Before departing for the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge 2010, I was asked many times “why are you doing this?”. My answers included; “a once in a lifetime opportunity”, “a fantastic challenge”, “an amazing adventure”.
Shortly after crossing the Gobi Desert, passing through Russia and entering the “Stans”, it became clear to me that the real opportunity presented by this event was to visit places I would never visit otherwise and to see these countries from the back roads where real people live. This allowed us to see firsthand how the people there survive on a daily basis. This was a very humbling experience and made me acutely aware of how fortunate all of us are in our comfortable surroundings here at home.
I’m sure those of you who followed along with our trip will readily agree that our 1949 Cadillac Series 62 Coupe performed flawlessly. This was no accident as great effort had gone into the preparation of the vehicle – see the section at the beginning of this blog entitled “The Preparation”. The folks involved in this project were identified there so repeating all the names would be redundant (and I might miss someone), therefore, I will limit this to a sincere THANK YOU ALL FOR JOBS WELL DONE.
One of the high points of the trip has to be the competitors who accompanied us in this challenge. My only regret is that I didn’t get to meet everyone. The daily departures were done by category allowing the oldest cars to leave first – as a consequence we were always last to leave. Last to leave meant we were also the last to arrive because, although some of the cars were very old, very few were slow. Therefore, it is no surprise that we knew those in the classic category best as we got to see those folks daily while waiting for our assigned departure time. I can’t help but name some of these special people, Greg and Liz Newton in their Holden who we chased for the entire event and with whom shared some interesting accommodations, Ahmet and Erdal driving the famous Anadol – our Turkish buddies and Adrian and Andrew our British friends driving the Aston Martin (Lloyd and I shared a room for six with these guys one night in Iran – what fun), David and Joanna Roberts who we chased and then chased us after they had problems with their differential in their Sunbeam, Steven Harris and Hayden Burvill who drove that beautiful Porsche, Steven Fitzgerald and Paddy Judge who managed to convince that Mercedes 280 Se to make it to the finish, Frank and Ross with their Holden (they broke an axel 15 kms. from Paris and managed to fix it without being late), Dany and Joel Rollinger in their speed handicapped Alpha Jeep (they made it anyway), Dave Staples and Gernold Nisius (who provided more than a few laughs with his balcony escapade) in the Beatle, Dave’s son Garrick Staples and his navigator Robert McClements in the VW Cabriolet and last (but actually first) the amazing partnership of Gerry Crown and Matt Bryson who drove the same Holden Gerry and matt’s dad John drove in the 1997 Peking to Paris event – the winners of the entire event – CONGRATULATIONS. My friend Jim Taylor who participated in the 2007 event did give me a reason to meet several very interesting individuals who he wished to be remembered to – thanks Jim for providing the introduction to Daniel Ward and his mechanic David who drove the Lancia and Alastair Caldwell who drove the Alpha. I can’t forget our fellow Americans Rick and Lang with whom we spent a very pleasant night in a Ger in Mongolia (little did we know then how comfortable the Ger was compared to what was to come) and Arthur and Roger who I met in Chicago on the way to Beijing. I wish I hadn’t started this but I can’t not mention David and Karen Ayre who drove the Itala, Tim Scott on his motorcycle (this was a very determined man), Bruce and Ben Washington whose Chrysler didn’t make it but drove other cars for folks who needed help, Jeff Robinson and Rob Blake in their 1926 Dodge Tourer which didn’t make it but didn’t stop them from getting to the finish and it goes without saying that the trip would not have been the same for many people without the “Girls Team” of Rachael Vestey and Suzy Harvey with their Chrysler Plymouth Sloper (whatever that is). My sincere apologies to all those whom I missed – you all made it a fabulous experience.
Speaking of high points – the kids we saw all along the way were an unexpected and most welcome surprise. I will always remember those smiling faces peering in the window at one of the time controls and doing high-fives with those happy kids. It was interesting to note that the spectator enthusiasm was highest in the eastern countries and waned as we moved west – not surprising as I’m sure we were a real spectacle in China, Mongolia, Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan and Iran – probably few if any Italas, Bentleys, Lancias and assorted British, Australian and American cars had visited their neighborhoods recently.
No summary of this event would be complete without some comments on the organization and execution of the event itself. Personally, I think few people would have any understanding of the complexities involved in producing as challenging and extensive event as the Peking to Paris Motor Challenge. We visited eleven countries, most with their own political structure and issues – we crossed eight borders each having their own processes and procedures– there were over one hundred competitive cars and almost twenty organization vehicles – two hundred plus competitors (all with Type A personalities) and almost fifty organization staff – spent seven days camping on the Gobi Desert and stayed in a variety of hotels (some quite luxurious and others, well who could forget the sanatorium in Turkmenistan) – destroyed some cars, trucked others and gained replacements from multiple sources – somehow, everyone was accounted for when we reached Paris. Anyone who thinks this was easy just wasn’t there or wasn’t paying attention. Phillip Young deserves full credit for negotiating with the bureaucrats of these countries to gain access for the event. While he credits the book “The Mad Motorists” for the idea of reenacting this historic event, it took plenty of imagination and tenacity to actually carry it off. I would not want to trade jobs with Heidi Winterbourne for love nor money – from hotels not having rooms that were reserved months previously to trying to meet the individual needs of well over two hundred people unaccustomed to traveling in the challenging conditions we occasionally encountered – I give her great credit for helping make this the trip of a lifetime. Then there is Kim Banister who created a turn by turn route covering over 14,000 kilometers / 9,000 miles with so few errors I cannot even remember one of them – try giving directions to an out of the way place to someone unfamiliar with the area. Then there are the mechanics (I will never forget everyone’s favorite mechanic Peter Banham and his wife Betty) and staff (Chris Bruce, Lee and Susan Vincent, Kim’s wife Niki, our doctor John-Paul Carpenter and his new wife Caroline and all the others who were so much a part of our daily life for six weeks) who saw it to be their job to get us to Paris no matter what it might take. I salute you all for a job extremely well done.
A special thanks to all who made a contribution to the Scleroderma Foundation as a result of our adventure. I hope a treatment and cure will be available to those who suffer from this disease in the future. Thanks you all for your generosity.
Finally, I would like to thank my wife and family for supporting me in the process of getting ready for and then attending this great challenge of men and machines. I’m certain there were times they would have liked to kill me if I mentioned Peking to Paris one more time. I have to also thank Lloyd for being such a great partner, driver and for putting up with me giving him directions from Peking to Paris – oh, I forgot, that was my job as navigator.