“To feel the rhythm of life, to feel the powerful beat, to feel the tingle in your fingers, to feel the tingle in your feet…”
Knowing today we would breach the 5000m mark, the Diamox altitude sickness tablets have kicked in proper, one of the side effects being a tinkling in your fingers and toes. Thankfully, that seems to be the only symptom so far.
From the comfort of last night’s hotel in Batang, it was off to the border crossing, the Jinsha River or Golden Sand by our side as we drove to the first police checkpoint of the day.
The area suffered a flood in 2015 and the repairs are still ongoing. As we crossed the river on the new metal bridge, the road surface changed dramatically from the smooth tarmac we’ve become accustomed to. Instead it was gravel roads that clung to the mountain’s edge and gave a taste of what’s to come over the highest pass of the whole event.
Once again Navo Tours excelled in getting us through the border in record time, and once in Tibet, we were ready for the ascent to begin. There was just the small matter of 50km of roadworks to get through first on narrow dirt roads through a ravine.
Lloyd and Treacy Reddington in Car 5, the 1927 Nash Roadster were first out the gate this morning and the only hold-ups they faced were when the digger drivers and construction workers stopped the traffic to take pictures.
On the route, a very relieved Rally Director Liz Wenman presented them with a Hata, a colourful talisman that is a Tibetan good luck charm to place in their vehicle.
After two years of planning, Liz was so excited to be across the border that when asked what was Tibetan for ‘cheers’, she replied “Lechyd Da” before realising that was Welsh. Plans for the Green Green Grass of Home Rally 2020 are now underway…
Word reached us that Car 20, the 1970 Mercedes 280SL Roadster of Richard Cunningham and Paddy Walker was having issues with fuel vaporisation. First time it happened was a bit worrying but by the 22nd occurrence, the sweeps Gary Pickard and Gary Oliver had given then a winning formula to get it sorted and the crew thanked them for their sterling work.
The rest of the cars were motoring on and soon, with the road works behind them it was time to journey up the ravine.
Half way up the pass, Car 6, the 1938 Alvis 4.3 Tourer of Martin Tacon and Lesley-Ann Murray had gearbox failure that couldn’t be fixed roadside, so Rally Round’s faithful sweep truck X-Ray manned by Richard Last and Karim De Mmyn had to tow the car over the peak as well as the two highest passes of the day to the night halt some 150km later. The Sweeps are doing all they can to fix it but maybe the Hata came a little too late for them.
Dominic and Rosie Collins’ 1959 Jaguar 3.4/340 aka Car 16 was still struggling to find a balance with its fuel but after a further adjustment, it looks like they’ve cracked it. But their car did have a job to make it up a dirt hill, so Rosie was forced to jump out and jog up the hill while Dominic drove on. After some rough roads on the descent on the second pass, it looks like it’s wheels and shock absorbers also need some attention this evening.
During the second ascent of the day, the mountain pass was closed for ‘military purposes’ for two hours so it was time for a picnic on the mountain side.
When those at the back of the pack reached the next police checkpoint, we heard that Car 10, the 1937 Rolls Royce 25/30 Coupe, of Mark Robinson and Yvonne Fuller had also been struck by fuel vaporisation, but they managed to sort the problem themselves. However, when they got stuck going up the pass, Rudi and Helga Friedrichs in Car 27, the Land Rover Defender were there to give them a friendly tow.
Just as the media car reached the mountain pass, the road was closed again but for only an hour this time. This also meant both sweep trucks, the towed Alvis and the Collins Jaguar as well as the support truck carrying our retired crews all had to wait too.
Coffee and chocolate bars were enjoyed by those waiting whilst Lesley-Ann Murray was seen feeding a banana to a Yak. It was a better diet that the discarded cardboard box the Yak was eating previously.
An hour later, the soldier in charge gave up the green light and we started the steep ascent, zig-zagging up the mountain side to the summit of Juetu-la pass at 3,908m. At the top viewing point, there were traders selling various delicacies and trinkets one side while across the road, thousands of prayer flags were blowing in the wind.
The summit gave a stunning view of the Hengduan range of mountains, which we also viewed on the way up the Dongda-la Pass, which took us over the 5000m barrier for the first time.
Whilst half of the crews arrived back much later than anticipated due to the road closure and wait time, the day was far from over for the sweeps, X-Ray and the towed Alvis as around 8km out from the hotel, the tow bar on the Alvis decided it had had enough. Sweeps Richard and Karim tethered a new tow rope to the axel and when they finally arrived at the hotel at 10pm, it was to a very warm welcome from the other crews.
A quick dinner and the sweeps are back at it in the car park. Working at 3,700m above sea level after a full-on day, the guys are to be commended for their dedication. The Nash Roadster was given the once over, new shims were made for Car 17, the 1959 Jaguar XK150 DHC of Dougie and Kate Lawson as their doors kept coming loose – not what you want on a narrow mountain road at 5,000m, the Collins’ Jaguar was being worked on all before they started on the Alvis.
Despite it being a long and challenging day, the dining room this evening was buzzing. Philip Haslam of Car 15, the 1954 Jaguar XK120 DHC, said: “What a day! Bloody fantastic!” His sentiments were shared by Richard Cunningham of Car 20, who said: “That was a hell of a drive. What a great day. Adventure Driving at its best!” We’ve even converted rally novice Rosie Collins of Car 16 who had been very fretful in Chengdu but is now immersed in the event. “What a sense of achievement,” she exclaimed, and considering she’s been helping spannering too, Rosie is doing amazing. Her white shirt isn’t fairing as well mind.
Tomorrow is another long day but with only one pass and smooth roads shouldn’t be as hard according to route designer Kim Bannister. But this is an adventure drive so who knows…