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Having skipped out early from the launch party the intrepid Plan F boys slipped out into the London night, and after a brief pep talk from a Lewisham bouncer we were out on the open road and headed for Dover. Obviously, we got stopped by customs, but apart from that all was golden, and we settled down for a brief evening snooze on the grubby floor of a cross channel ferry.
Dave took on the monster-fuelled graveyard shift, through the rainy French night until the sun came up. Don’s first act on taking his stint was to take evasive action to avoid a unidentified but distinctly wolf-like creature which decided to get a closer look at the Skoda at 130km/hr. Al then took over to set an early land speed record attempt (90mph, downhill with a stiff breeze behind – perhaps we should get a sail like the Just Add Water guys!) before steering the good ship Skoda into Munich just in time for some mid-afternoon beers. Time taken to pitch tent and have cold beers in hand: 2minutes 39 seconds, but we’ll get quicker.
It had been a mammoth 30hr drive but almost 10% of the rally had been smashed out and there was still time to take Don on a cultural and historical tour of Munich’s beer halls (I always thought HB stood for Hofbrau, but history detective Don assured me it was a cunningly disguised code for Hitler’s Bar). Some cracking street music and the lure of more beers almost led the lads astray, but with a lot of driving to do the next day, the boys decided to be Earlynight Steves and call it a night. Rob had a great time.
So originally when we signed up for the Mongol Rally the start was going to be today, Saturday, but for whatever reason plans changed and the start was moved to the Sunday morning. The idea was that all teams would head to the iconic Battersea Power Station in Central London for a jovial knees up before getting up and leaving at 7am on Sunday, no doubt ridiculously hungover and quite possibly still over the legal limit. With being on such a tight schedule for getting to Mongolia we decided to forego the official launch and head out late on the Saturday evening for a 00:30 ferry to Calais on the Sunday morning.
Having got up, packed, unpacked, re-packed at least twice Don and I cruised down to Alan’s in Bilsborrow to pick him and his kit up. More of the pack, unpack, re-pack went on and finally we were waved off by the mothership and Al’s mum Brenda. This was it, we were off!
Grey overcast weather changed to a pretty much full blown monsoon before turning into yet another scorcher of a day as we made slow but steady progress towards Battersea Park. My Dad and Penny were already there waiting to greet us and had passed us numerous updates on the best way to find the correct entrance to the park, but with no knowledge of Central London whatsoever we typically ended up on the total opposite side of the park to where we wanted to be and so had to try and work our way around the park whilst passing numerous other Mongol Ralliers heading in all different directions, clearly as lost and confused by the lack of directions as we were. Literally the last gate we came to was the one we had been looking for and so finally Plan F rolled into the start line to show our faces , meet a few old friends and to register our team.
I have never been so glad to get out of a car in my life, it was literally hotter than the sun in the Felicia but unfortunately it wasn’t much cooler out of the car. The father greeted us all with a hug, apologies dad, we were soggy and stinky! Al got us registered whilst we listened to Buddy the compare rabbit on over the PA system, Don did what he does best, he sourced beers – me? Well I was looking after Rob, he can be a bit of a handful at times!
We spent a few hours wandering about looking at other teams cars and saw all sorts of different vehicles ranging from a Citroen 2CV to an Ice Cream Van and even a £200,000 Ferrari… How the hell he expects to get that to Mongolia without A) breaking down and suddenly realising there isn’t a Ferrari dealership in Kazakhstan or B) Getting raped and pillaged by some of my less distinguished foreign colleagues I do not know! Good luck to him, hell of a story if he can avoid/take the raping and pillaging and proceed forth in the face of adversity to Ulaanbataar!
Whilst at the Launch Party we met up with Caroline – a girl who Don and I were on the Dixie Chicken Bus with last year and had a catch up with her whilst she scribbled “Never in a million years will you make it” on the side of our car – cheers Caroline ;). We also chatted with some sound northern lads from team Lost in Allegro, no guessing what they’re driving and also the folks from Just Add Water who with four in their team are also driving a Skoda Felicia to Mongolia, only they’ve mounted a little wooden sail boat to the roof – Nice. Whilst everyone left to go to the pub to get ridiculously drunk prior to an early morning rise for a police escort out of London and quite possibly to the nearest custody cell, Alan, Don and I loaded up and slipped out of Battersea Park into the night, our adventure had begun.
School bus driving specialist and all around top bloke “Donski” arrived in Lancaster last Sunday to spend a week prepping the car with us and generally just getting familiarised with everything. Once we got back to my place in Ulverston Don got to see the car, I made a £5 bet that he’d stall it first time based on the stereotype that Americans can’t drive stick. Also having driven it a fair bit I’ve noticed that the clutch takes a bit of getting used to as the biting point is about as noticeable as a needle in a haystack! Anyway, I lost that bet as he got in the car and drove straight around the car park with absolutely no issues. Bugger!
The following morning we were up early to fix an issue which had cropped up with the temperature gauge – basically it wasn’t working – kind of a big deal when your attempting to drive half way around the world and across numerous deserts! Thankfully a simple £5 temperature sensor was all that was needed to fix that little issue and once again the Felicia was fighting fit! I had to go to work later that day so I left Don to it in Ulverston, I pointed him in the direction of a few good pubs and knew he’d be fine. Fast forward 10 hours and at 1am when I walk in I find a rather jovial American man swaying around in the car park in his socks but with no shoes!! Turns out Don had gone to the pub and got chatting to a couple of guys, they explained they were travellers to which Don replied something along the lines of “Me too man! I’m just over from South Carolina, USA, me and my buddies are about to drive to Mongolia!”, the conversation progressed and somewhere between pint one and pint ten Don realised that their kind of travelling wasn’t quite the same as his – these were Romanian Travellers!! Either way he seemingly had a good evening.
Tuesday we were joined by the mothership who came up on the train so we could all have lunch together outside in the glorious sunshine. Don sadly did not find his new Romanian friends that night.
Wednesday Don took the car out for his first proper drive, he drove an hour down the road to Al’s house for a BBQ to celebrate his sister, Lynne’s birthday, this was the first time the two of them had met but I’m lead to believe that there was “good food, good music and good people” – I guess these two will get along just fine then!
By Thursday I had finally finished work for the trip and so was met by Al and Don in the Felicia so that we could take her for her first proper road test in the Lake District. Meanwhile, our fifth member (Rob) had also arrived so we threw him in the car and took him with us, 4/5ths of Plan F were ready to see what the Felicia had to offer! On a blisteringly hot day we drove up the side of Windermere, Rydal, Grasmere and then cut across and went up and over Honister Pass to test out her up hill abilities – slow and steady is how I could best describe it, and with a run up of possible! Dropping back down to Buttermere we looped back around on ourselves and headed back towards Bowness for a beer by the lake. It was the perfect day to be in the Lakes.
Friday morning Don and I had a bit of a lie in before attempting to pack the car up with all our gear, like putting together a jigsaw without the picture we seemingly are experts in the field and had it sorted in no time. At this point a massive thank you should be said to the guys at David Ian Skoda on Whitelund Industrial Estate at Morecambe for sorting us out with a fantastic touring kit of spare parts and extra fluids, by now this Felicia has to be the most treasured and cared for one in the country. Seeing as how we’d packed the car so quickly I thought I’d show Don some culture and take him to Lancaster on the train to have a looks around the castle – Americans love all that shit because their country is only about 200 years old, a veritable nipper in comparison to these fine shores! We arrived at the castle and yet again it was a beautiful day, we had the briefest of looks around before Don turns to me and says “Cool Castle, now where’s the pub!”, well that set the tone of the afternoon and after numerous pints sat out on the canal we frequented a few more of the local hostelries before heading to the Tap House. I recommended the Brew Dog Punk IPA to Don and so we both went for a pint of that, Don got all excited about the smell of hops, had THE geekiest beer and hops conversation I have ever heard with the barman, Oh and we met an Ewok! I’m not even kidding -we met a rather interesting vertically challenged gentleman who regaled us with his tales of parties with celebrities and showed us countless photos of him with said celebrities – I think Drunk Don even got his autograph!! A train ride full of drunken laughter and hiccuping, a curry and some more hiccuping entailed before we finally decided it was best that we head to bed as tomorrow was Launch Day!
I was giddy with excitement as we rolled up outside Lustalux in Preston…and I wasn’t disappointed. Johnny and the boys had well and truly pimped our ride! An amazing job at a very charitable price. The Adventurists might think the car looks “too professional” but what do those guys know. We think it looks badass!
We’ll raise a glass to Johnny and the Lustalux lads when we reach Ulaan Bataar!
Some time ago now we came up with an idea, an idea for a competition which would give one of our sponsors the opportunity to come with us. Obviously we couldn’t afford to foot the bill for all those bloody visas and we certainly didn’t think an extra body in the Felicia would help matters either – so we thought that taking a cardboard cut out with us would be the ideal, but equally stupid compromise. After sending out a few emails the wonderful folks over at PartyPacks.co.uk bought into the idea and offered to help us bring the competition to life by sorting us out with a life size cardboard cut out of the winner. The idea being that the lucky winners cut out would come with us wherever we went and be in every team photo from here to Ulaanbaatar…
For everyone who sponsored us £10 we put their name in a hat, for every multiple of £10 thereof we added another ticket with their name on, increasing their chances and our sponsorship! So after months of you guys sponsoring us we drew the winner of our 5th Member Competition and this fine fellow’s name came out. Meet Rob McLeod, equally as foolish and incredibly envious that he couldn’t get the time off to come with us. Luckily for Rob he is coming with us now, just not in the way he’d hoped.
“Hold can 6 inches away from surface” it said, well that should be easy, all men know how big 6 inches is, its half the length of their penis – obviously! Turns out the instructions are wrong, they must mean “Hold can 12 inches away from surface” as 6 inches was clearly too close and it started to run immediately!!!
In all seriousness though I thought how hard can this be, I did an A Level in Art and i followed the instructions, turns out Hammerite are a set of liars. Perhaps it would have been easier to paint if the roof rack hadn’t been attached to the car – the panels for the secret cash stash painted just fine – either way, it was running and no matter what I did it just kept on running. In the end I gave up, sure we want our Rally car to look the business, but a few stickers over the top and no one will even know… thats the plan anyway.
So here it is, our painted (albeit badly) roof rack complete with high intensity spot lamps. Other modifications to the mighty Skoda include the hull otherwise known as sump and engine guard, the secret cash stash for the inevitable moment we are victims of a shake down, a second battery and our interior has been pimped out with an inverter and a whole load of 12v sockets. You’d think we were almost rally ready… however I have noticed there seems to be an issue with the temperature gauge. Yikes!