THURSDAY, JUNE 1 HAMI TO DUNHUANG
The roadbook says today is to be an "Easy Day". It had better be.
We awake this morning at 6:30. Ed is down at the car, and I am in the shower when I hear a gentle knock on the door. I go to the door and am fairly sure who it is. Sure enough, our friend is back and through the door she says she will wait until I am dressed. She and her friend have come back for another photograph because last night's did not come out. So we find Ed in the parking lot. He is putting the top down as the morning is absolutely perfect. He puts the girls in the rear of the car, shows them the "royal wave" and gives them a ride around the parking lot. We take lots of photos and the girls give us their names and addresses and we promise to send a postcard.
Our new friends are Tao /Chum and Wu Shan, Xinjiang Number 5 Middle School, Class 5 Grade 3 Hami XingJiang 83900 China.. If any of you have time, please send them a postcard. They live in Hami. If you look on your map, you will know why they will appreciate postcards or letters from the United States.
We pass through a series of oases this morning, spots of green with carefully tended gardens and fields and then we head back into the gravel "gobi" desert. Today there is excellent scenery, steep dunes, and rock formations of good color. Visibilitiy is not great. There is still lots of dust on the horizon. The highway this morning is excellent and we have only a passage control, no time control. Easy day. Then Ed asks why a car a few cars in front of us is suddenly turning left. We think he is making a major error going off into the dirt and sand. Then we find out. There is NO road left in front of us. Here we go again, and this time the top is down. All our cleaning efforts gone again. This time we think if the diversion is for hours, we will not be able to stand it. Fortunately, it is short, and we are on the highway again. We head up a range of broken hills to a height of 1830 meters at Xingxingxia, which marks the border with the Gansu Province. We do not know why all of the rally cars are stopped. This is only a passage control and we should be able to go right on. But wait. The police chief of Xingjiang Province is to turn us over to the Police Chief of Gansu Province in a ceremony and that is to be done only after all of our cars have assembled. So we wait but today everyone smiles. The road is good, life is good. We enter the new province with police escort, the first time we have been in line on the highway for many miles. We are low on petrol but dont want to miss the entrance as we are near the head of the line, so we pump our fuel cell in the trunk into the main tank while we drive. Cool, man. One more diversion into heavy dirt and dust with a steep hill, thirty degree grade, plowing through soft sand back up to the highway. We hold our breaths and make it easily' we are not stuck in the sand. Because Ed decided to wait until there was no other car on the steep hill, we did not face the threat of getting stuck halfway up. Ed knew immediately why there was a bulldozer stationed right there by it.
Mao must be turning over in his grave. His vision of a drab, uniformly dressed, expressionless multitude has vanished, replaced by a colorful, expressive, highly individual citizenry. These people are highly intelligent, staightforward, and hardworking. They are well organized and even with language barriers, things work here!
A note about the leader of the "Vintageants", the old cars. James Walters and his cousin Lennox McNeeley are driving a 1938 Packard Touring Sedan. It was prepared in Victoria, B.C. where James lives. Lennox lives in Toronto, but was born in Victoria and his brother lives on the water near Cadboro Bay. They are two of the nicest people on the whole rally. Another small world: James is the engineer on Taconite (the Boeing yacht) during summers, so we have talked about our favorite spots in Blackfish Sound and Desolation Sound, etc. After the horror of yesterday, Lennox came with the offer of a cold Sprite from their cooler and with the suggestion that we might want to put a sign on our car "I'd rather be sailing". Amen! That was yesterday only. Today the rally world is again exciting and enjoyable.
Even though we are again covered with dirt and dust, we are rewarded today with the amazing Silk Road Hotel in Dunhuang. Built in the middle of the hot desert just outside town, it has the feel of a small Forbidden City. It is almost brand new, and the artwork and the woodwork are impressive.The hotel is massive and designed for over two thousand guests. Our room is spotless and even though it is a long walk to the rooms from the enormous high-ceilinged lobby, everyone is well satisfied with our environment tonight. It is too late now to detail our visit today to the Magao Buddhist caves, but they are a highlight of the trip. Up to 1400 years old, these art treasures must be seen to be believed. There is one Buddha statue that is 95 feet high. The frescoes and the statues are wonderful. There is a "Lying Buddha" which is over one hundred feet long and which is backed by 72 statues of people who surround him in death. Details tomorrow. We will try to send these in this wonderful hotel. We do not know anything about tomorrow's destination, Zhangye, but we leave at 7:00 a.m. and it is after midnight. Once we start to tell you about what we are seeing, we tend to get carried away!!!!
FRIDAY, JUNE 2, 2000 DUNHUANG TO ZHANGYE, CHINA
Leaving the hotel with police escort is so impressive. We see why politicians are reluctant to give up the perks. We have a good short section out of town with just ten minutes to our first time control. Six hundred fifty-one kilometer drive today, just about 390 miles. A short drive in the U.S. but different in China! Top down, great morning, good night's sleep in a brand new hotel with amazing art work and wood work, we begin the day clean, relaxed, and confident we will make all seven time checks on time today. All systems are go! This will be one of the longest days distance wise of the entire rally.
This is the perfect morning for a convertible. There are a few patches of green oases as we pass small towns about a half mile from the road. Most of the houses on the road are a reflection of old China: mud, or brick, square, and small. Basically, however, there is sand, sand, and more sand. First time control right on time. We are congratulating ourselves too soon and saying aloud how nice it will be to have an easy day. That is tempting fate, and we should know better by now First time control at Monghostan, second at Anxi. We are having scenery that could easily be used for a textbook definition and explanation of erosion and its effects. We begin to look forward to seeing ordinary old rocks just to break the monotony of flat sand. This sand along the road is not the sand of Lawrence of Arabia nor of The English Patient. This is mixed with so much dirt, it is clay-like and sticky. It is windy today, and it is probably windy here most of the time. The trees are bent from left to right all along the highway. The wind blows the dust into everything. We get the distinct feeling this area has dust all the time. Visibility is again nil. There must be beautiful mountains along here.
The car has been performing "brilliantly" when we hear a click,click,click from under the hood. It is especially noticeable at low speed. Then as we begin to be concerned about the noise, the sunshine disappears. The temperature decreases about twenty degrees in a few minutes. Why are we not surprised? At least we are temporarily out of the desert and are seeing small irrigated farms. Soft trees line the highway, their trunks uniformly painted white. We do like the orderly appearance of China. Even the small plots of land are orderly.
Finally we stop to put up the top. By now, the noise in the engine has increased substantially, we are low on fuel, and we hightail it to the next time control. At first we thought the terrible loud tapping noise might be the exhaust sound, but Ed says it sounded more like the valves. Good fortune is with us. We pull into an elevated area just a few hundred meters from the control desk over an hour early for our checkin. Tony, the rally mechanic, pulls in next to us. We are able to get fuel, and he looks at the car along with Ed. They remove the valve cover and find that the forward exhaust adjustment on the valves is extremely loose, that is, the tappets. So they adjusted the valves with a feeler gauge and put the valve cover back on. It took only twenty minutes once the valve cover was removed. As I stood at the desk waiting for our 1:03 check out, I could see back along the road; our hood was still up, and there were only thrty-seven minutes to our next time control. I had pretty well accepted the fact we would be late leaving. It is strange how suddenly reaching Beijing (Peking) becomes more important than the penalties whenever there is a mechanical problem. This is universal among the entire rally group. Our friend Victor Thomas, standing by me at the control desk, said, "Don't worry, Bev. If I know Ed, he will come roaring down the road for you just as you check out!" Not quite, but almost. Thanks to the pit crew of Ed, Tony, David, Tom, and Kevin Clemens (remember, Kevin is technical editor of Automobile Magazine), we felt we had a crew worthy of the Indy 500. I checked in a the proper time, ran back up the road, and just as I arrived at the car, Ed was putting the hood down and beginning to clean his hands. We left the repair area just eight minutes late.
On our way again, even making the next time control, only 37 minutes away, on time!! At first there is no noise, but on the way to the next time control, the noise begins again. This is not a good day for mechanical problems. With seven time controls, the prospect for seven hours penalty is not fun. We have the first five behind us now, so we are really fortunate. Tonight after the engine cools, we will readjust the valves because they are still making noise, although the noise is not nearly as bad as before.
During the repair, I had a chance to meet Hallie, a lovely young woman who was in Kashgar. She is from Marietta, Ohio, and has been traveling in China to brush up on her Chinese language. She was in our hotel and struck up conversation with some rally people. It turns out her airplane ticket to the U.S. is June 8 from Beijing, the day we arrive there. So she has joined us on the rally, riding with our mechanic Tony and his son Roger. She is a student at Swarthmore, and she is a an experienced crew person from high school. Perhaps she and Laura Kirby have even rowed against each other! She is an excellent addition to the rally.
There seems to be universal fatigue among all of us today, the result of the drive two days ago. Everyone needed a rest day, but the delayed effects of the grim day have everyone feeling logy today. This afternoon we have a stop at Jiayuguan, the "Great Wall". It is a tourist trap, and any semblance to the feeling of the real Great Wall is laughable. We stop only for a brief photo-op and notice that no one else is staying long, either. We are on our way to Zhangye, an "ancient" city. There is no shoulder at all along these roads. The overloaded blue trucks are still with us; it is shocking how many of them are stalled along the road, surrounded by small rocks as a "warning" to other motorists and it is shocking how many are turned over along the way. We are getting more concerned with each passing mile. The noise from the engine is getting louder and louder. Ed fears we may burn out a valve, but we have little alternative here other than to go for the hotel.
Today we travel the "Gansu Corridor", the traditional route between the desert to the north and the mountains to the south by which pilgrims and merchants travelled from Central Asia into China. We can only wonder at the archaeological treasures which must lie under these parts. Yesterday's Magao caves have seen just over a thousand dug out so far, and there are supposed to be about seven thousand more waiting to be uncovered; the richness of Chinese History is overpowering. The artistic triumphs inside the caves are astounding. We were amused at the tiles in one cave which gave credit to the local citizens who had paid for and thus made possible the art work. Over fourteen hundred years ago, the big donors already wanted public credit for their generosity!
Suddenly there is no more desert for a while, and it seems somehow a relief. Today has not been the benign desert we are used to in California. This has been unrelenting "gobi" gravel and dirty sand. Now there is green ground cover, and a fairly large man-made lake, a surface reservoir. Out of the gobi, it is substantially cooler, and there are attractive farms all the way to the foothills, the fields green with a myriad of grains and vegetables. Donkey carts on the highway no longer seem unnatural to us; they are a part of everyday life, as are the three-wheeler carts. It is astounding how quickly we have adapted to life in China. We who usually need three newspapers and several television news broadcasts per day do not even think about it here. There is a rhythm of life that is in sync with the surroundings here. The atmosphere this afternoon is far more benign along the road. Finally we reach the Zhangye Hotel, breathing a sigh of relief. Ed's first stop is the "garage" where he will make the necessary adjustments. I hope Peter or Tony will help him! The long drive is tiring enough.
Maria Noor says it best. She has suggested that if anyone ever asks where we stayed on June 2, we will all have a convenient lapse of memory. This hotel belongs in no guidebook other than "Hotels To Avoid". For starters, there are no room keys. Instead, there are supposed to be two or three young ladies on each floor to let you in and out of your room whenever you wish. They seem to be on each floor only when you do not need them. Tonight there are only three flights of stairs, so we are grateful for that. Even if there were a lift in this hotel, I don't think we would take it. They are trying hard, but nothing here seems to work. The lighting in the rooms is dim and the lighting in the halls almost non-existent. As for the food, it was not as bad as it looked. In fact, some of it was edible. The disconcerting thing about breakfast in some of our hotels is that the vegetables and meats are the same which were on the buffet table at dinner the night before. Bread and jelly is safe. The Brits and others eat a multitude of hardboiled eggs for breakfast. We had digging in of heels among several ralliers this morning when it first appeared there would be no black coffee for breakfast. Mark Rinkel has been teaching himself Chinese for the past year and is really good. He asked in Chinese for our Nescafe and asked for it "now" and it miraculously appeared. How much of it is his fluent Chinese and how much of it is because he is six foot six, handsome, and has a deep voice cannot be determined, but we did have our coffee before we had to check out. (p.s. You may have noticed this paragraph is completely out of order. Too late to move - writer apology)
Ed and Peter worked feverishly last night and when they were through, the engine purred like a brand new car. Peter took a hacksaw to both of the pillars that hold up the tappet assembly and cut off a quarter of an inch of the aluminum on the bottom mounting bracket. Then theyput the original bolt on the back and the correct one on the front, eliminating the washer so the stud bolts which hold down the pillar will find some thread to be able to get a solid grip to hold down the pillar.We were so exhausted that we walked all the way up to the restaurant in our dirty clothes, thinking we would just wash our hands, eat, and go straight to bed. When all they could do was bring us one small finger bowl of water,we gave up, showered ,and ate what was there.
There are definite signs of car fatigue. Our Car 48 with its tappet system repair was not the only car in the parking lot with problems. Car 37 was replacing its shock absorber mounts and worked nearly all night. Our Italian friends in the Car 75, the Lancia, replaced all their motor mounts and rebuilt their radiator. Twenty minutes before their checkout time this morning, they finally started their engine and were ready to go. The 62 Austin Healey of the Scottish Hunts broke a spring. Believe it or not, they had carried an extra with them and were able to repair it themselves. Theirs is a fabulous red 1962 model, and they look stylish and capable in it. Ivan in his 1940 Cadillac was towed in today with major electrical problems. The Puegot 404 has suspension problems Car 55, Tom and Val Harris's, has suspension and shock problems and has been without an exhaust system. Freddy and Jan Giles, the overall leaders, blew out two rear tires. By a miracle, there was a tire shop which they found by taxi and it had two 13" tires. David and Mary Laing had to send their lovely blue Aston Martin on to Lanzhou by truck after the other front axel broke. They had just had the other one rebuilt several days ago. They exhibit such grace under pressure. They are super people! One competitor finally had a major meltdown in the parking lot in front of the hotel tonight. He was facing a multi-hour car repair, he was tired after a long drive, and the final straw was that after he checked into his room and left to repair the car, someone else was given his room. The person in charge of the travel group that is handling China kept saying "I am not personally responsible" which was not a particularly empathetic response to the young man whose frustration was understandable. We don't know "the rest of the story" but we will find out if he got another room. If not, he did not miss much. As Maria says, we will simply have to forget June 2.
What we have all feared occurred this evening. One of our cars hit a boy on the highway. Fortunately, he was injured only slightly, but it is still frightening. The crowds are so thick and they want to get so close.
We did have time for a walk after dinner, mainly to find some ice cream bars to make up for a skimpy dinner. We walked to the Night Market just a couple of blocks away, and most of the local citizenry was there. There were pool tables outside on the concrete, all of which were full of players, and there was an area where little childen rode small Jeeps like Kate and Tess's, giggling with glee. We were followed by a group of about fifty people, hovering behind us, stopping when we stopped, walking when we walked. If we picked up a belt buckle from one of the stands, they watched as we examined it, discussed what we were doing, then followed us again. The people in the villages and small towns seem to think of us as curiosities. We enjoyed the lovely evening. The temperature is mild here for June and highly pleasant. The walk also meant we could avoid our dark room as long as possible.
(This is where that paragraph should have been)
SATURDAY, JUNE 3, 2000 ZHANGYE - LANZHOU
HAPPY BIRTHDAY CRAIG SUHRBIER. WE ARE PROUD TO HAVE YOU FOR A SON AND HOPE THAT YOUR BIRTHDAY AND EVERY DAY BRING YOU THE HAPPINESS THAT YOU BRING TO SO MANY! WE WILL CELEBRATE WITH YOU WHEN WE GET HOME.
Last night just before bed we checked the bulletin board to make sure of our start time. Sure enough, still position 35, Car 0 at 7:30, therefore, we at 8:05. Piece of cake, we are always awake by then. Just by chance at breakfast, we hear that the police have decided to have us start two cars a minute rather than one, so we are "out" at 7"48 instead of 8:05. There will be penalties for anyone who overslept or did not get the new schedule which was announced about 11:00 last night. There are some mumbles and grumbles among the ralliers this morning. I think there is a Cool Hand Luke situation: "What we have here is a failure to communicate.....". The rally staff is so great that I hate to even mention it, but the truth is that somehow a lot of rumors and untrue information circulate when just a simple note on the bulletin board could solve the problem. Marked in some bright color to distinguish it from notes that are a week or more old, it would seemingly be so simple.
We are happy to bid goodbye to our hotel. Perfect crisp sunny morning,clean air, green scenery along the way, engine purring right along. Our big topic of conversation this morning is the mechanical brilliance of Peter Benham. He and his wife Betty deserve such respect and admiration. Peter recognized our valve problem immediately. A car just like ours had a similar problem on the Monte rally last year. WOW!!!! Eternal thanks. We are cruising right along.
We also marvel at the cutthroat competitive instinct that is setting in among the rally leaders. Just five days more to Beijing, and the mumbles and grumbles grow louder. One "query", the written form which a competitor must use to question a ruling, a penalty, or other matter, has been made about one of the leader's cars regarding if his engine qualifies under the rules; the query apparently asks if that car's engine qualifies and asks that an inspection be made to determine the qualification. It could mean removing the engine head to examine the pistons. The desire to win is humongous. To win such a prestigious event in Europe and England where rallying is so big is tremendously important; one becomes a type of Sterling Moss.
Barry Weir, in the gorgeous Aston Martin , looks to be a real contender in this race and he deserves it. He and Ronald work on the car constantly and are intense in their determination. They say wait until Alaska!
Ed and I were wondering last night just why we were in our hotel room "bathroom" instead of the casita at Indian Wells and laughed over the significant differences. Today we have the answer for our psychiatrist friend Les Alhadeff who asked in all seriousness, "WHY are you going on this trip??" The trip has tested every skill we have ever learned in six decades. It has been a test of our tenacity, but ultimately, we both love a challenge, and we will have memories of this mighty adventure forever (and a few thousand pictures as well). We would not have missed it for the world. Speaking of pictures, thousands are taken of ourselves and our car, and, here in China, we are asked to pose with locals from twenty to fifty times a day. We have given autographs for the first time in our lives.
Just as we are enjoying the rare opportunity to not look at the route book and are discussing all these philosophical matters, the good road disappears. The divided highway is under construction, but suddenly there is oncoming traffic on OUR side of the divider. Cars coming from the opposite direction on our side of the big divider is definitely a first! Other than quirks like this, though. this morning's road is as good as any new highway in the United States. The road equipment is archaic, and there are thousands of mask-covered men and women brushing and sweeping and grooming the right-of-way areas, but there is great progress occurring here. The dropoffs along the side are something else, since there are no shoulders, but they will figure that out in a few years.
One hundred twenty miles of smooth going, then the noise again. The miracle repair seems to have problems. We drive fairly slowly to the next passage control, and, bless his heart, there is Peter. He and Ed have the valve cover off immediately, the tools come out, and we find that the old bolt which had been moved to the rear has failed, sheared. Peter concludes that we must install a quarter inch by one and a half inch steel L bracket, so we fabricated this out of a piece of steel he had in his car and drilled a large hole on the bottom and a smaller hole on the vertical side of the bracket and mounted this bracket on the bolt that holds down the main pillar. The small hole fit over part of the tappet assembly that was loose and as we tightened the main bolt, it pulled down the tappet assembly just as though we had put in a new bolt to replace the one that had sheared. Peter uses the word "brilliant" when something works. This was "brilliant". (Just guess who composed the past few sentences. Peter yelled put the valve cover on, pack up your tools, and be on your way. He wanted us on our way so that he could be the "sweep" to help us again if necessary. This was again as good as any pit crew could ever do. We are on our way!!!!
Ed has promised to keep the speed to around fifty miles per hour and on the straight highways this afternoon, it is a hard promise to keep, but he does it and he does it all afternoon. We have to keep our RPMs as low as possible but still make time. This is a wise driver.
The scenery this afternoon is almost the best of the trip. The mountains of stone are interspersed with fields of green. Rice is growing in between the mountains! The mud caves and mud-appearing houses have lovely sloped tile roofs. The houses seem to grow right out of the ground - Frank Lloyd Wright must have visited here in his youth. We take way too much video, because these are sights unlike any we have seen before.
The villages continue their astounding welcomes. In one, Ray Carr in front of us slows to a stop for a speed bump and to avoid hitting the swarm of children and adults in the middle of the road in the center of town. We are directly in back of him, and suddenly, we have heads and arms and hands inside our car with us. Carol Quillian would have had an immediate and justifiable attack of claustrophobia. Both of us were almost too startled to breathe, much less to drive on. We did roll up the windows, not because we feared theft, but we were afraid we would be taking several villagers with us if we drove on. Our photographs of this event will prove we do not exaggerate. Many of the people in these villages have seen Western travelers seldom if ever, and they laugh and giggle at us and just about anything we do.
The afternoon road through the mountains was one of the best. Only Gwen and Janet in the red 1940 Chev were behind us, the two cars gliding like Blue Angels through the beautiful countryside. The two cars seemed alone in time.
Our timecheck on the outskirts of Lanzhou was ten hours from our morning departure. We thought we would be there hours early, but actually reached it only twenty minutes ahead of time. We were shocked that so many other cars were still there. They should have been an hour or two ahead of us. Then we found why - we were to be in a police convoy to the hotel sixteen kilometers away. They are literally stoppping rush hour traffic for us. I know that Ed is going to expect me to notify the Indian Wells Chief of Police if he decides to go to Ralph's. Anyway, all of the big blue trucks wait along the road while we are escorted into Lanzhou. What a surprise. Tall, new highrises all over the city. An absolutely modern appearance. On our way in, we have our very first view of the Yellow River which we will follow most of the way to Beijing.
Our Legend Hotel is twenty-four stories, marble, chandeliers, huge gracious lobby, great rooms, phones that work. We are on the nineteenth floor, happy and relieved our car is running. The intersection below must be one of the world's largest, dwarfing the one at the Arch of Triumph in Paris. It appears to between 750feet and 1000 feet in diameter with cars and bicycles going in every direction. There is only a puny little concrete roundabout in the center which is strange in that the small towns have elaborate huge twenty to fifty foot statues in the centers of their roundabouts. Tis a puzzlement. Our view is phenomenal. The mountains in the background still resemble the Santa Rosas of the California desert.
We had no more problems on the way in yesterday. The buffet dinner tonight brought moans of pleasure - western food: French style stuffed mussels, pepper steak, roast pork, beautiful salads, good breads, everything as good as it looked. After having had no other food all day, we ate heartily! We all felt so clean and so upbeat because of our surroundings. We all feel we deserve this after the past few days. This city is impressive. The city is new; in infrastructure and buildings, it could compete with Denver or St.Louis. China is sending a definite message to the world: " We have arrived!" Construction is going on everywhere, there are two million people here, yet it is one of China's most isolated cities.
The young people are the best. They are all speaking English. Their enthusiasm and their great smiles are the best thing China has going for it. They are China's future, and they are superb!!!!
SUNDAY, JUNE 4, 2000 LANZHOU, CHINA
We have a "rest day" today. Rest as in finally finding finding oil we have tried to buy for days. Rest as in Ed's travel to a local mechanic's for an oil and filer change, and to fill the differential which has been leaking the past couple of days. There is not a car in the parking lot without a hood up for one reason or another. The tour bus for the day must have been empty. Everyone is here working on their cars. We have less than fourteen hundred miles to drive to Beijing and only four days to go, so the tension is mounting. Even those who are flying on to Anchorage want to be sure to reach Beijing in good shape. We have already given you the total number of kilometers and miles we have driven; somehow, to be less than fourteen hundred miles seems strange; that is barely more than our drive from Windermere in Seattle to our house in Indian Wells. That is 1302 miles and we do it in twenty-one hours. We will take four days to reach Beijing, a minimum of forty hours more driving.
We talked to Craig this morning - it is still his birthday in Seattle. We tried last night so that we might call right at 8:43 a.m., the exact moment he was born, but we were so tired we could not make it until midnight here! Talked to Karen as well. Communications these days are remarkable. They sounded as if they were next door.
This city has everything: Sony tapes, Kodak film, American cosmetics. The local shopping center has an Avon counter (no doorbell) and everything here is so westernized it is hard to believe it is China. The bicycles outnumber everything else. They seem to have the right-of-way over everything and everyone, including pedestrians. We thought the big-city (over two million) would be more sophisticated and less interested in our rally, but the locals are lined up outside the hotel gates waiting to get in to see the cars. When they do, they are armed with their cameras and we have been posing all morning. This is probably our last opportunity for a few days to send you these messages, so we want to get them off in comfort. The business center here at the hotel is more of a social gathering than the bar! Even late at night, there are lines for the computers and, for those of us who have our own laptops, there is a line for the phone because the ones in the room do not have the right size to "click" into the laptop portal.
One young man walked along with Ed today practicing his English. He said he was fifteen years old. As they walked along, his mother was nearby, gleaming with pride. This young population has a keen interest in being part of the Western world. They love our technology and have a thirst for knowledge. One of my favorites was a twelve year old boy who spoke excellent English and was beaming with joy when we let him sit in the driver's seat.
This afternoon, we were able to read the China Daily, a newspaper in English which we borrowed from the Business Center and for which we had to sign. It is the first newspaper we have seen in over a month. A front page article concerns the plan which seeks to limit desert expansion here in China. "Desertification" is one of China's most serious problems. The new plan would mean that the area covered by the plan would no longer expand 2460 square kilometers a year, as happens now. China's deserts currently cover 2.62 million square kilometers, or 27% of China's total territory. The plan covers 14 provinces. Rather than just announcing a plan, the government offers specifics: plants will be protected in oases and desert fringe areas that have strong winds and less than 200mm of rain a year; water-efficient irrigation will be introduced and sand-shield belts constructed; there will be a ban on logging in semi-arid areas with annual rainfall of 300 to 400mm.; vegetation will be protected so that a foundation for more vegetation can be provided. The plan is essential for continued economic growth in China. Since early spring, there have been twelve major sandstorms which have swept through much of northern and northwestern China. Here is proof that the sandstorms were the reason the government didn't allow us through the southern Taklimakan Desert. We are convinced they did us a huge favor!
We find that as much as we enjoy all the members of the rally group, we need some private time, so we avoided all tours this afternoon and took a cab by ourselves to the White Pagoda which SharWei recommended as a good destination. The timing was perfect; just before sunset, all along the Yellow River through the city of Lanzhou. Ed had seen the buildings on his way to the garage this morning; I thought he must be exaggerating about the miles of skyscrapers. He did not exaggerate at all. We are amazed beyond description of what is taking place here. Buildings are being torn down mile after mile, replaced by huge, often well designed highrises. They share a common facade of off-white brick with dark grout. The signage is fabulous. The Chinese letters look so artistic. There is a significant American company presence on the signs: Microsoft, Motorola, Hewlett Packard. The bright color umbrellas along the way and the greenery of the parks and promenades make for an attractive, highly modern city. The buildings outnumber even San Francisco and are not limited to a small downtown area. They go on for miles and miles. We went across both major bridges out of and into the city; The White Pagoda will be reviewed in tomorrow's column. It is dinner time and the Business Center is about to close.
We are in great shape today. The car is clean, freshly lubed and oiled, our clothes have no dust and dirt and red clay in them, our bodies are clean, physically and psychologically we are in great shape and we will be on our way to Yinshuan tomorrow morning. This has been a terrific stop.
MONDAY, JUNE 5, 2000 LANZHOU TO YINCHUAN, CHINA
Last night's hot Korean dinner was great company with our Irish friends in the Mustang, Don Sevart of South Pasadena, and Tony Folkes, ex race driver and now super mechanic. The rally talk was fascinating. The names of John Brown and Nick Britten are fairly new to us but they are rally directors with impeccable international reputations, and some of the rallies they have coming up are fascinating. There is an Inca Trail rally in South America, and of course the Norway to Capetown is the most intriguing, even if possibly the most scary. There is a benign one in Scotland next year where some people take their golf clubs. What we need is an offer from a Brit to leave a car there. Then the British and European rallies would make sense! Speaking of Mustangs, I think I have such a hot car with my 289 engine. Our Irish friends have a 351 and a 53. liter engine which was made only in Toronto and in Ohio.You can tell as their car zooms past us. Evidently it is way more powerful, but mine is still mine! Cannot think what this rally would do to that beautiful Wimbledon white!
Ed's morning began with the usual shower and fresh hand-laundered (by himself) clothing. Then he found himself under the car in the parking lot in front of the elegant Legend Hotel ,having changed into his dirty mechanic's pants and shirt right there next to the car. He was too busy to notice the two older German women tourists standing there watching him change, but they will remember their trip to Lanzhou. The local Chinese mechanic who tightened the differential with the 14 wrench did it too tight and Ed had a terrible time loosening it in order to add oil. There had been another overnight leak. He really intended to be a "supervisory" mechanic on this trip, but that doesn't seem to happen lately.
While Ed repairs the car, I enter the third day of an American Express traveler check saga which could only happen here in China. I cashed two of the "two party" travelers checks when we arrived in Lanzhou. Half hour later, Ed answered the phone and told me they needed me downstairs at the desk. They were in a panic. I had written Legend Hotel as the payee and they said the Bank of China representative would not accept the checks as they wanted to put the bank stamp there as payee. I told them no problem, I would write Bank of China over the Legend Hotel. That brought more panic. No, no, no. They wanted two more American Express Travelers checks instead. Now I panic -- no, no, no, you do not understand. These are cash. I cannot give you two new ones. Then they look again at the checks. Now they want my husband to sign. Fine, fine. The next day, another three calls. By now, they know me at the desk and when I arrive, they can all find the travelers checks at once. The assistant manager, then the manager, then the head of Exodus, our travel agency, try to explain. Yesterday, I wrote even darker on the checks, BANK OF CHINA., and suggested they tell the bank representative to figure it out, that it was his problem, not mine. This morning was too much. They again asked me for two new travelers checks and I said NO MAS. They do not understand Spanish any more than they understand English, and they are lovely young ladies trying to do their best, but they fear their bank representative too much. I wanted to tell them to tell the representative that they would change banks if he gave them a bad time but that is a concept too foreign to them. New Chinese proverb: Don't leave home with traveler's checks.
We leave Lanzhou by the same route we came in, although not with a police convoy this time. We cross the Yellow River again, and are surprised by the rapid flow of the water. The river is a yellow-brown with a muddy appearance. Hugh Marriage says they saw two boys swimming in it yesterday -- brave boys! We head into the mountains to reach the Muslim town of Xinquan, our first time control. Some navigational math was required this morning because we left two cars per minute instead of one and the departure of the hypothetical car 0 was changed from 8 to 8:30. One of the leaders forgot to change the arrival time for Car 0 at the first time control and accidentally checked in twenty minutes early, a forty minute penalty. Since they had driven like a "bat out of hell" on an abominable road to get there at what they thought was the proper time, the chagrin and disappointment in the car was noticeable.
Even with the bumps and potholes this morning, we have time to discuss what we are going to do with our Spirit of 2000 once the race is over. We want to convert it to a city car, but it will be hard to remove all the stickers and numbers and rally equipment that we have spent so much time planning and installing. especially the beautiful Chinese license plates. What we need is a small car museum!!! The huge sinkholes in the road end our discussion of car plans. We are back to searching the road silently to avoid any disasters. The psychological mood of the entire rally group has changed in the past forty-eight hours. Now the goal is Beijing. No one even says Peking. Even the Round the World entrants are focused on getting to Beijing in running condition. Fatigue is showing. The navigational error mentioned above was made by one of the sharpest of the competitors. The road this morning got worse and worse.
From a good beginning on an excellent road, we think we will be early. We look behind us and realize we are going up a very long hill. Sure enough, we have climbed to a height of 8000 feet without even realizing we are so high. Actually, we are at about the same altitude as Sun Valley yet we are still in the desert. The scenery is significantly better than the flat dirt and sand we have been driving through for what seems like weeks. At least the sand today is a new shade of brown. Then the road goes downhill in more ways than one. The dirt and gravel, especially of the last six miles, slowed down many of the cars. significantly. We made the first time control with just ten minutes to spare. We were all waiting for Hugh and Victor to arrive in their Morris Minor because they always check in two minutes ahead of us. Suddenly, Hugh came running to the desk, slapped down his pink book with a flourish, just twenty seconds to spare. Cheers from us all!!
The throngs along the roads in every village continue to astound. Our horn and our air horn will be lucky to make it to Beijing. The broad smiles and waves and cheers as we pass are intoxicating. The small children, especially the little boys aged six to eight or nine, get so excited that they are jumping up and down and pumping their arms up and down as fast as possible, and they look as if we are watching an aerobics class on film in fast forward position. Never have we seen such enchanting children. They have something so enthusiastic that it is catching! The girls giggle even more than in the U.S. and they love to repeat what we say as we go by. If we say hi, they all repeat hi. If we say hello, the chorus repeats hello. Sometimes we wonder just how far we might take this!
Just after we leave the first time control, we find ourselves with a roadbook warning of a very bad diversion road. As we cruise down a brand new highway, the driver asks again and again just when this bad diversion road is coming. The Chinese have obviously been working overtime to get the new sections open in this part of the province. The navigator has been replaced by the majority of the Chinese police force. They stand guard to make sure we stay on the route. I haven't decided whether I am a patrol officer or a parole officer, but reminding the driver of his promise to keep the revs down in order to protect the valve repair is necessary on this great new highway with long stretches of straight road that cry out for some real speed. It is particularly hard when some souped up new Mercedes speeds by. At that point, we laugh about the common discussion among fellow ralliers that the definition of "classic" in this rally seems to be anyone willing to pay the entry fee.
We see large groups of goats along the way today. Their white, long, silky coats are lovely. The softest portion under their throats is probably the source of the true pashmina, the coveted, softest, threads which make the expensive shawls which are against the law to wear! Pashmina has now entered the fashion world as a generic term for the soft cashmere shawls being seen everywhere this past year, but the TRUE pashmina are outlawed because of the threat of extinction of the goats. These may not be the ones we are seeing this morning, but the high elevation and their appearance makes us fairly confident of at least the possibiliity.
The second time control of the day is at Sapatou, the spectacular site where the Yellow River meets the Tengger Desert. It is a large local tourist attraction on the top of a large bluff with the river at least a thousand feet below. There are cable cars to take tourists to the river floor, and many of them are full. There are cold drinks and ice cream bars availablel and since breakfast was leftovers from dinner last night, the bananas we took from the buffet and the ice cream bar are our nutritious lunch today. We plan to tell our Around the World friends about Tim Horton's in Canada, where all along the highway one can buy quick snacks and excellent bakery goods and sandwiches. After the deserts of China, they will see such fast food as manna from heaven! We are able to get great pictures here, and the half hour wait for the check in is a welcome break. The weather is perfect here, and there is no dust blowing!!
The crowds in the villages this afternoon are so thick that they sometimes obscure the T-junctions and crossroads which are turning guides in our roadbooks. No matter, the crowds themselves mark the way in many cases. All of your prayers and ours as well were answered in one harrowing moment this afternoon. We were both watching some very small children playing at the side of the road and thinking they were too young to be unattended with so many cars racing by. Then in one instant, a small young girl darted into our path. We could not go in front of her or in back of her without endangering other children, so Ed hit his brakes as hard as possible, and turned the car hard left to avoid hitting her. The squeal of the brakes was hideous; the car did a 180 but we did not hit her and we did not hit the three or four children just next to us on the left side of the road who were with their panic-stricken grandmother. The mother came running up the driveway when she heard the brakes squeal, and the look on her face was exactly as mine would have been had it been my children who might have been hit. We sat here several seconds, giving true thanks to God that we had not hit her. Ed says he left a thousand miles on his tires there!
The scenery is changing. There is a huge brick factory along the road this afternoon. In one town, beautiful multi-colored flowers are planted along the shoulder of the road. Could Lady Bird Johnson have been here? Also, China is trying hard to solve its food problem. Every small patch of land is growing grain whenever and whereever possible, and rice as well. Beautiful, well tended small patches everywhere.
Blue trucks will forever remind us of China. Construction trucks, express trucks, transport trucks are the same marine blue, no matter size or shape. They have interesting driving habits here. Trucks pass whenever and wherever they wish, and woe be it to anyone in any lane who does not yield to them. We almost don't give a thought to it when we see a truck heading toward us in our lane. It seems almost normal.
Finally, we are safely at the Yinchuan Inn. We outsmart the dirt this time. Ed puts the oil in the differential before we go up to shower. I assist, managing on the first try to suck the oil up the plastic tube from the big can and hand it down to him under the car. Those of you who know me well may be truly impressed by this feat! Good news; the Chinese oil is as thick as syrup, and seems to be doing the job of preventing big leakage. We are in our room fairly quickly and look down on the mass of raised hoods. One of those hoods belongs to our friend Henning Ulrich, the German dentist in the Mercedes Diesel who is probably the "coolest" guy in the rally. His English is so perfect that you would not believe he is German. He went to Prep school back east in the U.S. and tells of a teenage visit to Tacoma to visit a black friend who lived in the Hilltop area of Tacoma. They took him to a James Brown concert in Seattle, and Henning says he was the only white person at the concert. He relied on a heavy German accent at the advice of his Tacoma friends, and he can still put on that heavy German accent whenever he thinks it necessary. He has a condominium in Longboat Key in Florida so he visits the U.S. every year. Back to his raised hood this evening: the 9 volt starter made especially for this car for this rally has evidently burned out. Surrounded by mosquitoes but protected by repellent donated both by Kevin and by us, Henning works late into the night, but the car still won't start. He worries not only for himself but for the Japanese drivers who are the leaders in the London to Peking race and who are a team with Henning. They are the number one team at the moment and the Japanese are also first in their class. Henning does not want to let them down. They are super guys and working hard to win. The starter problem will have to be "sorted out" tomorrow morning.
At least we had time for a good after dinner stroll this evening with Kevin. We happened upon a truly local grocery store, bought the same brand bottled water for which we paid 14 yuan at the hotel this morning for one yuan tonight! One could live comfortably in China on a very limited income! Dinner was strange enough tonight that it consisted of one ice cream bar from a street corner and one KitKat bar from the grocery store. And we are both venturesome eaters!
The language barrier this evening is frustrating. Even the business center cannot get a suitable outside line to make a good internet connection. Forty minutes of attempts and six different people offering to help, but no success. During my attempts, Philip Young and Martin Clark attempted to use the copy machine to make 360 copies for the rally participants. The girl wanted to put them through one at a time even though it is a large and sophisticated copy machine. They might still be there making copies if they did not manage to "sort it out". It was especially disappointing not to get e-mail tonight, because I talked to Liz's sister Laine this afternoon and she had just sent us two e-mail messages. They still want us to come to Shanghai to visit them, hooray, hooray, and she has some other ideas as well for our tour.
After we ship the car home, we will fly to Xi'an to see the warriors, then to Shanghai, that city of intrigue made famous in so many novels and films! I am sure Peter Lorre and Sidney Greenstreet will be there to greet us in some way! If you read Empire of the Sun or see the film, the destruction of Shanghai will take on new meaning, but it is back again, and, from what we have heard, is back in a BIG WAY. Supposedly, eight percent of the world's construction cranes are in Shanghai as we write. We had hoped Laine and Ralph could come to Beijing for the gala, but they have business clients in Shanghai, so they will meet us at the airport with their driver when we arrive. It will be so good to see them. We have not seen them since Christmas. When we visited them in Bombay, they were perfect hosts! Now we will see them in their new home. They like Shanghai so much they have just signed up for another two years. DowCorning is lucky to have both Ralph and Laine. They are perfect representatives for both Dow Corning and the United States. In addition, Laine has set up the East China Pearl Company" with Liz and their other sister, Annette, so Laine is busy with her own business, too.
Time for bed. Everyone is realizing these roads take a toll that requires some recovery time, None of us are used to sitting so much, and he drivers' arms are tired.
Today was 475.5 kilometers toward Beijing. How can we be so close so soon? It seems that we have just begun........
TUESDAY, JUNE 6, 2000 YINCHUAN TO BAOTOU, CHINA
There are too many nice Germans on this trip to make too many references to D-Day, but that is of course what comes to mind on this day each year. One wag suggested last night that Henning, a German, and the Japanese should have called their team the "Axis Power" but such jokes are very private because no one wants to hurt anyone else's feelings. That is the reason I do not describe more fully one particular rally participant. Central casting would grab him immediately if they needed a perfect actor to be an S.S. commandant in W.W. II. He even walks the walk, but he is a very decent fellow. Now at least ten people will wonder if I am talking about them! My kids have said for years that I have a warped sense of humor and I fear they are right. At least Ed and I can go into gales of laughter in the confines of our own car and we do often. Sometimes, we have a little trouble sanitizing some of the funnier events we would like to describe to you. Later.
The gremlins are out in force this morning. First, there are five pages of new roadbook instructions because the Chinese police have changed the entire route for today. Instead of following the Yellow River north to the mountains, we are to head due east across, guess what, MORE desert. If 27 per cent of China is desert, we will have seen all twenty-seven percent.
I was waiting inside the hotel this morning for the time control checkin when I saw Ed driving across the parking lot toward the road. I could not imagine why until I saw that he was towing Henning in an attempt to get him started. At breakfast, we had all (including Henning) wondered why so many of us ralliers tried to outsmart the Mercedes engineers, especially since they were German engineers, and put new, elaborate parts in place of the originals for this rally. Henning's specially designed 9 volt starter was to give extra torque, but it burned out quickly because of the incompatibility with the 12 volt system. Anyway, Ed tried towing Henning hoping the car would start, but it didn't. So Ed found Tony and Peter and arranged for them to tow Henning and try with their big rigs to get him started. Finally, Henning was on his way and was at the first time control in plenty of time, engine running! Then trouble stuck again. This time Henning had to be towed by a tow truck. While he was under tow, hood (bonnet, according to the Brits) up, he had a Chinese lad sitting on the fender pouring ether into the engine as the tow was underway. Because the hood was up, Henning could not see, and, once the car started, he rear-ended the tow truck. Do you think we have the beginning of a regular television series? The Rally Wreckers! The important part of Henning's day is this: he had no penalties and made every time control on time!! He did not let down his team or himself. He is a winner in every way.
Perhaps today will live in our minds as "Bonnet Day". Henning was not the only one with a hood up. We were tooling down the highway at a brisk speed this morning, really enjoying the crowds which were larger than any rose parade. The villages bring out increasing numbers every day! Convertible tops were up because of some heavy winds. As we went through a dip in the road, a huge wind gust hit suddenly and our bonnet (hood) blew up to the windshield with a loud crash. We were of course completely blinded by the hood in front of our eyes, but fortunately, the windshield remained intact. The hood did not. It looked as if someone had dropped a huge boulder on it from a bridge. Ed stuck his head out of the driver's window and brought us to a safe stop. Fortunately, we did not hit another car, and fortunately, we did not go off the significant dropoff at what should be the shoulder of the road. The "blokes" were right in front of us and stopped to see if we needed help, but we were okay. You may think we are kidding about our gratitude for your prayers for our safety but we are serious. Ed says we are literally coming into Beijing on a wing and a prayer!
What a strange reaction we both had to this latest misadventure. Had it happened a week or two ago, our moans and groans would have reached your ears. This morning, we were both strangely calm about it. No expletives deleted, not even a tiny one, no self-pity, just gratitude we were okay and able to drive on. The dent in the hood was deep enough that this morning's heavy rain left a puddle that Do, our Dutch friend and humorist, said we were carrying our own bird bath. Coupled with the fact that we have only one operable windshield wiper at this point, this morning was not the "easy day" promised by the roadbook. The cold wind, the rain, and the potholes are a true triple threat. Even trying to show "grace under pressure", it is hard to look at our gorgeous car with the huge areas of chipped paint and crumpled metal. They show in all the video out the front windows because the road is bad enough that all four straps of my seatbelt must remain on today. An added indignity is that now the hood won't open at all. When Ed put it down after the debacle, it became jammed completely. Oh, well, he says he will not need to add oil or water anyway and will "sort out" the problem on La Cienega (at Joe's shop in L.A). I sit in silence in the car for a long while, knowing how meticulous Ed is, knowing he will hate driving into Beijing with this mess of a hood. Somehow I think he will find a way to get it repaired, even in this endless desert of China. The reaction of our fellow ralliers at the time control when they saw our car made us feel grateful; to a person, they all offered sympathy and a few "...oh, that gorgeous car.....They seem to appreciate its beauty as much as we do, and with all the special cars in this rally, there were many compliments to ours, especially welcome to our ears this morning!
Today's itinerary is not your usual tourist destination: such household names as Jinguai and Wuyuan, our first two time controls, are on few maps. The rain and cold wind this morning send us to the trunk for our trusty Goretex jackets. What would we do without them? We wait at the first time control in the rain and the mud and eat chocolate bars instead of breakfast because last night's inedible dinner was served again this morning. We have rally definitions of hotels and of food. There is a distinction between dismal and awful that only we understand. Richard Newman said today that from now on, Motel 6 will seem high class. Actually, Ed and I do not complain at all if we have hot water and a toilet that flushes. We can live on power bars and crackers and sometimes the food is excellent.
We have reached the point where we are excited if the sand changes color and also if the sand stays where it is supposed to be, in dunes and OFF the road. We had several sand storms today which blew sand clear across the highway in streams. Even in the midst of vast stretches of nothing, there are crowds all along the highway to greet us today. Tens of thousands, sometimes nine and ten deep, and often so thick that there is no room for the car to pass. At one point, police SUVs put on lights and sirens to part the crowds. Charlton Heston may have parted the Red Sea, but even the police had trouble parting these crowds. As Tom Noor pointed out, no head of state has ever received such a long and resounding welcome from so many tens of thousands of people. There are more people along these desert roads than are along the Rose Parade route in Pasadena or at Seafair in Seattle. Whole schools of children in matching, bright warmup suits, and adults as well. The population of China is so young! We repeat ourselves, but we simply cannot get over their energy and their enthusiasm. Everyone is busy working at something.
Today, many of the onlookers were somewhat of a "captive audience" as all bus, truck, and car traffic was stopped while we drove through our more than five hundred kilometer route. Blue trucks, buses, private cars, all stacked up at the side of the road at various intersections. Remarkable, especially since no one seemed to mind at all. People still blow kisses, dance, wave, shout, sing, and we have used the horns more in the past month than we have used in our whole lives. Today, the air horn which I can now operate with my foot while using the videocamera (Eat your heart out, Gerald Ford), became stuck, and I feared we would drive the rest of the way with it stuck until Ed assured me he could cut the wire. Fortunately it unstuck rather quickly, but the kids love its loud staccato.
We play a new game today, "Pretend the Police Are Not There" and do our own navigation from the book, just to keep in practice.It is purely a game, because there are no deviations. I lobbied to try to head south on a short detour to see the mausoleum and tomb of Genghis Khan, but neither one of us chooses to argue with the Chinese police.
A gift from the rally staff at the third time control. They allowed us to check in early without penalty (as long as we requested the correct checkin time) and continue on to the Tian Wai Tian Hotel in Baotou. Therefore, we arrived at the rather Las Vegas appearing, fairly glitzy abode late afternoon. After a day of mostly good roads, we were diverted to one of those horror roads. We think the police decided they had closed off their major highway to regular traffic for too long and that we would have to suffer. The potholes were so deep that at one point we could see the underneath chassis of Ralph Jones' Aston Martin which was in front of us. We are all sore tonight from the rough road. However,the discomfort of the road vanished because of the crowds and the reception we received as we entered this big city. Earlier today, the crowds were remarkable because we knew they had come from long distances to see us. There were only small and scattered villages along miles and miles of nothing, just desert, desert, desert. We had been told that sometimes shepherd boys will walk three days to see the rally cars come through. This morning we began to believe this might be true. The people this morning might be sitting on top of sand dunes or on folding chairs at small tables along the road. This afternoon, however, the lines began almost 20 kilometers out of Baotou, eight, nine, deep, as we said before, a mass of humanity. We can read about China's billions of people, but we are seeing the effect of such a huge population on a daily basis, and never more than here. Today we follow immediately behind Kevin and Mark in white 76 and behind Barry Weir and Ronald Brons in Roma Weir's exquisite Aston Martin DB2-4, the same Dubonnet as Ed's Aston Martin.
Our hotel parking lot security attendants take their jobs very seriously. They herded us back to a rear parking lot where no one could possibly drive out. Ed refused to leave our car there, and suddenly I knew what he had in mind. He wanted to get out to a repair garage! No dreadfully damaged entrance to Beijing for him if he can avoid it. The security guards go berserk as he parks the Spirit of 2000 in front of the hotel. No safe, no safe, no safe, say they. Ed attempts to point out he has damage and must take the car out It appears that he thinks if he speaks loud enough, they will miraculously understand English. Finally, a truly beautiful young Chinese woman staff member understands enough English to realize Ed's intent. He is so grateful that he gives her a huge hug. Immediately, hundreds of Chinese lined up at the fence, cheer loudly as they see the hug. The young woman blushes, and, I think, falls in love immediately, because she takes good care of Ed and treats me like a queen for the rest of the day. Within ten minutes, Ed has an interpreter, a garage and bodyshop lined up, and he is on his way to what turns out to be a first class garage. He comes back to the hotel to get me, we return to find ten people working on our hood. The videos will be great. They work efficiently and fast! They have the hood off the car, are hammering a piece of wood they have placed on the metal and are already well under way less than a half hour after Ed has delivered the car to them. So much has happened since this morning that we feel almost (hah) compulsive about setting it all down in detail before the details fade from memory. We have learned our lesson - we take a piece of paper from the hotel with the name in Chinese, but this time the taxi driver waits with us and brings us back.
Excellent buffet western style this evening. I bring dinner to the room because we need a break and because Ed has to do laundry and get back to the garage.. The staff is gracious and helpful. When we return to the hotel after our garage visit, we stop for dessert and coffee. A wonderful combo is playing American music, and they happen to be playing Edelweiss when we enter. Cheryl, are you reading this. This is fate. Anyway, we are drained. We began the day at 5:30 a.m. and at 10:00 we receive the call that the car is ready. They were supposed to paint it tonight as well as doing the body work, and we know that cannot have been done. Another cab ride, another attempt at communication in two languages. Finally, we relize they cannot have it ready until 10 tomorrow morning so we reluctantly bring it back with the painting not done. We think that rally stickers can do the job if we cannot find a painter tomorrow, so we ask Philip Young in the lobby if he has extras. No way, he says. He wants "Battle Scars" as we enter the big city. He wants the ravages to show!!! Maybe he is right. We will sort it out tomorrow.
We watched the news in English tonight on television. One of the segments concerned the fact that over one million Chinese must be relocated before the Yangtze dam is completed in 2009. One of the factories that must be relocated is Tropicana Orange Juice and Seagrams. My favorite Grovestand o.j. from China instead of from Florida. What next???? We also watched them bottle the water we have been drinking every day. China is on the march. Look out world. These people are so high energy and so intelligent we are thrilled to be observers of what is happening here.
Just two more days, about six hundred miles. Ed says he will push the s.o.b. over the finish line if necessary. At this point, we are all wondering just what else can happen in these next two days. Our Marmon friends Chick and Bob had four punctures today. Our friends Mark and Henry and Richard in the old Rolls Royce are patching a huge hole in their last tire with fabric. There are still 71 cars in the race and everyone is incurring the same type of travails. We are not alone in our situations; we are typical of what happens on long distance international rallies.
We will list the other travails of the various cars tomorrow. It is late, late, late now. The driver is in a deep sleep and the navigator is writing too much, but if I could just remember the exact words of dear Dr. Seuss about the .....sights we have seen....the places we go.....someone, help me, please. Douglas, are you there?
The rally preparation and the rally itself have taken over so much of our lives for so long. All of us are in this together and the bonds we are forming are strong because of the shared commitment. It is going to be hard to watch the Round the World people fly off to Alaska, but we know that in two days, we will ourselves have already truly driven around the world. Our bonus will be Xi'an and Shanghai..
JUNE 8, 2000
WE DID IT!!!!! WE HAVE DRIVEN THE LONDON TO PEKING MARATHON AND THROUGH THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA ON OUR WAY INTO THE CITY. WE HAVE NOW DRIVEN AROUND THE WORLD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
THE EXHILARATION AND THE EMOTIONS ARE OVERWHELMING. ALL SEVENTY ACARS WERE PARKED TOGETHER AT THE GREAT WALL AT BADALING FOR OVER TWO HOURS, SO THERE WAS A CHANCE TO VISIT, TAKE PICTURES, EXCHANGE ADDRESSES, AND REALIZE HOW MANY FRIENDSHIPS HAVE BEEN FORGED THROUGH OUR COMMON COMMITMENT. A GOOD PART OF THE CONVERSATIONS CONCERNED THE POSSIBILITY OF MEETING AGAIN ON JOHN BROWN'S RALLY IN 2001. IT IS CALLED THE INCA TRAIL AND WILL BE IN SOUTH AMERICA. SEEMS A REASONABLE PLACE FOR A REUNION!
We have given out the seven hundred and fifty pens to children all along the way.
Meanwhile, back to the regular mundane daily website updates for yesterday and today. After today's celebration, they seem so long ago!
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 7, 2000 BAOTOU - ZHANGLIAKOU
When we described Baotou, we neglected some details in the interest of getting some sleep. First, the combo that played at dinner. The music was nearly all American from the sixties, seventies, and eighties, but the clothing of the combo was highly unusual. The lovely young women were dressed in satin prom-like dresses while the male saxaphone player was resplendent in a Hawaiian shirt and very casual pants. The fashion police might not have approved, but the music was good. We missed the party which evidently became quite wild, with our "mad Dutchman" and Chris (of the "Blokes") dancing on the tables and all of the Brits loudly singing "Yankee Doodle" and other songs until the wee hours. There were some fairly significant headaches this morning (they must not have had ice cubes for the wine).
In the more sedate bar in the lobby, amidst the marble and the ornate chandeliers, the classical pianist and violinist were more suited to a concert hall, but the strains of Ave Maria were haunting and lovely, and it was a measure of the beauty of the music that many conversations, even in the lobby, ceased for those few minutes of inspiration.
On the maps, Baotou is actually in Inner Mongolia. That explains why for the past few days, the appearance of the people has been so significantly different. The ruddy cheeks, the darker skin, the high cheekbones, these are distinctly Mongolian people we are seeing all along the roads, especially in the villages. It is extremely interesting to us that while many think of the Chinese as just one ethnic group, there are many distinct backgrounds, and in spite of the centuries of supposed isolation, China is a huge "melting pot" just as the United States has always been. It is also a visibly young population. The "one child" policy of the Mao days does not seem to apply today.
Traffic is literally stopped for us again this morning. Whether for our protection or that of the local citizens, the trucks, buses, and cars, wait along the side of the road and at intersections while we whiz by. We pass many old factories this morning, and many of the people waving to us appear to be workers on their morning break. The large apartment houses are built right up to the road. Setbacks are an unknown term in this part of the world. One of the towns has a large aluminum factory. Almost adjacent to it is a large hotel with the blazing neon sign: ALUMINUM SMELTER HOTEL.
The scenery this morning is benign. The green fields and the mountains remind us so much of La Quinta, Ca. One might be driving along Washington Street in 1940. The fields are gorgeous. Wheat, grains, vegetables, grapes, this is a productive region, and so welcome a sight after the endless desert! The road is good this morning, and there are more facilities the further we go towards Beijing. We have even had fighter jets roar overhead - a first for us in this country and the first jet engines we have heard in more than a month. They are apparently fairly old, 60's or 70's. A nearby airfield has military jets in bunkers.
Our route today has been changed again. The first time control is at Liangcheng, so we pass through Hothot on the way. We are still in Mongolia. The arches on the petrol stations are even larger here than anyplace up to this point. They resemble enormous golden arches and the shape is much the same as the popular dome tents we use at Guemes. As we enter Hothot, we see a building that is similar indeed to the old Sears main store on 4th South except that a great deal of gingerbread has been added to the towers. Raymond Hood would not approve.
As we leave the gravel road of this morning's first diversion, we pass a tiny auto garage and see Barry Weir and Ronald Brons with the wheel off the Aston Martin. One of the diversion "bumps" must have victimized them. We hope the delay is not serious. They are in this race to win!
The police along the way have such dreary jobs. They give new meaning to the old adage, "They also serve who only stand and wait". Some of them stand and wait on curves that are dangerous to their health and to ours! One of the diversions this morning takes us through the river bed again. These are turning out to be fun. It is probably good that the rally is about to end. When the water shoots up around our car and we come up again onto the gravel, we are ready for another one. Fortunately, our video tape ran out just as we returned to the tarmac. Would have hated not to have proof of this one!
Early for the morning's first time control, we are sure to be ready to take off immediately for the next one. 48.55 km and 40 minutes to do it, and part of it is a dry river bed. The first section appears to be a good road and we try to build up some extra time for the rougher later part. Good plan, bad bumps. In addition, there is a village with people along the road. Too many cars are passing in dangerous places, but the adrenalin in Car 48 is pumping in both bucket seats. We have been determined to get no more penalty points at all, and we arrive four minutes early, being careful not to check in early and get double penalty points. Then we are on our way again, not wanting to "cry over spilt milk" but still thinking about that day in Italy when we could not make the time controls because of no brakes. If we knew then what we know now about penalties and mechanical aid, etc. we would not have been in the Mercedes dealer's garage in Pisa that morning - we would have tried to get to as many time controls as possible without brakes, and take aid from the sweep cars if we ran into trouble. It should not matter to us, but somehow to know that we would have been in the top ten overall without that day spurs us on to "clean" the rest of the days! We have managed to move up five places in the past ten days or so.
Again, our "frivolous" discussions are over abruptly when the next leg of the day begins. The "diversion" is almost the worst of all. There are "curbs" of concrete to go up and down in the middle of the road construction crews that literally "catch" some of the cars. Even the 30 degree angles of some of the abutments and the piles of dirt on the rightaways cannot throw off Car 48. We remain perfectly level. Our springs and suspension allow Ed to go over most of them unscathed, but when we reach the hotel we find that one of our big chrome bumper guards has been torn off and it remains as part of a new highway in China! We are aching again from this section, but the unreality of watching us and all of the cars in front and back of us negotiate this impossible road is hilarious. One of today's more humorous episodes came after Barry and Ron had their miraculous repair of a broken shock absorber in just twenty minutes in that tiny garage in a small village along the diversion road. Determined not to be late to the time control, they decided to overlook the speed limit about which the Chinese police are somewhat fanatical. Suddenly, they heard a police car behind them with siren on and lights flashing. They decided to outrun him; the chase continued for several kms., then the policeman gave up, shrugged, smiled and waved them on their way. We have suggested to them that they not try this in Alaska and the rest of the U.S.!! Being in jail, they might miss several time controls.
Finally the diversions are over and we continue on to the hotel, relieved that we had the skid plate underneath and that it had not been torn apart as happened to the Vega this afternoon. We go straight to the carwash in the hotel parking lot and are lucky this afternoon because our room is in the newer building which is quite acceptable. We clean the car, and realize that tomorrow we will actually be at the finish line! We decide not to push our luck by trying to find a paint shop tonight. There are a million bicycles on the streets here and thousands of cars as well. Car 48 may have a few battle scars, but it is safe in the parking lot and who knows what might happen to it in the chaos of the streets of Zhangliakou where we are tonight. Our evening walk ends with us sitting on the curb eating ice cream bars and staring at the Chinese people who walk by in a constant "Easter Parade". This is definitely Via Veneto East. Again, the population is overwhelmingly young, dressed in typical U.S. clothing, and enjoying their evening out. There are throngs of people everywhere and blankets of bicycles everywhere!
We cannot get used to being asked for autographs and posing for requested photographs from the locals. We are beginning to feel like Julia Roberts in Notting Hill. No one can believe the reception we are getting. Somewhere, some child is going to have the same reaction that I did as a little girl when I first saw a car which had no top. I still have that reaction when the top comes down and the breeze comes in. Tomorrow we will enter Beijing just that way!!!
THURSDAY,JUNE 8, 2000 ZHANGJIAKOU TO THE GREAT WALL TO PEKING
Have you noticed how we change from Peking to Beijing on a regular basis? We have. But today it must be Peking because that is after all our goal, the London to Peking that has taken so much of our lives for over a year is about to come to an end. We cannot believe it is over so soon, but our excitement is palpable. We are awake at 5:00 a.m., ready to do the last minute cleaning of the car and the beginning of the packing of the car for shipment home. We have everything in the security box and hope not to open it again.
At breakfast this morning, I finally must ask Richard Newman if my memory from Jenny's book is correct. Is it true that he did not speak one word to his co-driver for three weeks in the 1997 Beijing to Paris race. He says that is is true and elaborates at some length. Richard is such a nice guy with a wealth of humor and is driving a well prepared Citroen 2CV. He was given a one hour penalty for having disc brakes which are forbidden in a Vintageant, but is still a leader and potential winner of the Round the World. Part of the trivia discussion this morning concerned The Third Man. Richard described in perfect detail the opening scene from the original movie when Joseph Cotten took a hair pin from a woman "mourner" in the church , walked forward to view the body, and stuck the hairpin in the body of Harry Lyme just to make sure he was dead! Richard's allusion which followed the description is better unsaid here, but we laughed long and loud.
The rules are strict today. We have been given starting positions in an order which must be maintained all day long. No passing at all is to be allowed; getting out of order will result in a one hour penalty as one competitor found this evening. Elizabeth and Richard Brown in their beautiful blue Bentley have the honor of leading us into Beijing. They deserve the honor - they will win the Vintangeant class London to Peking with a total of just 1 hour 39 minutes of penalties.When Elizabeth gave Ed their address and invited us to visit, Ed told her that they deserve being first into Peking and therefore they are the best Vintageant in the segment of London and therefore the best in the world! They are experienced ralliers and we have enjoyed their company on a regular basis since the beginning. Their son will be at the finish line to greet them. WELL DONE!! In fact, the Rally office has arranged a bus to take ALL relatives and friends of competitors to the Great Wall at Badaling to be there for our arrival.
There is a noticeable tension this morning as everyone prepares their car for departure. There are sighs of relief as engines start. We are taken about a kilometer up the road, make a U-turn and wait until all the cars are in line. The London to Peking cars have the honor of leading the procession. We will be in police convoy all the way so our roadbooks will be unnecessary. Off we go, still with the sense that it has gone so fast since Tower Bridge! The highway is excellent today, and the weather is absolutely perfect. The top is down, our Team Suhrbier shirts are on, our American flag waves proudly. We are wearing out our air horn again, but this is a BIG day. Our instructions for the day ask the Vintageants to keep up the pace and the Classics (us) to be patient. Now we know why. Our speed is about thirty miles per hour for the 157.60km to the Great Wall. The scenery is splendid. Green, green, green - no more desert. The highway is closed down completely for our use. We will never get over the royal treatment we have received.
Miracle of miracles. After all the raised hoods and jacked up cars, after all the midnight repairs, every one of us who have come through China have made it to the finish line today. Hard to believe, but only six cars have dropped out since Tower Bridge. It shows the incredible tenacity and ingenuity that everyone has. If someone is in trouble, either the mechanics or another competitor will stop and give anything they can to keep the other one going. This is truly espirit de corps. Two nights ago at midnight, tires wrapped in brown paper were delivered to the hotel which fit the Rolls Royce Silver Ghost. Now Mark can finally smile (not just for pictures).Finally we are there. No fuel stops have been permitted, but obviously everyone took note of the warning to fill up yesterday. We are an amazingly docile group when our goal is so close!! We have used the eight gallons from our fuel cell so that it will be empty for the trip across the ocean.
We enter the Badaling Great Wall area and wait patiently near the red and white welcome banners! Then we are directed toward the arched portion of the real Great Wall of China through which we will drive and which will mark the finish line of our mighty adventure. There are kisses and there are kisses, and the one on Tower Bridge on May 1 was great, but the driver's "This is it Beverly" and the kiss in Car 48 under the arch of the Great Wall has to rank right at the top. The emotion of that moment is forever!
Just after we entered, up to our car came Donna Rinkel and Loree Clemens. Donna has been to Xi'an and couldn't wait to find Mark ( they were a few cars behind us). She told us that Melissa and Erin have been lighting candles for us and saying prayers for our safety every day since London. They are special young ladies. Thanks you girls. We hope to see you again soon! We had not met Loree before but knew her immediately from Kevin's descriptions and she is as sweet and beautiful as we had been told. You may recall that she is the hand and reconstructive plastic surgeon who is about to begin her position with Ohio State in Columbus. She and Kevin have been living in Charlottesville, Virginia, while she finished a fellowship. She also goes to India near Calcutta to donate her services to children there. A meaningful life!
All seventy cars parked together in one lot by the entrance to the walkway to the top of the wall. We were at this same portion of the wall seven years ago but never dreamed then that we would return after driving all the way from Santa Monica to again walk the wall. A tour bus of American tourists was there; one woman was from Tacoma- the world gets smaller and smaller. One of the best parts of the day was exchanging cards, addresses and e-mail addresses, promising to send pictures, and giving and receiving invitations to visit. Germany, Cannes, Scotland, New Zealand, England, Ireland, Pennsylvania, Ohio, WOW! Everyone was celebrating. Inger Wulf of Sweden wins the prize as Queen of Sweden. Her flower lei and jeweled Chinese hat definitely stole the show. We will miss her a lot. Last night at dinner I was telling her that I wish I could have spoken more with Annick Reinhardt, because even though we cannot speak the same language, we manage to understand each other extremely well, and Annick has a superb sense of humor and attitude toward the rally and toward life. She is Swiss. Inger listened carefully and then said in her lilting voice, "Oh, we have no problem. We just speak German or French to Annick". Again, we Americans and the Brits are aware that we of all nations speak fewer languages than most other nations, simply because we have no urgent need to do so. At least we can speak Spanish if "muy despacio".
One of the more interesting time control check ins and potentially the only dangerous one to date. Because of the setup into the parking lot at the Great Wall, Ernie was standing in the lot and stamping the books as each car drove by. I was standing up on the seat of the car using the video camera and just bent down to give him the book. Ed was otherwise engaged in watching where he was driving and didn't see the handing over of the book. My alarmed voice as we started away without the precious pink book will probably sound out loud and clear on the video, but he stopped and I retrieved the book. No one really knows what would happen if a book were lost, but as Elizabeth said, it would probably result in ex-communication.
After two hours at the Great Wall, we were all anxious to get to Beijing and the hotel and a shower. We were told we would leave a 14:30. At 14:33, horns began honking. First a few, then nearly all. The police got the message., and we were on our way. Fabulous new freeway, again solely for our use for much of the way, and the steepest, greenest, picturesque hills in China to date. After the vast empty stretches of desert, this seems like the promised land. The sumac on the hills must be spectacular in the fall. We are also back to Evergreen trees. Ed said yesterday about three times he has not been "home" since December 26. We plan to fly directly from Shanghai to Seattle, then down to Long Beach to pick up the car. The June rains should be about over, and we will try to bring the sunshine with us!
We were in police convoy again all the way from the Great Wall. They did allow a fuel stop. Ivan in his 42 Cadillac had to be pushed out of the station in order to get his car started, but then we were all again on the way, this time with no stops to the hotel. People still lined the streets, but the cheering and the shouting and the pressing up to the cars were over. The police had the crowd well back, and they waved and gave thumbs up but the response was more restrained in this big city. The vast growth of tall buildings since our last visit here is yet another example of China's march forward. Our Kunlun Hotel is wonderful. Immaculate marble bathroom, king-size bed, cold mini-bar. There is so much more to tell you, but it will have to wait until our return to the U.S. Tomorrow morning at 9:00, we drive 220 km to the port to leave our car to be shipped to Long Beach, California. It will take more than thirty days across the ocean. We have decided reluctantly to send the Sony Vaio laptop and the videocamera with the car while we go to Xi'an and Shangai. We will add our reflectins on the trip after we return. Until then, please keep those e-mails coming our way. We plan to make good use of the Internet Cafes which abound here and where we can pick up e-mail regularly and perhaps send messages to you as well.
We just read the China Daily newspaper. Again, we have been fortunate. On the day we were rerouted out of Lanzhou when we had to go east instead of north, there was an earthquake of 5.9 magnitude just sixty km north of Lanzhou which caused much damage and many injuries. We would have been there right about then. We truly believe that our good fortune on this trip has been a blessing for which we will be eternally grateful. The good will between nations that has occurred among competitors as well as among the people of every nation we have visited has been an inspiration. Peace for the world begins with these one on one meetings!
Dinner last night with Kevin and Loree and Barry Weir and Terry Paxson was hilarious. Terry has apparently found himself a ride for the rest of the trip with Ivan. The story of Ivan's 42 Cadillac is an illustration of the anecdotes: Ivan's six volt battery died, so he bought twelve batteries and cut them in half at certain areas to make six volt batteries. Ed refused to believe it until the entire process was duly explained. During all these stories, Barry from the Aston Martin and Terry, originally from the 1914 Rolls Royce (until Istanbul) and since then in Henning's 190 Mercedes, ordered fresh lobster. First, the lovely Chinese waitress brought in a basket the live lobster for their approval with the tentacles sticking three feet out. Shortly thereafter, she presented the lobster, now on a platter with shell and head still intact but beautifully decorated, to them again. The white lobster meat was in a neat pile on the platter but was still raw. The language barrier was broken by wild gestures, but the waitress gasped and giggled that the wasabi sauce was to be wasted on cooked lobster, but cook it they did among gales of laughter at our table. The rally stories went on and on over the unbelievably serious problems which only in retrospect become humorous. Today we will donate the dollar bill given us in New York by Ina and Steve and Paul and Rae to a local charity along with a contribution from us. Theirs was a significant gesture, an old Jewish custom which has been of great comfort. The medal from the Sisters of the Sacred Heart has also been close to us, along with the little green shamrock and other talismans. Thanks to you all!
CAR 48 CAME THROUGH WITH FLYING COLORS. BOTH DRIVER AND NAVIGATOR FEEL WE HAVE ACCOMPLISHED ANOTHER OF THE CHALLENGES SO LOVED BY BOTH OF US. WE KNOW WE WILL REMAIN, AS OUR HERO TEDDY ROOSEVELT PUT IT SO PERFECTLY, "IN THE ARENA". WHEN HE WROTE AND LATER GAVE THAT SPEECH, HE SAID IN PART......."BETTER IT IS TO DARE GREAT THINGS, EVEN THOUGH CHECKERED BY FAILURE......THAN IT IS TO TAKE REFUGE WITH THOSE GRAY SOULS WHO KNOW NOT VICTORY NOR DEFEAT..."
AND NOW, ABOUT THAT CONTEST AND THAT MILEAGE:
FIGURES FROM MAY 29 E-MAIL: distances in miles
to Istanbul: 1,857
ODOMETER IN BEIJING HOTEL PARKING LOT: 15,660
MINUS LA-SEATTLE-LA TRIP - 2604
EXACT WINNING NUMBER OF ACTUAL MILES DRIVEN RTW (ROUND THE WORLD) 13,056
Ed can now say that HE has driven around the world. He drove every mile of our trip, and he drove it "brilliantly". I was proud to be navigator, but his skill, your prayers and support, and the grace of God have brought us to the finish line safe and sound.
For now, this is "The end", but as you may guess, you will hear......."the rest of the story".
Of course I'm here, appropriately enthralled with your adventure as everyone else must be. I can't begin to tell you how much I've enjoyed your timely and well-written updates. It has become a routine every morning to check and see if any additional narrative has been added. Also, I'm sure I won't be the only one who will be disappointed if at some point a long-form account of your travel and travails isn't made available for consumption.
You had a request. Ask and ye shall receive...... Congratulations!
is your day.
OH! THE PLACES YOU'LL GO!
get mixed up, of course,
KID, YOU'LL MOVE MOUNTAINS!
Taken from Oh, the Places You'll Go!, Dr. Suess, 1990
Good luck and godspeed with the rest of your journey! We'll see you when you get home!