovely.  You can see that here

So after a couple of hours of good hearted ribbing, performing for the cameras, emotional goodbyes, they were finally on their way.

The first day's travel was thankfully uneventful, as after two years of build up Les could really do with a rest if truth be told. The second day they were at Nurburgring and as all men are really still little buys, got all excited about taking the Jimnys around the track. They were probably the slowest vehicles on the circuit, but that didn't stop them being the happiest!!

I still don't have pics of that yet despite nagging them all today, but will not give up and as soon as I get them they will go up online.