Paris! When you're driving a 9,000+ kilometer rally called the "Peking to Paris Challenge," the name "Paris" grows to take on a mythic definition. It is the final destination of 36 days of getting up; hitting the buffet breakfast; carrying your bag and stowing it in/on your car; getting the car ready and started and on the start line; heading off on a route dictated by terse phrases in the rally route book; correcting when you miss a turn, refueling, driving some more; dealing with car maintenance issues small and large; arriving at the day's endpoint; setting up camp or checking into your hotel room; cleaning, sorting, studying the next day's route; lining up for the buffet dinner; trying to get some sleep in your tent or uncomfortable hotel room; then rising to do it all again.
But today: Paris! The day began for our Bodacious Racing team much like all the others, except for the excitement of knowing it would soon be over. The cars were routed to a parking lot outside the city. The plan was to have the top ranked drivers finish first, then have the other cars follow in numerical order. Sunday traffic intervened, however, and that didn't happen.
Since the routing was on the main highway, cars were trapped in traffic for an hour before they even got close to the city. Stop and go traffic is infuriating to any driver, but when you're in a vintage car, that kind of abuse can cause overheating very easily. And when you're in an overheating vintage car that has completed thousands of miles of punishing road conditions, problems are sure to arise. With cars parked on the highway shoulder to cool off, numerical order ceased making sense. The plans were scrapped, and cars who made it to the parking lot were sent on their way into the city, to finish at Place Vendôme.
Peg, Gaye, Jan and Jan and Jim's oldest son Ross were all on hand to welcome the Bodacious Racing team. But with no particular order to the finishes, they were at a loss to know when to expect our drivers. Soon Gaye and Chris were in texting contact, and Chris kept the supporters updated on how far out they were. First near the airport, then 7 kilometers out, with traffic getting progressively worse. Once in the city, they moved with the other rally cars at a snail's pace. The crowd at the finish line was being allowed to block cars from exiting the finish arch, adding 10 minutes or more to each car's finish!
The streets backed up with traffic, with rally cars blocking local cars, and local cars blocking rally cars. When Gaye heard the Ford and Chevy were both at the Rue de Rivoli turn, she took off down the line-up of cars to meet them, texting Peg and Jan on the way. With 3 blocks left to go to the finish, Tim, Jim, Chris and Jeff were welcomed to Paris, complete with cold waters and slightly cool beer - it had been a long wait in the hot sun! Tim was a bit challenged with using a bottle opener for his first beer, and Chris kidded Tim with his demonstration of opening his beer on the Chevy's hood ornament. Subsequent beers (and there were a few!) were opened easily on the Ford's license plate holder!
The Chevy was overheating, and the cars were lucky to move along a car length at a time. After all those miles, those last 3 blocks were the longest! Multiple cars overheated to the point they would no longer start, and had to be pushed along in the line, as well as pushed over the finish line. Fortunately, the Chevy made it under its own power.
With the welcome happening three blocks from the official finish, crossing the finish line under the arch was anticlimactic, but satisfying none-the-less. It was after 5 PM by the time everyone arrived at the hotel. Tim, Chris and Jeff had earlier made the decision the awards dinner was not on their agendas, but Jim and Jan decided to go and represent both cars #36 and #114. We hope they are having an enjoyable evening, sharing the stories of this rally with the other competitors. Tim, Peg, Chris, Jeff and Gaye had dinner in the hotel's casual restaurant, meeting up with Andrew and Charlotte, a New Zealand couple who drove and navigated car #35. They had been met by their family, and we had a lovely, low-key, post-rally celebration of our own.
As night fell, Chris, Gaye and Jeff were back up in their hotel suite, and sat on their shared balcony for one last drink. From that vantage point, they were able to see the rally cars loaded on the transport trucks, with the Bodacious Racing cars heading first to England, then on to Rhode Island. A pleasant end to a challenging 7 weeks - with good friends, lots of stories, and new adventures to consider.
What a day! The Bodacious Racing team thoroughly enjoyed this last full rally day, driving around Belgium, beginning in Liège and ending in Ypres. Jeff knew it would be a challenging day when all the navigators were grumbling at breakfast. They had reviewed and prepared the route books, and saw how the 220 direct kilometers between Liège and Ypres were being stretched into a difficult route twisting and turning through the country. So it was another one of those particularly navigation-heavy days: perfectly appropriate for the penultimate rally day.
After a day of twisting and turning on open roads and through traffic, entering Ypres was akin to being recognized as rock stars! People thronged the corners, waving and cheering the rally cars as they made their way to the day's finish. The finish itself was in a square packed with people eager to get a glimpse of the vintage car show, and to speak with the drivers who had come all this way. Tim and Jim basked in the attention that Car #114, (the Chevy), received, happy to have conversations about the car and the rally with eager onlookers.
Again, Ypres represented a history lesson, this time in observing the heavy human losses suffered by so many countries in World War I. During the entire war period, from 1914 up to 1918, Ypres was the scene of some of the most important battles.
Of particular interest to Chris were the monuments representing Belgium thanking his home country of New Zealand. Chris's grandfather was gassed in this war as a member of the Allied New Zealand armed forces, and Chris realized this might have been the place that injury occurred. It was a particularly poignant observation.
Tomorrow the drive should be more straight-forward, with a Peking to Paris finish arch set up in the Place Vendôme, in central Paris. Cars will be gathered a mile or so away from the finish in a parking lot, then sent to the finish starting with the first-place competitors, then in numerical order. It will definitely be a festive occasion! The cars will begin crossing the finish line and posing for photos in early afternoon.
Peg, Jan and Gaye arrived in Paris today to welcome the Bodacious Racing team at the finish. They are staying at a hotel near the Place Vendôme. Jeff reminded Gaye that with he and Chris finishing before Jim and Tim, they plan to get a head-start in celebrating the end of the rally while they are waiting for their teammates!
The cars are holding up, and there seems to be some faith they will continue to the finish in Paris tomorrow. No one wants to jinx things, though, so Jim, Tim, Chris and Jeff would never posit that all will be well until the finish! But here's hoping exactly that - onward to France, the twelfth country of the rally, and the end of the 2019 Peking to Paris!
It was a long day for our Bodacious Racing team - but not because there were any car problems, navigational challenges that found the cars heading off the rally course, or due to an onerous number of kilometers they had to cover. Rather, the primary issue was traffic! Just because you're driving vintage cars across Asia and Europe does not mean other cars can't be on the roads you're driving, and in busy Western Europe in the summer, that means cooperating with plenty of cars for lane space. It was particularly frustrating to have to sit in traffic and watch the minutes tick by With Paris so very close. Arrival at tonight's hotel in Liège, Belgium, and the sip of that first beer, would bring them that much closer to the end of the long Peking to Paris Challenge.
Eventually, of course, they arrived. All the drivers appreciated the beauty of this city on the Meuse River near the German border. Crossing that border, of course, means they are now in their eleventh country of this rally. With 21 bridges over the river and various canals, there are many wonderful vantage points to take photos, and the guys didn't let us down. With both the Ford and the Chevy running smoothly, there was plenty of time for walking around and taking in the sights, as well as enjoying more than just that first beer!
World War II history was much on Jeff's mind today, driving through the Ardennes, arriving in Malmedy, and passing through other sites of the pivotal 1944-45 Battle of the Bulge. Jeff reads extensively about historical events, but spending time in the actual places these events took place adds a depth to his understanding of world history. It was definitely an interesting experience for him and the other drivers.
The real cause of celebration this evening was the knowledge that tomorrow is the penultimate driving day, and a relatively short one, across Belgium to Ypres, near the French border. Sunday brings Paris!
Jan, Peg and Gaye are on the move again, waiting for their flights from Chicago and Boston to Paris. They will arrive early Saturday morning, for a whirlwind visit to the City of Light, and, most importantly, they will be on hand to welcome Chris, Jim, Jeff and Tim at the finish!
July 4th, 2019
There were no Independence Day festivities for the Bodacious Racing team today, but they do report that some fellow American drivers had remembered to pack some American flags to display as they drove!
The rally started today on a race track set up through the town of Szczecin, where they spent last night. Chris took some pictures of the scene for us, and did a short video capturing the surrealism of the starting gate. Jeff reports there was a strange assortment of Village People songs, as well as some of the music from the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack, all with the voice-over of the Nascar-inspired announcer. Definitely a strange experience! But Chris and Jeff had a great time making their way through the old part of town, with cobbled streets, tight chicanes, and top speeds.
Leaving the old town - and Poland - behind them, and crossing into Germany, they were able to drive on the country's well-maintained Autobahn. But while this road system has a reputation for being a fast way to travel, heavy traffic posed challenges to our drivers. Frustrating though it was, at least they were able to enjoy being in the 10th country of the rally so far, and Chris had the opportunity to shoot a picture of a large dog-food truck blocking the Ford's way, another reminder of the dogs they are looking forward to seeing in a few days!
With the Ford's clutch showing some wear after the past few days, Chris took time to do some adjustments as part of today's routine maintenance. Tim reports he has questioned the clutch in the Chevy over the past few days, too. He'll hear a noise, and think it's the clutch, but then the noise disappears. He has checked it out, but doesn't see an issue; he says he just wants things to be okay and enable them to get to Paris!
Tim has also shared the story of the Chevy's "mice"; "Jim has become quite adept at finding stores that sell chips, trail mix, Snickers and Twix. So we have a bag that is usually full of good snacks. But then we noticed that our supplies were disappearing rapidly. It turns out that we have mice invading our stash! Large mice that also drive a 1936 Ford… mice named Jeff and Chris!"
The day ended at the Volkswagen Autostadt, headquarters of the German car manufacturer and a museum of Volkswagen cars, located in Wolfsburg, Germany. Our drivers didn't dally there, though; after checking in, they drove out and around the corner to tonight's hotel, to plan for a good night's sleep.
They only have this one night in the large country of Germany, ending tomorrow night in eastern Belgium. Our drivers have now entered the same time zone as Paris, another indicator of the quickly approaching end of the rally. They can hardly wait!
The Peking to Paris Challenge is enjoying the last night of three spent in a Polish hotel, in Szczecin, near the German border. With just four more days of rally driving, our Bodacious Racing Team is having to keep their focus on navigating and driving. It's far too easy to be thinking more about the finish in Paris, than of the route book, but in order to stay with the rally, we are hearing that focus is more important than ever.
With Car #114, the Chevy Bel Air, driven by Tim and navigated by Jim, starting after Jeff and Chris in Car #36, this morning allowed Tim some time to text his version of yesterday's low fuel story. "We ran the rest of the track with both fuel pumps on. Right turn sucks gas from left tank and left turn sucks gas from right tank. Bel Air actually handled tight turns well. Sway bars helped. Hoping no one noticed our mistake. Wrong. At finish, marshal commented 'Fuel surge, eh?' 'You heard that?' 'Mate, everyone heard it!' Got too cocky-- embarrassing but funny!"
Today's drive started with a repeat of running that same track - which was a go-kart track, hence the tight turns. Then they were off to Szczecin, through villages and wooded sections with blind turns and difficult directions. Tim reports that everyone in these villages, from old people to little kids comes out to wave at the rally cars driving by. They are so excited to see this big international event going through their villages!
Jim shares another story about his and Tim's shared OCD issues. The other day, the windshield wiper on the passenger's side broke off. Tim said that as long as the driver's side worked, he was fine. A few days later, as a joke, Jim stuck a few paper towels on the passenger side of the windshield. Tim said nothing about it. After a bit, Jim asked Tim if he noticed anything unusual about the windshield, and Tim, who was fully aware of Jim's joke, said "No - what are you talking about?" A little further down the road, Jim asked again. Once again, Tim swore he couldn't see anything wrong. Finally, Jim couldn't stand it any longer, and told Tim to pull over so that he could remove the paper towels. They both got a laugh out of it, and Tim said he would have driven with those paper towels on the window all day just to rib Jim!
Arriving at the hotel, spaces were reserved to display various rally cars in the courtyard of the building. As at other rally stops, locals trooped past to examine the vintage cars, and to enjoy conversations with the rally drivers.
This Polish city, very near the current German border, has changed hands numerous times in history. Prior to and during World War II, the city was known as Stettin, and during the war it was the base for the German 2nd Motorized Infantry Division. Chris and Jeff enjoyed exploring some of this history by visiting tanks left in place when the German army pulled out in 1945.
Rally photographer Gerard Brown took an action shot of the Chevy today, and it is posted in his rally folder here
The rally drivers received a curious headless welcome in the lobby when they checked in tonight. We are not sure what that's all about, but least Jeff reports a blissfully air-conditioned room, as well as that the temperatures have dropped to a more comfortable level. Tomorrow the rally crosses into Germany, with just three nights remaining before the finish. Our fingers are crossed they have no more car trouble!
July 2nd, 2019
The Bodacious Racing team arrived in what they consider an unpronounceable city tonight: Bydgoszcz, Poland. Jeff says he asked at the desk how to pronounce it, but it went in one ear and out the other! Of course, when we went online to figure out how to pronounce it, we found 4 different takes on it - so however you want to pronounce it, it will probably be correct to someone!
Starting the day was a slog, since no one slept well last night. The thermostat in Tim's room read 85 degrees when he checked in, so he adjusted it to allow the air conditioning to kick in, then left for dinner. When he returned, it still read 85 degrees! He tried calling the front desk a few times, but no one ever answered.
He decided the only option was to open the window and hope the breeze would cool the room off. But with no screens in the windows, he was concerned that some of the starlings that were flying around outside would come in through the open window. Tim could just imagine waking up to starlings nesting on the pillow next to his head! So he strategically placed the sheet over his head with just a little open spot for breathing.
When Tim checked out this morning, he thought he should alert the front desk to the problem of the air conditioning not working in his room. The clerk informed him the AC is only run in the hallways - not the rooms! Tim said if he had known that, he would have slept in the hall.
Jeff reports they had an issue with the Ford today, feeling that the front brakes were loose. It was raining, so turns were more challenging than they would have been on dry pavement. He said it kept locking up the right-rear brake. At the lunch stop, Chris adjusted the front brakes, and they report a much better response in the afternoon drive. Of course, that time working on the brakes meant they missed the opportunity for lunch...
They arrived at their second time control of the day, at a track located fairly near tonight's hotel. Tim noted the Chevy was extremely low on fuel, but he figured that would help with the drive, making the car light and agile. But when they got to the first sharp curve, the car started sputtering, being short on gas. They switched to the other tank, but when they had a sharp turn in the other direction, that tank started sputtering. They only were able to finish by switching back and forth between tanks as the car sucked up gas in the turns. So much for being light and agile! Fortunately, there was a conveniently located Shell station less than ½ kilometer away for a full refill.
Chris and Jeff entertained each other during the drive today, saying this is the last "Tuesday" of the rally - they are very much looking forward to Sunday and the Paris finish! Jeff says the only city they are looking forward to driving into at this point is Paris. Chris also reports he misses his dogs - a sentiment with which Jeff heartily agrees! Since photos were not forthcoming from our Bodacious Racing drivers today, we decided to share a shot of Bodacious Racing dogs Finn, Dodger, Gemma and Buck! Those followers of the 2018 TransAmerica Rally blog will recognize these guys, who are enjoying their own adventures this summer!
Tonight's hotel seemed to fall into the category of "Better than camping," but there did seem to be functioning air conditioning in the rooms. The temperatures seem to have dipped somewhat too, so hopefully they will all get a good night's sleep.
Tomorrow, they will drive to yet another Polish city, Szczecin, in far western Poland. The rally cars just need to keep going a few more days, and another 800 miles or so!
Today our team passed a milestone: the Bodacious Racing drivers observed Day 30 of the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge, having spent the entire month of June out of the country! At the end of this week, they will drive into Paris and complete the rally.
Meanwhile, this first day of July presented a long, long drive. They started the day in Riga, Latvia, but spent most of the nearly 600 kilometers in Lithuania, traveling south to southwest, into Poland. The heat continues to climb, and the humidity seemed to increase as they drove further from the coast through the heart of Lithuania.
Finally arriving at the Hotel Golebiewski at around 6 PM, it didn't take long to secure an outdoor table in the shade, and to quickly order beers. Located on Talty Lake, with access to other lakes in the Mazury region of Poland, it is a full-service resort, with a variety of activities offered. No word from the guys whether they preferred "Mini Las Vegas" to "Water Park Tropikana" to "My Friend Pony," but we're sure they were in full relaxation mode!
With various boats moored in a harbor near the Patio Café, these sailors are sure to feel comfortable!
The rooms, however, are missing one important component: air conditioning. This has been a recurring theme at many of the rally hotels, as the extreme heat of this summer conflicts with the lack of US-style air conditioning. Jeff had his door and window open as he prepared to turn in after an exhausting day behind the wheel; we can hope he and the other guys find enough cool air to get some sleep tonight.
The cars continue to perform well, and by now they have the routine maintenance and repacking down to a science! Tomorrow the drive takes them further west, still in Poland, to Bydgoszcz.
The Bodacious Racing team is adding countries to their list at a fast pace! From Talinn, Estonia today, they drove south along the Baltic Sea to Riga, Latvia - from one capital to another. It was an uneventful day, which is not a bad thing!
Tim and Jeff report the drive along the coast was very pleasant. Both the Ford and Chevy ran well, and once at the hotel tonight, they had only their routine maintenance to do. Checking for loose belts and bolts, verifying fluid levels, tightening lug nuts on the tires, cleaning filters, and examining areas that have caused problems in the past are all things that need to be done regularly. In addition, they use a fair amount of Windex and paper towels, cleaning windshields and mirrors. While Chris and Jeff have gone through paper towels in record numbers, needing to ask Jim and Tim for a roll from the Chevy's supply, Jim has been carefully drying out his used paper towels, then folding them neatly and stowing them in the door pocket for reuse. Ever frugal, that Jim!
There were two track opportunities today, which was also fun. So much of the rally is a serious challenge for the navigators, with the person behind the wheel following the navigator's directions. Road rallies definitely test a navigator's ability to interpret often confusing directions, and the ability to communicate well with the driver. The track runs allow the drivers to really work their skills maneuvering the car through tight turns and winding roads, and both Tim and Jeff have been enjoying that!
Feelings were mixed over the hotel quality and the food. Jeff described the food as "mediocre," but Tim thought what he had was quite tasty! Tim was also happy that both the milk and the beer were actually cold-something he has been missing so far this rally.
Tomorrow, there will be another border crossing, as they enter Poland, the eighth country of the rally. A week from today they will finish in Paris - and the excitement is building!
June 29th, 2019
The Bodacious Racing Team had a great rally day, waking up at their hotel in Finland, having a pleasant breakfast at an outdoor café, and hopping in the cars for a day of driving around Helsinki. The first track was a rally cross experience, with a short track, mixed road conditions, and tight turns. Both the Ford and Chevy completed the route with skill, and all the guys had fun doing it. It's good to be able to do these challenges again!
After a short drive, they found themselves at the second track of the day, Saukkolan. This was a longer challenge, taking the drivers through a forest, and winding the way at speed. With both cars performing well, our drivers flew through this part of the challenge with flying colors.
Then, on to the ferry! The West Helsinki Ferry dock includes a collection of restaurants, shops and bars. Chris and Jeff couldn't load the Ford on the ferry without staging a clever photo of Chris with the "Bad Bad Boy" statue. Artisit Tommi Toija had unveiled the fountain for a exhibition in 2013, and the city of Helsinki bought it for permanent installation at the ferry dock. Whimsical and a great spot for photos!
Tim reports the ferry itself is like a cruise ship with a car park! Cars were loaded in neat rows, with the drivers then free to explore the offerings of the ferry for the approximately two-hour-long crossing. There were various restaurants, bars, shops, and even casinos with slot machines! Drivers enjoyed the Baltic Sea breezes, catching up with fellow competitors, while walking the decks and relaxing for a few hours of travel by sea, rather than in their cars!
Offloading at Talinn, Estonia, the drive to the night's hotel was a short, uneventful one. So goodbye to welcoming Finland, hello to Estonia! Tomorrow the drive will take our drivers through this small Baltic coast country, and on to the next: Latvia.
On the 2016 Peking to Paris road rally, the route took the drivers east to west across Russia, spending 13 days on the road. Tim and Chris report that it was just an endless slog; day after day driving through the Russian countryside. The 2019 rally routed further south, diverting from Russia into Kazakhstan, then back into Russia, for a total of 12 days. The large Russian expanses have been broken up, and Kazakhstan has been a highlight of the trip, but the feeling upon leaving the country is the same: thank the driving gods they have crossed out of Russia for the duration of the rally!
The Bodacious Racing team have decided to rejoin the rally schedule, starting at their appointed times, which means instead of driving together, they started about an hour apart. Leaving around 7 AM, the Ford had a fairly uneventful drive to the border, arriving about 10:45 AM. The drivers held on to their excitement until they had successfully crossed over from the Russian Federation into The Republic of Finland. Jeff reports that getting through this border crossing - after the many they have done to date - was like landing on another planet! Nice. Clean. Orderly. A welcome change from border experiences so far.
Once across, the drivers were able to get out, stretch their legs, and hang out with Santa! Who knew Santa was a vintage car fan? Since all the guys have been missing their dogs at home, meeting the many dogs stretching their legs was a welcome distraction!
Tim reports once in Finland, the country lanes were fun to drive, dirt-packed and curvy. Tim also praises Jim's abilities with following the route book: "Jim's a fantastic navigator." He also tells us they had a wonderful reception from the people of Hyvinnka, where they are staying tonight.
Chris and Jeff were not happy with the way the Ford was running, but found the problem once they arrived at the hotel. The distributor cap was loose, but it was easily fixed. The Chevy seemed to get through the day without any kind of problem, and with everyone safely at the rally hotel, the celebration was on!
As Jim has been searching for a Bloody Mary for the past month during the rally, the Endurance Rally Association decided to surprise him. They put an ice bucket of beers and a Bloody Mary in Tim and Jim's room. But Jim wandering around, nowhere to be found, and Tim hated the drink to go to waste: so he drank it! There's a bit of controversy about it at the dinner table tonight...
Meanwhile, Jan and Peg headed back to Chicago, and Gaye to Boston. Connecting in Frankfort/Zurich for their US flights, they were able to experience a taste of the extreme heat wave that is endangering much of Europe. Word has it the temperatures should break mid-week, which is welcome news for our drivers. While they are enjoying blissfully cool and fresh air in Finland, as they head back south they are likely to meet up with the sweltering temperatures. Fortunately, by the end of the rally in Paris, the weather has been forecast to be more temperate.
Tomorrow the rally takes the drivers around Helsinki, with an opportunity to drive two race tracks. They will meet at the ferry to Estonia at 4:30 PM. There are lots of countries to drive through, a welcome change from day after day in the extremely large Russian Federation!
June 27th, 2019
The Bodacious Racing Team had a fairly relaxed day, enjoying each other's company and the good food available at the hotel in St. Petersburg.
Chris and Tim met early this morning to head to the rally hotel in nearby Strelna, further west along the southern shore of the Gulf of Finland. It was pouring rain, but spending a few hours accomplishing various tasks on the Ford and Chevy needed to be done.
Besides general clean-up and reorganization, Chris removed the skid plates on the Ford, looking for a rattle that had been dogging him and Jeff for the past few days. He thinks he found the culprit, a loose connector in the exhaust system. Chris also reattached the sway bars. These had been disconnected to allow for more give in the frame while driving on unpaved desert roads. With those conditions behind them, the sway bars could be reconnected to allow for better handling in the highway conditions and track opportunities ahead.
Tim did similar work on the Chevy, ensuring it is ready to go tomorrow. The reorganization of tools and supplies in the Chevy is of particular interest, since we learned that with both Tim and Jim having their own specific forms of OCD, there has often been a clash in the organized placement of items. For instance, they use a lug wrench on a daily basis, to ensure the lug nuts on the tires remain tightened. The lug wrench has a long handle, to which the socket fitting is fastened. Since it is used so frequently, Jim placed the wrench with the handle end right inside the back door, so he can easily grab it when needed. Tim, however, found the lug wrench in this position. His first thought was "Oh, no! If the socket fitting disconnects from the lug wrench when this handle is pulled out, the fitting could get lost in all the gear, and we would have to unload the entire car to find it." He decided to remove the lug wrench, turn it around with the socket fitting end facing the door. Jim was not happy with this adjustment of his plan, and they are still arguing about it!
Word from the rally is there are cars in mechanics' shops all over St. Petersburg! We spoke with another American team today at the hotel, Scott and Chance, who were able to get a new rear axle for their 1909 Chrysler. Their car had been trucked to St. Petersburg earlier in the week. When parts shipped in didn't work, a local mechanic saved the day by taking an axle from a former Soviet state limousine! They tell us the tires have "Made in the USSR," in Russian, in Cyrillic script, on them. That is a great piece of history there, even if the rally drivers say the car rides higher in the front than the back, due to the different tire sizes. At least they will be back on the road!
Everyone is looking forward to leaving Russia tomorrow, crossing into Finland. Jeff and Chris and Tim and Jim will be back doing time trials, now that the rougher part of the drive is behind them, and the cars both seem to be in good shape. Some of the tracks they'll be driving look to be interesting, and they are looking forward to them.
Jan, Peg and Gaye will head back to the States for the next week or so. While Gaye doesn't have car parts to carry, Jeff did put an assortment of clothes he doesn't need any longer in her bag to bring home. Gaye offered the same opportunity to Chris, but he told her he would just stick his stuff in Jeff's bag!
After catching up on some sleep, getting their laundry done at the hotel, visiting with Peg, Jan and Gaye, and doing some sightseeing, Bodacious Racing will be back on the road. The guys will meet at 6 AM tomorrow morning for the ride to the rally hotel. They will be back in rally starting order. With volume 3 of the route book in hand, and a fresh time card, it will be full speed ahead to Helsinki. There are ten more days to Paris!
From Moscow to St. Petersburg today - or from Zavidovo (outside of Moscow) to Strelna (outside of St. Petersburg)! It was a long drive, but being on the toll road it was relatively pleasant. Leaving early, both Bodacious Racing Team cars had a trouble-free drive, arriving to the rally hotel in Strelna around 3:30 PM. The Baltic Star Hotel there shares grounds with the Russian Presidential Residence in St. Petersburg, a former palace renovated by current President Vladimir Putin. Other rally cars, those not participating in the time trials like both the Ford and the Chevy, also arrived early, and soon began to fill the allotted parking area.
After decamping to the lobby bar, Chris, Tim, Jim, and Jeff waited for their ride to the hotel where they are staying tonight and tomorrow, and for Peg, Gaye and Jan to bring the car parts Gaye had carried from Rhode Island. With the van driver waiting, the parts were unloaded into the two cars, luggage (including dirty laundry!) loaded into the back of the van, and all 7 travelers were soon on their way to the Lion Palace Four Seasons, in the old part of the city of St. Petersburg.
Jim shared his drink-ordering experience from the lobby bar. He has been trying to get a Bloody Mary at every rally stop along the way, with no success. There does not seem to be a lot of interest in the cocktail in China, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, or so far - in Russia. However, this hotel had them! He ordered a Bloody Mary for himself, and 3 beers for the other guys. When the drink order came, however, he found he had the 3 beers, no problem; and 3 Bloody Marys! Not quite what he had ordered, but he had no problem drinking 2 of them, and sipping the third!
Jeff told about one distraction he has enjoyed while sitting in traffic during the past few days. With Jim and Tim in the Chevy behind them, Jeff can see Tim erupting in anger over the traffic delays and the crazy local drivers. He says seeing Tim bob and weave and pound the dash in frustration makes his time in traffic pass much more quickly!
Over drinks and dinner, the drivers discussed which had been their worst night so far on the rally. No one could decide for sure. There was the night in Mongolia, slowly making their way to Ulaanbaatar in the van, after the Ford broke down, packed in with 6 other rally participants, while the Chevy endured a slow drive, leaking oil the entire way, that same night. Then there was the Chevy's long wait at the Russia/Kazakhstan border for a tow truck, battling mosquitoes while working their way through Tim's iPod play list. There was one particular hotel where Jeff and Chris felt that sleeping fully clothed on top of the covers seemed the healthiest option. It has definitely been an adventure, driving and surviving - the past 4 weeks!
Staying in St. Petersburg at a top-notch hotel, and enjoying excellent quality and beautifully prepared food will be a highlight of the trip!
Tomorrow is scheduled as a rest day. In accordance with Tim's new tradition of renaming it a "Repair car day", Chris and Tim plan to head back to the rally hotel to clean up the cars, check out systems, and do some minor repairs. Tim says one of his planned jobs is attempting to clean the headliner of the Chevy which is covered in bug blood, from all the mosquitoes he's killed in the past few days! Jan, Jim and Peg plan to get out and explore St. Petersburg, maybe hitting up the coffee shop we've seen, mounted in the back of a van. While Jeff says he's not adverse to going out for a walk, he is most looking forward to sleeping in with nothing on his schedule. Gaye's schedule, however, will definitely include enjoying an excellent breakfast from the hotel's Tea Lounge!
June 25th, 2019
Hello from Saint Petersburg! Peg, Jan and Gaye arrived earlier today, flying in from Chicago and Boston via Frankfurt, and they are happily ensconced in this beautiful city, at the Lion Palace Four Seasons Hotel. The car parts Gaye hauled in two heavy bags arrived as well!
The Bodacious Racing Team drove from Nizhny Novgorod to Zavidovo today, mostly uneventfully. Chris admits that while the Ford ran quite well today, he doesn't want to say so - he might jinx it! After all the issues he and Jeff have run into on this rally with Car #36, it's good to hear that at least one day passed well.
Tim and Jim, however, developed trouble towards the end of the day. Getting close to Zavidovo, on the outskirts of Moscow, both cars ran in to heavy traffic. Stuck in a queue of trucks waiting to get through an intersection, the Chevy overheated. Suddenly flames flashed from the engine - the carburetor was on fire! With quick thinking, and quicker reflexes, Jim jumped out the car wielding the fire extinguisher and promptly prevented a major conflagration. Once traffic finally began moving, Tim was able to get the Chevy started again. Jeff commented that all the truck drivers must have been finding it totally hilarious!
It took them 2 hours to drive the last 20 kilometers of the day; excruciating! But they arrived at their hotel, making plans to meet in the lobby. Chris and Jeff were waiting for Tim and Jim when a very grumpy Tim stormed past them. The right rear wheel bearing had gone bad, and it would require a major repair.
The Bodacious Racing team gathered around the Chevy in the car park, and began planning the repair. The rear end would need to be pulled off, and the half shafts replaced. Fortunately, they had spares, but the question was whether to attempt to fix it tonight, or try to make it to St. Petersburg and fix it there. After a consultation with the rally's sweeps mechanics, they decided it would be best to tackle the job tonight. The sweeps stepped in to take the lead in the repair, since it was beyond our drivers' level of expertise. Everything went smoothly, and soon we were hearing it was all fixed.
Tim is now blaming Chris and Gaye for the wheel bearing failure! It hasn't been changed since the Chevy was driven in the 2016 P2P (Chris) and the 2018 TransAmerica (Gaye). Tim is saying the bad wheel bearing is the result of overly aggressive drivers... Hah!
As usual, the car park was full of rally cars in various stages of repair. Chris sent the picture of a neighboring car up on jacks, miscellaneous equipment unloaded, tires removed, its drivers well underneath, with the comment "At least we don't look like this!" A night without car repairs has become rare indeed on this particular rally.
Tomorrow the rally heads to Saint Petersburg for a 2-night stop in their final Russian city. We are all looking forward to connecting in person, delivering the car parts, and enjoying the coolest air the drivers have experienced in quite a few days. It seems there is another heat wave sweeping through Europe, and our drivers have been suffering with its intensity. They are grateful that the northern location of this city exempts it from the heat, at least this time.
Here's to an issue-free day for the cars tomorrow!
While Jan, Peg and Gaye have left for St. Petersburg to connect with Jim, Tim, Chris and Jeff this coming Wednesday, the drivers are heading to bed in Nizhny Novgorod!
But what a day! As Jeff put is, another bodacious morning - and not bodaciously good! Despite the work put into the Ford last night, it overheated within 15 minutes of leaving the hotel in Kazan. They tried to flush the radiator, thinking that would help, but Jeff suggested an alternative approach: just pull the plates and abandon the car! They are so frustrated - this rally has been hard on cars, but the Ford has just not performed the way Jeff and Chris had hoped. They are planning to make this the last rally in this particular car.
The Chevy has had its issues, too, but has been mostly dependable. All the guys have lost confidence in the Ford, and are frankly embarrassed by its performance.
Stopped outside of Kazan, and contemplating another flat-bed tow ride to a shop, the rally mechanics stepped in. They were able to diagnose a series of problems. The timing gear was set horribly wrong, so it seems they have been running on only 3 cylinders. That, combined with the bad fuel, made the engine overheat. They were unable to drive more than 5 km without overheating!
With that repair accomplished, the Ford made it in to Nizhny Novgorod under its own power. Chris was buoyed by 6 straight hours of trouble-free driving, but Jeff is still bummed. Here's hoping the Ford will behave for the next 2 weeks of challenging driving in Europe!
With about 100 pounds of miscellaneous car parts coming in Gaye's luggage, (including a replacement GPS pulled out of Chris's kitchen drawer!), we're all hoping they will get through the next 2 weeks able to repair any eventuality!
Tomorrow the rally heads to Zavidovo, outside of Moscow.
Look for better pictures to come, as Jan, Peg and Gaye plan to satisfy the desire to see more of what's going on in the rally - and in beautiful St. Petersburg! We suspect we might bring some positive support, too, to re-inspire the drivers towards the finish in Paris.
The Bodacious Racing Team was eager to hit the road this morning! After a "rest" day full of work on both cars, driving the 600+ kilometers from Ufa to Kazan was an exciting prospect. As Chris said, "Sitting around isn't good after a while, you lose your mojo!" So off they went!
Since they all have decided to forego the time trials in order to best preserve the cars to finish the rally, Jeff and Chris in the Ford, and Tim and Jim in the Chevy, are driving more or less together, which also adds to the fun. The pleasure of being on the open road again, however, ended mid-day. The Ford needed gas, and the Chevy decided to top off their half-full second tank. Getting back on the road again, it didn't take long for the Ford's engine to start emitting clouds of fumes, before shuddering to a stop on the highway! At first they thought they had overheated in the sweltering 95-degree day. However, they quickly determined the cause of the stall and the overheating. The gas they had put into both of their gas tanks was a bad blend. The Chevy didn't stop, having notably less of that gas in its' fuel mix, but it too was sending off fumes.
Once they were able to get the Ford started again, they continued limping their way towards Kazan, knowing the low octane gas, full of impurities, was potentially further damaging the Ford's engine. It was causing carbon build-up, and seriously thick fumes from the uneven combustion. Turning in at another service station along the way, they added more fuel, planning to dilute what was in the tank. That helped, but what really allowed them to finish the day's drive was the octane booster given to them by fellow competitors Malcolm and Barry, in car #108. Jeff, Chris and Tim first met these guys driving the Sahara Challenge in 2015. Good people, for sure, and happy to help out fellow drivers!
Arriving in Kazan, the guys were once again in car repair mode. They have decided to attempt to run the tanks dry. They then will refill with (hopefully) better quality fuel. Today's repairs included replacing gummed up fuel filters, cleaning and re-gapping spark plugs, and verifying fuel levels in each tank.
One of the more interesting surprises of the day came when they arrived at the hotel to park. This is the same hotel the 2016 Peking to Paris Endurance Rally stayed in - the one with the strip club! Definitely memorable, since to date Chris and Tim had never seen such a pairing. So while the route of this rally is different from the 2016 drive, some things remain the same. This hotel's idea of "Room Service" has its own spin!
The route today took the drivers through two time zones, bringing them closer to Europe. The time differences between their location and those of us in the US is smaller.
Tomorrow, with hopes that the bad fuel will soon be used up and then replaced with better quality gas, both cars head to Nizhny Novgorod. Two weeks from today, July 7th, they will be finishing the rally in Paris!
A busy day for our Bodacious Racing team in Ufa, Russia!
Before the rally, an official itinerary was distributed to the rally drivers. This itinerary states dates; which day of the rally each day is; the city or camp in which they start the day; and where they finish each day. Countries are also listed, indicating when they drive from one country to the next. Tim annotated this itinerary. In place of "Rest Day", where the rally spends around 36 hours in a city, Tim wrote "Repair Car Day." Today was one of those days, in Ufa, Russia, as Tim, Jim, Chris and Jeff worked to repair and refurbish their cars.
Tim reports via Peg that he and Jim spent 8 hours at the local mechanics' today, working on the Chevy. They had bent the steering spindle a few days ago going over a large pot hole, leaving one of the wheels rubbing. Digging through their spare parts, they actually found a spare steering spindle! But after replacing the spindle, there was still some rubbing on the wheel. They realized the wheel itself was bent. They then replaced the wheel, and that did the trick.
Because of this, the car then needed to be fully realigned. Tim asked the mechanics about doing this, but one of them said "Nyet." Tim had all the information to plug in for the alignment of the Chevy Bel Air, but the machine didn't allow for manual input. So after looking through the options available, they chose the settings for a 1957 Chevy Corvette. Now the car drives great!
Tim has worked alongside mechanics from Mongolia, Kazakhstan and now Russia. He comments that all these mechanics have been extremely helpful, and that they really are geniuses when it comes to working on old cars. You can tell they love their work; he's enjoyed figuring out solutions with all of them, despite the multiple language barriers.
Meanwhile, Chris and Jeff worked on the Ford at the hotel. They removed the skid plates; Jeff tells us they must have cleaned out 20 pounds of dried mud! They found an oil leak from several bolts holding on the exhaust manifold and tightened them. Then they removed the front wheels, and checked and tightened the brakes, cleaning dirt out of them, too. Finally, they removed the spare tire and the rack from the back of the car, since it isn't needed now that they will be driving on European roads, not across the wilds of Mongolia and Kazakhstan!
Jim filled some of the time today searching for (and finding!) supplies needed in both cars, including paper towels and trail mix.
By the time Tim and Jim returned with the repaired Chevy to the rally hotel, Chris and Jeff had already eaten. So they joined an Australian team at a nearby restaurant. Tim reports he's not sure what he ate, but it was good!
They will start out in the morning for a drive to the next rally stop, Kazan. They will be rejoined on the rally road by veteran rally drivers and collegial companions David and Jo Roberts, in Car #88, who also had some car problems, but are now ready to go for the remainder of the Russian drive, culminating in St. Petersburg on Wednesday. Safe travels!
June 21st, 2019
The Ural Mountains! While not the steepest mountains in Europe, they are evocative of so much European history, from Ivan the Terrible to the Second World War. The drive today was a pleasant one for the Bodacious Racing Team, as they worked their way west to Ufa.
With the slower pace of good roads, inviting mountain passes and beautiful scenery, Jeff and Chris, and Tim and Jim, took the time to stop at a couple of cafes along the road and enjoy the views. Taking a break from the difficult driving and car issues they have experienced since the start of the rally was a welcome change.
Tim reports they also passed a number of road-side shelters, many of which had cows or goats sheltering in them instead of people!
The Hilton Garden Inn at Riverside in Ufa is a definite step up from recent hotel stays. This is good, since they will spend two nights there! Saturday is a rest day, and will allow our drivers time to work on some nagging car issues, to get in shape for the next week of rally driving.
Interestingly, it seems that horse is a popular item on menus in this part of the world. When Tim shared this in a phone call with Peg, she said "Horse?" "Yes", said Tim. "Horse; Like Mr. Ed." Not reassuring to the horse lovers out there!
Jeff, ever adventurous, ordered an appetizer of horse meat with pickles. No report on what they all thought about this menu item!
The one danger in driving in the mountains today came from local drivers. Tim tells us there were a lot of crazy drivers on the road, trying to video the rally cars while they were driving along! This caused some local drivers to drift into the wrong lane... Yikes!
Here's to a good night's sleep, successful car repairs, reorganization, and a good recharge for the next few days of the rally!
June 20th, 2019
The Bodacious Racing team drove from Kostanay, Kazakhstan to Bannoe Lake, Russia, fairly uneventfully. While they were prepared for another slow border crossing, the drive from one country to the next was handled smoothly on both sides, and they drove across easily.
The roads were smooth and even, and it was again a day for scenery. Their accommodations at Bannoe Lake are billed as a resort retreat, but, once again, they were somewhat lacking in some amenities that certain members of our team would prefer. Jeff's first comment was that while his room had an air conditioner built into the wall, it was operated by remote control - with no remote controller in the room! Eventually he was able to track one down, and set the unit to cool off his room for the night.
Chris's comment was the room was better than last night's - but not by much! Tim and Jim are bunking together again, and they were getting teased by Chris and Jeff about the proximity of the twin beds to each other! A little "boys' humor" amongst these friends...
Another local crowd welcomed the rally drivers, and the dinner tonight featured live music. Jeff said it wasn't very good live music, but nonetheless it added a little local color to the evening.
Our teams were exhausted, and they retired to bed early. While today they crossed from Asia to Europe, tomorrow they drive across the Ural Mountains to Ufa. A rest day awaits them there, giving them time to catch up on some sleep, deal with brake pads, filters and tires, and plan the drive northwestward.
Some readers are asking about following the rally on a map. The first post of these reports has the rally map on it, with the general route, which can also be found on the Endurance Rally Association website, and then clicking on "The Route" button. The cars also have trackers installed; you can access these and see exactly where a car is at any time by going to the same website, and going to "Competitor Tracking". You can manipulate the map to figure out the exact location of a car to its daily destination. Jeff and Chris are in Car #36; Tim and Jim, in Car #114.
In other news of note, Tim's daughter Bridget and her husband Brandon welcomed their third child, Margaret Jane Kuglin earlier today, June 20. Little Margaret joins big brothers Ford and Reid. Congratulations to all - but Grandpa Tim will have to wait to get back home to Michigan on July 9th to meet his newest grandchild!
June 19th, 2019
Waking up in their tents at the Balkashino campsite this morning, the Bodacious Racing drivers climbed out to greet the day and share complaints about camping. Jeff, who has trouble sleeping under the best conditions, swore he didn't sleep all night due to the local village dog, whom he named "Bark", because he barked all night long! Chris informed Jeff that he must have gotten some sleep, because his heavy snoring in the next tent kept Chris up all night. The bugs were swarming in the early morning, leaving both teams to dodge and slap their way to the dining tent to get some coffee.
With this being their last night of rally camping, they planned to leave their camping gear for the locals. Removing that gear from the cars lightens the load somewhat, and makes it easier to find necessary tools and supplies.
Due to the steering issues on the Chevy, and the long wait for Ford repair back in Ulaanbaatar, our teams have decided that their plan for the rest of the rally is to skip the time trial test sections. These sections are where they damaged both cars to date; other cars have also suffered both reparable and irreparable damage. The competition is scored on these test sections, with the teams ranked accordingly. Since our teams lost 6 days waiting for repairs, there is no way they can make it back into prize-winning ranking. They have made the wise decision to focus on the drive and the scenery, with their only objective at this point being to get across the finish line in Paris.
And speaking of scenery, the drive Wednesday to Kostanay offered some pretty spectacular landscapes. Jeff reports farm fields stretching from horizon to horizon. There are no fences or trees - they have never seen anything like this. They are all enjoying these wide open spaces.
While enjoying this bucolic drive, however, there was some trouble. Tim and Jim were pulled over by the local police! Jeff and Chris were following at a distance and saw the police car move the Chevy to the side of the road. They stopped to help with an explanation about the rally. Turns out, the only reason the police had pulled the car over was to take pictures! After posing with the car and the officers, both rally cars were on their way with friendly waves.
Of course, once Tim's sister Dee Lane saw the picture of Tim talking to the police, she asked if he will need to return to Kazakhstan for a court date! We certainly hope not; that would not make Tim very happy. We're pretty sure he paid his "fine" with photographs and good will.
Once in Kostanay, they checked into their rooms at the hotel. To anyone who knows Jeff's preference for hotel accommodations, these seem particularly lacking. But that narrow bed will be better than sleeping in the tent! After his complaints about the heat in the room, management provided Jeff with a real taste of luxury: a standing fan!
This is the last night in the beautiful country of Kazakhstan. People have been wonderfully friendly, with the locals excitedly greeting the rally drivers at their first stop, the generous man who towed Tim and Jim in the Chevy across the border, the local mechanics who cleaned the mud out of the clutch and got it running again, and the joy local people took in dressing up in their traditional costumes and preparing a wonderful feast. Tomorrow will be another border crossing, back into Russia. They'll drive in Russia for the next week - sure to experience more adventure.
Both Bodacious Teams made it fairly uneventfully from Nur Sultan to the Balkashino camp site, despite nearly 10 hours on the road. With the recent torrential rains, some of the planned course was inaccessible, causing the rally to reroute more than 100 km on a nicely paved freeway, a pleasant change from recent rally days mired in mud.
The camp site was swarmed with hundreds of locals, in various automobiles, trucks and on horseback. Many were attired in traditional garb, demonstrating their excitement at the rally stopping in their part of the world. Chris in particular was a hit with some charming young women, happy to get a picture taken with this adventurer!
Tim adds some more color to his experience crossing the border on Sunday from Russia to Kazakhstan with his mud-bound car:
"Many cars had wheel balance problems due to the mud, and many cars also had their clutches seize because of the mud. It literally was the consistency of wet cement, with small pea gravel mixed in. As soon as we got out of the mud, we think the heat of the engine cured the mud into a very hard condition and seized the clutch. Some people damaged their throwout bearing, because they were able to get some clutch action and kept driving, which ruined the bearing. That's okay if you have a spare - but some don't. I loaned out a spare throwout bearing to a friend in a Peugeot. Unlikely it will fit, but you never know. It's a good thing our situation immobilized the car so the bearing didn't get wrecked. It was worth the 16-hour trip on 2 tow trucks. We spent 3 hours waiting for the first tow truck, and 5 hours riding in it. It took 2 hours getting through border. A nice Kazak man pulled us across the border, because the tow truck wasn't allowed. Then we spent 4 hours waiting for a second tow truck, and 2 hours riding in sit, while listening to Russian music and watching the driver pound the local version of Red Bull. Crazy."
Everyone's big concern about camping tonight was the mosquitoes. Tim said they were the size of pterodactyls! Jeff called the camp site "Skeeterville", but said the "hosing" rain kept them somewhat under control. He reports that it was as if the carnival was in town, with the locals loving it. He also reports there are bugs everywhere and the rain has everything soaked. "The stuff dreams are made of" was his summary! Maybe not happy dreams…. But we're thinking at least the rain cleaned some of that mud off!
Tim and Jim report there is an issue with the steering in the Chevy which is causing the tires to slightly turn in, so they're wearing unevenly. Tim spent time on the phone with Mike Nunes of High Tech Fabrications in Rhode Island, to discuss the issue. When they get to Ufa, Russia for a rest/repair day, they plan on correcting it.
When Tim returned from his phone call with Mike, he found that Jeff and Chris had set up his tent for him! While the Ford drivers were enjoying a local beer and conversation with some other folks from New Zealand, Tim crawled into the tent to crash! Jim was already settled into his tent. With the car's challenges over the past few days, sleep has not been a priority for the Chevy drivers. Despite the bugs and weather, hopefully they'll get a decent night's sleep.
Tomorrow, the teams travel to Kostanay, and they'll have their last night in Kazakhstan, before a long drive north, back into Russia, and all the way to the Baltic Sea.
The Bodacious Racing Team Car #114 finally arrived in Pavlodar around 5:00 AM. The tow truck took it to a local mechanics' garage, and Tim and Jim were dropped at the hotel. The four team members had decided earlier while texting that Monday's drive to Astana would be just the two cars taking a direct route - after their muddy day of rally driving, and the resulting breakdown, they were happy to pass on the rally route.
Chris and Jeff met up with Jim and Tim briefly, telling them to go jump into bed for a few hours. Since Chris and Jeff had been able to sleep a bit, they figured they would be in better shape to work on the Chevy. Tim and Jim happily headed up to their room.
Chris and Jeff arrived to the mechanics' shop at 8:00 AM to find the muddy Chevy sitting out front. They immediately groaned, thinking the mechanics hadn't begun to work on the car. But, to their surprise, they not only had begun the work, they had finished it! They presented a bill for $150 US - amazing! Of course, they wouldn't release the car to Jeff and Chris, since they hadn't brought it in; Tim needed to retrieve it after he caught a couple of hours of sleep.
Tim tells this story of their grueling adventure "What you see on the outside of the car - cement-like mud - got onto the clutch and seized it. That led to a 16-hour journey waiting for two tow trucks, clearing the Russian border, and entering Kazakhstan. We started at 1:00 PM and got to the hotel at 5:00 AM. We left the car at the garage, they pulled the gearbox and clutch, cleaned out the hardened mud, and re-assembled the car in 2.5 hours. We got 2 hours of sleep, picked up the car, and drove for 6 hours to Astana. Miracle!"
After regrouping, both the Ford and the Chevy got back on the road to the capital city of Kazakhstan, Astana, renamed earlier this year, Nur Sultan. It was a 6-hour drive, and Jeff reports that along the way, they saw an exit for the city of Sputnik! The Russian Roscosmos State Space Corporation has a launch facility at Baikonur Cosmodrome and the first satellite to go into space was launched near there. Nur Sultan is a modern city, known for its futuristic architecture, and Jeff reports that while it was another rainy day, it was obviously a well-designed city, and that once again, the rally was greeted by interested vintage car fans.
Our friend and mechanic Gary, from RPS in England, was in Nur Sultan, and he was able to spend Monday looking both the Chevy and Ford over. With the guys at his side, he replaced the fuel gauge in the Ford, which will allow Jeff and Chris to relax some about running out of gas. He also checked out the brakes in both cars, made some minor adjustments, and cleaned all the filters.
They enjoyed catching up over an early dinner, and then it was off-to-bed for the exhausted rally team! When texting his story, Tim included the picture of his and Jim's water bottles "labeled to prevent cross-contamination!" He then explained that Jim was "Bubbles." We decided we didn't need that explanation; seeing the muddy fingerprints on the one bottle meant that the cleaner one was Jim's! Peg suggested that in cleaning the Chevy, Tim might think of cleaning that water bottle!
The Bodacious Racing Team will be back on the rally road in Kazakhstan Tuesday. A camp awaits them as they make their way west. Here's hoping it's a good driving day, with no serious car issues ahead!
Special Note: Those of you who have been following Bodacious Racing rally events over the past few years, and are our good friends, know that we shared the last day of Pam King's life a year ago yesterday. Thank you to all of you for remembering this amazing woman; she gave way more in her limited years on Earth than she ever received. Pam would be so happy to see Chris and the rest of the Bodacious Racing Team driving this endurance rally, and laughing and cheering them on! If you want to do something in her memory, visit our "Causes" page, and donate to Metavivor, an organization that raises research funds to support medical investigation into treatment and causes of Metastatic Breast Cancer. Pam worked closely with this organization after her diagnosis, bringing her intelligence, medical know-how and professional expertise to advance the cause while serving as their Vice President. A donation in her honor would be appreciated. And for those who didn't know Pam, you can read about some of her journey on her dog Dodger's blog from the 2018 TransAmerica Challenge, which was written during the last three weeks of Pam's life. Pam, our dear friend, you are missed!
June 16th, 2019
What a great start to the day! Both Bodacious Racing cars were ready to go, with everyone excited to be back on the road again. Tim heard early before the start that the miracle he had been hoping for had come through: his bag had arrived at the airport! Even before the official start, he and Jim had determined they would drive out to the airport and retrieve the bag. That mission was deftly accomplished.
But as the Ford drove towards the Russian/Kazakhstan border, the skies darkened, and rain began to fall. By the time they had reached the time trial track, a steady rain had begun. And the gravel track was steadily turning to mud, well demonstrated by the cars in front of them.
After baking in the sun with the Ford's top down during last year's TransAmerica Rally, Chris had designed and made a bimini top for the car that allowed for air flow, while providing a sun shade. However, it is not what you want up during a rain storm! Jeff and Chris sat in the car debating whether to get out from under the bimini cover and put up the roof. Finally, they decided to go for it. They managed to get the roof up and secured without getting too wet, and then back in the car to begin the timed track run.
Were they ever glad they had put that roof up! Jeff reports that by the time they finished the run, there was mud everywhere, even on the roof. The mud in some places was more than a foot deep! If they had only had the bimini top, mud would have gotten all over the interior of the car, and they would have had an extremely uncomfortable drive the rest of the day.
The mud had much more grim consequences for Jim and Tim in the Chevy. Jeff thinks they successfully finished the track run, but then found they had mud built up between the clutch and the drive shaft, preventing the car from shifting. After unsuccessfully trying to clean out the thick gunk, and despite the help of the sweeps, it was determined the only solution was to load car #114 on a flatbed and truck it to Pavlodar.
Tim reports: "Has taken 5 hours to get to border on slow tow truck. Now stuck at border waiting on another tow truck and then 2-3 more hours to hotel where we will spend all night trying to repair clutch. Giant Siberian mosquitoes here. Are we having fun yet?"
For car #36, the entry into Pavlodar was a welcoming one. Despite the heavy rain, there were crowds of people standing under tarps and umbrellas waiting to see the cars come in, and to mingle with the drivers. Chris and Jeff were under the car, trying to scrape off some of the mud, while folks were poking their heads in to ask questions. Definitely a big attraction in the city of Pavlodar, Kazakhstan!
Jeff and Chris went to bed with instructions for Tim to call and wake them when they got in. The team will then assemble to figure out how to get the Chevy back on the road again.
By 3:30 AM Monday morning, Eastern Kazakhstan time, the tracker showed the Chevy moving again, most likely on a flatbed tow-truck. There is definitely a story there! Jim's wife Jan says that with no sleep, Jim is sure to live up to his grandpa name: "Grumpy"! Peg, Tim's wife, chimes in that "Tim's not exactly Mr. Cheerful in the morning either." They will not be a happy pair as they make their way to Pavlodar - we'll see what Monday brings!
June 15th, 2019
Back with the rally crowd, the Bodacious Racing Team picked right up where they left off in the Gobi Desert. As you may recall, the Ford broke down, and the Chevy leaked 40 quarts of oil while limping to Ulaanbaatar! Saturday was billed as a "rest day", but in rally speak, that means work on car day. The Ford is now running well, with new ignition coils, leads, an alternator, and distributor cap. Unfortunately, the electrical surge that damaged the ignition system also destroyed all the gauges on the instrument panel. Jeff and Chris, with help from Tim and Jim, and the mechanics from the rally sweeps team, were able to get a new fuel gauge installed, and will rely on their gauge pilot, installed for the rally, to show speed and distance traveled. This will allow them to continue to follow the directions in the rally drivers' book.
They were also able to figure out what was wrong with the Chevy's parking brake, and to repair it. While a parking brake is not essential in driving, it does help in securely parking the '57 Chevy in precarious spots, as well as providing a back-up in case the primary brakes fail along the way!
The cars were filthy from the dust in the Gobi Desert, the flat-bed transport of the Ford to Ulaanbaatar, and the truck shipment to Novosibirsk. So, Saturday allowed time for a thorough cleaning, both inside and out, and a repacking of gear. They were able to carefully repack all the tools used for repairs, so they will be readily available if/when needed again.
One thing they couldn't repair was the fact that Tim's lost luggage didn't arrive! While it will take a minor miracle for the bag to show up before their start around 8:30 AM on Sunday, it's still possible. Suggestions have been made that Tim reuse Chris's clothes (Chris said he was willing to share, but only his dirty ones!), or that Tim buy some basic track suits, ever popular, and make do. This is a good reason why they all rely on quick-dry clothing; washing out underwear and a shirt in the hotel sink or a wash bag helps a bit to keep things bearable when you don't have many - or any - changes of clothes! Tim in his thrice-worn shirt, and Jim in his carefully pressed fresh one (he's never without one!) will make a great pair at the starting gate tomorrow. We hope the bag catches up with Tim soon.
All the drivers report they were minor celebrities in the car park of the Novosibirsk Marriott. There were throngs of people milling around the collection of cool vintage cars, asking questions and posing for pictures. One newlywed couple asked permission to have their photographer take pictures of them in the Ford! The pair definitely have a story to tell for years to come, and with Chris's and Jeff's names displayed prominently on each side of the car, they are immortalized in this Russian couple's celebration.
There was a group selling a book with photos of all the rally cars, and kids were moving through the parking area, talking to the drivers, and trying to collect autographs! Jim not only obliged, he posed for pictures with anyone who asked. One lovely young woman ran to Jim and hugged him, asking if she could sit in the Chevy. The story is that it's her dream car, and she was thrilled to be able to actually experience one! Jim, of course, was happy to put on his best smile and open the door for her.
Jeff, Chris, Tim and Jim will be thrown right back into the challenges on Sunday, as it will be one of the longest days of the rally. They expect the drive to be nearly 12 hours, as they cross the border into Kazakhstan, heading to Pavlodar. Another country for the Bodacious Racing Team, and one that Chris and Tim did not visit on the 2016 rally, nor Jeff in all his years of international travel, so a new experience for all.
To get a better sense of the rally itself, and to see and hear various drivers interviewed, (including Chris!) check out this Endurorally video, filmed at the end of last week.
Safe driving and so glad they're back on the move!
It wasn't quick or easy to get there from Ulaanbaatar, but the short version is the Bodacious Racing team arrived, the truck delivered the cars to the Mercedes dealer soon after Jim, Chris, Jeff and Tim checked in to their hotel, and repairs are complete! Car #36 with Jeff and Chris, and Car #114 with Jim and Tim will rejoin the Peking to Paris rally on Sunday!
What unfolded between Thursday and Friday had Tim's daughter Bridget thinking they were making a sequel to Planes, Trains and Automobiles!
As planned, our drivers left for the Chinggis Khaan International Airport in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia around 8:30 AM on Thursday morning. Upon arrival, they checked their bags through to Novosibirsk. They had earlier divided up the car parts that had arrived from Mike Nunes in Rhode Island, stashing various items in their carry-on bags. No one wanted to take a risk these valued parts would be lost in luggage!
While there was a little question about the identity of some of these car parts as they went through security, an explanation and examination cleared them through. Soon they were boarding the plane for their flight to Beijing.
Arriving in Beijing a little after 2:00 PM in the afternoon, still on Thursday, they located the area they would be boarding their plane to Novosibirsk. With a 12-hour layover ahead of them, they had plenty of time to find where they were going! Of course, they couldn't check in for their connecting flight yet, so they spent hours sitting in a Starbucks, watching movies on their computers.
About 3 hours before their flight, they could finally check in. So at around midnight, they found themselves in what Jeff termed "the lounge" of S7 Airlines. He was not impressed by the facility! After more movie viewing, reading, people watching, and napping, the team was able to board the plane to Novosibirsk. The plane was packed! Who flies between Beijing, China and Novosibirsk, Russia at 3 in the morning? It seems that quite a few people do!
Finally landing in Novosibirsk, the guys went to baggage claim to collect their luggage. Unfortunately, after Chris, Jim and Jeff had their bags in hand, Tim was still waiting for his. The airline admitted it had not made it on the plane in Beijing; it was lost!
Tim reports via Peg that it took about 2 hours to do the paperwork for the missing luggage. Part of the problem was the language barrier, of course, but Tim also says he filled out what seemed to be the same document three times, for three different people, answering questions like how many shirts did he have in his bag, how much did each shirt weigh; how many socks, how much did the socks weigh, etc. Crazy!
When a fourth person was going to have Tim fill out yet another document, Tim asked if they had a photocopy machine, and could they just copy the other forms that he had already filled out. The guy said that was a good idea! Things were looking up until Tim took his photocopied document to the airlines' person, who insisted they needed an original document! So Tim went back to the Customs' people, and they came and spoke to the airlines' person and convinced them the copy would be sufficient. Phew!
After this little drama, the car repair seemed simple. They met up with Andy, one of the rally sweeps, and a mechanical genius, at the Mercedes dealer. Cars were unloaded from the truck, with Andy's help, parts were removed and installed, and the Ford started up.
Meeting up with other drivers in the rally was a welcome change from only each other's company Friday night! But our teams were exhausted from their nearly 40 hours with minimal sleep, long air travel, many hours waiting for their connection, seemingly endless lost luggage negotiations, and car repairs. Sleep came early, with everyone looking forward to some real focused time on Saturday, preparing to hit the rally road on Sunday.
Hopefully Tim's bag will show up!
June 13th, 2019
The Bodacious Racing team did not leave Mongolia the way they had hoped - after traversing that beautiful country in their vintage cars. But after being stuck for a few days in Ulaanbaatar waiting for replacement parts for the Ford, they were able to fly out on Thursday, first to Beijing, and then after a stultifying 12-hour layover, on to Novosibirsk, Russia.
As an aside, Chris comments that he found the perfect new job for Jim if the car repairs don't work out. He sent us an open position posting for a journalist for the Ulaanbaatar English-language newspaper - thinking it might be a perfect new career for the ever-motivated, but newly retired, Jim McLaren!
The cars are still tracking towards Novosibirsk, so it's very likely Tim, Jim, Jeff and Chris will arrive before the truck carrying the cars does. The Rally itself is in Novokuznetsk tonight. The truck carrying car #36 and car #114 looks to be a bit further away from Novosibirsk than the rally stop, but the truck seems to be on a major highway. As we well know, the rally will take a much more scenic and challenging route, so it will be interesting to see which cars make it to Novosibirsk first: Bodacious Racing cars, or the full rally? We also know there are already several other rally cars undergoing repairs in Novosibirsk, so our team will be happy to meet up with their fellow competitors once again!
Depending on when the cars arrive on Friday, repairs may or may not be underway. But since Saturday is a rest day in Novosibirsk for everyone in the rally, there should be time to get the Ford up and running, and ensure the Chevy is ready as well.
On the move...
The guys went to sleep Wednesday night in Ulaanbaatar for the last time during this rally. The parts to repair the Ford, shipped from High Tech Fabrications in Rhode Island, arrived late Wednesday morning, allowing them to put a plan together. Jeff booked tickets to Novosibirsk, Russia. They will fly to Beijing via Air China late Thursday morning, arriving in Beijing around 2 PM. They then have 12 hours before they board a Siberian Air flight to Novosibirsk at 2:10 AM.
It will be quite a layover at the Beijing Capital International Airport. Due to Chris's limited Chinese visa, he won't be able to leave the airport. The other guys have a longer-duration visa, but we suspect they have no desire to leave the airport either! It will be more sitting around and waiting, with perhaps some brisk walks through the terminal to keep the blood pumping.
The trackers on the cars show the truck that is carrying them is more than half-way to the border crossing. Today, June 12 is Russia Day, a national holiday in Russia celebrating the birth of the Russian Federation after the Soviet Union broke apart. There is some concern that due to the holiday, the border might be closed for a few days, but given that the truck probably will be at the border late on Thursday or even Friday, we are hoping the border will be back in post-holiday business!
Tomorrow will probably be a report from the airport - but at least they won't be in Ulaanbaatar any longer!
June 11th, 2019
While we wish we could update this daily report with photos of smiling drivers holding a package of '36 Ford Cabriolet repair parts, that is not the case.
Jeff does not believe any of the reports coming from FedEx on the shipment, since it seems they have a different story every time he checks - in Guangzhou; in Seoul; in Ulaanbaatar... But not anywhere they can be claimed by our drivers.
So the schedule is totally up in the air, and while the cars may be heading to Novosibirsk, Jeff, Chris, Jim and Tim will wait to make reservations until the parts are actually in hand.
Not a lot of happy drivers on this rally so far; we can only hope, that as the week passes, things begin to look better for Bodacious Racing!
A mixed report from our Bodacious Racing team, still in Mongolia.
The good news is that with the help of their new friend Ochko, Jeff got all the paperwork lined up to ship the cars, and both Car #36 and Car #114 were loaded on the truck and headed to Novosibirsk, Russia.
The bad news is the package of car parts to repair the Ford did not show up in time to be installed, or shipped with the cars.
Current tracking has the parts arriving Tuesday. The plan is for our four drivers to fly Wednesday from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing; then extremely early Thursday morning from Beijing to Novosibirsk. They will hand-carry the car parts.
The cars should arrive in Novosibirsk on Friday; since the guys will be there by then, they plan to immediately get to work on the Ford, and get it up and running. Saturday will allow them to fully test both cars before rejoining the rally on Sunday, to cross the border into Khazahstan.
They will have a multi-hour layover at the Beijing airport, so here's hoping they don't get themselves into any trouble there!
Sitting and cooling their heels in Mongolia is not appealing to our action-oriented Bodacious Racing teams! So today they made plans to rejoin the Peking to Paris rally - even though they have yet to get the Ford repaired!
It seems one of the other American rally drivers, who was also having car issues, has a daughter who went to school with a guy from Mongolia, who is now in business in Ulan Baatar. This other driver had already connected with him, and he arranged for her car to be trucked to Novosibirsk. It has already left. So she put our teams in touch with him. The guys met with this wonderful man, Ochko, and he has turned into a great advisor and is willing to act as their local "fixer." Over dinner last evening, they made plans to truck the Bodacious Racing cars to Novosibirsk. He explained they need to have a notarized form granting permission to the truck driver to move the cars across the border into Russia, but don't need to accompany the cars in person. He is picking Jeff up Monday morning, and will take him from attorney to consulate to trucking firm or whatever it takes to get all the paperwork accomplished to get the cars to Novosibirsk. Ochko has reserved a truck, and also sent pictures of the other rally driver's car on the flatbed that is currently heading to the Russian border. The cars are currently scheduled to be picked up Monday night, repaired or not. They will be delivered to another Mercedes dealership in Novosibirsk.
The parts for the Ford have arrived in Guangzhou, China; DHL says they should be in Ulan Baatar on Monday. If they get the parts and are able to repair the Ford, great; if not, they will go ahead and ship the cars. If by some chance the parts don't arrive, Mike Nunes of High Tech Fabrications is standing by to ship another set to Novosibirsk for installation there.
The guys are scheduled to fly to Beijing Tuesday night, and then take off from there to Novosibirsk around 6:00 AM on Wednesday morning. Their time-frame is restricted due to their visa status only allowing them entry into Russia after June 11. They should then have time to get the Ford up and running. The rest of the rally drivers should arrive in Novosibirsk on Friday, June 14th. Bodacious Racing will then rejoin the rally as it leaves Sunday morning on June 16th.
Jeff keeps saying they need to get ahead of the rally to be sure they can rejoin! It sounds as if this plan will have them doing exactly that.
The Shangri La Hotel continues to treat our drivers well; looks like local piglet was on Jim's menu for dinner!
June 8th, 2019
The Bodacious Racing team finds itself stranded in Ulan Baatar due to necessary car repairs. Jeff sends us this detailed explanation:
"We Love Ulan Baatar So Much, We Decided to Stay!"
Jeff continues, "For the last several months, I have been saying 'don't break the car', but that's exactly what happened during our first real day in the Gobi Desert. We witnessed unbelievably great scenery and it was very cool to have wild horses racing alongside the car. I was trying to be reasonable about our speed but we hit a couple of ruts hard at 40 mph and the car stopped. We had a broken fan blade and the car wouldn't restart. Chris disconnected the fan and changed the ignition coil connections; the car restarted and we proceeded (a bit more cautiously) for another 20kms or so, and then the car just died... everything shut down. The rally mechanics couldn't get us going and determined that both ignition coils and the ignition relays were damaged/dead. We loaded the vehicle onto the flat bed, and we climbed into into a van for a nice 12-hour trip to Ulaan Baatar. We were not alone, with something like 20 cars being damaged that day, but it doesn't make us feel any better. We now are sitting in Ulaan Baatar (in the very nice Shangri-la Hotel) awaiting parts to arrive from RI.
We are trying to figure out what really transpired, so we can make a permanent fix. The odd thing is that all of our dash instruments are also fried, which wouldn't likely happen if just the ignition coils went bad. We now believe that it probably goes back to the battery problem we were having when we picked the car up from the warehouse in Beijing. We thought that the alternator wasn't charging the battery, due to a loose belt, leaving us with a dead battery on the first day of the rally. We replaced the battery in Hohhot, so we thought we had the problem solved. We had tightened the alternator belt before the start but just thought that the battery was faulty... the rally mechanic said it had a dead cell. However, we now think that the alternator was in the process of failing and ultimately sent a spike of voltage out after being shaken in the rough terrain. That, in turn, fried our entire ignition system and our dash instruments. Not sure we'll ever really know but we replaced the old alternator with the spare one yesterday. Once we replace all of the ignition parts coming from Mike Nunes, we'll see if the car starts and if we can rejoin the rally.
The logistics of rejoining the rally are now paramount. We are trying to rejoin in Novosibirsk Russia next weekend. It may sound simple, but not out here in the wilds. We don't know when the parts will arrive, but we are assuming Tuesday, having to clear UB customs and get to the Mercedes dealer. So, the earliest we could leave here is probably Wednesday. It is a 2-3 day drive on rough roads to the western border, but that border crossing is not open on weekends and if we missed getting through on Friday, we would be stuck there until Monday. The alternative is to go north into Russia and drive the main logging road from Irkutsk to Novosibirsk. The border crossing to the north is 24/7, so we could potentially go that way, but we hear the trip can be very dodgy and we would have no support if either car broke down. We are investigating shipping the cars on a flat bed truck and us taking a flight out of Beijing to Novosibirsk. Chris doesn't have another entry visa into China, so I think we may get to know the Beijing Capital Airport quite well, if we go that route! Again, all this assumes we can get the Ford running once we get the parts.
So, the adventure continues. We are frustrated with our circumstances but this is part of the Peking to Paris. We had hoped for a good finish result, now we are just focused on getting the cars to the finish line! We've got great team support from Mike and Jerrod at High Tech Fabrication in RI, and Gary at RPS in the UK. We wouldn't have any chance of rejoining the rally without them."
While Jim, Tim, Chris and Jeff are cooling their heels waiting for the parts delivery, Jim got out to walk around some. While he was exploring a temple under renovation - he was thrown out! Meanwhile, Chris and Tim were able to observe their potential dinner roasting over an open fire. We hope they're enjoying the hotel food. Next week (fingers crossed) it will be back to rally buffet food!
Another day at the Shangri-La in Ulan Bataar, Mongolia. Not quite what our Bodacious Racing teams thought they would be doing today!
The functioning rally cars drove through horrendous traffic to the Sukhbataar Square, where there was a crowd and welcoming brass band and string ensemble. The rally restarted from here, with the cars taking off at the usual 1-minute intervals.
However, the teams for Car #36 and Car #114 only know this through hearsay. Their start was breakfast and mingling with the other rally teams who are working through repair challenges, so they missed today's festivities. Most of the day was spent once again with the mechanics at the Mercedes dealership. Word from Rhode Island is that Mike Nunes of High Tech Fabrications has completed the requested parts request, and sent it off to Mongolia. However, no one knows quite how long that is going to take, and the weekend will complicate shipping, customs' clearance and delivery. They are hoping to see the shipment Tuesday, but time will tell.
Meanwhile, they investigated the Ford's problems further. All the car's instruments have been fried, most likely by some sort of electrical surge. There is currently power to the instrument panel, but nothing is working. This leads them to suspect that the earlier issue with the alternator's failure in charging the battery might actually be related to the ignition coils' burn-out. Chris is theorizing there could have been an electrical short related to a bad alternator that was exacerbated by the rough driving, and eventually took out multiple systems. So they replaced the alternator with the spare they were carrying in hopes this might address at least part of the problem.
The real test will be once the replacement parts arrive and are installed; will the Ford run? They can only operate with the thought they will solve these mechanical issues. So the primary discussion now revolves around where and how to rejoin the rally. Their current thought is to aim for a week from now, Friday/Saturday, June 14/15, in Novosibirsk, Russia. Another rally team is also interested in shipping a repaired car there, and they will investigate shipping the cars, then flying to Novosibirsk via Beijing (on Siberian Airlines-now that would be an experience!). Investigating the necessary paperwork will be Jeff's job for Monday, with Tim advising in his usual efficient manner.
Speaking of Tim, he tells us that the mechanic who worked on the Chevy yesterday had good working knowledge of car repairs, but his English was extremely limited. But when something went wrong in the repair, they learned they had one English word in common-- and it begins with the letter F! Common ground was easy to find with their shared swearing vocabulary!
Jim broke his own non-communication record by not only calling his wife Jan, but staying on the phone with her for nearly an hour! Jan reports he was still running on the excitement of the rally, and hadn't slept for more than 24 hours! Let's hope he can sleep a little while they have this enforced downtime, and be ready to hit the ground rested, whenever that might be.
Seeing as how the Ford is being worked on at a Mercedes Benz dealership, the guys have spent some time exploring the new vehicles on display. Anyone who knows Jeff or Chris will not be surprised by this! While buying a car in Mongolia is not a practical option, it doesn't hurt to build a wish list!
Let's hope the package of car parts will arrive as quickly as possible. Ulan Baatar might be an interesting city, but our Bodacious Racing teams did not come to Mongolia to sight-see.
June 6th, 2019
#Meangolia continues! (Thanks, Bridget Eades Kuglin, for this very apt tag!)
Jeff and Chris finally arrived at the hotel around 5:00 AM. The car had been delivered by truck a few hours earlier. While attempting a detour to get around the locked railroad crossing, the van driver got lost, and needed to backtrack along the train tracks to identify the correct route. It was a long, exhausting trip in, colored by concern over whether either the Ford or Chevy would be ready to hit the road on Friday.
Turns out, it wasn't just the Ford having a bad day. The Chevy, of course, was limping in, trailing oil, and continually having to add more. Tim estimates they used about 40 quarts of oil! Tim and Jim in the Chevy left Chris and Jeff around 4:00 PM, and arrived at the hotel around midnight, nursing the car along, stopping frequently, with the sweeps following along. And since they couldn't figure out what was wrong in the dark, they had to wait for daylight to do a full investigation.
As Tim reports, it was a brutal day. Multiple rally cars were trucked in, having bottomed out, punctured tires, or broken essential gear. There was a serious collision, sending one crew to the hospital and totaling their car. As is so often the case in these rallies, the rest day in Ulan Baatar turned into a repair day.
Tim and Jim figured out the problem with the Chevy was a leak at a seam in the pipe leading to the mechanical oil pressure gauge. As oil was being pumped to the engine, it was being pumped out of this hole. No wonder they used up so much oil! Good thing Tim had babied the car along; more serious damage could have resulted very easily.
The problem with the Ford, however, was not so quickly diagnosed and repaired. The guys had the Ford taken to a local Mercedes Benz dealership with a good reputation for working on old cars, but they had no luck. They were able to replace the fan in the Ford, which had lost two blades. Jeff reports there is power, and the starter works, but no spark is being produced to start the car. Chris spent time on the phone with Mike Nunes back in Rhode Island, and sent Mike a list of all new parts to completely replace the ignition system. Mike will source, pack and then ship the parts; hopefully they get half-way around the world and through customs quickly!
So our teams are staying in Ulan Baatar for the next few days. Bodacious Racing team spirit means one car won't leave the other; they are doing this together, or not at all. They plan to get the Ford up and running, use the down time to go over the Chevy carefully, and eventually ship the cars (and themselves!) onward to meet up with the rally.
Maybe they'll enjoy some of the sights of this Mongolian city! They are shifting from the rally hotel to the Shangri La, and Jeff and Chris say it's a very nice place to stay. With time on their hands, they might as well enjoy it!
The crews were up early after a chilly night camping in Mongolia, at Inkhet Camp. Jeff reports that while he wasn't exactly complaining of being cold - after complaining about hot hotel rooms - it was a challenge to keep warm in his sleeping bag. Chris tells us that being chilly didn't keep Jeff from sleeping; Jeff in his neighboring tent kept Chris entertained with his deep snoring during the night!
The luxury of late starts allowed for a leisurely repack and recheck of the cars, including tightening all the visible bolts, and reaching deep for those not-so-visible.
Taking down camp posed its own challenges; Jim and Chris were in charge of packing up the four sleeping bags, with Jeff and Tim collapsing and securing the 4 pop-up tents. But as everyone knows about pop-up tents, they open way more easily than they close! After some manhandling and choice language, however, the tents were stowed for their next night of camping.
After that strenuous activity, Jeff took a break on a handy rock. Chris appeared with a cup of coffee for him - what a guy! As Jeff enjoyed his coffee in the fresh, cool morning breeze, he noticed Chris walking with a roll of toilet paper towards a port-a-john. Next thing he knows, Tim darts past, with his own roll of toilet paper! There was a race to the two johns - but fortunately each was empty so they both had a good sit-down!
Jeff also reports there are always local "bathroom attendants" circling outside these port-a-johns. Since washing up is accomplished in a bucket of water placed on the ground outside the portable's door, he's not sure what service they are providing, besides making the "guest" feel a little self-conscious while going about their business!
Driving on the camel tracks, trails and pathways in Mongolia is tough on cars, and we're hearing that the recent rains have only exacerbated the difficult driving. This became more evident as the teams started out for the day's drive to Ulan Baatar.
Jeff texted during the drive (in the middle of our night!) that he had violated his cardinal rule: "Don't break the car!" Car #36 was stranded in the desert. Something had vibrated loose when he took a ditch too fast and too hard. The Ford wouldn't start, and he and Chris were searching for the cause. The noises the car had made before it stalled led them to believe something was seriously wrong. When they couldn't find a cause, they called the rally mechanics - the sweeps - who drive around to be on call for just this sort of problem. The sweeps diagnosed the problem. The vibrating of the drive and the bucking when Jeff hit the ditch had damaged the ignition coils. So the car would have to be loaded on a flatbed truck and taken to Ulan Baatar. Eventually the flatbed showed up, with another rally car already loaded on! Jeff and Chris then had to wait in the rapidly darkening desert for a van to come pick them up.
Once in the van, the driver took them to where the other stranded rally drivers were, stopping three times until the van was loaded with 8 stranded rally drivers! Once fully loaded, the van headed to UB. Then they stopped. As Jeff says "You can't make this s**t up!" They had reached a railroad crossing, and it was locked for the night! Last we heard from Jeff and Chris the van driver was on the phone with someone, but with no way to translate what he was saying, they could only hope he was asking for the gate to be unlocked so they could proceed. Our fingers are crossed, that morning finds them at the hotel in Ulan Baatar.
Tim and Jim did not escape unscathed. While they were successfully able to complete the day's drive, they've reported a serious oil leak of unknown origin.
As Tim's daughter has tagged it, today's drive has created #MEANgolia!
Fortunately, with Thursday being a rest day, the teams will have plenty of time to work on repairs. They are fortunate to be in a location with good mechanical services, and the time to work on the issues. If past history is any indication, Tim has already put a plan in place to repair both Car #114 and Car # 36.
While our teams were up and in their cars bright and early, they only had a short distance to drive before coming to a full and complete stop - waiting to cross the border into Mongolia.
On Monday there had been torrential rains in the area, and the border was closed. So in addition to the 120 cars connected to the rally, there were plenty of trucks and other drivers waiting to get across. There was a lot of milling around, conversation, and complaints for the multiple hour hold-up! But the rally organization had all the paperwork prepared in advance, which allowed the cars to be cleared as a group, rather than one-by-one. When it was the rally's turn to cross, everyone piled back in their cars to drive across in an orderly fashion to the staging area on the Mongolia side of the border.
And then they were off! This high desert is sandy, but with plenty of grasses to nourish the robust populations of goats, camels, wild horses and other wildlife. Recent rains had caused flooding, leaving the rally drivers making their way through marshy soils, and forcing the route to be changed, rerouted around lakes that had flooded over their banks, or new swamps that formed in the sandy soil. There were no time trials; just an amazingly scenic drive to their stop for the night.
But what a drive! Jeff reports he and Chris drove the Ford past a group of grazing horses. The 50 or so wild horses then formed up and ran alongside the Ford for quite some time, before veering off and going back to their grazing. Tim and Jim saw the horses too, and thought how great it would be to film them on their Go Pro - but, of course, it wouldn't turn on! Throughout the drive, mountains sparkled in the distance, goats frolicked on hillsides, and then the entry to the camp area sprawled ahead. They arrived at a beautiful, grassy field, with the dining tent already pitched, and port-a-johns set up by twos and scattered around.
In the 2016 rally, Chris and Tim said their favorite part was the drive across Mongolia. Jeff and Jim learned why for themselves on this first day of driving in this picturesque, open land. Of course when Chris drove it in 2016, he was both driver and navigator, so he had different challenges than he will this time! And Tim had Willie navigating...
Since the drive was quite rough, many cars showed damage. Jim and Tim's shocks went out on them, so the first order of business for them was repairs to the Chevy. One of the shock absorbers was dangling and it got bent; the bolts holding it had rattled loose! They decided to just remove that one, and plan to do a repair in Ulan Baatar. So only one shock for the drive tomorrow! Three bolts (out of six!) holding the radiator also worked loose, so Tim and Jim scrambled around looking for replacements. They finally found some of the right diameter, but they were too long! Solution: cut them to the proper length!
All this time, Jeff and Chris sat nearby, watching their teammates work on their car, drinking beer and offering the occasional comment - which was well-received, for sure! They all report the Ford seems to be in great shape, but they'll be checking all the bolts for tightness - and maybe liberally applying Lock-tite when applicable. By the time repairs were well in hand, it was nearly midnight, and time to roll into their sleeping bags.
The late start on Wednesday meant they could afford to wait to finish their repairs and do a more thorough check of both cars.
Rally rules require that each car must carry all the things they might need during on the rally - except for food and fuel - and that includes their camping gear. So, setting up camp for the night, pitching their tents, laying out their sleeping bags, preparing their clothes for sleeping and the next day, all had to be accomplished before they could call it a night. No one will be complaining about the heat tonight - it is sure to get cold in a tent in the Gobi Desert at night!
Tomorrow: taking down camp, and looking forward to arriving in the city of Ulan Baatar, and a rest/repair day.
June 3rd, 2019
Today our teams spent more time on the road in Inner Mongolia - Hohhot to Erenhot!
After a long and problem-plagued first day, the second day was a shorter drive, and a problem-free one! Both Car #36 and Car #114 started smoothly and drove well. At the first time trial, Chris and Jeff in the Ford got stuck behind a car going too slowly, and lost time as a result. But all was well, and after a spin around the dusty track, the cars climbed towards the highway for a fairly direct drive to Erenhot (Erlian) and the Inner Mongolia, China/Mongolia (also known as Outer Mongolia) border. With plenty of sunshine and the mountains in the distance, the cars ate up the kilometers.
This is the Gobi Desert, and it was home to dinosaurs in the Cretaceous period. A local museum tells the story. Rally drivers pass on the highway under the largest display of the museum, an arch created by the famous Erlian Kissing Dinosaurs, two large Apatosaurus statues engaging in what many describe as French-kissing! Spotted around the area are many man-made dinosaur and skeleton exhibits, along with suggestions of the plants they might have eaten when they roamed the area. It's a bizarre counterpoint to the new building and highway construction in Hohhot, as well as the congestion of Beijing!
Once at the hotel, the drivers were welcomed by a singer entertaining the arriving drivers with regional songs. Having a taste of so many different cultures is part of the attraction of driving the rally, and beautiful voices are quite a welcome!
Checking in at the hotel, Jeff was complaining about yet another night in a hot hotel room. Chris told him Tuesday night he'll be complaining about the cold, because he'll be camping in the Gobi Desert!
Jim, who has been sharing a hotel room with Tim since the guys arrived in Beijing, enjoyed having his own room in Hohhot, and didn't care about the temperature since he really enjoyed having his own space. And while Jim is saying he just needs to get used to Tim yelling and swearing at the other drivers, Tim is not so sure he's that bad. He thinks Chris may have him beat on that score! Of course, Chris has been navigating, which means he needs to keep his attention more on the route book than on the other drivers!
The team will start the day tomorrow at the border crossing to Mongolia, leaving China behind. There has been localized flooding in Mongolia, so changes are being made to the route books. The flooding also likely means a hold-up at the border crossing, so we'll hear how that goes tomorrow.
Tuesday night will be spent camping at what is pegged "Camp 1", in the Gobi Desert.
With a little more than 5 weeks until the finish in Paris, the rally cars began their long journey across Asia and Europe to the finish line. Today's destination: Hohhot, China, the capital of Inner Mongolia.
The Bodacious Racing teams were up at 4:30 AM, had their personal packs loaded in the cars by 5:15, and headed into the restaurant to get something to eat before their planned departure from the hotel at 6. A good plan - but not anticipated by the Rally organizers! There were no cooks on hand, and no coffee to be had! It was a pretty grim thought - that they may have to leave without sufficient fuel for themselves. There were plenty of other drivers milling around by the time food started being put out, and Tim tells us it was nearly a food riot!
One of the Australian competitors had decorated hood ornaments with stuffed koalas - a little symbol of friendliness among the drivers.
They were able to get on the road by 6:00 AM as planned, and it was an easy drive to the start at the Great Wall. They arrived with an hour to the Ford's start, plenty of time to take in the music, the Lion Dance, the Great Wall itself, and to feel the anticipation build!
Car 36, the Ford, started at 7:56 AM, going smoothly through the start gate with smiles from both Chris and Jeff. Tim and Jim then had more than an hour to burn before their start. Jim decided he would go hike some of the wall, and eventually got so far away from the rally car park that Tim had to go retrieve him! By the time Car 114, the Chevy, was lined up to go through the start gate, they report they were getting pretty sick of the festive music's drum beat! But they had a smooth, happy start at 9:41 - and our teams were off!
While Jim was really nervous about taking on the first day of this navigational challenge, Tim reports he did really well. They took a few wrong turns, but caught them quickly and were able to get right back on track.
There was a timed hill-climb built into the day's route, and both cars performed quite well. When they finished the time trial, each team had more than enough time to get to the day's finish on schedule.
But things soon changed for Jeff and Chris in the Ford. Chris reports they nearly nailed a local driver when he pulled out in front of them, while they were doing 60 mph! The brakes worked well (thanks, Mike Nunes!), but from then they got turned around and lost for about 10 miles. The Ford then overheated, so they stopped and opened the hood to let the car cool off. When they went to restart, the battery was dead. Since they had deviated from the rally route, they knew no rally folks would be coming along to help. Fortunately, a local truck driver happened by, stopped, and was able to jump the battery. He was happy to help, and wouldn't take any payment!
Back on the rally route, the Ford was making up lost time. But at a toll booth, they stalled, and couldn't restart the car. Chris got out and pushed the Ford through the booth and off to the side of the road. Other rally cars tried to jump the battery, but to no avail. When the Chevy got through the toll, Tim and Jim pulled over to the Ford, and they all decided the best option would be for the Chevy to pull the Ford! So there they were, towing the Ford through Hohhot traffic and highway construction - 5 lanes into one lane - certainly an additional challenge to this challenging rally!
Once at the hotel, Chris jumped out of the rolling Ford to run into the hotel to sign in, to finish. We'll see once results are posted what kind of time they made. Tim and Jim ended up spot on to finish on their scheduled time, despite stopping to help their teammates. Not bad for the first day!
Once safely parked in the hotel's lot, Jeff and Chris removed the seat of the Ford to get at the battery. It turned out that the alternator belt was loose, so all day the battery wasn't being charged. They were despairing over where they would get a new battery on a Sunday night in Hohhot, when Chris had the brilliant idea of asking a local guy who was there to admire the cars. He spoke good English, and called over to a friend who was also in the lot enjoying the car show. That friend called another friend, who showed up in a truck 30 minutes later with a new battery! Car people are car people all over the world, happy to help out!
It was a good day overall for all four of our drivers. A slightly later start for each team tomorrow means a little more sleep, and then on to the drive to Erenhot!
The excitement builds! It seems to be a general sentiment: Let's get this rally started!
The parking lot at the Beijing Shangri-La Hotel was buzzing with activity as more than 100 vintage cars, with 2 drivers per car, were unpacked, repacked and organized for the approximately 9000 miles ahead.
One of the primary jobs our teams undertook today was to mount the GPS and the SPOT tracker on each car. Things went smoothly for Chris and Jeff in the Ford, but Tim and Jim in the Chevy were not so fortunate. Both their Garmin GPS unit and their assigned SPOT tracker stopped working! Maybe something about Jim and Tim's personal electrical fields…. Or Jim's nervous energy wreaking havoc on the electronics!
They managed to trade in the SPOT tracker, but the best they could do to replace the Garmin was to borrow an ancient GPS that couldn't be hard-wired into the car. Tim reports they plan to feed it AA batteries as needed. With few roads, and lots of GPS directions in both Mongolia and Kazakhstan, it will be necessary to have a working GPS, but they are confident they will be able to keep it functioning.
The route books were issued today, so the Bodacious Racing teams, along with other competitors, spent the heat of the afternoon in the lobby of the hotel pouring over the books, especially reading and rereading the first few days of travel. A rally route book gives very specific directions to follow, marked by turns, fractions of kilometers/miles, and guideposts such as stop signs, service stations, and the occasional road sign. The route will not be direct highway driving, and the book will rarely let you know what road you are supposed to be on. So while the driving part of the rally is always challenging, rallies are very much competitions in navigating. Being able to absorb the printed directions as the driver is moving down the road, give clear directions to the driver, and have a firm sense of what comes next is necessary for a good navigator. Jeff and Chris are an experienced rally team at this point, and can trade off driving and navigating comfortably, though they both agree Chris is the better navigator! This rally will be Tim and Jim's second together, but they are confident they have found a good way to communicate as they prepare for the start of this greatest rally of all.
Another night of restless sleep, no doubt, and they will meet Sunday in the car park at 6:00 AM. Chris and Jeff are assigned a start time of 7:56 AM.; Jim and Tim will cross the start line at 9:41 AM, the third to last car to start. They will leave the hotel to head to the Juyongguan Gate at the Great Wall on China for the start. There is sure to be a festive ceremony to kick off the 7th Peking to Paris Rally! Then a long first day's drive to Hohhot, China!
May 31st, 2019
The cars have arrived! Bodacious Racing had the cars shipped from Rhode Island to China with a car company called Cars US (there is also a Cars UK, which has also transported our cars). They were delivered to the warehouse organized by the Endurance Rally Association. Once competitors were issued their Chinese Driver's Licenses, teams could pick up their cars, take them to the service station to fuel up, and drive them to the Shangri La Hotel in downtown Beijing where the Rally is headquartered.
While the cars were in tip-top condition leaving High Tech Fabrications in Rhode Island, there is always the worry that something will pop up once they arrive at the start of the rally. The Ford wouldn't start, but it was just a dead battery, and a quick jump by the Chevy had both cars in running order, and heading out to the streets of Beijing.
Earlier this week, Tim had scoped out a perfect shady spot to park both cars, but a truck moved into that space! Fortunately, they found a partly shady spot, and with the cars in such great shape, they won't need to be out in the hot sun doing much work anyway.
The process of "scrutineering" is a check by the rally committee that all is well for a car to embark on the rally. Safety is primary, but there is also a technical checklist to ensure drivers haven't deviated from the rules of the rally for these vintage cars. They have to be robust enough to survive the many miles of road (and unpaved paths) ahead, without losing their original designs.
Jeff reported that one of the fun discoveries of the day was seeing the 1929 Rolls Royce he used to own arrive at the hotel parking lot for the rally! Jeff bought this car as his and Chris's original rally car. After driving it through Spain on a trial run, however, they decided it wasn't the car for them for the 2016 Peking to Paris. At that point they bought and prepared the 1957 Chevy, which has since shown its abilities in multiple rallies. But the new owner of the Rolls is so looking forward to driving his car #14 in this year's Peking to Paris; best of luck and much enjoyment to him!
Saturday will be all about unpacking the cars, and rearranging things for ease of access along the way. None of the drivers have been sleeping well; time changes and nerves have kept them restless at night. Hopefully Friday brought some sleep, since they know the cars are good to go. The real countdown to Sunday's start begins!
The drivers had another day to adjust to time zone changes, and began the official Rally orientation with a briefing on driving rules in China.
While all you readers know one or more of the drivers on Bodacious Racing's 2019 Peking to Paris adventure, not everyone knows how they know each other. The four drivers are friends through sailing, are all experienced sailors, and have spent many hours together on sailboats of varying descriptions, mostly doing distance racing together. The newest member of the driving team is Jim McLaren, whose home base is Chicago, and who met Jeff through the Great Lakes Singlehanded Society. He is the veteran of much lake and ocean sailing and racing, but his first road rally was the Blue Train Challenge, driving through France, in Fall 2017. He decided he liked it enough-and could get along with Tim well enough-to sign up for the Peking to Paris.
Of course, as the new guy on the team, Jim is open to lots of ribbing. He arrived at the airport in Chicago to meet up with Chris, Jeff and Tim, and was an absolute nervous wreck. He told Jeff "I thought I was nervous before the TransPac race" (a sailboat race across the Pacific Ocean, which the guys completed in 2013-11 days on the water in a 52-foot sailboat. They came in first in their division). "But I'm so nervous now, I feel like I need to throw up!"
Fortunately, Jim made it to Beijing without losing his stomach.
But the Jim stories continue. Tim tells us Thursday morning at breakfast, Jim grabbed a banana on the way out and stuck it in his back pocket. Then Chris, Tim and Jim went to a grocery store for supplies. Tim reports this store is straight out of Blade Runner. As they entered the store, Jim was tapped on the shoulder by a security guard. He pointed to the banana in Jim's pocket. He then took Jim to a locker, while Chris and Tim pretended not to know him, going about the shopping. Jim put his banana in the locker, and was given a key. After shopping and checking out, Jim had to go back up and down escalators to retrieve the suspect banana. Tim asks "Sir, is that a banana in your pocket? Or….."
Leave it to our newest driver to get in trouble even before the start!
Having successfully completed today's briefing, each team member will be issued their Chinese Driver's License tomorrow, and will be allowed to retrieve the cars. Then comes the unpacking and repacking for the road--and the scrutineering by the rally committee to ensure all security measures are in place, and the cars are ready to begin driving Peking to Paris!
The teams have safely arrived in Beijing, and are awaiting the start of the 2019 Peking to Paris Rally! Wednesday was spent acclimatizing to the time change (12 hours ahead of the east coast), shopping for motor oil and various automotive fluids, and meeting up with acquaintances from past rallies. Thursday there will be more of the same, along with obtaining their Chinese Driver's Licenses. They will retrieve the cars from the warehouse on Friday, and the real focus of the rally will begin!
Of course, the start of any rally begins far in advance of the actual starting line. This is especially true of Peking to Paris, hosted and organized by the Endurance Rally Association, now part of the HERO Group. There are a limited number of cars accepted, and spots are fiercely coveted. Early registration is key, and the 2019 Bodacious Racing cars registered more than 2 years ago, in March 2017!
Preparing the cars for such an extreme challenge also takes a lot of time, a lot of thought, and a lot of talent. The 1957 Chevrolet Bel Air Tim and Jim are driving is a veteran of the 2016 P2P, as well as other rallies, including the 2018 Trans America Challenge. And while this is the first P2P for the 1936 Ford Cabriolet, Jeff and Chris have driven the car in 5 other rallies, including the Flying Scotsman, the Alpine (Switzerland), the Blue Train (France), and the Trans America.
Jeff's mantra for rallies is "Don't break the car!". Both cars have previously been rebuilt, following Endurance Rally regulations, to turn them from regular vintage road cars to rally vehicles. After each rally, problems have been addressed. Following the Trans America last year, both cars came home to Rhode Island and underwent specific preparations for this most challenging of all rallies, the Peking to Paris.
The cars were turned over to Mike Nunes, at High Tech Fabrications in Middletown, RI. Here's what Mike told us about the work accomplished:
Our focus with the cars was to make them as reliable, comfortable, and simple as they could be so that they had the smallest chance of failure and were easy to repair if need be on the side of the road. On the 1936 Ford, Jeff wanted a more comfortable seat than the racing buckets that were in the car. He tasked us with fitting a set of seats from a 2011 Range Rover. We custom fabricated quick disconnect mounts to fit the car and had to figure out how to make the electric motors move the seats. Another custom feature on the Ford was a custom electric fan capable of operating under water and fan shroud to keep the engine cool. By far the most challenging task on the Ford was researching and developing a clutch system to make the 1936 flathead motor work with a modern 5-Speed Tremec transmission. We also fabricated a custom pivoting 2nd spare tire carrier to make the car meet the rule of having two spare tires on board. We also fabricated custom aluminum skid plates to protect the bottom of the car from road debris.
With the 1957 Chevy Bel Air, our main focus was to swap the existing 283 engine and Automatic Transmission with a 350 engine and a modern 5-Speed Tremec Transmission. We completely went through and serviced the brakes and suspension, and we also built custom aluminum skid plates to protect the bottom of the car from road debris. The Chevy also received a custom electric fan and shroud capable of running underwater to keep the engine cool even during river crossings.
High Tech Fabrications specializes in High End Restorations and Custom Automotive Work. President Mike Nunes worked closely with Tim Eades, Chris Pike, and Jeff Urbina to oversee the rebuild project for the P2P cars. Mike has decades of experience with endurance racing from his time racing in the Panamericana in Mexico with Windigo Racing's 1957 Chevy 210. Jarett Hurteau, Electrical and Mechanical technician at High Tech, led the numerous electronic conversions between the two cars as well as researching and ordering parts. Greg Tiedemann, Mechanical and Suspension technician, worked primarily on correcting the suspension geometry of the cars as well as engine tuning. Dan Betts, Paint, Body, and Frame technician, was in charge of making sure the cars looked the part. Patricia Nunes, Accounting and Logistics, made sure the project ran smoothly on the back end. Also part of the team at High Tech was Beth Stachurski, a student from the Metropolitan Regional Career and Technical Center.
Hearty thanks to Mike and his team - they put their combined expertise into the cars, and have volunteered to be on call to talk the drivers through any problems that may arise during the weeks on the road!