Monday, July 20, 2009
Today has been a beacon of realization of just how large of an undertaking that I have begun here in Europe. I started the day after 11 hours of sleep feeling pretty good, the muscles ached a bit, but I was ready for the challenges ahead. After a relaxing shower and a hearty breakfast in the hotel lobby, it was time to truly hit the road for the first time. The Mongol rally is officially underway. It wasn’t clear at first who would end up in which vehicle, but it was realized to be just as we registered. Bryan, Stanton, and I piled into the purple Tracker, while Sean and Ken jumped into the silver model, we were off. The first stop on our journey took us to Goodwood and the well known speed track located there.
The official launch party for the Mongol rally took place in the parking lot and on site were nearly two hundred vehicles, many of which were not even going to the final destination of Mongolia. It was a colorful crowd featuring many interesting characters, the highlight however, were the myriad of different cars that were there for the undertaking. In many ways I was extremely excited to see the many teams in the foray, but I have to admit that I was disappointed at how big of a spectacle it was in many ways. The biggest disappointment was that it seemed more like a rock concert than like the launch of a multi-continental rally taking us through some of the most desolate parts of the world. Don’t get me wrong, this is very exciting, but I guess my expectations were misplaced as this has become a fairly large event throughout the United Kingdom. With the rally opener out of the way, we were able to get to the reason we actually came, the longest road trip in the world. We spent the best part of the day travelling the back roads of south England on our way to the ferry at Dover. The journey was a little over a hundred miles but took several hours to complete as we were off the main highways. There are several advantages to being the only passenger to be the only passenger in the back seat of a Tracker, sleeping being the greatest among them. I took the chance to further catch up and much needed shuteye, possibly missing some similar English countryside, but I regret nothing. After the long back roads, we finally reached the destination at the white cliffs of Dover. I was able to see the famous spires from many angles, including the castle that was erected at the very top of the hill to ward of invasions from outside forces. This was my first visit to a castle outside the United States, needless to say they are much more daunting and the age shows clearly in the obsidian based mortar and moss covered stones holding the walls together. After our short visit to Dover Castle, we travelled to the port to get tickets for the ferry, while asking the clerk where a good place to get fish and chips was. It should be understood that Sean Fleming, aka ‘Red Goat’ had been talking about wanting to get this meal during our whole time in England, a sentiment that we all shared. We were told that the only place in town was at a little shop on Castle Street. After arriving and finding we needed British Pounds in order to buy the prize, we quickly withdrew money from the ATM and fed the hunger with the best fish and chips I have ever had! Nothing beats authenticity. We made it back in time to board the ferry and parked.
It quickly became apparent that the ferry would was filled to the brim with prepubescent children on various excursions to France. This is my way of saying that I had to fight to read a book for the next hour and a half by squelching out their screams that came from all over the ship. You will be happy to know that I did survive the encounter, even having my seat stolen by a man who looked like a French Gypsy, two earrings in one ear and one in the other. Apparently he had no qualms about sitting next to my sleeping friend Bryan, while sitting less than six inches from him and our gear. After de-barking the ship, we began our quick journey through France. We decided not to bother staying in France as it was dark, rainy, and not a major stop on our itinerary. Thus we are currently on our way to Brugge in Belgium, promising to be an exciting second day on this incredible journey!