Driving a 1954 Austin-Healey 100/4 from Peking to Paris in the June 2019 ERA Rally.

Wednesday, 21 August 2019

0127 - China, Days 0 - 2

0127 China, Days 0-2
Scrutineering, Great Wall, on to Erenhot.
Route - Beijing, Hohhot, Erenhot.

Mung, our Beijing friend

I had already been in China for 3 weeks by the time the P2P started, and had spent time looking for WD 40 and other items that people needed.  Once Ashton arrived, we found all sorts of places, and met people like Mung at RPM Tuning who had helped us considerably. The other competitors arrived on June 30th, and on the 31st it was straight into paperwork and scrutineering.

First of all we had a lecture from the Chinese Police about "How
Enduring the Police lecture
to drive in China".  Without this lecture, they would not issue our Chinese licences or let us drive in China, so we tried very hard to keep a straight face while they advised us that driving habits are different in China (no s**t, Sherlock !), and that right hand drive cars are difficult to drive etc etc.   What a hoot.  With that completed, we were issued with Chinese driving licences and Chinese number plates for our cars, and we set off in coaches to the warehouse to collect our cars.

Warehouse storage for cars
Being in the 5th coach, the warehouse was almost empty when we arrived - But we still couldn't find Gidget !   Had she been left in Australia ?   Eventually we found her at the VERY end, hidden behind Philip and Lyndy Blunden's Holden - Phew.   The roof was unclipped - Obviously they had been unable to open the doors so had gone in through the roof.  With a quick squirt of carb cleaner, she fired up
Gidget hidden right down the end
pretty quickly, much to my relief, and once we had organised a few things, and signed some bits of paper, we were off into the crazy Beijng traffic.  We had a chance to fill up with petrol, but decided to leave it for later, and also the chance to double check the accuracy of our Monit, which we also declined since we knew we had set it not so long ago.  And with the help of some route guidelines, we made it back to the hotel in one piece.   So far so good !!

It was then straight into scrutineering, and since we were almost the last group to pick up our cars from the warehouse, we were at the end of the queue.  Eventually we just managed to scrape through before they closed for the night, which would leave us all the next day to sort the car out in readiness for the start on the
Beijing cocktail party
2nd.  Time was spent meeting new people, and renewing friendships with those we already knew, so time did not drag.  That evening we then had a Welcome cocktail party in the gardens of the hotel, followed by a Welcome dinner in the main ballroom - An excellent spread, with more opportunities to meet fellow participants.

Welcome dinner
Next day, 1st June, was spent unpacking and repacking the car - Suddenly we seem to have so much more "stuff" than we had ever had before !!  We were issued with 3 big route books, as well as a very large map book, and there was no way they would fit in !   Luckily John Crighton offered to carry 2 of the 3 route
Beijing car park
books for us, and the large map book got put in a sealed bag and placed under my seat. Ashton's whisky bottle was a problem, but luckily Alan and Steve Maden offered to carry it in their Rolls !!  We also offloaded a number of items like extra straps to the Sweeps, and our brand new water heater elsewhere.  Finally, by the evening, we were ready, and once Ashton had gone off and filled her with petrol, we were ready to go !

Nothing too difficult then ????
Parked up at the Great Wall
It rained heavily that night, but Gidget's new shower cape was up to the job, and early on the 2nd June we set off 65 kms towards the ceremonial start at the Great Wall.  Needless to say we got slightly lost getting out of Beijing, as did many others, but with
Lion Dance at the start
the help of our off-line maps we found our way eventually, and, as was to happen so often in the next 36 days, spent the next 2-3 hours waiting around !  We were located right below the Great Wall, which made for an excellent backdrop to the festivities - primarily the Lion Dance.  This was not just the usual Lion Dance on the ground -

We cross the start line

This time they had high poles for the Lion to traverse, which made it very special and showed that this was no ordinary Lion Dance.  Finally it was over, andat 7.31 am,  Car #1, Anton and Herman in (on ?) the 3 wheeled Contal, were finally waved away by Patrick Burke, Hero MD.  They were then followed at one minute intervals by the remaining 40 Vintagent vehicles.  So it was well past 9.00 am before we eventually hit the road for the 595 km section to Hohhot.

Hills and lots of slow traffic
The next 2 hours were pretty miserable - Lots of traffic, uphill, and hot, and Gidget did not like it at all. We have run her in the heat, and on hills, but never in heat on hills simultaneously.  Unfortunately the fan fuse blew which caused us to overheat, and it was generally a miserable climb up past 1000 m. Gradually the traffic cleared, which enabled Ashton to give Gidget a bit of a run to clear her out, and after that we were OK.  After our first PC at the walled
Passing through little villages
town of Zhuolo, it was off onto mostly dirt back roads, through small towns and beside rivers.  We used the Tulip book all day for directions.  Finally we climbed up towards out first test section - A hill climb.  After a long delay, we found out that Jo and Heather
Hohhot car park
had hit the wall, and as a result the section was cancelled, and we just drove on to our first overnight stop in Hohhot.  Lots of stories about misadventures during the day !

Traffic jam !
After breakfast in a revolving restaurant at the top of the hotel, we headed out of busy Hohhot, and once more, it was pretty miserable in the heat and the traffic, with Gidget not happy at low speeds.  Ashton however persevered, and eventually we escaped into the country, and headed off on excellent dual carriageway. We had 436 kms to do today, but we started with a closed section in a field with lots of dust, bumps, and tight turns.  Having survived that, we headed off
PC on the road to Erenhot
again, passing amazing monuments and buildings along the way.  On one section of open road, we stopped beside the road for a P break, and had hardly finished when a local couple pulled up.  They wanted photos of the car, and eventually
Chinese couple try Gidget for size !
insisted on both climbing in the car so we could take their photos !  Crazy, but little did we realise it was just a foretaste of what was to come !  From there we went off on smaller roads, through villages, scattering sheep, and generally having a very interesting drive through the countryside, with me honing my navigational skills while Ashton had to get used to the crazy local drivers.  We passed Yurts (Gurs), saw our first bactrian camels, passed massive wind farms, and passed through regular toll booths where we paid for the privilege of using their roads.  Eventually we passed under the
Famous dinosaur arch
enormous dinosaur arch, and saw the many other dinosaur
sculptures beside the road, before we pulled into our Erenhot Hotel.   This time we had lots of local people milling around looking at the cars, while we had two local singers welcoming us on the steps of the hotel.  A good day, and everything seemed to be going quite well.
Singer at Erenhot hotel

The next morning we were up early to cross the border into Mongolia. Having wanted to come here all my life, this is a very special day for me.  We left the hotel at about 8 am and drove the 7kms through Erenhot to the border crossing - and then everyone sat there .........and sat there !   Finally at about 10 am we moved

Queuing at the Mongolian border
forward and parked in an area where drivers went to one side
with car docs, and navigators went the other way.  We (the navigators) were processed reasonably quickly, and then came outside on the other side of the building to await our drivers and cars.  But somehow, in passing from the front of the building to the back, an incredibly strong wind had sprung up and we could hardly stand !  It even blew some of the local signs down !  Eventually Ashton came round and we then
High winds blowing down signs !
joined an almost stationary line of cars waiting to drive the couple of kms through no mans land to the Mongolian customs , and once again we waited in line.  About another hour later, we finally moved forward and once again drivers went one way and navigators the other. This time the navigators also collected their local currency to get us to UB, and once Ashton made it back we set off. But not far - at the gate out we were asked for a piece of paper we didn’t have, so it was a sprint back to the customs area to get one, and we were off and away. I was finally in Mongolia !!

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Ashton & Giles welcome any visitors, support, and comments as we prepare for our Adventure !