From The U.K. to Mongolia: Heading For Mainland Europe

We woke up bright and early this morning eager to get started with the trip.  First though we had to go through a bunch of celebratory fanfare which aside from another lame faux Medieval Times show was really exciting and got us in the mood to drive 10,000 miles.  Before we all revved up our pitiful engines there was a small awards ceremony recognizing cars that were the most decorated and teams that raised the most money for charity.  The most memorable of which was the team least likely to make it, which was a team of two guys in a Matiz that had already broken down twice and had an exhaust pipe that was already falling off.  I had to admit, they were my inspiration.  Surely we could make it if we only had one breakdown.  Then I watched them drive up the ramp to the stage and they hit the front bumper on their first try which got a good chuckle out of everyone.

All set with the celebrations, we hopped in the car, Dillion driving, me fiddling with the GPS unit and a camera, and made our way through the procession.  We luckily didn’t crash the car going up onto the stage – I would’ve imagined that as a bad omen for things to come – and off we went!  Starting mileage for this day was 86,872 and we spent the afternoon snaking through the English countryside before landing in Dover where we’d take the ferry to Calais.

Before we arrived at the ferry terminal, we made no less than 3 pit stops already on this journey.  One was a legitimate stop to refuel and buy a couple of maps for Europe.  The second was a hopeless attempt to snag an extra tire.  I think Dillion was intimidated by the team with 4 spare tires and rims and wanted to have the same level of security.  We kept the 2 old tires that we replaced the day before but didn’t have rims to go with them, so when Dillion spotted a tire on the side of the road, he made a quick u-turn to see if it was our size.  Several teams passed us going in the opposite direction of Dover and I can only imagine what they thought might have happened.  The tire turned out to be too big so we carried on.  Shortly after, we made our third pitstop, which was fueled by overriding belief that the rally is a team effort and ralliers should help other ralliers.  We saw another car already stopped on the shoulder and knowing what we had been through previously that week, we were all too happy to swoop in and save the day.  Turns out they didn’t need our help and we continued on to the ferry that would take us to mainland Europe.

Our next checkpoint as far as the rally was concerned was Klenova Castle in the Czech Republic and because I didn’t read through my e-mails carefully believed that we had two full days to get there rather than one.  As such, I convinced Dillion that instead of taking the major highways through Belgium and Germany, we should take our time and drive through the northern French countryside.  This turned out to be as picturesque as one might think, tree lined streets and quaint villages, but all of the villages were dead.  I chalked this up to it being a Sunday in a Catholic country and being a Sunday in the middle of summer.  Also, Dillion’s mom politely reminded us too that it did happen to be Bastille Day, a holiday of significant importance in France.  So that solved the riddle as to why the only grocery store we could find open was a mini mart run by Muslims.  We finished the day not having made it quite as far as we’d liked and rather weary from the hundred plus roundabouts I navigated us through.  In hindsight, I like to say this was me preparing Dillion for the obstacle course later on that was your average road in Kazakhstan.  We attempted to find our first campsite in the Ardennes, but being novices at this practice, we shied away from some areas which would have been perfect and eventually made our way to a hotel in Chimay, Belgium of all places.

Driving through France
Driving through France

Thankfully, I discovered early the next morning that the next rally party at Klenova was in fact today, July 15th and not the 16th like I had previously thought so this meant we needed to cover some serious ground today.  We abandoned my lazy plan to drive through more countryside and stop in Bavaria to have a hearty German meal with the necessary liter of beer in favor of zipping through on the autobahns.  We crawled out of Belgium, back into France and then back again into Belgium to get to the autobahn and then breezed our way through Luxembourg and Germany.

The drive this particular afternoon was one of the many that was cause for mutual consternation for me and Dillion.  The hectic drive was one of many that reminded us how much we hate traveling by timelines set by someone else.  We passed by numerous spots in France and Germany that had we had the time would have loved to explore.  Dillion, being the history nut that he is, was particularly crushed about not stopping in Rocroi, France, a fort city built in the shape of a star.  I was just sad about missing German beer and not being able to visit my friends in Munich.

Our first dirt road
Our first dirt road

We carried on and taking one more side road, entered the Czech Republic on what was to be our first off-roading experience.  This turned out to be a few dirt roads that some caution signs in German which we didn’t understand.  After only a few more wrong turns here and there we did eventually find Klenova Castle.  We immediately leapt out of the car and hurried ourselves up to the castle where the next feast was supposed to be served.  I remember telling Dillion and making empty threats to no one in particular about the validity of this so called feast.  I’m happy to say that in this case, The Adventurists were accurate with their description of a feast and we rushed to the line in caveman-like fashion that became common place with us as we continued the trip.  We made it through the vegetarian portion of the line and I had the misfortune of sneezing and dropping all of my food.  I had to start all over again and the woman behind the table acted like I ran over her puppy, but Dillion kept on task and headed for the meat.  Ordinarily, I would have been annoyed at his lack of chivalry in waiting for me, but I respected the man for keeping his eye on the prize and gave him a nod of solidarity.  Though I do believe the rally is a team sport, sometimes it is an “every man for himself” kind of deal.

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