Tuesday, 28 May 2013

They've made it .... Southampton to Vladivostock in 8 weeks and 2 days.  Not a bad effort for the old guys.

Many doubted Les could pull this off, not only has he done it, he's done it in style, through trials and tribulations, good days and tough days.  He's done it all with a smile. We've only heard a small fraction of his tales so far and over the next few weeks while the Jimnys are on the water on their way to Vancouver, we'll hear many more.


I want to also take this opportunity to publicly thank Suzuki .... this is what I wrote this morning to Alun Parry, who has been instrumental in backing Les throughout the Challenge .....

Hi Alun, I know the challenge is only halfway round but I just have to tell you this now ......... We thought all of you at Suzuki UK have been brilliant and have supported this challenge over and above what would normally be expected of a sponsor.  But added to that, the way Suzuki have supported Les across numerous countries all the way to Vladivostock, has just been fantastic, I am amazed at how all the dealerships have got behind the Challenge and supported Les with such enthusiasm.  They are all really a great credit to Suzuki.

Southampton, the start. From the left, Alun Parry, Les Carvall Guy Newman (Suzuki Totton)

Saturday, 25 May 2013

We've driven the main highway through Mongolia now, 1200 miles from west to east. Of the 1200 miles, 800 miles was sand track, 400 was surfaced with half of that broken and full of pot holes, the rest was fair to good. We crossed Mongolia in seven days, not a record, but a good time for guys our age. We were averaging between 25 to 45 miles an hour and nearly wrecked the poor Jimnys and ourselves.

We've met some fantastic people, one of them being the tiniest fully grown woman I've ever seen when we stopped to ask for directions in the middle of nowhere.  Click the link to see the video .....   http://bit.ly/10n4BxM

And we met some possible new recruits ...
  the two on the left wanted to join the crew, the one on the right had more sense!!

As you know now the Yellowbrick tracker stopped working just before the Mongolian border and all attempts to get a signal from it have failed. Keith has been liaising with Yellowbrick to try and resolve the problem and they have been very helpful and after trying everything with no positive result, they have suggested they have offered to replace our current tracker with a new one.

We can't thank Yellowbrick enough for all their help and support. They have been a terrific company to work with.

Due to the logistics of getting the new Tracker to me we have decided that the best course of action would be to exchange the Trackers when I finish this stage at Vladivostok and before the start of Stage 4 in Vancouver Canada. So in order for you to see where I am day by day I will be texting Keith with an update of our position and he will update a Google Earth map on our web site. Keep smiling, Les.

We will continue to publish information updates on the Yellowbrick Blog as and when we receive it from Les.

Sunday, 19 May 2013

We arrived in Tashanta our last Russian stop before Mongolia on Saturday 11th.....

Out side the hostel type accommodation at Tashanta Sunday 12th getting ready to cross the border 9am on Monday.  I fed the crew a evening meal of Chilli-con-carne, minced beaf, carrots and peas ......... they spent the rest of the night on the loo, must be my cooking. Les

We crossed the border on Monday 13th and spent the night in Olgii, onto Khovd on the 14th, Altai on the 15th, Bayankhongor on the 16th, Ulaan-Baatar on the 17th / 18th and Darkhan on the19th. We'll hopefully cross the Mongolian border back into Russia Monday 20th. Saturday the 18th was a rest day in Ulaan-Baatar.

Here in deepest Mongolia there are no traffic lights or road signs so all you can do is to get up and go in the morning with the sun in your face and in the afternoon it is on your back. We travel east everyday and hope it takes us on the right road (track). After taking the wrong track two or three times you soon get the hang of it. Click the link below the map and watch the video ....

The crew and the Jimnys have taken one hell of a beating, the Mongolian roads are roads from hell, but we have survived. We rattle and squeak a bit, that's the Jimny not me! I just feel a bit knackered. I'm also a foot shorter from driving a 11 hour day. There are times I have been lifted out of the driving seat as the little Jimny dives into hole that's so deep it frightens the daylights out of me.  As the Jimny reaches the bottom first I arrive just after with a back jarring thump. When you next see me, you'll see a wrinkled old midget!!

We have managed on our own so far without a guide or translator but if you don't hear from me for the next week you had better come looking for us because we will probably be lost.

This is what you look like after 5 hours of driving on dirt roads and eating dust, it plays havoc with your hair as well. We stopped at a village called Buuzagaan on route to Bayankhogor. Bouncing up and down all day on your bladder doesn't help and requires frequent stops, some in a hurry!

Monday, 13 May 2013

A day of trials and tribulations

The good news first .... they've crossed the border into Mongolia.
Mongolian Border Crossing
From Les ....
Hi everybody, I am typing this update to you knowing that it won't be sent until we find a wifi connection. It is May 12th and we're at a place called Kosh-Acash near Tashanter the border crossing into Mongolia, we had planned to cross today, but were told that the border was closed until 9am Monday. As there is no wifi in this part of the world we can't contact anybody to tell them we are OK and that we expect to cross the border and be at Olgii about 50 miles south by mid day tomorrow.

Since we have been on our own without a translator we have done very well, I worked out what I would say to Russian speaking people to ask for assistance and wrote it down and I sweet talked the girl at the Hotel we stayed at to translate them into Russian and it has worked. So when we go to a garage to get fuel I flash my paper that says can you help me please I do not speak Russian, I have two cars, I need petrol (benzene) can I pay by credit card or do I have to pay cash.  Can I fill the tank full or can I only have 25 litres.  I give them that, give them my 'take pity on an old man' look and it works! I have a number of these slips of paper ready to pull out whenever we need food, accommodation, directions were to go, are we on the right road and so on.

I have been quite worried about Mongolia, we have allowed 5 days to travel through and come out at the other end, if the roads are as bad as what we have been told it may take longer and beat up the Jimnys up a bit which concerns me. But that aside, we are ready to go in the morning, extra fuel and water loaded.  We've eaten some of the food that we brought with us so we are a little lighter.  

Perhaps I am worrying to much, but the only way to find out is to get on and do it, fingers crossed.

Update today .....  Last night they filled the Jimnys with fuel ready to set off this morning.  After they'd been travelling for a while towards the border crossing Les noticed he only had a third of a tank of petrol.  Turns out, two thirds of their fuel had been syphoned out, whoever did it was good, absolutely no sign of tampering what so ever.  Luckily they found a small place where they could fill up again and all was well.

Saturday, 11 May 2013

Stage Three begins - Novosibirsk to Vladivostock

Well Stage Three begins. Graham Higgins and Mike Bailey have joined Les in Novosibirsk.

From the left: Les, Mike and Graham

Without a doubt the toughest stage they'll face.  The guys are excited, the Jimnys have been readied and discussions have taken place as to the route ahead. The original route took them through Mongolia.  However, Les begun to have reservations about the communications  problems they are likely to face now they don't have an interpreter, particularly with the experiences he has had through Russia and Kazahkstan, where he is certain looking back he wouldn't have managed without Mariusz.

So the crew threw ideas around, remain on Russian soil all the way to Vladivostock or stay with the original route through Mongolia, where they really don't know what they'll have to deal with. Finally the decision was made.  They're going to follow their original route come what may and the decision was finally made on the following reasoning ......

from Les .....  "I don't want to be sitting around a dinner table in a year's time telling tales of our adventures then getting to the part when we decided NOT to go into Mongolia. I don't want to look back over this challenge and regret something we could have done having got this far. We're all in agreement so we're going come what may".

It's exciting, trepidatious and with a big dose of the unknown. They'll cross into Mongolia on Sunday (12/5/13), a country with the world's lowest population density, with many many miles of empty, bleak landscapes ahead of them. Where the temperatures at night can still fall below freezing. No hotels, no luxuries, scarce WiFi or phone coverage ............  so communications over the next two weeks at least are going to be very limited.

We wish them good luck ...... we're all praying for safe passage through to the other side.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013

Another milestone reached

They've completed stage two and are now safely in Novosibirsk, but this stage hasn't been without it's troubles.......

Hi guys, I'm holed up at Novosibirsk in Russia, waiting for Graham and Mike to arrive and join me for the journey through Mongolia then back in to Russia, then on to Vladivostok. The two Jimnys are at the local Suzuki dealership, where we had a photoshoot and press conference this morning and now they're getting checked out ready for the next stage. They have had a bit of a pounding as a result of the Russian and Kazakhstan roads.  We paid the price by having to repair a sheared bolt on one of the shock absorbers, we had that welded twice, done properly last time! Then I lost a bolt off one of the shock absorbers on the front so we found a little work shop who replaced it and we were on our way again. The last 350 miles or so I have had to take it a bit easy to make sure we made it this far.

To say I'm not concerned about what lies ahead will be an understatement, getting through the border will have its problems and so far I don't have a Russian translator to accompany us.  If we can't find anyone by departure time we're going it alone.  Then travelling through Mongolia where all the roads generally are dirt roads, is obviously a concern,  all our modifications should now come into their own.  Finding anywhere to lay our heads will be scarce so we will be camping the majority of the time. It drops 10 to 15 degrees below at night so that should be fun!  And another thing, I hope the other guys like spaghetti!! I will keep you posted as to how we get on. 

Buy for now Les

I reminded Les that he promised to begin shaving slices off the fruit cake at the first campsite. Then the confession came out ........ they've eaten half of it, there was only so much Russian food I could take he said!!

Crew for stage three, leaving Novosibirsk on May 10th is Les Carvall, Graham Higgins, Mike Bailey and should have been Alan Butler.  Unfortunately Alan has been diagnosed with a very serious illness and disappointingly he is not able to join the other guys. It's not only disappointing for Alan because he's been part of the team from the outset, but it's disappointing for Les not to have his friend along to take part in the experience he helped to plan. We want to take this opportunity to thank Alan for all his hard work on behalf of Heaven Can Wait I'm Busy and to assure him our thoughts and prayers are with him and his family.