Knockin back a Double

Sorry, once again photos ASAP.

 

Post that is.  And I promise to (try to) make this the last one.  Unless you guys like it this way.  It’s a little easier for me time wise, but I feel like some information might get left out of glossed over when I try to cram it all into one jam-packed post-a-palooza.

 

So anyway, this post starts with yesterday, which was Sunday, July 10 and it will end with today, which is Monday, July 11.

 

Yesterday was just another manic Monday, but in a good way.  I think everyone was excited to go and visit everything on the days schedule; Russia has played a pretty large part in more recent history and was a large influence on this group’s generation (excluding those of us who are still young of course).  So, of course all of us were aware of the period of communism in Russia, but what really surprised me was the museum we went to at the Kremlin.  First of all let me clarify, because I had been making this mistake for quite some time.  A kremlin is essentially just a Russian fortress and all of the major historical cities have one; when you talk about THE Kremlin, you’re referring to the one in Moscow (unless otherwise specified) because Moscow was the capital of the Soviet Union and that’s where they held all of their communist shenanigans.

It was a bit rainy, but we braved the elements just so you could see the pictures. This is THE Kremlin by the way.

But anyway we were at the Kremlin and it was nasty and rainy, so the first thing we decided to go see was a museum in the old armory.  This museum was phenomenally fascinating for me.  I’d like to “Holla” at professor Serafini for providing me with a basis of knowledge to which I refer back, because those lectures on Russian history were ever so useful while on that tour.  But even in my prior knowledge I was still shocked.  As it turns out Russia was a pretty legit country back in the day.  And I’m talkin way before Soviet times here.  Those Tsars were not messin around when it came to being rich and powerful.  I wish I had been allowed to take pictures because some of those items were truly a sight worth seeing.  There were more gold pieces that I could count.  And robes with pearls and suites of armor.  And goblets with jewels.  They say beauty is in the eye of the beholder… well whoever be-holdin any of that stuff be holdin some really expensive stuff!  The was enough gold in that place for me to live and hundred very comfortable lives.  The history of it all was just overwhelming at times.

This 200 ton behemoth of a bell was large enough to live in.

Inside the Kremlin there were at least 4 cathedrals, all topped with gold.

 

 

 

 

 

While that was the highlight of the city tour, it was not the only place we stopped.  The other sight that I think everyone enjoyed was St. Basil’s Cathedral on the Red Square.  It was really one of the more impressive buildings that I’ve seen on this trip so far.  It’s hard to explain, so I’ll just rely on a picture to help me out.

This is St. Basil's Cathedral and it's pretty much the most unique building I've ever seen. I didn't get a chance to see the inside, but from the outside it kind of reminded me of a gingerbread house.

And… let’s see… we saw Lenin’s tomb and we saw and some other stuff.  It was a nice tour.  Luckily the rain cleared off later in the day so we could actually get some enjoyment out of it.

 

We are still trying to find ways amid all the rushing around and craziness to relax.  Last night Grampa, Jack, Mary, Jeff, our guide Tatiana (I hope I spelled it right), and myself all opted for a serene dinner/boat ride on the Moscow River.  We had a wonderful time.  The food was good, the

With a little help from the on board photographer, we got everyone in the picture.

atmosphere was good, and the company was good.  The ride lasted for about 2 and a half hours and we enjoyed every moment of it (except the one where it ended).

 

 

 

Boats are pretty much the definition of relaxation.

 

 

Today was not the most exciting that we’ve had on this trip.  It started out with us once again wandering around Moscow, except this time we were trying to get out.  It just felt like it was going to be a long day all the way around.  After about 100 miles, we got hit with a double-whammy of problems.  Firstly, and this wasn’t really our problem unless you count the fact that it brought our progress to a halt, but Jack just about drove his Model A off the road and into a ditch.  Apparently he was trying to “dodge the dust” or something like that and managed to find some ground that was a bit too soft for his old car.  The ground gave out right underneath him and he ended up having to be pulled out by a passing vehicle.  I didn’t manage to snag a picture of this, but if you want you can check out the official World Race blog to see for yourself.  Anyway, right after this happened, Grampa and I discovered that our bags never made it out of the hotel lobby.  We not sure of the circumstances at this point, but all we know is the last time we saw them was when we were setting them right next to everyone else’s bags, which all managed to make in the van somehow.  I don’t know, it’s just one more thing that could possibly go wrong for us.  Oh well, the bags are being driven here and should be here by tomorrow morning.

 

The town we are in tonight is pretty nice.  It’s small but the people are very welcoming and interested in the cars.  But more importantly there are Australians!!  I can’t tell you how awesome it is to be able to converse in 100% full on natural English.  It’s great.  Strangers who also spoke English… who knew.  Just a little bit ago the funniest thing happened.  A couple of the nice ladies from the Australian bus came inside while I was writing in my journal (IT’S NOT A DIARY!) and asked me to come outside and let this kid see the inside of the ’32.  I, always the ambassador and gentleman, obliged at once.  It turned out the kid really wanted to see the Corvette, but I appeased him by letting him sit in the driver’s seat of the 32 and he even snuck in a horn honk.  It was really nice and fun and the kid was just hilarious.  He was only maybe 12 or so, but he knew a lot of english for his age.  The thing was, he was the most nervous person I’ve ever seen in my life.  The whole time he was talking to me, he was shaking and pretty much hyperventilating.  It was exciting for him so it was exciting for me.  I gave him the rundown on the trip and sent him away with a Car 54 pen with hopeful promises of a Corvette ride tomorrow.  We’ll see if his wish comes true, but I’m sure it will.

 

Anyway, it’s getting a little late here so I’m gonna wrap this up.  Everyone is still pretty worn out and I think it’s going to take the end of this trip to fix that.  Grampa is getting more and more worried about all the sounds our car is making and I’m just hoping we can make it the rest of the way without a major problem.  Only 9 more days to go after this, but still 7 countries so we’ll be taking those at a pretty quick pace (just like everything else).  Anyway, that’s all for now.

 

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Just Another Post

 

Sorry, no time right now, Photos ASAP.

Friday and Saturday, July 8 and 9:  Alright here we go once again.  You’ll be glad to know that I’m feeling miles better than the last time I wrote.  I think I mentioned before the stress and fatigue that have become the norm for this journey and all it took to get back in the right state of mind was blowing off some steam.

 

Which leads me to my description of the last two days.  Yesterday was Friday and the group was set to make the 240 mile drive from Kazan to Nizhny Novgorod.  The drive itself was unspectacular but for the fact that it was the first in 10(ish) days that I and my driver would be making along with the group.  Apart from the group, we didn’t have to worry about who was following who etc. etc.; pretty much all of our energy and concentration was devoted to making sure we caught up.  With the group, there is the advantage of safety in numbers, but this advantage is accompanied the requisite long gas stops and slower pace and so on and so forth.  Yesterday this meant making a stop at some kind of antique car restoration place.  How we managed to find this place in rural (and I really mean rural) Russia is a mystery to me, as is the reason why it was there in the first place, but we managed to talk our way in for a quick tour of the facilities.  It was pretty much what you would expect I guess…  There were some old cars, some of them were pretty cool, but once I had seen them all I was ready to get back on the road.  So we hung out there for an hour or so taking pictures and in my case sleeping in the car.

This is the car we needed for all the rough roads we've been on.

Grampa was like a kid in a candy shop.

After everyone had seen all the cars, motorcycles, etc. the place had to offer and tasted all the tea it had to offer, we resumed our drive.  This lasted until lunch, when we stopped again to meet up with a local group with a bunch of older Russian cars.  Once again there was picture taking and lots of hand signals and broken English, but after a while we managed to get back underway with about a dozen new members in our convoy (actually I think we qualified as a procession).

It was interesting to see the Russian version of antique car collecting.

This only lasted for a few miles and car by car our new Russian members pulled to the side and waved goodbye to us as we passed.  Before long it was back down to the original four, still driving on to Nizhny Novgorod.

 

Even though we only went 240 miles, we managed to take a really long time doing it.  Then, when we finally got to the hotel, and the parking lot was essentially an impenetrable fortress.  I won’t go into the details – there were gates involved, it was frustrating, and it ends with us carrying all our stuff through the service entrance.  So everyone was a little grouchy.  But at least we had dinner to look forward to.  Except for me!  Because I was 15 minutes late! And no one told me where it was!  But everything worked.  There was some crazy Russian wedding going on down in the lobby area and it was fun and crazy and it put everyone in a good mood.  So this morning a lot of people might not have been feeling their best physically, but I think stress-wise, at least I know I felt a lot better.

 

Today the drive was a little more direct; we didn’t make any stops except for lunch and gas.  Unfortunately, this didn’t necessarily translate into a quick drive.  We drove to Moscow today and, although the roads en route were alright, once we hit the city our progress slowed substantially.  This was especially true when we got lost at one point while looking for our hotel, had to pull over and flag down a passerby, and then pay aforementioned passerby to lead us to the hotel, all while being flagged down by the police a couple more times (car 54 is up to 14 stops and counting since Astana).  But it’s alright; we just keep saying to ourselves – “it’s all part of the adventure.”  And the hotel is pretty nice so that helps a little as well.  We are here for two nights and I think tomorrow we are planning on doing the Moscow city tour, which includes the Kremlin and Red Square and all that other good stuff.  So… stick around I guess… should be good.

 

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Back With the Pack

I know I know… I haven’t posted in a while.  I’m sorry, but it’s hard.  Especially with all the scrambling we’ve had to do over the past couple weeks, the whole traveling pretty much every day routine wears you down.  But still, here I am, finding the time to transcribe my deepest thoughts and innermost desires for your reading pleasure.

 

I think the last post I made was on the fourth, so this post will cover Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday (5th-7th).  Since then we’ve made a lot of positive progress.  Tuesday was a long day; we drove 450 miles in about 14 hours, but with the time change, we still managed to get in at about 9 or so.  The day wasn’t really that eventful save for one thing.  Now, those of you who know me are aware that I like to make jokes and fool around and those of you who don’t have probably figured that out through reading these posts.  But, what we saw on Tuesday was not something to joke about.  Right after lunch, we were driving through the Ural mountains on a two lane road and we witnessed a very horrific accident.  I was debating whether or not to share this on the blog, but I decided that I didn’t really have a choice.  The wreck happened literally right before our eyes; it

This picture was taken about 10 seconds after the collision. As you can see there was some pretty significant damage to the van.

involved the car directly in front of us and the van passing us on the left.  I won’t go into to much detail because I just don’t think it’s really that necessary, but the sedan in front of us turned left in front of the van and collided with it.  The van then veered to the left and collided with a sign at a gas station.  I don’t really want to write about it, so I’ll just say that the van had passengers and a couple of them didn’t make it.  The rest of the day was kind of somber after what we had witnessed

We had seen the aftermath of accidents, but we had not seen one happen.

and it was a very real reminder of the terrible consequences of driving under these conditions.  I know I’ve joked about how people drive in some of these countries, but now it’s a little more serious and the danger is a lot more real.

 

 

The weather seemed to sense the change in everyone's mood.

 

On a lighter note, the car is running just fine.  In fact, we have not had to turn a single screw or tighten a single bolt since our repairs were finished in Kazakhstan.  At the last

The roadside markets were like a collection of everything on earth I didn't need. Of course Grampa had to stop...

count I think we’ve come around 1200 miles and all we’ve had to do is add a little oil.  But I don’t want to jinx us or anything, so I’ll just sum it up by saying the car’s running well, we’re happy about that, hopefully it will continue.

 

 

 

Another sunset on the Russian road.

On Wednesday we finally caught back up with the rest of the group.  Our cunning plan to surprise them at the hotel was not as successful as I might have hoped.  I’m not sure who to blame at this point, but I suspect that major bean spillage was a factor.  Now, that’s not to say everyone wasn’t happy to see us – in fact it was quite the opposite.  Everyone was elated at our return and there was much rejoicing.  We sat down to a tasty at the hotel lunch and many a tale was shared.  The plan for the day was to take the cars over

Grampa became a local media darling.

somewhere in the city and meet up with some kind of Russian antique car club.  Unfortunately my part in the festivities was over; fatigue and other debilitating conditions would keep me in bed for the rest of the day.  But as far as I could tell from the pictures, it looked like everyone had a good time.  I was sorry to miss out on seeing the old car scene from a different perspective, but I needed the rest more than anything else.  Wednesday ended for me at about 9 o’clock when I fell asleep.

 

 

It looked like these Russians were pretty serious about old cars. I wonder what they thought about us.

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday began around 8 when I woke up to the phone ringing.  It seemed that the time had come for our dear guide and friend Jama to return to his home in Uzbekistan.  Jama was well liked by the group and everyone was sad to see him go, but I think through our travels Grampa and I had formed a special bond with him.  After all, it was Jama who was there to help us get parts when we needed them most, who led us over mysterious roads in unknown territory, who talked us out of not 1, not 4, not 6, not 9 but 11 stops by Russian and Kazakh police (unless you don’t count the one where he had to pay them off), and it was Jama who was just an all around awesome guy.  I really can’t say anything that will truly communicate the full extent of our gratitude.  Thank you Jama, without you we would be lost.

 

Not that much happened Thursday other than that.  We had a tour, but my brain just wasn’t into it.  I think I was still just feeling stretched a little thin.  Grampa used the time

There was a mosque involved. I remember that much.

off to take the 32 over to the local Ford dealer for a little PR and a bit of a checkup after the hard push to catch up with the group.

 

Clay Miller: round the world driver and automotive ambassador.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So that about sums up the past three days.  Looking at it, the post seems a bit short for that many days, but it is what it is.  We get back on the road tomorrow and head to the next Russian city (whatever that may be).  Less than two weeks to Paris!

 

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Rushin through Russia

Monday July, 4: Happy Fourth of July everyone!  I hope you all had great cookouts and fireworks and other American themed celebrations.  Even though we didn’t get a chance to take part in the festivities, Monday was a good day for us.

 

It started a bit later than usual; with such a long drive the night before, no one was anxious to get up and start driving again.  So we pushed back our departure until 9 AM in order to get a little extra sleep.  But after breakfast it was off to the Russian border and beyond.  We hit the border around 11 and it didn’t take long to make it through.  Luckily for us, Kazakhstan and Russia entered into some kind of trade union just a few days ago and according to Jama, this eliminated a lot of hassle for us.  The procedure was the same for both borders; open up the car and go through passport control.  The only complication we face was transportation; we needed to get three people and all their luggage across the neutral zone and the only vehicle we had was the ’32.  This time things worked out a little better than the Chinese border.  We piled all the luggage in the car and Grampa drove across the 1 km neutral zone with Jama and myself riding on the running boards on each side of the car.  I wish I could have gotten a video or picture but once again documentation of that sort was strictly prohibited.

 

It’s a strange thing to cross a border.  In theory, it’s just a line designating a political boundary.  But the borders that we have crossed so far have gone beyond that.  The obvious change is the one I already mentioned; first you’re in Kazakhstan then 1 km later

Russia looks like this.

you’re in Russia.  But at least from what I’ve observed, when you cross a border you get a new a new culture, a new ethnic mixture, and new surroundings.  I guess that is to be expected, but I didn’t think it would be so immediate.  It’s interesting that two places less than a mile apart can be so different.  Anyway, there’s some food for thought.

 

Our first Russian meal, just on the other side of the border.

So we crossed the border and grabbed a quick Russian lunch of hammer smashed pork or something like that.  We faced an interesting choice in our drive through Russia.  The group, when they had crossed the border, had stopped for the day in Kurgan which was only 130 miles into Russia.  The next city they had stopped however, was Ekaterinburg, which was 370 miles past Kurgan.  We’re trying to make up some time here and we stuck with a tough decision; option 1 – stop in Kurgan and have more distance to make up or option 2 – drive on to Ekaterinburg and probably not arrive until the middle of the night.  Neither of these options were very appealing to us, so we took option 3.  Once we reached Kurgan, we decided that the best thing to do was to deviate from the route taken by the group.  I’ll do a quick rundown of the pros and cons so you can understand the decision.  Pros – about 250 km shorter, better spaced cities, didn’t have to drive as much per day, makes us look adventurous and cool and rebellious (that other route was to mainstream for us).  Cons -  takes an extra day, unknown road conditions, unknown hotels, basically just pretty mysterious.  But we  decided that we liked the potential upside of the unknown route (and Grampa decided that we didn’t care just make a decision already!), so we set off to a city I can’t really remember the name of right now.

 

The drive wasn’t really super interesting or anything – just endless forest and farmland.  I drove a lot so that was cool.  The roads weren’t bad and we made pretty good time; I think we found a hotel about 7 or 8.  Now let me tell you about this hotel, because it was pretty crazy.  The best way to describe it is… a clean dump.  The place was small, the rooms were barren, the selection of beverages was modest, but… it was all very clean.

The only furniture was beds, which had no sheets or pillows on them.

It was a weird contrast; the hotel was trashy, but they took good care of it.  The beds weren’t even made or anything, we didn’t get any towels, there was no air conditioning, but you couldn’t really complain because of how clean it was.  Just trust me when I say, it was weird.

 

Anyway, arriving at a decent hour gave us a chance to sit down, have a good meal and plan our next move.  The plan goes like this (you have to promise not to tell anyone).  Tuesday, we have an ambitious agenda laid out – close to 400 miles.  This will put us within 150 miles of our ultimate destination of Kazan, where we plan to intercept the rest of the group.  The reason for making up the bulk of the distance on Tuesday is so that, on Wednesday, we can get to Kazan early, ahead of the group and totally blow their minds when they get there.  Just think, it’s going to be the best surprise ever.  I’ll be sure to take pictures.  I would be worried about someone discovering our devious plot on the blog, but at this point it doesn’t really look like I’m going to be drowning in internet access so we’ll see.  I’ll let you know how it goes.

At dinner, we plotted out next move.

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Tighten it Up

Saturday & Sunday, July 2 & 3: Ok.  It’s been a couple days.  I don’t really remember where we were when I last posted, so I’ll check real quick.  Right, so on Friday we found out that the tip about our parts arriving a full 4 days ahead of schedule was more like an alleged rumor started by that gossipy girl that no one likes.  Looking at that post now, it seems a bit short and uninteresting, whereas that day was actually long and uninteresting.  So let’s move on to more exciting happenings.

 

As you know, our trusty interpreter Dima became our bureaucratic sherpa and labored tirelessly in an effort to insure that our parts made it from Almaty to Astana by Saturday.  Also, according to my sources, a woman associated with MIR actually went to the Almaty airport to make sure that our package got onto a plane.  Thanks mystery woman, we are eternally in your debt.  The plan was to get the parts in the early morning, put the whole car back together in one day, and then hit the road on Sunday.  The young lady that worked at the UPS office counter told us to come by at 10 the next morning to see our package had somehow found its way to the office.  So we stopped by at 9.  By this time, the plane had just landed at the airport.  Also,  it should be noted that Jama had rejoined the team the night before; I’m not sure if I mentioned that or not, but his presence was crucial in the days to come.  Anyway, when I heard that the plane had landed, I took it as a positive sign.  Unfortunately, this was only true from the perspective of my untrained eyes.  In reality, the parts still had to get from the airport to the office and then pass through the system before we could get them, meaning at least a couple more hours delay.  When this was explained to me, panic began to set in.  We couldn’t do anything without those parts!  We were going to lose another day!  We would never catch up!  We would never get out of Astana!  That’s when the magic happened.  Don’t ask me how he did it (mostly because I couldn’t understand the Russian) but Jama somehow convinced the clerk to let us drive to the airport and pick up our own package.  So that’s what we did.  It was quite anticlimactic really… we just drove around the side and there was a small UPS van waiting for us.  The package itself was just plain cardboard, smaller than a shoebox.  But I opened it as one would a buried treasure chest.

Instead of wasting valuable time, we delivered ourselves to the package.

 

With an intimidating workload not yet addressed, we whisked our treasure – two new sets of rod bearings and one set of main bearings – off to the workplace of our favorite Kazakh mechanic in the world, Erlan.  Now if getting this engine out was a test, getting it back in was a true, honest to goodness, authentic, Jesus Christ miracle.  First of all, we had parts all over the place in that little garage.  The system for much of the reassembly was grab a part, find whoever took it out, and ask them where it goes.  In many cases, the person who took out certain parts could not be identified or they couldn’t remember where the part was supposed to go.  This was especially common with nuts and bolts.  Then there was the issue with Erlan MIA.  Our crew rolled up on the shop around 10 30 and only Erlan’s brother was there to let us in.  At first no one was worried; Erlan would be a big help, but his absence would not prevent us form getting the job done.

Working inside the engine was a delicate job.

Then we figured out that Erlan had with him one of the rod caps and one of the main caps, without which we couldn’t even fully reassemble the engine let alone put it back in the car.  So while Grampa and I set about the tedious task of installing the new bearings and freshly machined crankshaft, Dima and Jama rounded up a posse and went on a good ole fashion man hunt for our missing mechanic.  And yet he remained beyond our many frantic, searching eyes.  So we did what we could with what we had.  My memory fails me at this point but I think Erlan showed up just as we finished with the caps we had (I still don’t know where he was).  Unfortunately, he only had the main cap with him and no one knew the whereabouts of the missing rod cap.  This was a period of sheer panic for me.  Our worst fear had been realized; in the clutter and grime of the garage, one of our most essential parts had been swallowed up forever.  Thankfully this was not the case.  In the commotion of the search, Erlan remembered he left it somewhere else and soon returned with cap in hand.  In short order, we had the engine back together and ready to go back in the car.

 

Now I don’t know how many of you have had to do this (and by this I mean put an engine back into a car) but it’s not an especially easy process.  Right off the bat you’ve got the whole made of metal issue; I’ve been quoted an estimated weight of 300 pounds on our engine, so it’s not like you can just pick it up and set it in the car.  And secondly, there isn’t meant to be a lot of extra space in the front of the car, so it’s a pretty snug fit.  But the hardest part, the part which took us the better part of an hour to accomplish was aligning the engine up with the transmission.

It took all our minds and all our resources to get the engine in place.

Protruding from the transmission is a metal shaft about the size of a broom handle and on the backside of the engine is the corresponding hole.  The trick is to get the 300 pound engine, which is suspended in the air by ropes, lined up with the shaft.  And you can’t see it.  Needless to say, this part took a while (and lots of cursing), but we finally managed to muscle it in there.  Now I’ve thrown a couple twist endings your way recently, so I’m going to level with you on this one and give you some foreshadowing; something went very wrong here (you’ll find out when I tell you later).  But the engine was in and it was time to tighten it up. To describe this whole process in detail would take time and battery life that I do not have, so I’ll sum it up for you.  In went the alternator, air conditioner, radiator, carburetors, and distributor.  There was other stuff as well, but you get the picture I think.  After finishing all the assembly that we could address from the tip of the car, we put it on the lift and went at it from below.  Here we discovered that a plate that we had neglected to install while the engine was out could not be reattached in the current condition.  The plate fit over the flywheel, in-between the oil pan and bell housing, and was the piece upon which the starter was mounted, so we had to get it in somehow.  Initially, it looked like we were going to have to detach the exhaust and drop the oil pan (along with 5 liters of fresh oil and new gaskets), but Erlan had a bright idea.  Unfortunately, it involved Jama and myself removing the floor for the third time, but we just loosened the bolts holding the engine to the bell housing and gained enough clearance to tighten it up.  After putting the exhaust back in place, the car was pretty much mechanically reassembled.  We had labored doggedly into the night and even though it was already 8 PM, any remaining tasks seemed trivial when compared to what we had already accomplished.

 

Unfortunately, this is where that foreshadowing comes into play.  I don’t know if you can tell from the pictures, but Erlan isn’t that big of a guy.  So when we were trying to get the engine into the car, he was just wrestling that hunk of metal like it was trying to kill him.  Eventually this brutal technique prevailed, but at what cost?  Upon starting the engine for the first time and hearing that sweet melody my ears had longed for over the past week, my ecstasy was abruptly cut short by the discovery of a rather large oil leak somewhere in the back of the engine.  So, Jama and myself removed the floor once again and we discovered that, as a result of much jostling and not so gentle contact while the engine was being put in, the small brass pipe connecting the oil pressure gauge to the engine had been cracked.  Our efforts to remove the pipe only caused it to break completely, so we did the only thing we could do; we called it a night and went back to the hotel.  Erlan promised that “the masters” (this is really what he said) could fix our problem in one way or another the next morning, so until then there was nothing to do.  After a delightful dinner with Jama at the hotel, we finally got to bed sometime between 11 and 12.

 

Ok. So that was the first of the last two days.  This post is getting to be pretty long; I actually started writing it on Sunday, but now it’s Monday and I’m only to this part.  An explanation will follow.

 

We woke up on Sunday with three things in mind: a quick fix, goodbyes, and a drive to the Russian border.  The earliest Erlan could take our problem to “the masters” was 10 in the morning, so we headed over to his shop at 9 to finish up the assembly and clean up the tools.  All that was left to do was but the floor back in (for what I thought was the last time) and put the grill, lights, and hood in place in the front of the car.  We had all this finished in addition to the tool clean up before noon, but Erlan had not yet returned with the replacement pipe for the pressure gauge.  Finally, after about 15 games of iPhone solitaire, Erlan drove up with a replacement pipe made out of steel.  Grampa looked it over and we were given the all systems are go signal for installation.  Now a new problem emerged.  As it turns out, the only reason we were able to remove the gauge with the engine in the car was because it broke right off.  The space was so small that, with an intact pipe, there was no way to screw the gauge into it’s place on the engine.  This was a major problem and a major frustration, but the fight was not lost; Grampa came to the rescue.  Just call him McGramper because Grampa managed to construct a working gauge out of spare parts and pure genius.  Let me describe it for you.  We screwed the new pipe into the engine, then we attached a hose to that pipe and on the other end we attached the old pipe with the unbroken part screwed into the oil pressure gauge.  As I type this, I know you can’t picture it, but it was truly magnificent.  After we got this set up, we left the car running while we ran back to the hotel to grab our luggage.  We returned around an hour and a half later with the car still running fine and ready to go.  We said our fond goodbyes to Dima and Erlan and, with Jama leading us in a rented car, we were off for Petropavlovsk at 6 PM.

The drive was one of the more unpleasant we have made so far.  Due to delays, we had a very late start and it was more than 300 miles to our destination.  Most of the drive was on very nice road; even while taking it easy on our newly reassembled engine, we managed to make the first 200 miles in about 4 and a half hours.  Over this period we saw the best roads since we left China; well paved, six lane highways with clearly observable painted lines.  Alas this was not to last… I’m not sure when (actually it was when I was starting to write the part about reassembling the engine) but at some point after that we hit pretty bad construction.  Honestly, I was in and out of sleep for the last 100 miles, so all I can tell you is that the road was not at all good.  In fact, in the dark it was down right awful.  While the first 200 had only taken 4 ½ hours, the last 100 took only a few minutes less.  In addition to the construction, which we took after dusk in complete darkness, we were stopped by the police four times on our approach to Petropavlovsk.  Three out of four of these stops could be attributed to curiosity; the police just wanted a better look at our car and once they got it we were on our way.  But the other was a very unfortunate delay of at least half an hour.  It seems that while navigating one of Kazakhstan’s very confusing turnabouts, we managed to exit through an entranceway.  As luck would have it, the extremely corrupt Kazakh police were waiting just on the other side for unfortunate souls exactly like ourselves.  At this point, Jama was driving the taxi in order to spell the driver and he spent a good while in the police car convincing them that no one in the caravan had the money to pay the bribe of the two officers.  Just for information’s sake, I think he said they demanded 200 USD before he managed to work them down to 50.  Anyway, so we eventually arrived at the hotel around 3 AM and pretty much passed out from there.

 

In Petropavlovsk we were two days behind the group.  The plan is to cross the border into Russia and drive to the nearby city of Kurgan (where the group stopped).  From there we will decide based on the roads up to that point whether we want to attempt to catch up by using the route taken by the group or by taking a short cut on unfamiliar roads.  Hopefully the hotel we stay at tonight will have internet so I can share all our incredible adventures with you guys.  But the good news is we are finally on the move.  Hopefully it stays that way.

 

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Northbound with the Hammer Down

Hello from Astana.  It’s about 4 30 on a lovely Sunday afternoon and after a few extra complications we finally have Car 54 ready to get back on the road (we hope).  It’s been a busy couple of days and I’ll get you the deets as soon as possible, but for now, it’s onto Petrapavlovsk.

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A Twist Within A Twist

Friday, July 1:  So about that twist in the last post.  Apparently I got a bit ahead of myself last night and this morning I stumbled into a little twist of my own.  The parts ended up not being in Astana as we thought, but instead in Almaty, the city we were in a week and 800 miles ago.  So we spent most of the day trying to insure that our package would be in Astana by tomorrow morning at the latest.  I feel bad for Dima because he spent a ton of time on the phone talking to people that we didn’t even know about our package.  First, we had a problem with customs because we had originally shipped the package to the Ramada hotel.  So we had to go back there and print out a nice letter promising that we would take responsibility for the package and fax it to the customs office or something like that.  All day we were getting calls from people around the globe regarding our shipment.  I suppose that it’s a good sign and it means lots of people are working on our problem and trying to help, but it’s actually kind of exhausting.  We also made a stop by the UPS office to talk to the girl who worked there face to face so we could make sure she knew who she was dealing with (I’m sure she still doesn’t).

Erlan and his brother were there to assist us once again.

The whole thing was actually a complicated procedure.  For a while I was convinced that I had cursed us with bad luck by bragging prematurely, but I think we never actually had good luck in the first place. All we did other than scramble around for UPS and customs info was go over to the shop and prepare the engine for reassembly.  This mostly meant cleaning off the gaskets, which was pretty tough with the tools at hand.  Thankfully, Dima chipped in and we got it ready to go.  All that needs to happen is we get the parts.  Then the work begins.  My hope is that we get the car back together tomorrow and head out Sunday.  This would put us only two days behind.

I’m not sure what will happen.  Hopefully we get back on the road soon.

 

I was master gasket scraper. No gasket could survive my might wrath.

 

 

 

 

 

Dima was promoted to assistant gasket scraper.

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There Can Only be One

And we are that one.  The one to remain in Astana that is.  Now that we’re just chillin like a couple villains here in the capital city of Kazakhstan, the days are really starting to run together.  I think the last post I wrote was about the 27 and 28 (Monday/Tuesday), so this one will be about the 29 and 30 (Wednesday/Today).  If I end up actually fully posting it and not getting tired and passing out, then I should hopefully be all caught up.  I’m just going to warn you, this post has a bit of a twist ending.  So be ready for a little M. Night Shyamalan action up in here, but don’t skip to the end or I will be very very disappointed in you (it’s not anger, but it feels so much worse).

 

So let’s resume on Wednesday morning.  You should remember that at this point, we had already determined that the parts we need are not supposed to arrive until Monday.  This would mean that, with repairs on Tuesday, in all likelihood we would not depart Astana until Wednesday next week putting us a full 5 days and 2000 km behind the group.  This scenario was obviously not great for us, but hey… what’re you gonna do?  All we could do in fact was wait for the parts to arrive and make sure that when they do, we are completely ready to put the engine/car back together and say – we’re getting out of here!  This means scraping of gaskets, getting parts together, and generally cleaning up the engine.  I really didn’t feel like I would be that much help in this case so I decided to take

These are apartments I think.

the tour of Astana with the rest of the group, which would also give me a chance to catch up with everyone and share stories.  The tour was alright.  The city is pretty interesting; the fact that it has only been the capital for 14 years is abundantly obvious.  A large portion of the city looks absolutely brand new.  The architecture is very modern and I would liken it to pictures I have seen of Dubai.  Alongside this newer area is the old city which contains buildings the Soviet era among others.  Unfortunately for me, when we saw all this on the tour, I had already seen it and learned all about it the day before while riding with Dima.  But we did get to do some extra stuff.  We visited a mosque which was very interesting.  We went into this big shopping center with a fake beach on the top floor.  We visited the President’s museum.  There were lots of medals and state gifts and extravagant portraits and histories.  Also, the president is still alive.  As a general rule, I think if you erect a museum and monuments to yourself, that puts you in the unstable egotist category.  You all know I don’t judge, but come on… Let’s see we also went up in this tower with a big golden orb on top.  I took some videos of that which I will try to add on in the morning because it was nice.  Overall I would give the day a rating of “fair”, which in relative terms was actually not that bad.

Miniature Astana.

 

 

 

They made us wear these ridiculous shoe covers in the president's museum.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There was someone who had a much worse day than I (Hint: Grampa).  The plan had been to go do cleaning stuff, but it seems that even the strongest, or in this case the biggest and most resembling Santa of us are not immune to the horrors of intestinal distress.  Grampa went to the shop and after getting a few loose ends straightened out, returned to the hotel around 11 and went to bed.  And that’s where I found him when I returned from the tour around 2:30.  And when I got back from lunch around 4.  And when I got back from the pool around 6.  The point is that he slept all day.  I finally roused him in order to

The war room.

get him to our goodbye gathering in the bar at 7.  This meeting also functioned as a we’re-gonna-be-here-until-Wednesday-what-do-we-do meeting.  Jama was still pushing for us to put the car on a truck to Ekaterinburg and make the repairs there while also saving a couple days, but Grampa declined the suggestion due to concern over transporting the car in so many separate parts.  So we are going to drive it (if it will stay running) but we didn’t manage to find any shortcuts.  It seems that there are just not enough good roads. We did however, manage to set up a support vehicle after we cross into Russia and Jama will be returning to help us make it that far.  Thanks Jama and Doug and anyone else who has lent a hand so far.  We appreciate it.  Afterwards, it was ‘see you in a few days’ and off to dinner across the street.  We were both pretty tired so we got back and only managed to cram our unnecessary luggage into one suitcase to be sent with the group before going to bed.

 

This morning, Grampa tried to rouse me so we could go to breakfast and say goodbye to everyone, but I had already said goodbye the night before, so seeing everyone again would just be awkward.  So he went and I slept onward.  However, it was not for long.  The Ramada (who knew they had 5 star locations?) we were staying at was a little pricy

The last... breakfast.

for the service we were receiving, so we opted to relocate to more affordable lodging.  So we checked out, met Dima in front of the hotel, and started searching for a new pad.  We checked out a couple of places but eventually settled on a nice but not extravagant hotel called the Duman.  We reserved a room, and ran a couple errands before coming back and getting moved in.  The plan for the day was to then run over to Erlan’s shop and take care of the cleaning, scraping, etc. that Grampa had postponed from yesterday.  Then we found out that Erlan wasn’t in his shop today, so we just took it easy until lunch time.

 

Lunch was in the hotel and afterwards, we took a short stroll down to the ‘Mega’, which is a average (by American standards) sized shopping mall a couple blocks from the hotel.

The dinner was scrumptious.

Almost nothing there was interesting.  We spent most of the time sitting at a table in the food court people watching and that was only because somehow we were still so tired that we couldn’t walk back to the hotel.  Eventually we dug deep within ourselves and found the willpower to drag our weary bodies back to the hotel for a quick nap before dinner.  Dinner was excellent by the way.  After we picked up our passports with our extended documents and such, Dima took us to this great restaurant down the street.  I’m not sure if it was local cuisine or not but this food was straight up tasty.  and we also got to sit in a booth but it was one of those low table set ups where you just kind of lounge and eat simultaneously.  And it also gave us a great opportunity to talk to Dima and see how he views the world from a totally different perspective.  That’s been another silver lining to this whole being stuck situation, because Dima has turned out to be a pretty interesting, helpful guy.

 

Speaking of this whole being stuck thing, here comes the twist.  I know earlier in this post I said Monday, but we got a call tonight and supposedly we can go pick up the parts from UPS tomorrow morning.  This is great news because it potentially shaves 2 or 3 days off the time we have to make up.  Hopefully we will have the car running by sometime Saturday and we’ll have to plan our departure depending on how quickly the reassembly moves along.  The only doubt remaining at this point is the crankshaft.  We sent it off to the machinist without really even know who the guy was.  So hopefully he was able to complete the delicate procedure properly, because if we have to order another crankshaft, I’m not sure if we could ever catch up.  So fingers crossed.  Our luck might be taking a little turn for the better.

 

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Plan B

Monday and Tuesday, June 27 & 28: So the last time I wrote we were in some trouble.  I’m not sure what I said, but right now I have some good news and some bad news.  As usual I’m going to try to communicate events as they happened in chronological order, in this case beginning on Sunday night in Balqash, Kazakhstan.

 

I might have mentioned that Kazakhstan doesn’t have a ton of people.  So, as opposed to China, where even small cities have a population of 2 million, in Kazakhstan, even the biggest cities have populations of no more than a couple million.  Balqash is not a big city.  The hotel we stayed at was pretty sketchy, but really at this point it didn’t matter; it was just a place to sleep and get cleaned up.  After finishing the 404 mile drive, I tried and failed to get on the internet and share my harrowing tale, so I had no way of letting you guys know what was going on.  Grampa showed up with the car on a truck around 11 that night and we just went to bed in preparation for an early rise and departure.

After a 16 hour drive the day before, Grampa grabbed a nap in the truck.

 

In order to save a day, we decided to drive straight through to Astana, Kazakhstan’s capital, instead of stopping in Karaganda with the rest of the group.  This meant another 400 mile day, this time riding in a pretty cramped truck.  We tried to make the best of it; our driver, Marat was a pretty ok guy.  We spent most of the day learning about his life and Kazakhstan through his eyes, but do to his limited English (I think he knew “no problem” and “problem”) and our nonexistent Russian, most of the communication was in sign language.  Despite this we were still able to learn quite a bit; the police are apparently very corrupt, Marat has a big house with a swimming pool, and Mustang milk

Marat ended up being a pretty cool dude. Thanks for the ride.

is very delicious.  Even though the drive was really long, Marat was definitely a silver lining in this whole situation.

 

So we ended up making pretty good time and getting into Astana around 5 PM.  A mystery car met us a led us straight to a little hole-in-the-wall car shop and we quickly got the car unloaded and said goodbye to our good friend Marat as we watched him climb

After two days and 700 miles, we finally made it to a repair shop.

back up into his Mercedes truck for the last time before disappearing into the setting sun on his way back to Almaty (800 miles away).  The shop we were at wasn’t the best, but it was good enough and we got to work quickly.  A very short gentleman by the name of Erlan, who also happened to be the proprietor of the aforementioned establishment, was eager to offer his assistance and advice via our interpreter and driver, Dima.  Monday night our goal was simply to diagnose the problem and start taking the necessary steps to rid ourselves of it.  This meant pulling the oil pan and taking a look at the inside of the engine.  After a long struggle involving very stubborn gasket sealant and several screw drivers and mallets, we got the pan off and examined the inner workings our our once proud machine.  As we had suspected, the bearings on two rods were damaged and the front main bearing was spun.  This was all we could really hope to accomplish at this point, so

Erlan, our local mechanical consult, has been very helpful.

with this new information we caught a ride with Dima to the hotel and went about trying to get some food and rest (successful in the case of food, less successful in the case of rest).  Grampa made a few calls and ordered the necessary replacement parts; we have bearings en route, but we do not yet know when they will arrive.

 

After a very long day, sleep was a temptation I could not resist.

 

 

 

 

This morning, we met Dima outside the hotel at 9 and headed over to Erlan’s shop after a few stops to pick up some supplies.  Now that we knew what the problem was, the only thing we could do was pull the engine and take out the crankshaft so that it could be sent a machine shop.  This took most of the day, but a lot of that was due to this being the first time we’ve had to take the engine out of this particular car.  In the end we got it out,

confirmed that the damage was limited to what we had already seen, and all we had to do was take the crankshaft to the machinist across town.  However, when we got to the shop, we discovered that the machinist was on holiday for a week, so we had to drive to his home all the way back across town and ask him to do it.  Erlan was our man on the inside doing all the talking and negotiating (apparently the machinist would charge double if he knew we were foreigners), and eventually we determined that the crankshaft was reparable.

 

So both of us were pretty tired at this point and we decided to head back to the hotel.  There we were reunited with some of our fellow travelers and shared the news about the damage and what we had done so far.  At 8 we met with our guides to try to determine a course of action.  We can basically think of two scenarios; either we get the parts later this week and we get out this weekend, or the parts don’t come until next week and we get out by Wednesday or so.  In the case of the first scenario, we would probably just try to catch up by driving ourselves along the planned route and just going further each day than the group.  This is obviously the preferred scenario, but at this point, it is also less likely.  In the case of the parts not arriving until next week, we might try to find a more direct route to a city somewhere down the road and meet with the group there, or as a last resort we might truck the car to a city down the road and fly there or something (trucks have the advantage of being able to drive day and night).  We don’t have a firm plan yet, and a lot of it is probably going to be a make it up as you go kind of thing.

 

And actually we just confirmed by email that the parts are not set to arrive until monday next week.  So that means a loss of two extra days for the weekend.  Who knows how this will turn out… hopefully in our favor at some point.  All I know is we will make it to Paris by the 21 of July.  I’m not sure how we will get there, but it’s going to happen somehow.

 

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Slow Goin Followed by No Goin

Sunday, June 26: The day isn’t quite over yet – it’s about 6 PM here and we have yet to reach our destination of Balqash – but I decided to go ahead and start working on this post so I could spend some good quality time on this one. I feel like maybe the last post or couple of posts have been not quite at my usual level of performance. Maybe it’s just me, maybe it’s not, but it’s been a crazy busy past few days, so I want this one to be excellent. So here it goes.

The only problem about writing a good post about today is that today was not a good day. In fact it has been a terrible day. We had 404 miles to go, so already not good. But the real killer was yet another mechanical failure, and this one was a doozy… About 100 miles into the day’s drive, I was taking a turn at the wheel so Grampa could rest a bit and apart from the mediocre (at best) roads, everything seemed to be peachy. That’s when the unthinkable happened! One minute I was driving along, captivated by the subtle beauty of the Kazakh countryside, then BOOM! Grampa pointed at the oil pressure gauge and it was at zero! Heart pounding, I threw it into neutral, shut off the engine, and coasted to shoulder, where we came to a stop in deafening silence. But all exaggeration aside, this was a serious problem. We’re not entirely sure what happened, but I opened my door to find oil coating the left front fender and running board. The dipstick was loose and we suspect that it was somehow the mastermind behind this whole, unfortunate oil business. So, we had lost a lot of oil; so what? We dumped some more in the engine and got ready to take off, Grampa turned the key… and the car wouldn’t start. Grampa turned it again… and still nothing. And thus commenced the fiddling. Unfortunately, the fiddling led to nothing but an agreement that the car wasn’t going anywhere. This is where things get a little fuzzy for me, but I’ll do my best to describe what we (they) think is the problem. In simple terms, the moving parts inside the engine got messed up from running without enough oil. That’s about all I know.

I took this picture only to cover up the tears in my eyes.

So, it was up to one of our support vehicles to tow us to the nearest gas station, where we could formulate some kind of plan. I was pretty depressed at this point. All of you who have been following us so far know how many problems we’ve been having with the car and how much work we’ve done to keep it going and get it running well. After all that, to see it hooked up to another car and hauled like some junkyard piece of trash was definitely a low point for the both of us in car 54. But we do have a plan.

We made it 50 km to the next gas station and decided it was best to call a truck from Almaty and say “Let’s make a deal” to come and pick the car up. At this point it was just us, our tow vehicle, and Jack in the Model A (everyone thank him, he’s been a tremendous asset to us the entire trip. So the plan was for Grampa to wait with Anvar and the support team for the truck and for me to ride with Jack and catch up with the rest of the group (there was not enough room in the support vehicle for both of us). The truck would then take Grampa and the car on to Astana, which is our schedule stop for the 28th and 29th.

Not ideal... but better than using a tow rope for the next 700 miles.

That’s the best place to find a auto shop to get into the engine and also, if necessary, the best place to have replacement parts shipped. If that is the case and we do need to order parts, we will probably end up leaving Astana late and have to catch up with everyone near the Russian border. It’s unclear whether I’m going to stay with the group or snag a ride onto Astana sometime tonight. I’ll let you know.

I didn't have the easiest time fitting into Jack's Model A.

 

 

So we’re trying to stay positive and one of the things that is making that possible, for me at least is Kazakhstan itself. I love it here. It’s awesome. Almaty was the most amazing city and I had a great time learning about it’s history and the history of Kazakhstan. If you’re like me (before I became an expert on all things Kazakhstan) you probably don’t know much about this super pleasant country other than its general location. Well allow me to school you on some things. Kazakhstan may be located in central Asia, but it has a very strong European influence. This is mostly due to the fact that it was under Russian control from the 1730′s until the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. What’s also interesting is the diversity you can see. In addition to native central Asians, you can see Korean, Chinese, Russian, Ukrainian and many other cultural and ethnic groups. Although it ranks 9th in the world in total area, the population of the country is only 16 million. This is a huge change from China, where no matter how far you drove, you could always see either people, or farms, or power lines or some other clutter. Here, you can drive out to the steppes, where you can see for miles in every direction, and the only sign of civilization is the road in front of you and the road behind you. This is only my third day here, but I like it way better than China. It’s been great so far. This is a place that I would visit again. Also, the food so far has been succulent and delicious.

So… that’s all I can really think to say right now. Hopefully there is internet at the hotel tonight so I can get all caught up on blog duties. Right now I’m just going to stare out the window and think about how to kill this fly that keeps bothering me. Whatever happens, the next few days should be filled with action and intrigue, so stay tuned.

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