July 2nd (Day -14)
Two weeks from now I will be at the Goodwood Raceway getting ready to embark on a 10,000 mile road rally through twenty countries in a vehicle that is barely rated to make it through London’s city streets. Months of preparation and planning will finally pay off as I floor the accelerator and count the 20 seconds it will take the Rascal to reach 60 miles per hour (assuming it can even go that fast!).
Six weeks later I am scheduled to cross the finish line in Ulaan-Ude, Russia. I will have traveled through the ancient Roman, Ottoman, and Soviet empires. The dust of the Silk Road will be embedded in my tires and the taste of fermented horse milk will be on my tongue.
Or at least that is what I am telling myself.
For now it is all in my imagination. The realities of a trip of this maginitude still lay before me.
Reality Number 1: Today is a travel day.
I was up at 4:30 this morning after having finally fallen asleep three hours before. My bags were packed and ready by the front door. I kissed my sleeping wife goodbye and began nervously pacing back and forth in the living room. I checked and double-checked my lists and made sure everything was in order. Of course that did not stop me from forgetting something important and having to turn around to retrieve it Luckily the streets of Portland are pretty deserted at 5am.
My friend dropped me off at the airport and I was on my way. Which brings me to…
Reality Number 2: I’m doing this alone.
Ok. I know that sounds dramatic, but bear with me for a moment. When I made plans to do this trip, I knew it was a lot to tackle. Most teams consist of three to four people in order to share in the logistics of planning, funding, and sharing the driving. The first person I invited was my wife, Michelle. I barely had the words out of my mouth before she was saying, “no.” She does not enjoy the experience of breaking down on the die of the road in Oregon when we have AAA to come rescue us. The possibility of having t ordeal with a mechanical failure in some remote part of the world where AAA is a farmer’s tractor and the explanation to the mechanic is done in a combination of pantomime and telepathic messages makes her break out in a cold sweat. So, no, she was out.
The second person I invited was my father. A spry 70 year old, I figure my father has a few more years of sleeping in a yurt in him, not to mention his experience with les-than-ideal world travel might come in handy. I mean, this is the guy who, alon with my mother, decided it would be a brilliant idea to tak their nine month old son on a 36 foot sailboat Portland down through the Panama Canal. He has also been to six continents (just missing Australia), survived a couple of military coups, and has experience driving a right hand drive vehicle. He, too, turned me down. Something about him already being on the Silk Road at the same time with my mother.
I finally landed on Derek, a parent and friend from school. Derek has a flexible enough job that he could conceivably take six weeks off from work. Besides, as a Hollywood camera operator, he and I both figured we would have the best travelogue movie ever if he signed on. Derek was supposed to come along as co-pilot and chief camera operator. We set about making plans and preparations. Unfortunately sometimes life has a way of making other plans.
Due to a series of events outside of his control, Derek was forced to drop out at the last minute. As upsetting as it is for me to stare this in the face, I know it was a total kick in the teeth for him. While he is cheering me on from home, I would much rather have him along with me. Which brings me to…
Reality Number 3: I’m not alone.
If there is one thing I have learned about tackling something like this, it is that it is impossible to do it alone. I’m not talking about outsourcing the logistics of getting this many visas. And I’m not talking about the Facebook communities which have sprung up around the Rally, the vehicles, and the teams.
I’m talking about Derek “Sexy Mexi” Chavez who pulled out all the stops in getting me airline tickets. I’m talking about Kyle Gray who couldn’t stand the thought of my van being naked on the Rally and printed up vinyl wraps for it. I’m talking about the rugby team who have proven they are “with” me time and time again. I’m talking about my Masonic lodge brothers who are wearing their “Seemed Like A Good Idea” shirts for the July meeting in solidarity and support. I’m talking about the friends and family who have donated to Cool Earth and The Michael J. Fox Fondation, helping to raise almost $1800 so far!
And I am definitely talking about my wife and kids who have given me the time, love, and enthusiastic support to make this happen. From day one they have done nothing but tell me to chase my dream. I could not do this without them.
I spent last night in a dark theater with my daughters. We drove my 1974 VW bus (the subject of many travel adventures and catastrophes) out to southeast Portland to take in a screening of one of the greatest adventure movies of all time, Raiders of the Lost Ark. It seemed like the perfect way to spend the last night at home. While I doubt that there will be Nazis and a lost Ark on this trip, there will be worse ways to handle difficult situations than with the confidence and swagger of Dr. Jones.
Reality Number 4: It is about the journey, not the destination.
My initial plan was to continue on past Ulaan-Ude all the way to Vladivostok so I could ship home the van. When I could not find any shipping companies getting cars out of Russia, I did some digging and found there was a weekly ferry to South Korea. From South Korea, plenty of comapnies were willing to work with me to get the van home.
Then reality set in. To say that I am attempting this on a compressed timeline is an understatement. I am already forced to take off the teacher’s first day back to school. There is no wiggle room, especially when dealing with a weekly ferry. THe plan was to get the van to Korea, drive it across to the new port (about six hours away) and turn it over to the shipping company. However it soon became clear that it would not be that simple.
After driving through twenty different countries with very little in the way of modifications or regulations on my vehicle, the shipping agent informed me that I would have to get a temporary license plate, potentially have to register the vehicle (she changed her mind on this several times), and probably would not be allowed to drive the vehicle myself while in the country. Considering American servicemen and women have been living in Korea for the past 65 years, importing and driving their vehicles, and generally doing ok, I was surprised that she was making Korea out to be on par with Iran and Pakistani when it comes to visiting with a vehicle. She suggested hiring a car-shipping truck to transport the van across the country, and then to plan on staying an extra seven days in case the customs agents had any questions about my paperwork, which she was very clear she did not have any way of helping with.
So it looks like Ulaan-Ude will be the end point for the van. It will be loaded on a train and shipped back to Lithuania where it will be “disposed of”. I will continue on to Seoul (in a manner yet to be determined) and fly home from there. Perhaps instead of bringing home a ridiculously small vehicle I should see about importing a ridiculously large yak. Can't be any more difficult than getting a vehicle across Korea!
Reality Number 5: London is Calling.
By the time this gets posted I will be in London, making my way to Sheffield where the Rascal awaits. From there I will head further north to get spare parts before turning around and heading back to London for the 4th of July. But that will be a story for another day.