Having rested in Reykjavik and caught up with friends and family in Amsterdam and London, the massive road trip from the U.K. to Mongolia was nearly about to become a reality for me and Dillion. We strapped on what at the time were unwieldy backpacks loaded with extra equipment for our Suzuki Alto, and snaked our way through the London metro systems to Thames Ditton where our pint-sized car awaited our arrival at a friend’s house. At this point, we had one week before starting the Mongol Rally and meeting our counterparts from other parts of the world and walks of life. Our simple plan was buy a few odd items for camping and the car itself, and to take the girl out for some test driving in the west countryside of England. It was simple enough, but we were foolish to think it would be quite that easy.
Driving out to our first campsite went smoothly enough save for the near anxiety attack Dillion almost suffered after an hour of driving on the left hand side of the road. I commend him for being able to hide such panic as my own emotional state was fragile after navigating as well as gripping the seat and air-braking myself once or twice. We had a quick laugh once we arrived safely at the campsite over each other’s disguised anxiety and another laugh shortly after directed at the borderline creepy owner who in the span of 10 minutes lightly probed if we were swingers and playfully chased two scantily clad adolescents on his ATV. The third major laugh of the evening was directed at ourselves attempting to erect our newly purchased 4 person tent, unoriginally nicknamed, The Mansion. We finally fit in with the camping crowd in England by having a gigantic tent but our inexperience betrayed us with a failed attempt to set it up on the first try. There was an older couple nearby though in a camper van that took pity on us and offered a flashlight as we were trying to eat and drink in the dark.
The next day we set our sights on Teigenmouth in Cornwall to visit a friend of Dillion’s family. Ideally, out here in the quiet countryside was where I intended to polish the manual driving skills I first fumbled through on my friend’s car at the tender age of 17. We made the necessary stops for petrol and stocked up on an assortment of dry goods to help us out in the sustenance department in more remote regions along the journey to Mongolia. We were even proud of finding a quiet area in a park to eat our protein heavy lunch of prosciutto with a side of bread.
As with the nature of all situations too good to be true, our fairytale smooth beginning to this 10,000 mile journey came to a rattling halt on the hard shoulder of the M4 (or M5, I can’t quite remember). I believe now that Dillion was being ever the optimist and talked himself into thinking the car just momentarily overheated, and after waiting it out and filling the radiator with what would be the first of hundreds of liters of water, the car would be well enough to drive to a mechanic to sort out. This wasn’t the case and we eventually waited on the side of the road on the hottest day of the year for 4 hours, a span of time that saw me explain to a confused insurance agent that I couldn’t in fact call a mechanic in Holland, discover that my GoGirl does not in fact work and have my first emotional breakdown of the trip. The time sitting on the road was actually long enough for my mind to span quite a few emotions, anger, despair, and hilarity just to name a few. We were eventually rescued by a friendly a mechanic who unfortunately had to tow us all the way back to our starting point in Thames Ditton. Throughout the entire sobering drive my mind kept cycling through all of the wonderful activities I could have been doing with the undoubtedly large sum of money that was about to be paid to a tow truck company and mechanic.
After we sorted out our car woes and found a mechanic, no small thanks to Dillion’s friend Dave for helping us out with this one, we headed back to London with our tails between our legs to await further news. Our one bit of salvation in London was the endless supply of motivation and encouragement from Dillion’s cousin Candace who also kept us off the streets and extremely well fed and intoxicated while waiting out the verdict for our car. The verdict did eventually come (it was a blown head gasket and other resulting problems) and emptied my wallet to the tune of 1050 greenbacks, almost the same amount which I paid for the car itself, but on the positive side, the car would be ready for us to pick up the day before we needed to head to the launch site for the rally.
Friday afternoon, we picked up the car and after heading the mechanic’s warning that we would need to check the water levels frequently, we crossed our fingers and turned the key. Now with a hopefully well functioning vehicle, we made our way to the second campsite in England, a quaint pub called A Bull’s Head Tavern nearby the launch site at Bodiam Castle. All went well, we had one last hearty meal of some English pub dishes and the next day we were set to head off to the launch site to meet our fellow ralliers.