Friday, August 25, 2006

Team Ramrod circumnavigates the globe

Team Ramrod landed in Seattle about 5 PM Thursday evening, completing their round-the-world journey. Preliminary reports indicate that they enjoyed themselves on their circumnavigation, but are pleased to be back in the US. Total time spent talking with customs agents - 1 minute. Amazing.

Our other top story concerns the final voyage of Lucas Speedlimit's Micra. Before departing early Wednesday morning, Ian and Yvonne entrusted it to Patrick and Justin.
After a lunch at Dave's, one of his staff was wrangled into helping find a tow truck. After some negotiations with the traffic police, he flagged down their tow truck. It had a winch, which made getting the car up far easier than previous attempts on the smaller trucks.

Once up, it almost appeared to be a waveoff, since the police were demanding 100 bucks. Locals helped get the price down to 50000 tugrug. Here's the car being loaded.
Patrick got in to help direct the tow drivers find the place and off they went. Having no chance to follow along, I went and got in touch with Cory so we could meet up that night, and then spoke with the British embassy regarding the resolution of the accident. I also spoke some with rally Tom, and he is hoping to get the fine reduced to something less preposterous. Let's hope something good comes out of his efforts.

Here is the Nissan at Nairaamdal, where it will finish out its life.


It's official, the stamped car passport for Lucas Speedlimit.


9 people and the 3 cars all reached Ulan Bataar in the end. So it was promised, so it was done, albeit not necessarily according to plan. After the Micra had been deposited at the final dropoff, Ramrod spent the afternoon sharing stories with other ralliers, and then Cory and his wife swung by for a final get together. Huge thanks to them for what they did and for fielding the onslaught of calls from my frantic family.

Afterwards, P and J collected their bags and headed for the airport. Shared the flight to Seoul with Bonkers Bovine. Then the long flight to Los Angeles and the quicker jaunt up to Seattle brought the trip to a close.

Triumph, part two!

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Speed Limit Rides Again!

After a five day struggle, the legal proceedings surrounding the car crash have all been resolved. Ian had to pay a 1000 pound fine, but otherwise is free of all obligation regarding the crash. He and Yvonne brought the news this morning around 4 AM, pounding on the hostel door and putting to rest all the anxieties we'd struggled with over the last few days. They headed for an airport about an hour later, so Patrick and I are the final remnants of the convoy in Ulan Bataar. Jemima did make it into town last night, and we intend to take her to her final resting place this afternoon.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Chiming in at 8,753 miles

Once again Justin has gotten the better part of the recent blog mileage, but I should put in a few words. First off, thanks to Terry and his family, Pennie and Ron, Margaret and her host mother and Megan, Chris Chris and Bo in Krakow, the Ukrainian Mechanic who fixed our carburetor on a sunday afternoon, the mechanic in Barnaul who fixed our spring for free, and the other mechanics in Barnaul who fixed our spring for $16, and the mechanics in Irkusk who fixed our spring for $20, and the friends and family back home who ran support for us in terms of calling embassies and sorting our cell phone and putting up text messages on the blog site after we lost the phone, plus showed us support throughout the journey. Thanks for power bars and shot blox, and vodka, instant coffee, afternoon tea, clothing that wicks, tires that hold air, thanks to the irridium satellite phone network. Thanks for duct tape and WD-40. Thanks to all the Tatiannas at the british embassy in the ukraine, and to Cory at the US embassy in Mongolia. Thanks to Ian ("Speedlimit"), Tom ("Tommy Gun"), Yvonne ("Ivan"/"Evie"), James ("Glynnie"), Ben ("Prockie"), Tim ("Tiny"), and Cyrus ("Cy") for sticking it out with us in the long haul -- you guys are the best. Thanks for the green stamp and all the other stamps along the way. Thanks for the girls who helped translate for us at the accident site, and to Anna who got to the police station quickly and translated all night long. And special thanks to the loved ones who kept us in our thoughts and showed up in ours along the road.

So we're finally here / and shit yeah, it's cool!, as Guided By Voices say. And shouldn't it be? We have come an awful long way, and seen a huge number of amazing things. When we saw camels in the headlights at 4am just over the Kazak border, and it suddenly hit that we had really GONE somewhere. There are loose ends still to wrap up, plane journeys home, and potential criminal cases still to be sorted out. Some of the difficulties have placed a shadow on the finish, but it's still a pretty amazing finish, if just for showers and real breakfast and places to be where you don't drive anywhere for a while.

As for now, we have time finally to reflect on it all and to try to recollect everything that has happened. We have a couple days to relax in UB before returning home, and we have friends and family and bets and apartments and jobs to return to. Personally, I cannot wait (except maybe the job bit, but that's life and I will take it with the rest). The trip itself will need some time to process in full, but I think the label of "the Awesomest Thing to Ever Happen to Anyone, Ever" fully applies.

Or something like that.

Ramrod to Return

The Team Ramrod Ulan Bataar-Seoul-Los Angeles-Seattle World Tour finishes up at 4:45 PM this Thursday in Seattle.

Triumph, comrades!

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Patrick talks like an English person now

Last night we gathered at Dave's Place, planning to head out for dinner and then return for a last party. My chance to shower came later, and by the time I arrived, dinner had begun at Dave's. It was unfortunately too late by then for Cory to join us. Fatigue began to set in amongst some of the group, especially those leaving for the airport a few hours later. This essentially broke up the evening's events, so we gathered for a little while in the hotel to collect pictures.

After a trip like this, no one really knew how to say farewell. The brits have some advantage in that they see each other occasionally. Most of the convoy has now gone their own way, hopping aboard their flight to Moscow early this morning. Patrick and I will be around with Yvonne (who received a clean bill of health today) and Ian for a couple days. The events here now seem so distanced from the rally however. No real way to link the city experience with the constant driving of the last month. Most appropriate Kerouac quote in the comments section below.

Here's another selection of pictures, after much painfully slow internet time.


Camels!

Proper rally-driving in Kazakhstan.


Farewell to the Mini.


Roadside party.

Signal mirror fashion accessory actually came in quite handy when the Micra clutch got hot and unhappy.

Heat destroys a well-travelled pair of boots.

Bishkek.

Americans with Margaret's host mother. (P, J, Margaret, Tom, Joy, and Megan)

The convoy before leaving Margaret's. (L to R: Yvonne, Ian, James, Tom, Patrick, Cyrus, Tim, Justin, Ben)

Oops.

All springs repaired, the holy spring features in this shot.

Siberian roadside fuel tank repair.

Above Lake Baikal

Mongolia!

Farewell to Jemima, the other Micra.

So what did you do yesterday?

Oh, the usual. Went up into the hills outside Ulan Bataar and shot AK-47s with a group of mineral worker expats and the rally organizers.


Here's Mr. Rally himself, Tom, shooting a Dragunov sniper rifle.



When in Mongolia...do as the Mongolians do and abandon all concerns for personal safety.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Team Ramrod 1, Mongol Rally 0

Ulan Bataar. Team Ramrod just drove 8739 miles in a 75 pound sterling Nissan Micra from London's Hyde Park to Dave's Place in Ulan Bataar.

Unfortunately, it is a difficult victory. Friday night Speed Limit was involved in a crash with a Mongolian driver who had been driving down the road in our lane. Ramrod managed to avoid him, but in the avoidance Speed Limit couldn't see the car and sideswiped it. Thus began a preposterous, confusing sojourn on the side of the road and later at a police station. American embassy was phenomenal! Very helpful, got my passport back, and brought us food on the side of the road. Special thanks to Cory, his wife and their compatriots. It really made our day that they came to see us out on the road. We struggled long and hard with the police, but it appears to be part of a legitimate process now, but unfortunately Ian and Yvonne are having to stay around to resolve the matter and we don't know what exactly will happen.

Morale is a bit low, despite the success, due to the uncertain outcome for Speed Limit. Things are picking up a bit as we realize what we've achieved, but it has been a difficult couple of days. We're trying to find flights out now, but hopefullly a second Mongol Rally party will convene tonight at Dave's Place since we nearly made the official one. Tom seems to think so, and he has been helpful in getting us support.

We're pressed for time since we have to go check in the cars soon, but it's so great to be on internet. I'll throw out a few tidbits from the last couple days, sure there will be more to add as our brains come back to life...

112 hours from Barnaul on Tuesday until we arrived in UB. Continuous push no stops except for the 32.5 hours associated with the accident. I apparently slept through a Speed Limit flat and the final departure of the Fiesta's exhaust one night. The two cars driving into UB were most excellently NASCAR.

The other driver from the accident infuriatingly helped the police measure skid marks - I was ready to bust out a slide rule and tell everyone what really happened. This was one of the times when tempers were harder to control due to the absolute farce concerning the 'crime' scene. But everyone did a great job getting our case across and getting what we needed.

On a related note-being forced to sleep on the side of a highway. Not being allowed to take Yvonne to a hospital even though the entire other family except the driver left the scene. (She is fine) Yes, we are filing complaints and hopefully there will be more embassy action on Monday.

We may have suffered a bad crash, but while waiting on the road that night, we saw what was unanimously determined to be the most amazing rainbow anyone had ever seen. Completely full in a pink sky in the east stretching above the pointy hills (Mongolian countryside is beautiful), while across the road to the west the sky was lit up in an amazing red-pink glow from the setting sun. Stunning. Everyone stopped what they were doing to see it.

Putting the damaged Micra (it doesn't roll anymore) on the back of a tow truck barely bigger than the car itself. A few planks, some brute strength and a pile of stupidity did the job quite nicely.

Super helpful bystanders at scene who took over the unofficial translation from the other local who wasn't particularly compelled to actually translate. Tim and I tried to fix their father's car but wasn't much we could do. Americans were great from the embassy. Cyrus's sat phone really paid off (and so we'll be paying him off).

Seeing the light of truth in people's eyes who believed the other driver's story and then finally listened to what we had to say. Then watching it be pushed away as a million people gave explanations as to why that couldn't be the truth.

Dumping worldly possessions on the side of the road in order to fit all the people in the cars. I maintained a spare radiator was worth three or four of our companions, but was outvoted, so everyone is in UB.

Mongolian ambassador in London called up Tom on his own accord to notify him of our situation when we were trying to figure out how to get hold of Tom. Another big morale booster to hear from Tom while waiting at the police station for hours and the translator he sent was incredible (and her driver really puts pedal to metal)

Justin discusses a feeling: We split off from the Fiesta containing the Speed Limit occupants at the police station last night. They were going to finish off their statements while we got out of town to avoid being dragged back into the affair before counsel with the embassy. It felt awful.

Tom and James getting their passports back at 4 in the morning and then the whole group being forced to have cigarettes with the cops when their ordeal was over. Hopefully, a sign of improvement in the situation.

Ran into Mission Mongolia in Ulan Bataar. Apparently, Anton made out like a bandit in his abandonment in Astana. PS: Bribing your way onto a plane is one experience we've so far avoided.

Strange feelings all around, but we did it. We drove to Mongolia. It'll take the cake if the other Micra gets towed to UB and all three cars go to rest with charity here.

Thanks to everyone who called on our behalf to get us some help on the Mongolian roadside.

NB: Probably not the end of the blog, as we'll update with pictures and more details to fill in some of the gaps, so keep checking if you're interested.

The metals kissed and the fuel turned lively and we are exactly where we want to be, as Patrick might say.

Sunset over Siberia

Bad roads. Amazing, colossal lightning flashes over the forested hills.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Sunrise in Siberia

Cold! Beautiful and wolves.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Faith in humanity?

10 hour Russian border crossing, including P providing soundtrack to perfunctory search of vehicles at guard request and Cyrus pantomiming that I was a geek in response to questions regarding my employment. After a few hours sleep in a field, we encountered a bit of that adversity. Patrick tried to break up a fight between his knife and a watermelon and as a result got cut. This unfortunately required me to wake up in order to help him. We gave him 15 Advil and a Red Bull IV and he seems fine now(really).

The Micra then helpfully turned 2 unwieldy springs into about 6 more conveniently-sized bits. We limped 200km to Barnaul and found a dealership that refused to help us. However, one of the mechanics approached us. He had helped a team last year. He found a friend with a spring and changed one for us. While working, he told us about his faith being orthodox. He refused payment for his help. I knew he wouldn’t accept and was embarrassed to offer him money, but it would have been wrong not to. Amazing that amongst all the people in it for themselves here that someone was still willing to do their good deed. We found another spring this morning and got it replaced so we’re rolling again. After the first fix, the front right of the car was jacked really high. Very cool, earned lots of stares and the name ‘Easy Rider’ briefly.

The car also get referred to as the Passion Wagon due to its magical backseat, which is the best dozing spot in the entire convoy apparently. Secretly, P and I are pumping exhaust fumes back there so we don’t have to listen to the Her Majesty this and that’s from our Rule Britainnia comrades.

Now, springs are one thing, but lack of music can be a rally ender. Cassette player no longer works and cigarette lighter just died, but ramrod refuses to stop.

Adventures in blogging

[the first of two posts sent in 29 individual text messages pieced together]
Margaret’s place was fantastic! After a night in Almatay, we drove to her village. Crazy run-in: other ralliers had just sold one car. Guess who was in the gathered crowd-Margaret. Strange to meet someone you know only from email, but she was really cool, as were her brother and his wife Joy who were visiting. Megan, another American, also came by for the fun. Three other teams joined the convoy in staying at the house.

Her host mother played the ‘tea’ joke, where she says she’s serving tea but it’s actually tons of delicious food along with chai. A bunch of toasts and then the real party began, going long after the cows came home. Everyone needed to let loose and they did. Guitars came out around midnight and I’m sure the whole village was kept awake. Patrick brought out ‘somany whales’ at the absolute most perfect moment on the trip. That song really brings everything together. People began heading towards the tents under the apple trees, but P and I magically ended up with beds for the most relaxing sleep of the trip. I think being able to absolutely trust our hosts made a big difference. Even with the most friendly people on this trip that isn’t something we’ve been able to do.

More tea followed in the morning. I was strangely first to rise and everyone else oozed out of their tents subsequently. We walked around to check out the local flora and fauna(village Russian name is after an apple grown here). No one really wanted to leave this friendly little paradise and we ended up eating lunch there. It felt a bit like imposing, but we were served the best fried potatoes. We finally dragged ourselves away in the afternoon after pictures and goodbyes to the baby cow, Lada, and Margaret’s puppy, Snoopy. This really was the only place one the entire trip that I found hard to leave. Thank you so much, Margaret and family!

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Text from Patrick, 11:30pm 8/14/06

I'm in Barnaul and we just finished some basic repairs. Plan is to pick up the pace and speed to ub! Itching to get home. [Jen did some research and it looks like other teams taking this route took around four days to arrive in UB from Barnaul.]

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Text message posted by Susan

Approaching Russia. Met Margaret and had amazing food. Western Kaz really beautiful. Can you send numbers for korean airlines? love, j
[note from Susan: Margaret is teaching English in Koilyk, Kazakhstan, but traveling, they may have met up elsewhere]

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Ramrod 0, Bishkek 1

One night in Bishkek cost us 1500 som for a room, and one cellphone. Ramrod has now gone dark, since the 'mobile' was stolen from the car last night. Someone was clearly in the vehicle, but didn't take anything else, like Ben's CD player and CDs or the DVDs that were opened up. Bizarre and annoying. We'll be communicating via Cyrus' phone if necessary. Those with a need to know can contact Susan for the info. This unfortunately means no text or progress updates on the website.

Kazakhstan Part One was a real trip. The roads from Uralsk to Aralsk were incredibly bad. You could literally park a Cadillac in some of the potholes no problem. We actually prayed for the dirt road detours alongside the highway as they were often smoother. We had one afternoon of decent dirt, which turned into the most hooligan-style rally you could imagine. Probably the most fun part of the trip.

We camped a couple of nights in the middle of nowhere, one night quite literally. No structures around and no towns nearby and road on which you were lucky to average 30 miles an hour. Absolutely incredible view at night. The stars were really bright and the Milky Way quite prominent. We keep cooking up delicious variations on pasta sauce, onions and sausages.

Aktobe is described as a 'drab, industrial city' in the Lonely planet guide, but is actually paradise on earth. Gigantic posh hotel for a reasonable price, restaurant outside, happening casinos and cool ex-Soviet aircraft on display. We ran into Mission Mongolia and Blue Lightning, the Fiat team there. They were both having car trouble and considering switching over to rail transportation. A supermarket in the morning helped us stock up for the next day's run through roads worse than you can imagine.

Aralsk was a bit more bleak, but the people quite receptive. We attracted a pack of children at the market (strange to be in a shop without lighting) who walked most of the way across town to see our cars. They seemed to like us better than the adults. The Micra makes quite an impression with its NASCAR engine note. Feels like a proper race car really, other than the engine stalling if you don't keep on the gas.

Ah, I was just handed a tasty 1996 era Coca Cola. Delicious.

Once we cleared Aralsk, we were able to make good time. It's amazing how much you can appreciate smooth road, even flat gravel road. Pretty empty across Kazakhstan. Dry shrubby grass, long stretches of road and hot sun to tire you out.

We stayed at a gigantic casino hotel in Shimkent for about 10 dollars a person. Triple rooms with multiple balconies. Rock solid beds which were amazingly refreshing. Also, at the gas station a woman handed Tim three meat-filled pastries for us which was really nice.

Once outside the city, the terrain immediately began to rise, a mountain range basically popping up just to the east without a lot of foothills. Gets higher in Kyrgyzstan but it was quite beautiful after the long flat stretches of western Kazakhstan. I mentioned in text the thievery in Kyzylorda, which really added a sour note to the previously friendly Kazakhs. It was a situation we should have avoided, but in the end we got the Fiesta exhaust fixed for 20 bucks and a couple headlamps.

The Kazakh/Kyrgyz border wasn't too bad. We tried to get suckered but James played amazingly dumb, fooling the whole convoy. It worked and we got out. No trouble with the Mini either, which was nice. Best part of Kyrgyzstan is the easy availability of beverages. On the roadside will be like ten identical stands selling water, coke, fanta and beer. Pepsi was heavily featured in Kazakhstan but Coke is making a comeback. Water had been harder to find in Kazakhstan. The stands seem to be open all night as well, if you get a watermelon craving while trying to stay awake at 2 in the morning.

We just had a fantastic american style breakfast at Fat Boy's in Bishkek. Has hurt our schedule for today, but I think that along with the internet stop has improved morale. Ham and cheese omelette with some sort of real, non-Cheddar cheese and hashbrowns, plus Yvonne orders fifteen different items so there were pancakes and meat to scavenge.

Interestingly, we ran into a Kyrgyz man on the way to breakfast who actually has been living in Sacramento for the last couple of years. We talked briefly and he said the city was a foreign place to him, it's changing so fast. This is about the only city we've actually been tourists in for awhile (lot of the other towns didn't have much to offer, and we needed to make up time). Lots of trees for this part of the world, cool Mig 21 on a post and the Presidential palace is right in the middle of town. Props to these countries for having lots of old aircraft around. The best was the two Mig 23s in the cornfield in Poland though.

The plan is to set out for Almaty and beyond today, hopefully meeting up with our new acquaintance Margaret in Kazakhstan tonight. Cyrus might ride with us again so we'll probably cover more ground in the video games and movies discussion.

A bit rushed on the post here, so it was somewhat stream of consciousness. Patrick and I are having a fantastic time.

PS: Big thank you to Mike for coming over from the states this morning and punching the parking lot attendant who probably conspired to steal our cellphones. Good, quick work. General consensus among the convoy is that no problem cannot be solved by Zidane, Jack Bauer and Condi Rice. Nice to see someone else stepping up as a go-to guy when things get bad.

NB: We are travelling with two other cars, plus the two individuals from the Mini.

Lucas Speed Limit: Tom, Ian, Yvonne (Nissan Micra)
Aces over Mongolia: Tim, Cyrus (Ford Fiesta)
Team Misc: Ben, James (Formerly of the Mini, now in Speed Limit and Ramrod)

Route since Volgograd: Astrakhan - Atyrau (via ferry over Kazakh moat and gravel roads, really weird, couldn't believe there wasn't a major road at the border; infrastructure in western Kazakhstan almost non-existent)-Uralsk-Aktobe-Aralsk-Kyzylorda-Shimkent-Taraz-Bishkek

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Blog Entry sent by Justin via text for Susan to post

Much has transpired since the last BLOG post from heavenly business center at our hotel. We ended up staying another night there since the convoy caught up with us. Amazingly, Newyorkistan and their convoy showed up at the same time. Much rejoicing and pizza. Most significantly since then, the Mini has gone to the great tiny parking space in the sky. I can verify that it had a shredded wheel bearing, but I have no idea who took it or where it went. Since this event has intimately bound our fate with that of the British contingent, it might be worth giving some impression of who they are. James figures prominently as he speaks Russian, running point on our more complicated communications. Ben is James' teammate and rides with RAMROD aka team usa. Quiet and into music, relaxed and can sleep through car-sized potholes. Tim is a solid Scot with an RAF dad. Loves aircraft. Cyrus loves a good plan and is a huge film buff. Ian 'party boy' entertains with his dancing and bickers with Tom 'Tommy Gun' like they were married. They're both hard to put in writing in a text message late at night. Yvonne reads the Constant Gardener, does not drive and loves dancing. [8 messages long - sent from their own cell number]

Monday, August 07, 2006

Text Message posted by Susan

30km east of Aralsk. Bad roads better now. Good time. 4476 trip miles. Our phone incompatible with most networks here unfortunately.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Just my two cents ....

Justin's gotten the majority of the blog mileage of late but I just thought I would chip in and say I am having a (albeit occasionally terrifying) blast. The low point so far was breaking down in the Ukraine. The high point was probably actually the border to the Ukraine, meeting cool people and conspiring to infect the border crossing with our jovial cheer. When we had the wagons circled and were playing the Rolling stones on the car stereo loud, with our little happy camp site just on the other side of customs, and the brits put on the kettle to make tea, it was the most brilliant thing. The random woods party with strangers in Kharkiv would be a close second.

But the best story so far probably happened last night; we were following some (helpful?) cab drivers to a hotel in volgograd. It's about midnight, and we are heading farther and farther out of town. I am wishing i knew how to add "but not a hell hole" onto the "not too expensive" phrase I brought out when we were asking directions. Anyway, we finally are in volgograd's darkest outskirts, pulling up to a parking lot with a barrier across it that lets the cab in. It is pitch black but Justin very intelligently points out that this is where westerners go to die. I had been all for this adventure up until now but I have to admit he has a point, so the micra goes into reverse, gets floored, and pointed back up the one-way highway off ramp we came off of, in the wrong direction and at speed. Neither of us much cares and besides traffic is light, and a quick U-turn across the highway gets us pointed back towards town center, not a cop in sight. So we are catching our breath and playing it cool but of course the cabbies (three in the car?) catch up to us and start shouting at us in Russian, at midnight in Volgograd, strangely trying to point us to the town center as if they were being helpful afterall (and god knows maybe they were). Justin is trying to wave them off and eventually succeeds in handing them 300 rubles through the window of the car as we cruise down the highway, hopefully having paid our debt to the local cab mafia. Considering ourselves lucky to have lived, we drive down to the Volgograd hotel, which turns out to only be $60 and well worth it as they have a car park and it is beautiful.

And THAT is not something that happens to a fellow every day.

I also wanted to say that I miss everyone back home and that its not the same without you. Thanks for your emails, texts, and comments. I miss you Jen!

On the banks of the Volga

!!!!!!!!!!!!!!NB: Any concerns regarding the breathalyzer text message should be directed towards the United States embassy in the Ukraine. Points of discussion could include: how a person who never drinks alcohol could fail a breath test, why police officers feel a need to stop people for no reason in order to make money, and why the British embassy acted immediately to resolve the situation of citizens being held for 20 hours at the border and the Americans merely told us to get receipts for future litigation if necessary etc.!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

!!Phone minutes are also resolved. Big thanks to the crack squad that actioned on this particular item, and especially to Ron for unlocking the bureaucratic mysteries of Vodafone.!!

Much has happened since the last post(which yes, was referring correctly to poland). We teamed up with an awesome group of Brits at the Ukraine border. In fact, the Russian speaker in their midst really helped us get away without large sums of money on deposit. The British embassy also really came through (see above). Special thanks to the squad of Tatiannas who really lit up the Customs Control phones.

Unfortunately, the Mini had some serious bearing issues in Kharkiv. We initially thought it was a brake problem and despite some hurried, in the road repairs, we ended up having to spend the night at a deserted gas station until we could hit the repair shop the next morning. The militsia (cops) apparently use the same area as a staging point, but seemed fine with us staying. The next day they even came over and chatted for awhile, as much as that could happen given the language differences. The other unfortunate news was that the Mini needed to stay until Monday to get the necessary parts. Fearing delays, Ramrod set out alone, two brave hobbits now journeying into the wilderness apart from the Fellowship, as Frodo Tewson puts it. I mainly complain about missing the Shire and how all we have to eat are digestive crackers.

Unfortunately, all we apparently did was declare open season with the cops. Despite our best attempts at making friends with the police while with the convoy, we seem an easy target since. If you know someone in law enforcement, please say thank you to them. There are apparently many different ways of being a cop, and they are not all equal. It is a hassle, but not so bad. We might have to play tougher soon, as the money will become an issue. Or maybe I'll just make Patrick drive more, as he seems to glide right past everything. Knock wood.

Before I go, the actual breathalyzer story, and then a few pictures from the trip (I'm not going to make the effort to do fancy formatting, sorry). We're in paradise in the Hotel Volgograd...Internet!!!- slow internet.

The Micra lost the ability to deliver fuel to the engine. If it sat for awhile, it might run a bit then die out again. We had to spend the night on the side of the road after we had left the convoy. The next morning, we flagged down some guys. They pulled open the carburetor, used a pump to blow out the jets, etc., but still no dice. They drove off and wouldn't tow us. A nice gentlemen stopped with his family, tried some more stuff with the carburetor and then gave us a tow. His daughter spoke a few words of english but we were pretty much in the dark. he just sort of hooked us up and drove off. I was steering the Micra behind him. At the nearest small town, he stopped and asked around. No mechanic apparently. Sorry for cutting you off Angela, we thought we were having a money negotiation. We thought he was driving off and leaving us, but we were still attached. Thus began the 80 km run to Donetsk.

We were stopped by a policeman and our tow man hopped out indignant. He talked to the guy and we got going again without incident. We finally got to Donetsk. The man's wife appeared to be berating him throughout the entire drive, trying to leave us everywhere, but he kept going. On the outskirts of town, he stopped to ask some cops directions. Or to tell them to screw us, not certain. One came over and made me get out. I got to go chat with him, he asked if I was American. All of a sudden, he was like 'Pivo?'. Being one of the few words I recognize, I said 'no beer' 'nyet Pivo'. So I got to go sit in a police car with another man, who gave me my breathalyzer with a rather dubious zero setting. I waited for it to drop to zero, blew a zero and waited for it to climb up to some sort of drunk setting. It did, and he was astonished and wanted money. Negotiation ensued and my (non)drunk driving of a towed Nissan Micra at 7:30 on a Sunday morning resulted in something like a 12 dollar fine. I think he could sense my utter disbelief and hidden irritation, as he is the only cop to return american bills to me. Patrick reminded me that this was the funniest thing that could possibly happen on the trip, which was good because I was about to punch through the side of our car.

Pictures!
Prague at sunset:

P and J at the party in Prague:

Aces of Mongolia and the Mini team- Tim, Cyrus, James and Ben:

Part of the convoy in Lviv (trying to throw sugar packets to the other car):

Again part of the convoy at a cafe by Lviv airport:

Don't worry, we're eating well:


Okay, a chaser for that last one (you asked for it):