August 1st, somewhere over the Atlantic. This is Clay – on the flight home after a wonderful adventure.

 

I spent over a year preparing for this voyage – designing Car 54, thinking and re-thinking the details, what could go wrong and what would be needed to remedy whatever might go wrong. As the time grew closer, our stress levels rose. With prep time running short, I was forced to give up my tickets to the annual Sebring leMans race in March. Finally, in early April, it was time to go. Mark loaded the luggage, I gave April a kiss – and off we went! We set our sights for Times Square in New York City – 725 miles away – where the race was to start in three days. It was cold and raining when we had our first mechanical problem in West Virginia. 54 was running really poorly, and the distributor cap was arcing between the terminals. We remedied the problem by changing the distributer cap in the pouring rain.

Unfortunately for Car 54, the problems began even before the official start of the race.

We made it to Times Square on schedule and met up with the other drivers. On the morning of April 14, we headed west. Mark’s job was to assist with navigation and – most importantly – keep the web site updated with all the goings-on. (Old guys with an abundance of gray hair are not so handy with such tasks.)

 

Our run on those first days was uneventful – the way it’s supposed to be. Unfortunately, we were dealing with some pretty strong headwinds. They got so bad that – in either Michigan or Indiana – our license plate was literally ripped off the car! Of course, we didn’t notice right away – who knows where the plate ended up? This was not a small problem – we had registered the car and plates for import into China months ago, and it was clear that China would not let us in without a license plate. April came to the rescue by working with the Florida Dept. of Motor Vehicles and having a new one sent to meet up with us in Colorado. And of course the paper work to China had to be changed immediately, which was also handled, all while Mark & I were just enjoying a leisurely drive – or maybe not. On our way from Denver to Golden Gate, Colorado, we made a fuel stop while going over the Vail Pass in the driving snow. When I restarted the car it was running horribly. I quickly misdiagnosed it as an altitude problem, thinking it would clear up once we got back on the freeway and ran it some. Wrong, wrong, very wrong… We got on the freeway and had to limp to the precipice at 10 mph on (maybe) 4 cylinders, as there were no exits until we got to the top. There I had the opportunity install the second distributor cap in snow drifts 6 to 10 feet high – and me with a pair of Birkenstocks, thankfully with socks. The fresh snow on the ground was 4 to 6 inches. But #54 was running good again and since we were at the precipice it was all downhill from there.

 

Pictured: pure dedication.

We drove on to Golden Gate, CO, our layover for the night – where we checked into a very nice resort out in the back country of Colorado. The next morning we were up early and headed to Salt Lake City. We were running good for about 15 miles, just cruising and enjoying the beautiful scenery. We’re rolling past a 20′s vintage Hudson when we suddenly lost power! But the engine was still running…? I thought perhaps I had knocked it into neutral. A quick check said no, so we rolled to the side of the road. The Hudson and a couple others stopped to assist. A quick review of the situation pointed to the left rear wheel. It is supposed to be perpendicular to the road, but was at a definite angle. Clearly, we had broken the left rear axle – on Easter Sunday morning – in the middle of nowhere.

 

Some really great people jumped into action to assist. Chris Purdum was driving the Hudson we had passed, and he had a truck and car trailer following the group. He and co-worker Robbie Stevens changed their plans and the truck & trailer and gave us a lift to Chris’s restoration shop – Chris Purdum’s Customs & Classics in Salt Lake City – a mere 300 miles away! We arrive around 5PM and roll the car off the trailer and into the shop. Robbie and I immediately start the disassembly process, while Chris & Mark jump back in the truck for the 300 mile return trip to pick up the Hudson. We confirm the broken axle, and within an hour or so a fellow named Hugh shows up with not one – but TWO axles in hand! Mind you, it’s Easter Sunday evening and we’re needing an axle for a 1940 Ford. Sent from heaven – here’s Hugh with two – and he would not accept payment for them. Chris had called him along the way. I thanked him mightily and went back to the job at hand. As we got into the problem, the broken axle was caused by the left rear wheel bearing not wearing properly. Robbie and I worked and worked found an auto parts store open until 10 or 11 that night so we could get the required oil, band-aided the wheel bearing, installed the axle and had it on the ground ready to roll about 3:30 Monday morning. Both of us were worn out and greasy from head to foot. Monday was a long haul, driving from Salt Lake to Reno, and there was a driver’s meeting scheduled for 6AM. I got to the motel at 4:30, took a shower, laid down on the bed for 45 min. – not daring to go to sleep for fear of not waking up. Mark and Chris still were not back form picking up the Hudson. We later learned that – aside from the 300 mile each way -they ran into torrential rain and literally “white out” snow conditions.They drove all night and arrived at the driver’s breakfast meeting (which Chris was sponsoring) at about 10 minutes to 6. It was truly a miracle, but – thanks to an amazing gang – we all made it. I’ll remember it every Easter for the rest of my life. Thank you very much guys!

 

We hit the road to Reno, Mark and I trading off driving shifts.  The winds were very heavy but we made it through. I forgot to mention that – when we had the distributor cap and axle problems – I called my friend Mike Goodman, an infamous hot rodder who provided tremendous help to us all along the way. He lined us up with a shop in San Francisco that would let us work on the car prior to putting it on a ship to China. Mike found a couple more axles and distributor caps and had them air freighted there along with new bearing races.

 

We cleared Reno and then headed on to San Francisco, being gentle all the way. I couldn’t have been more proud and relieved when WE MADE IT – and not only did we make it, but since it was a points Rally/race, we finished in 1st place! April was there waiting with champagne and flowers as we came around the corner to the hotel. We were somewhat behind the others because we were helping Chris Purdum with his Hudson as he was suffering some of the same ills we were dealing with earlier.

 

There wasn’t much time to celebrate our victory. The next morning I headed over to Roy Brizio’s Street Rods, the place Mike Goodman had lined me up with and where much needed parts awaited me. On my way over, little did I realize that this was one of – if not THE -premiere hot rod shops in the country. They apprehensively greeted me and a fellow by the name of Bob Lockwood drew the short straw and got to work with me. The original mission was to  add to the strength of the rear spring, it was on the weak side and would be a problem on some of the unhighways in China, Kazakhstan, and Russia. While this was clearly a priority, it slid a little compared to the axle problem. Fortunately, both problems were with the rear end, so out and apart it came.

 

As we got into the axle bearing problem, it ended up becoming two problems: first – the original race was an integral part of the axle housing, and apparently had been a problem sometime earlier in it’s life. To remedy the problem, the housing was put in a lathe, turned and a new bearing sleeve pressed on. We could not locate any bearing sleeves of the proper I.D. so we had to have the bearing surface welded up to add material and then turned down to the proper O.D. to accept the bearing races we could locate. In the process of working thru this we learned whoever turned it in the fist place had not done it correctly. It was not concentric with the center of the housing, causing the bearing wear and the axle to break. Sooo, the machine shop had to weld it up, turn it to be concentric and of course accept the new race. Well, we got it done, put it together, put some extra leaves in the spring, tightened some nuts, bolts, and tended to a few other problems and we were running again. We went in to the shop on Wednesday morning and came out at 6:30 Saturday evening with April and I catching an early flight home Sunday morning. I cannot thank Roy and Bob enough for their help. Without them helping us fix the problem the right way – we would have never made it across China much less all the way to Paris. And yes, I did take an extra axle with me the rest of the way around the world and, no, thank God we didn’t need it. The right rear axle bearing started showing signs of wear somewhere across China but we babied it and it held together. It will be interesting take a look when I get 54 home and can get into it without having to drive it the next day. Well, 54 went on a slow boat to China and I went home to KY, got a few extra parts, did some custom work on a few distributor caps and prepared for the trip to Beijing.

 

The whole axle situation had to be fixed if we expected to make it around the world.

For a father it was a great opportunity and trip with his son. We were trapped in the car for two weeks trying to get to the U.S. finish line and do it in 1st place. We succeeded with both, and we were friends at the end. We got lots of unsolicited positive feedback on Mark’s blog postings, many of which were put together as we were driving the highways, byways and late at night in the bed after long hard days of driving. Thanks for going with me Bud, it was great.

 

Move the clock forward to the 1st of June and Blake and I are on our way to Beijing, a long trip and a full ½ day, 12 hours ahead of beautiful Nicholasville. Talk about jet lag, we were doing it! We had a couple days before we picked the cars up. When we finally went to the yard and they opened the container, I don’t remember whose car was in with us but they came out first. I plunked my butt in the seat, turned the key and – SHAZZAM – #54 started and hummed! I heaved a big sigh of relief and backed it out of the container into the sunlight. No dents, no scratches, and still the same road grime as when I left her in San Francisco. We cleared customs and started our journey – good thing we don’t have crystal balls. Chinese driving habits and rules are pretty inexplicable, but we watched, learned and fell in with it. After a few days 54 was starting to exhibit some problems, again running rough, and just not right. We had some group discussion and diagnostics and decided the carburetor was the culprit. So I called my friend Mike Goodman and had him send me 2 new carburetors, and a couple plastic insulator plates to go between the carburetors and the intake manifold to help keep the carburetors from getting too hot and boiling the gas. In the meantime I borrowed a carb from Jack Crabtree, whose 29 Ford used the same Stromberg carb. We put it on and the problem improved substantially, but it still wasn’t what it should be.

The new carb, on loan from Jack, made a big difference.

I drove it around some and said to myself, “Self – we are going to change the distributor.” So we did, and the coil too. It ran well after that, but now I had used my spare distributer, my on-board parts supply was dwindling, but thankfully 54 was running the way it was supposed to. And a good thing too, because the next day was the worst  driving conditions I have ever encountered – or ever hope to encounter – on or off-road. We simply wouldn’t have made it the way she was running before.

I forgot to mention that – a few days prior, we were running along a freeway around 50 or 60 MPH when the car simply died. It was as if I had just turned the key off, so off to the side of the road we went. We weren’t getting spark, so I changed the coil. The distributor rotor was a real mess, so we did a roadside cleanup and were off and running. Also, not long after we left Beijing I kept hearing a scraping noise from the left rear wheel. As you might imagine, it had me constantly worried. We had a 2 night layover in Xian, China, so while Blake was sightseeing, I took the left rear wheel and brake drum off. Apparently when we put it back together at Brizio’s the front brake shoe retainer wasn’t properly assembled so the little stud had come loose and is still laying along the road somewhere in China. Fortunately I had an extra long 10-32 screw I had picked up in Ohio for an air filter – it was perfect for the job. The spring and retainer were rattling around inside the brake drum making the noise. They were a little worse for the wear but useable. So I was able to bandaid it together and it lasted the balance of the trip.

 

Upon reaching China, the problems came early and often.

We cruised thru the rest of China, an unbelievably large country and into Kazakhstan. Just after crossing the border into Kazakhstan, the alternator went out. It was nearly dusk and we had several hours of night driving ahead of us. We pulled into a gas station, up with the hood and off with the alternator. We got the new one out of the trunk and – you guessed it: the pulley was wrong! Fortunately, we were able to take them apart and exchange pulleys without too much of a loss of time. Of course, nothing is ever easy… While I was working under the hood someone noticed the left rear tire was going flat, so out came the tire plug kit and we plugged the hole only to find that not only did we have one hole but two. Got them patched, the alternator was working, so once again were off and running to Almaty, Kazakhstan. As I recall we got there around midnight, ending probably the most frightening drive that I have ever experienced. I felt sure we would end up in an accident that night, but we made without harm.

The new carburetors and other parts were waiting for us in Almaty and it was time for an oil change. Almaty was a two night stop, so while Blake was out sightseeing I went to a garage, changed the oil & filer, installed the new carburetors, did bolt tightening and found that the left tie rod end was coming apart. I didn’t have an extra one of those, but the shop said he could get it rebuilt for $40, so I said go for it. He did, and it lasted the balance of the trip. I was feeling pretty good about the car: oil changed, brakes adjusted, bolts tight, tie rod fixed, I’m ready to rock on to Moscow – a short-lived warm feeling of confidence. The following morning we left Almaty for Astana, Kazakhstan, about 100 miles out of Almaty. Blake was driving and I was dozing. We were running 50 – 60 MPH on a decent two lane road when something got my attention. I glanced at the gauges and we were at zero oil pressure, so off to the side of the road we went. When we changed the oil someone (don’t know who, could have been me) didn’t put the dipstick all the way back in it’s hole. Well, I don’t know if it blew out, or was siphoned out, but the end result was the left front fender was covered in oil. It had come out of the dip stick tube, blew thru the louvers in the hood and covered the fender and running board. The engine was still running when we immediately shut it off. I knew I had a problem, I just didn’t know how bad. I had a couple quarts of oil I put in it, Jack Crabtree also had some so we dumped it in. I reached in, turned the key and the engine was frozen, it wouldn’t turn over. I got that sinking feeling. Once again, we were out in the middle of nowhere – now in a land where the native language was Russian. We hooked a tow line on it and towed 54 probably 40 to 50 miles to a place with some restaurants and gas stations. Please don’t get an image of anything you would see in the states, it wasn’t. The rest of the group had gone on, we called for a rollback truck  to come from Almaty and take us to Astana – the capital of Kazakhstan – about 800 miles of bad road away.

 

Towing the car felt a little like admitting defeat, but it was a choice between that or leaving it alongside the road in the middle of Kazakhstan.

 

Astana was scheduled as a two night stay and would be a decent place to get parts flown in to. It was a two day ride in the rollback. The driver, Marat, was a great guy, he couldn’t speak English and of course Blake and I did not speak Russian, but we somehow managed to communicate. Our guides managed to find a small shop in Astana we could work in as well as an interpreter, Dima. When we arrived, Dima met us and led us to the shop – a one stall shop the size of a single car garage with a car lift. It was kind of late in the afternoon when we arrived but we put 54 on the lift and off came the oil pan.

The shop in which we repaired the engine really wasn't a whole lot bigger than the car.

The front main bearing and 1st two rod bearings were shot. Armed with the knowledge of the problem, I was on the phone to Mike Goodman and Rex Gardner. They gave me leads on the best remedy and chances for success and where to get bearings. The time change came in handy because I was able to find the parts and get them in the air the same day we diagnosed the problem. The next day, we were at the garage early in the morning and Erlan, the owner, met us. The car was up, the car was down, etc. most of the day as we prepared to pull the engine. We had it out and apart that afternoon. Erlan knew a machine shop that would turn the crank, I did the calculations on what dimensions the the main and rod journals had to be turned to and did the conversions to metrics — I was really sweating this part. We gave the info and the crank to the machine shop and got it back on Friday morning. UPS said the new bearings would not be in until Monday. MIR Corp., our travel agents, went to work on the local UPS office and managed to get us the bearings Saturday morning.

One of the most helpful people we met along the way was our Kazakh mechanic, Erlan.

 

To work we went, and we had the engine together and back in the car Saturday evening. Sunday morning we were there tying up the loose ends, put oil in her, turned the key and by God it ran. Problem was there were some pretty substantial amounts of oil leaking on the floor. We traced it to a ¼” brass pipe about 2″ long that the oil pressure sending unit was mounted on. My heart sank, because I’m thinking in this land of metrics, where am I going to find a replacement for this – there isn’t an ACE Hardware handy. We removed the parts, Erland and I discussed it, he said he could take the parts to the “Master” and get a new one made, again, on a Sunday morning. Sure enough, in an hour or two here he came with one the “Master” had made. Next problem was we could not put it in because there wasn’t enough room between the block and firewall to turn the pipe with the required 45 degree elbow attached, or to add the elbow after the pipe was installed. We came up with a workaround using some flexible fuel line and were running and on the road to Russia around 3 in the afternoon.

 

She was running fine but I’m sure you can appreciate my apprehension. Anyway we drove and drove and she kept running with no problems. Every now and then Blake & I would say “and the engine ran well for the 1st 500 miles” and then later we would say “she ran well for the 1st 1500 miles” until guess what, she just kept running well. A couple days later we caught up with the group and were a happy family once again. But nothing lasts forever….

 

We eventually arrived in Kazan, Russia, where we again had a two night layover, and again while Blake was out sightseeing I took the car to a Ford dealer who was happy to see and help Jack and me. We had put just over 3000 miles on our new engine, so it was time to change the oil, and just give the undercarriage a once-over after all the rough road we had covered. 54 was on the rack, oil & filter changed, a myriad of loose nuts and bolts tightened, and the horn fixed – a true life saver. It had quit working back in China or Kazakhstan and was a bit of a worry, since driving life over there depends on a horn. It was an electrical contact problem at the base of the steering column.

I was glad we attacked it at the dealer, the fellow helping had the tenacity to run it down that I might not have had. While we were underneath it, we noticed that a metal bracket that attaches a stabilizer to the front axle had fractured from the rough roads. We removed it and the dealer was kind enough to weld it back together. We reinstalled it and after a pretty good washing were ready to roll again.

 

The next morning we were up and out – on the road looking for the next challenge/adventure. We were somewhere in Russia with me driving, and again something got my attention. I checked the gauges and again – no oil pressure. Immediately off with the key, over to the side of the road, up with the hood. Oil all over the engine compartment! The fuel line workaround we used for the pressure gauge had come apart. Fixed it, refilled the oil pan, held our breath, turned the key, and YES! She started and the oil pressure gauge jumped right up where it was supposed to be. Man, was I relieved.

 

Those were tense moments, but after reattaching the oil sensing unit the engine roared to life like it had never happened.

We ran well thru the rest of Russia, Latvia, Lithuania, and into Berlin. On the way from Berlin to Warsaw – just after a stop for gas – we pulled out onto a two lane road, and as we were getting up to speed a loud dragging noise started. I checked the gauges, all’s well there; check for power to the wheels, still had that – so the drive shaft hadn’t fallen out. So off to the side of the road again to see what had fallen off. The weld on the stabilizer bar had again broken and the end of the bar was dragging on the road making quite the racket. Well, it was easily removed and not mandatory for safe travel so we threw it the trunk and we were off and running once again. The original 32 Fords didn’t have one, and I could notice a difference in the steering with and without it- but as I said – we could get there without it.

 

Toward the end of the trip, it began to feel like parts were just falling off.

I think that covers most of our problems until the next-to-last day when the fuel pump for the lower tank gave up. Fortunately 54 has 2 fuel tanks, each with it’s own fuel pump – so we were able to make it on in to Paris. I changed it out in the shadow of the Eiffel tower. We drove on to Amsterdam without further problems. But I know for sure that some time in my garage is needed. I breathed a huge sigh of relief when we drove her into the yard where she was loaded into a container for the ride home.

 

I have a lot of thoughts and emotions as all this comes to a close. Blake, like Mark, did a wonderful job of keeping our blog and fans updated. As you can see from this writing, it took a lot of really great people to help us achieve our goal. When people ask me what was my most notable memory of the trip, my reply is always the same: the time with my son and grandson was the best part of the trip for me. A man could not ask for a better opportunity to share with his son and grandson. Thanks to both of them for going, helping and putting up with me. And thanks to all those mentioned here (and the many that weren’t) for helping make the trip a reality. To those of you who followed us, I hope you enjoyed the adventure!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

A Few Nights in Paris

Thursday, July 21 – Monday, July 25:  Hello again to those of you who are still with us.  My sincerest apologies for making you wait so long for all the juicy details regarding the conclusion of our great journey, but the minute we reached Paris my motivation for doing anything productive went right out the window.  So this is, as well as being the first and only quintuple post, will actually be my last post on this blog.  Tomorrow (Wednesday to be clear) I finally fly back to the States to rejoin the real world of people who do normal things over the summer like sleep and speak the same language as those around them.  But wait you say!  The trip is not over!  That’s right; the car still has to make it to Amsterdam to be shipped home.  So, I’ll be passing the blog duties for this final leg off to either Grampa or April as they will be the ones who are actually traveling with the car.

 

But anyway, I’m sure you guys want those juicy details!  So, reaching way back in my memory, I’ll tell you a bit about our arrival in Paris.  It was a short drive from Troyes (we finally figured out that it’s pronounced Twah) – only a bit over 100 miles.  But as had been the case the day before, the car indeed seemed as though it was on its last legs.  The fuel pump for the bottom tank had given out, we were having some kind of electrical issues, and as always we didn’t really know when that back left wheel might just up and fall off.  For all of the aforementioned reasons, as the group decided to take the small road, through the hills and towns, we opted to hop over to the highway and ease our way into Paris and, as you all know by now, for the final and most important time on the officially scheduled part of this trip, Car 54 cruised into town and got lost before finding our eventual destination (ahead of schedule for once).

The car looked really good with the Eiffel Tower in the background.

We had the front row seats to see the other cars make their final arrival.

At first it was a bit anticlimactic; since we had taken the highway, we were the only car there and we had to wait about 20 minutes for our comrades to join us at the finish.  But once they did, the celebration commenced.  I suppose it was everything one would expect; hugging, kissing, congratulations, champagne, pictures, joyful reunions, and more pictures (and also dirty thieving gypsies).

Needless to say, Grampa and April had a very joyful reunion.

Even though it should be noted that they were a few minutes late, the Car 54 supporters showed up in full force to welcome us home.  Following more hugs and even more pictures (seriously, so many pictures) everyone got tired of standing in the drizzling rain and the celebration was moved to the hotel, where it continued in full force.  I think I’ll just sum up the rest by saying people drank a lot of champagne, there was cake, everyone told some of their stories, and by 3 PM everyone was sufficiently exhausted (either from jet lag or adventuring) and the party was over.  That evening, we had our first family Paris adventure when we walked a few miles in search of an elusive Italian restaurant that, despite our best efforts, evaded our hungry stomachs.

 

Of course we had to pose for a picture with the flag that accompanied the Thomas flyer on the original race.

The next day was Friday, and honestly I would have loved a day to rest.  But we had another city tour to go on.  And even though I was thoroughly worn out it was a pretty good one.  On this particular tour we were let led about Paris by a nice Australian lady named Erin, whose clear English was a welcome relief.  She shared with us many an interesting fact and legend about such notable sights as the Louvre, Notre Dame, and the Shakespeare and Company bookstore.

Notre Dame was very impressive.

 

 

After the tour, we stopped by the Louvre for a brief visit to the Ralph Lauren car collection, which was unquestionably unique and nice looking, but the availability of information on the exhibit left a bit to be desired.  A few tense moments on the Metro later and we were back at the hotel with a little time to rest before the farewell dinner.  Dinner was great.  The food was good, the people were good, and the atmosphere was good.  Everyone got up and gave at least one toast/speech (of course Dennis had to say something about his chicken).

Along with the 11 of us, Dennis hauled his "chicken" all the way from Beijing. His grandson Luke is a very lucky young man to have such a dedicated grandfather.

 

Celebration Kentucky style.

There was laughter and there were tears.  It was at this point, when we all realized that at some point in the next few days we would wake up and the faces and voices that we have grown so used to would be absent, that it became evident how close we had all become.  Of course there were the jokes and the funny stories, but there was also everyone saying their own personal goodbye, both to each other and to the experience of a lifetime that none of us will ever forget.

 

I’m getting a little pressed for time here, so I’m sorry but I’m going to have to start glossing over some things.  The next day we took another tour, this time with a nice lady named Karen.  We saw some more nice things in Paris; this time around was the art district where all the famous artists had lived or worked at one point or another.

This was a very neat sculpture that I decided to take an awesome picture with.

I'm not sure I was aware that this was a real place.

After another lunch on the town, it was back to the hotel.  Uncle Mark and his family took the opportunity to scope out the Eiffel Tower, while Grampa and myself went over some maps and had a goodbye beer with Jerry.  Saturday night turned out to be pretty spectacular; we took a picnic dinner to the Versailles firework/fountain/flamethrower/symphony show.  Even though it was unseasonably cold, I think everyone managed to have a good time and the show was absolutely mind-blowing (not to mention the fact that it was at Versailles).

I promised my sisters that they could be on the blog, so here's a picture of them at the lovers' wall.

This was probably the best and coldest fireworks display I have ever seen. I'm sorry you missed it.

 

Sunday… there isn’t really much to tell.  We saw Uncle Mark and his family off in the morning on their way to Paris.  My mom and sisters went shopping with Grampa.  I laid in bed literally all day.  The tours and everything were nice and interesting, but I decided to finally take a day off.  And I took it all the way off.  So much so that I didn’t even work on a blog post (sorry).  It felt great though.  Sunday night my family and I climbed the Eiffel tower for some super great views of night time Paris.

At last we are to yesterday.  Yesterday it was just me and my family once again and we decided to Louvre it up.  To be perfectly honest, I wasn’t totally pumped about going, but I figured that if I didn’t go it would make me totally lame.  So I went and we saw the highlights of the museum – Mona Lisa, crown jewels, Venus de Milo, etc.

This was the best piece that I didn't know about - Winged Victory. It was actually quite beautiful.

Other than those I only saw one painting that I recognized, but it was the Louvre so I guess it was worth it.  Last night we had a great visit with Grampa and April’s old friend Jacques, his wife Christal, and his daughter Caroline.  After some light snacks and catching up on old times at there very nice flat, Jacques and Christal took us to one of their favorite restaurants where we had a great dinner.

 

Thanks to Jacque and Christal for a wonderful evening.

So that’s the last five days.  I haven’t picked them out yet, but I’m sure there will be a ton of great pictures to go along with my description.  I guess we’re coming to the end of my part now.  Before I pass the torch, I guess I’ll say my thanks and goodbyes.  Firstly, I have to thank all of you who followed and supported us along the way; it was a rough road, but all the emails and encouragement we got made it all worthwhile.  Secondly, I have to thank all of my fellow travelers; without the help and support we received from you all I’m quite sure that Grampa and I wouldn’t have made it all the way to Paris.  To me, your friendship is one of the best things that I will take away from this trip and I hope it continues in the future.  Thirdly, I would like to thank my family for putting up with me going on this crazy adventure – especially my girlfriend Magnolia; I know it wasn’t’ easy.  Lastly, I have to thank my Grampa.  Without him this absolutely wouldn’t have been possible and thanks to him I’ve gotten to grow as a person and experience so many things that will help me handle what life decides to throw at me in the future.  I really don’t have the words to express how grateful I am for this and everything else over the years so… thanks.

 

As my last picture I present the official record of Grampa's awesome beardness.

And with that, I pass the torch.  See you around – it’s been a great ride.

Posted in Europe | 1 Comment

Safe and Sound

Hey everyone!  We finally made to Paris!  Pictures and details to come soon!

Posted in Uncategorized | 6 Comments

Paris Eve

Wednesday, July 20:  It’s really coming down to the wire here with only 100 miles to go until we reach Paris.  Today we drove to Troyes, France (no more borders!) and I got to enjoy (kind of) another sleep day.  This time, however, it was in the van.  Don’t worry, Car 54 was still running under it’s own power, but today I decided to let Jeff have my navigators seat so he could complete his goal of having ridden in all of the cars on the trip.

 

So while I was stuck in the van, slaving away working on the blog and sleeping my loneliness away, Grampa and Jeff were adventuring on their own away from the group, eating BBQ ribs and having a grand time.

After seeing this picture, I regretted letting Jeff have my seat.

I can’t really think of anything else that happened… I think all of our family members arrived in Paris today, safe and sound so that’s pretty nice.

The last supper before the last supper.

The dominant thought on everyone’s mind is Paris.  Tomorrow is the big day and it’s going to be a little strange for everyone to make the adjustment.  For so long, we’ve had only one ultimate goal and now that it’s with our grasp, it’s a bit of a foreign feeling.  We are planning on making it to Paris though, despite the fact that one of our fuel pumps seems to be giving out and we might be developing some more electrical problems.  But as I’ve said to Grampa, with only 100 miles to go, we don’t need the car to drive well, we just need it to drive.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Zurich, Switzerland

Tuesday, July 19: Hello again everyone.  We’ve checked another city off our lists leaving only one to go before we reach our final destination in Paris.  The car is still running without any problems other than the leaky water pump, but we’ve been paying close attention to every detail just in case something happens to go wrong.  A breakdown at this point would rend the very fiber of my being in such a manner that no amount of time could ever hope to restore my happiness.  But of course, that’s not going to happen.

 

Anyway, last night we were in Zurich, Switzerland.  I have a hard time really describing our overall experience there; it wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good.  Like… if red were a bad city, and blue were a good city, then Zurich would just be kind of grayish.  Like if good and bad were two sides of an argument, then Zurich would just stay in the middle.  I’m not really sure how else to explain it… it was all very… neutral.

 

Honestly, and this is unfortunate, but I would probably say that I will hardly remember anything about Zurich.  I’m sure it’s a nice place, but we were in and out of there so fast that there wasn’t time to even do anything.  I’ll remember the dinner because they gave me an octopus salad, but that’s about it.

 

The thing that I will remember about yesterday was the solo driving.  As some of you may know, my Grama is from the southern part of Germany, just a short drive from Munich.  So, I have relatives over there.  Obviously, even with our fast pace, it would be horrid of Grampa and I not to call on them.  Unfortunately there was some confusion the night before, so it was up to us to find a place on the road to meet up.  So, around lunch time, Car 54 set out on its own to meet up with my mother’s cousin, or my Grampa’s nephew (we’ll just say relative) Juergen.  It was all very complicated, but eventually we found him on the road and we drove over to the next town for a delightful lunch.  It was nice to operate on our own schedule and we both had a great time catching up with Juergen and talking about how life was going in Germany.

Alas, our time was too short and much too soon we were back on the road, bound for Zurich.  The only part of the drive I remember after lunch was the three countries in 10 minutes part, when we crossed through the very tip of Austria before crossing into Switzerland.  I’m sorry to say that pretty much sums it up for Tuesday, July 19, but at this point it’s pretty much drive baby drive to Paris.  One more night to go before we reach the finish!

 

Whoa! I almost forgot something else!  After leaving Munich in the morning, the Howles, Dennis, myself, and Grampa all opted to take a detour to Dachau, which was the location of one of the most well-known concentration camps of WWII.  We only had about an hour and a half to take the tour, but I think, given the time, I could have spent an entire day

It was hard to imagine what the conditions were really like. This is a picture inside the barracks where the prisoners slept.

in there.  On top of the emotional reaction you get from being in a place like that, it was all very informative.  That’s definitely one of the places on this trip that I would like to go back to and spend some more time.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Just Another Munich Monday

Monday, July 18:  So once again this is going to be a double post.  And, because I procrastinated until 24 hours after the fact, you guys probably won’t see this post until tomorrow morning.  So sorry about that.

 

But anyway, I’m sure you guys don’t follow us to hear me talk about how lazy I am, so let’s talk about the past couple of days.  If my memory serves me correctly, the last time I wrote a post was on the way to Prague.  The drive was not particularly interesting or exciting; I think I drove for a few hours, but honestly I can hardly remember a thing about it.  Actually, I just remembered one thing; we got a little lost and had to do some on the spot navigating.  Let me explain the circumstances.  We were on a major highway heading south toward Prague.  We came to a point where our road was intersected by another major road running east to west.  Both our GPS and paper map showed that the road we were on continued south and we should just keep following it.  But when we got to the intersection, the road was not there.  And I don’t mean like it was under construction or it had been closed; there was absolutely no road.  So, it took us a little while to figure it out, but eventually we found an alternate route and made the rest of the drive into town.  I suppose the most notable part of the day was dinner, which Grampa and I enjoyed in the old part of the city along with Jerry, Dennis, and Tatiana.

It was obvious that the city had a lot of history and the view of the square was great right before sunset.

We ate at a nice Italian restaurant on some kind of square and I think the atmosphere would have been perfect had it not been for a large group of Hare Krishnas.  I’m still not really clear on what the religion is about, but apparently in involves singing very loudly in public areas for extended periods of time.  Eventually, as the chanting continued for longer and longer without pause, I grew more impressed with the singer’s vocal endurance than anything else.  But then that wore off and I was just annoyed.  It was really loud.  But eventually they packed up shop and right as we were beginning to enjoy our surroundings in peace and quiet it started to get a wee bit stormy.  Luckily, it turned out to be our good fortune that we were forced to take our meals indoors because the inside

The cellar that we ate in was discovered only three years ago. Amazingly, it looked as though it had been open for years.

of the restaurant was much more interesting than we had thought.  As we descended a flight of steps, we found ourselves in a type of cellar that, according to our waiter, dated back to the 14th century.  So that was interesting and it was a good place to conclude our dining experience, but with a busy day ahead, it was soon off to bed.

 

 

 

Yesterday, it was pretty much the same thing on the drive.  At this point, as long as nothing goes wrong, all of the drives kind of seem the same.  But I suppose that’s a good thing – sort of a “no news is good news” deal.  Now, before you get any ideas about this day not being exciting, stop!  Because yesterday was so awesome that just writing about it makes me want to run around and break stuff.  The first awesomeness to punch us in the gut was the Deutches Museum.  I know I know – another museum.  But this one was legit.  It was a kind of combination history/transportation/technology museum, so I guess you could just call it a museum of the history of transportation technology.  If you ever get a chance to go there, I highly recommend it because I learned so much.  It’s just really well done and the whole thing does a great job of illustrating all the vehicles people have used over the years and showing how a lot of those vehicles worked.

When I say transportation, I mean all types of transportation.

But before you pass out from that profusion of thrilling description, let’s talk about the real reason we went to the museum.  Of course there is the obvious link – it’s a museum about transportation; we are transporting ourselves around the world.  But there was a much more important reason for us to visit the museum.  Protos.

One word: Protos.

What’s the Protos you ask?  How do you not know what the Protos is?  I never told you, you say?  Well shame on me.  For those of you who haven’t done your homework on the history of the race, the Protos is one of the cars that ran the original Great Race in 1908.  Specifically, it is the entrant from Germany that was the first car to reach Paris, but was awarded 2nd place as a result of a 30 day penalty incurred during the running of the race.  To see this car was really something for all of us.  It provided the group with another chance to look back and really think about what all the men in that race went through on their great journey.  I think, with us nearing the end and understanding how difficult of an undertaking this is 103 years later, we all have the perspective and experience to comprehend the improbability of those men’s success.  I may have missed out on seeing the Thomas Flyer back in the States, but it was great to see the Protos and learn a bit more about the Flyers closest competitor.

 

And there’s one more thing.  I didn’t really appreciate what this meant until I got back to my computer and did some research.  On our tour of the museum, we were accompanied by the head of Siemens (it’s a company), Baron von Siemens.  That’s right.  He’s a Baron.  And he’s the head of the European equivalent of GE.  Seriously go Google Siemens and check out who this guy is because it’s impressive.  I can’t remember exactly, but I think Wikipedia quoted the revenue or profits or something (I’m not an economist) at $74. Oh wait… I forgot about nine zeros on there.  That’s right, 74,000,000,000.  And we shook his hand.  And even more than the fame and the influence, he was just… someone who you just had to respect.  When I think of CEOs and people like that, this guy was nothing like that.  He was soft spoken and unassuming, and he didn’t talk like he wanted you to hear him – he talked like he knew you were already listening.  So he gave us a quick rundown of Siemens’ relationship with the Protos.  A few months after the race ended, Siemens purchased the Protos company.

Baron von Siemens was more than glad to pose for our pictures.

At some point, and I’m not sure exactly when, they also got ahold of the car that ran in the Great Race.  When the museum opened, our friend the Baron donated it so it could be on display and people could learn about the race.  It was quite obvious that he was proud of his heritage and of the history of the Protos.  I think I heard that there are only 18 known Protos vehicles remaining in the world and this guy owns at least three of them.  After we got done at the museum, he gave Jack, Jeff, and Jerry a ride in his own personal Protos that he drives around town.  Grampa and I didn’t really know what the plan was, so we just followed him and ended up at his house.  Let me just say that there are not a lot of people that have ever made me feel like a small person, but standing next to that man was truly an experience.  Little did I know it was about to take an interesting turn.

After the tour we all shared a toast to the courage of the men involved in the original Great Race of 1908.

 

In order to lead us, Baron von Siemens had to start his 1909 Protos with a crank.

 

What nobody remembered to tell us was that Jeff, Jack, and Jerry were taking the subway back to the hotel and we were going to have to find our own way in the car.  Naturally, with me navigating, we got there with few problems.  By that time it was getting a little late and we were ready to hit the town and grab something to eat.  As soon as the question was asked people on every side started say “Hofbrauhaus”.  I didn’t really know what this place was, but Grampa said it was a place to say you had gone, so I was onboard with the plan.  It turned out to be one of the best meals on the trip.

I think the look on my face says it all.

I don’t really remember the food as being that stunningly delicious, but they had these enormous mugs of beer.  And also the Baron was still there.  The dinner can pretty much be summed up as I drank beer out of 1 liter mugs while sitting across from a guy who was showing pictures of that one time the President of Germany stopped by for lunch and a ride in his antique car.  I feel like pretty much one of the only people in the world who can say that .

 

Anyway, that dinner is the explanation as to why this post didn’t come along a little faster.  I can feel myself becoming less and less enthusiastic about writing, so this seems like a good stopping point for now.  Today, it’s on to Zurich and the land of chocolate, watches, and bank accounts.  Not sure when I’ll get around to posting this, but hopefully it will be before Paris.  Later.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Ich bin ein Berliner!

Saturday, July 16:  Hallo everyone!  Now, I know I promised that I wasn’t going to do any more double posts, but I feel like this time is a reasonable exception because Friday was so boring that I pretty much don’t remember a single thing about it.

 

I know it was a long day.  Out of the 11 hours it took to get to Berlin, I’m pretty sure the only occurrence of note was the flat tire on the Model A.

I took 5 pictures on Friday and 4 of them were of this flat tire.

This is his third of the trip, so with all his practice, we were back on the road in 15 minutes.  That’s seriously the only thing that happened.  Now you know why I didn’t write a blog post.

 

 

Yesterday was an improvement over it’s predecessor.  Thanks to Tatiana, we had an early appointment with a local Ford dealer to go and use his service center to prepare our car for the final push.  So, even though I would have enjoyed a morning to sleep in, we got up at 6 and drove over to the dealership along with the Model A and the Corvette.  The only problem was that we went to the wrong Ford dealer.  In the end we finally made it to the correct location and quicker than you can say thecarwasuponthelift the car was… up on the lift.  We had several items on our agenda; check out the leaky water pump, check out the squeaky wheel, change the oil, change the oil filter, adjust the clutch, and adjust the brakes.

Our talented mechanic did all his work with a tire balanced on his head!

We got around to most of these objectives, but in the end it was decided that there was nothing we could really do about the pump and the wheel at this point and all we could do was hope they held together long enough for us to make it to Paris.  The wheel got a good load of grease and we’ve been keeping extra water close at all times.  It was a quick visit for everyone and we made it back to the hotel for a quick bite to eat before the afternoon tour of Berlin.

 

The tour was only about two hours, but in my humble opinion, it was one of the most enjoyable on the trip so far.  I think this city was a bit more personal than most others for both of us in Car 54.  Grampa, in his previous travels, had visited Germany many times and I could tell that he was quite fond of the German people and the culture.  I’ve had a connection to Germany all my life because it’s the homeland of my Gramma, and it is the only country on this trip that I have previously visited.  So it was a nice visit for both of us and it gave me a chance to put my mediocre (at best) German skills to the test.  Mostly this just meant reading signs and maybe a couple foods on a menu, but still… it was better than being in China.

Our guide was a bit on the eccentric side, but his enthusiasm was captivating.

Anyway, the tour.  Berlin is a really interesting city and it’s been very relevant to more recent history – both in WWII and in the Cold War.  So we did the rounds of monuments and stuff like that.  We saw the Parliamentary building, we saw Brandenburg Gate, we saw Checkpoint Charlie (which, by the way, is not some dude with an awesome nick-name).

Brandenburg Gate.

But the thing that I was most pumped about was… The Wall.  That’s right, the Berlin Wall.  There actually isn’t very much of it left; Reagan must’ve inspired a lot of people (we’ll see how many of you get that reference) because that wall was straight up torn down.  I wish I could’ve stayed and checked out the museum, but as I’m about to reveal, we had other plans.

This brick line runs through the entire city and marks where the wall once stood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

When the wall first came down, people started chipping away at and this stretch is all that remains.

 

 

The other plans that I am revealing were the best part of the day.  We met up with a family that Grampa had known since the early 90s.  And when I say family, it was a little more than that; the kids that Grampa knew in the early 90s were now grown and had kids of their own.  But father was named Ulrich, and he had his own locksmith shop back when East Berlin was under Soviet control.  We also met his wife, Angalic (I hope I spelled it correctly) and two of his children – Berit and Eric.  Berit was already a teenager back when Grampa last saw her, and as of right now she is married to a nice fellow named Derk and we met their two children, Ben and Ava, who were totally hilarious.  After a joyous reunion, we sat down for a quick chat about the race and how that was going, etc. etc. followed by a pleasant walk to a restaurant for dinner.  Once again dinner was delicious and I was lucky enough to enjoy conversation with someone closer to my own age.  Eric is 17 and luckily his English is much better than my German.  We talked about cars and school and sports and it was all very nice.

From left to right: Kert, Ben, and Eric.

 

 

Our hosts were very gracious and we would like to thank them for their hospitality.

 

To kind of stray off topic, I think it’s important for Americans to know that we don’t have the best international reputation.  I had suspected that this might be the case before I came on this trip and so far the people I’ve met and the conversations I’ve had have only confirmed this suspicion.  So that’s kind of been my personal mission; to be a good example and a good representative for America.  And I feel like I’ve been doing pretty well so far.  But anyway, it’s just something all Americans should be aware of I think.  So, we had a great time with our very friendly and gracious hosts, but with an early start in the morning, we were forced to retire much too soon.

 

Today we cross into the Czech Republic and head for Prague.  Five days to Paris.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Land of Po

 

Thursday, July 14:  Hello again everyone.  Yesterday we successfully completed the drive from Vilnius to Warsaw without any major problems.  We’re getting close enough to the finish line that I’m beginning to think the car might actually hold together and make it (fingers crossed, knock on wood).

 

That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be easy.  Yesterday we again found ourselves amid a multitude of mechanical issues, however, luckily none of them were too serious.  Before we had even gotten out of the city we had another case of the stopfornoapparentreason-sies.  One moment, we were just driving along and the next we were pulled over trying to figure out why our car wouldn’t go.

At this point all we can ask is "what's going to fall off next?"

But before we could figure it out, the car started with no problem and we were back on our way.  More than likely, something in the electrical system is to blame, but as long as we’re still moving it’s a problem that can wait until we get to Berlin.  How foolish of us to think our troubles were over.  Within a hundred miles we had a new, much more apparent issue.  Our font stabilizing rod broke off and gave us a good scare by noisily dragging on the pavement for a couple hundred feet.

Luckily, this time it was something we could do without.

After a quick inspection, it was clear that the bracket holding the rod to the axle, which we had repaired in Russia with a weld, had broken again – this time completely.  Luckily this problem was also not that serious.  The rod simply acts to stabilize the movement of the car and make steering easier.  It’s really no problem to drive without it, and the original 32s didn’t even have them.  So, after disconnecting the other end we were back on the road and continued to Warsaw with no further problems.

 

One interesting thing about yesterday was the lack of VW Beetles in the group.  Ed and Janet elected to travel separately from the group and instead drive with their friends Klaus and Maya whom we met up with in Vilnius.  It made the drive a little more interesting because, since we were going to the same place, there would be times where we would pass them at a gas station or they would pass us at lunch.  I’m not sure what the plan is for the rest of the race, but for the next few days it seems that we will only see Ed and Janet at the hotels.

A cloudy Warsaw morning.

And really… that’s all I have to write about for yesterday.  We got to the city and went to dinner and that was pretty much it.  The next city we hope to reach is Berlin, where plans are in the works for at least some measure of repair work to be done.  And, since it is technically the 15th, I would like to wish a very happy birthday to my girlfriend Magnolia Gramling.  I love you and I hope you have a great day.  And on that note, I will say good day.

 

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Easy Europeasy

Wednesday, July 13:  Hello again everyone.  It’s a delightfully cool Thursday morning here in Lithuania as we depart the city of Vilnius for Warsaw, Poland.  Yesterday was a fantastic day, mostly because I was well rested.  Sleeping may not be the most exciting thing to do on a trip around the world, but you still have to get some in.  You know, I read somewhere that not getting enough sleep is the unhealthiest thing possible for your body.  Really I cannot say enough about how much better I feel after all that sleeping I did yesterday.  I may have missed a lot of Latvia, but the funny thing is that it just so happens to look an awful lot like Lithuania.

 

Anyway, the drive yesterday was the shortest of the trip so far – only a little more than one hundred miles.  After we got out of Latvia, which only took about 20 minutes of driving, I took over driving duties while Grampa took care of some overdue emailing.  One of the first signs that we might have easier travels ahead was the Latvian/Lithuanian border.  It was only a sign and most of us drove right by without even noticing it.  Hopefully that trend continues because as you well know, border crossings have been a nightmare for us so far.  Late in the drive we had a small scare when I pressed the gas pedal to accelerate up a hill and nothing happened.  Having learned from our previous mishaps, I immediately shut off the engine and pulled over to the side of the road.  Upon inspection we could find no obvious problem with the engine so we started her back up and kept on moving down the road.

 

Our destination was Vilnius, Lithuania, which is the capital city and I found it to be quite pleasant.  It is the first city we have visited that I would describe as truly European.  The streets are narrow and winding, the buildings are crammed into every possible space, and most of the people know English.  It’s a great feeling because, even though it’s not quite home, it’s enough like home that you can go down the street for a bite to eat or check into the hotel without it being some giant ordeal.  And the scenery!  Oh the scenery!  For reason’s unknown to me, crossing the Russian border was like a fog being lifted right in front of our eyes.

The countryside is so green that it's actually physically painful.

In Russia there were only trees and gray forests, but across the border everything is green and there are rolling hills and the houses all look so quaint and peaceful.  Yes, ladies and gentlemen, I have good feelings about the days ahead.

 

 

 

Jack's soup looked like it was from a Dr. Seuss book or something.

So, as I said, we had a pretty short drive and we arrived in Vilnius very early in the day.  Early enough, in fact, that we went out and about for a nice lunch on the town.  Grampa, Mary, Jack, Dennis, and myself all took a stroll down the block and had a fantastic lunch at a local restaurant.  Afterwards, while the others visited a few shops and picked up a few trinkets, I headed back to the room to get caught up on my blogging responsibilities.

 

 

There was a lot of graffiti all around the city. Here's a bear.

At 4 it was time for those who were interested to gather in the lobby for a short tour of the city.  The tour was nice – not especially different from any of the others, but still enjoyable.  It did provide a nice opportunity to learn about the history of a country that I pretty much knew nothing about.

While on the tour we did manage to catch some soldiers in the middle of a flag changing ceremony.

 

 

The one thing that I thought was out of the ordinary was the church that we visited.  Even though I was skeptical, already having visited what seems like dozens of various churches, cathedrals, mosques, temples, etc. on this trip, this one was something special.  Once again I’m probably going to have to rely on the aid of a picture or two, but we walked in to discover almost the entire inside of the church covered with statues and carvings.  I was different from anything we have seen so far and I think I got some good pictures so you can see what I’m talking about.

 

Here's one of those pictures I was talking about. Now imagine 800 more of these statues in a church.

 

After the tour we took the bus out to a local restaurant for a taste of Lithuanian cuisine.  Potatoes.  They love potatoes.  The first thing we had was a literal trough of potato foods.  There were potato pancakes, potato dumplings, potato tubes with meat, and potatoes stuffed with more potatoes with potato sauce on a bed of mashed potatoes (is that last one real? You’ll never know!).  I think, as unhealthy as it was, this food was more than enough to stuff every person at the table.  And it was the appetizer.  Next they brought the salad, which was soon followed by the main course of salmon and rice.  Just when we thought they were done with us, they body slammed us with a huge piece of chocolate cake.  Even though we were all ready to vomit by the end of the meal, I think everyone enjoyed the atmosphere and the chance to eat at a restaurant that wasn’t located in our hotel.

I didn't manage to get a picture of the potatoes, but here's a picture of a black swan that I thought was pretty cool.

So that about wraps it up for this post.  Everyone is counting down the miles to Paris – I think the current count is about 1500.  All we can hope for at this point is that the car holds together until then.  I think the plan is to take it in for a check up when we hit Berlin in a couple days.  Anyway, have a nice Thursday, I’ll tell you about ours as soon as I know how it turns out.

 

Posted in Europe | Leave a comment

Sweet Dreams in Latvia

 

Tuesday, July 12: So here we are once again.  It’s about 10:30 in Dauguvpil, Latvia and I’m just sitting in my bed, trying to hear myself think over the sound of Grampa snoring (not so easy).  You know this post is going to have at least some substance to it because we checked another border crossing off the list; today it was Russia to Latvia and once again, things didn’t quite go as planned.  So without further a do… here it goes.

 

I was up really late last night writing blog posts and inspiring young Russian children and generally being a great person, but this morning that came back to haunt me.  Waking up was just plain hard.  And it’s never easy, but today it was crossing into the realm of cruel and unusual.  But I didn’t really have a choice, so I got up.  Our bags apparently arrived sometime around 2:30 last night and a much needed shower soon followed their retrieval from reception.  The morning was a little hectic; I had to eat, I had to load up the blog posts I had written and I had to go be a hero to the kid from last night who wanted to sit in the Corvette.  So it was a little busy, but we soon got underway.

I talked to Jerry and finally got this little guy his time in the Corvette.

Now, I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned the navigational issues we’ve been having in Russia, so here’s a little refresher.  In every city we get lost. Every one.  As Grampa said, “If the city only had two streets, we’d take the wrong one.”  And it’s true.  Inevitably, every day after a long drive, we find ourselves having to make U-turns in traffic or stopped on the side of a busy street to check directions.  So the past couple of days, our tour managers have tried to smooth out the process by picking up local cabs or drivers to lead us in and out of the city.  The success of this plan is debatable, but this morning was an interesting chapter in it’s short history.  Right as we were about to leave, this guy in a taxi drives up and jumps out of his car.  Now keep in mind that’s it’s raining at this point – not hard but still… he was getting wet.  He approaches our car first and starts trying to talk to me in Russian.  Of course I can’t understand a single word he was saying, but through past experience and a few hand gestures I was able to determine that he wanted a picture.  Of course this was fine with me – I couldn’t have cared less what he did – so I said yeah sure go ahead knock yourself out.  After a bit more confusion we had to bring in a translator and it was further determined that, although he wanted to take a picture, he didn’t have a camera, but he was still asking to take a picture.  By this point I already knew he was crazy.  I just though forget it and got in the car to get ready to leave.  But our tour managers had the bright idea that this was the right guy to get us out of the city.  And to their credit, he did get us out of the city with no problems.  But he was still a crazy nutjob.  I’m being 100% serious when I say he honked his horn for the entire time he was leading us out – through the whole city.  Even when we were just sitting at a gas station he honked his horn.  The

He may not look that crazy, but he was a few cards short of a full deck. And he was playing chess.

only reason he stopped was to get out and give us all used lottery tickets with pictures of cars on them and I was lucky enough to be given his address (if anyone is looking for a pen pal).  But like I said, he got the job done.

 

So we were out of town and on the road headed for the border.  You wouldn’t think that a bumpy road would put you to sleep, but it sure seems to work wonders on me, especially after a late night.  I think it was 90 miles to the border and I slept for probably 70 or so.  I did manage to wake up just in time for the mechanical scare of the day.  Recall, if you will, the improvised oil pressure gauge set up we had to devise in order to get back on the road (for reference purposes see “Tighten it Up”).  Well today that temporary setup came apart and we lost a bunch of oil in a hurry.

Grampa had to get in and re-McGyver the whole thing.

Those were tense moments as we sat on the side of the road, making the necessary repairs.  We could reassemble the gauge line and stop the leak pretty easily, but we had to wait for more oil to be sure that we had caught the problem early enough.  I can’t express how relieved I was when I heard the engine turn over.  One wasted engine was bad enough, but had we lost another from the exact same problem, I would have just lost it.  But thankfully that didn’t happen and we can move on to other things.

 

At that point the border was only about 10 miles away, so in no time we were doing nothing but waiting.  Once again, our efforts to move quickly and efficiently were choked out by the poisonous cloud of bureaucracy.  The problem this time it seems, was a missing sticker.  Don’t ask me how it happened, but someone way back at the China/Kazakhstan border left a very important sticker off of our customs forms.  Maybe it has something to do with the brand new trade union deal between Russia and Kazakhstan, I don’t know and at this point it’s not important.  What was important was the fact that only the drivers had to stay with the cars, so the rest of us headed across the border to Latvia.  I imagine we must have looked quite strange – comical even – just a group of seven Americans strolling through the border with only a couple computer bags and sack lunches between them.  But that’s just how we roll I suppose.  Anyway, we made it through the border with minimal delays and were soon on the other side, waiting once again.

 

This is where the description gets a little hazy because after this point I pretty much slept for the rest of the day.  First, in the back of the van, only to be awakened so that I could move to a seat and we could go ahead and drive to the hotel.  There I slept until we made a stop at a gas station for some snacks, and let me tell you, gas stations are a great way to judge how close you are to civilization (this one was very close).  It was truly a beautiful sight to see a well stocked gas station with a fully functioning, clean bathroom.  Also I think it was here that we learned about the first of the cars making it across the border.  But soon we were off once again, and after one Pringle’s can worth of time I was back asleep.  When we got to the hotel, I was awake long enough to reach my bed and there I remained until dinner.

 

So that’s it for that day.  Unfortunately the internet is hardly functional at this hotel so those pictures I promised might have to wait until Lithuania.  Nine days until Paris and I can hardly wait.

 

Posted in Europe | Leave a comment