Episode XI: Return of the Ralliers

So this was written months ago and never posted… Better late than never!


After spending the day sorting out paperwork and cars with a bit of celebrating on the side, it was time to begin the voyage home. We wished a final goodbye to all the teams we’d been travelling with on our epic journey and set off on the lonely task of driving 9000km home in the quickest time possible. Despite trying to find a roof box from other ralliers who had opted to scrap theirs at the finish line, the precise model for our car was a comparative rarity so we squeezed as much as we could fit into the car. As well as transporting some things back for other teams, we had accumulated a number of items for our car so armed with Tetris skills alone, we crammed everything in. Incredibly, we managed to do it and still maintained the luxury of rear view visibility, just. With everything in, off we went.

The first day involved driving to Lake Baikal. It is the largest fresh water reservoir in the world and is two kilometres deep. As with most lakes, the best way to enjoy them is to be on the water so whilst we stopped for lunch on the shore, we quickly moved on to cover ground. It took what felt like an eternity to make our way around the lake following the train line of the Trans-Siberian railway. Light was already beginning to fade by the time we had made it to the other side of the lake. As is the usual problem with wild camping, we had hoped to find somewhere in the light however this would mean cutting our driving time short and not covering the daily distance that we had promised ourselves to do. Instead, we drove until we reached our target and then began to search for somewhere to rest. This didn’t go perfectly. Instead of finding an optimal place with privacy and peace, we settled for a field just off a quiet road. Both desperate for sleep at this point meant that we covered the windows of the car and climbed into our sleeping bags for an uncomfortable night in the car. We remained undisturbed until 0830 when we were rudely awoken by a Russian women honking her horn and shouting at us from the road. Soon enough, she departed and we decided to leave before any more Russians took issue with us.

The driving through Russia cannot be described as exhilarating as the endless roads through woodland begin to all look the same. On top of this is the fact that the vast majority is single carriageway meaning that any slow moving lorries will obstruct you and often a chance to overtake is limited due to oncoming traffic. Fortunately, the road surfaces were generally good. Day 2 of our journey back was another long day driving non-stop through to Hotel Bon Voyage. The day was unremarkable as we drove and drove and drove until stumbling upon the motel for the night short of our goal but good enough for us. Not that it says much, but it was certainly an upgrade from the night before. We drove the next morning onwards and had a pit stop in McDonald’s for a WiFi which led to us booking our ferry from Dunkirk to Dover. A move which we would later come to regret.

On our third day heading home, we woke full of excitement for the sights of Siberia that might astound us but just as before, the sights consisted of trees, farmland and an endless single carriageway road. In Russia, mobile networks do not cover the whole country and different SIMs are required for different areas so there was little point in buying one as we spent so little time in each area. Instead, we took a stops in McDonald’s in cities to use the WiFi and indulge in some carbo-loading.  Our diets now consisted of porridge, noodles and McDonald’s with a complete lack of consistent meal times. The cultural experience was over as we had purely set our sights on our ferry time from Dunkirk. The rally was now a race.

Four days on the road brought us towards Tyumen near Yekaterinburg for a lunch break in McDonald’s before heading to the delights of Perm where we hoped to stay the night. This didn’t happen as we had a poor experience of Perm leading to us leaving the city to find somewhere to sleep in the car. For some reason, hotels were all either full (apparently) or not willing to give us a bed for the night. One particular hotel had the keys behind the receptionist but still refused. Frustrated and exhausted, we left following the route to Moscow. Our criteria when looking for a location to sleep had drastically decreased in standard. Instead of even finding somewhere with privacy away from the road, we started just pulling up beside the road and submitting to our bodies’ cries for sleep.

After waking up early from discomfort and coldness, we set our sights for Moscow and a comfortable hostel and drove through torrential downpour determined to make it that day. We arrived at midnight and settled in for what became an amazing sleep all night in Hostelberry. Despite the dreary weather, a day off to explore had been well earnt at this point so we made the most of it. We were finally doing something enjoyable which didn’t involve driving or pushing ourselves and saw the main sights of the Russian capital. St Basil’s Cathedral, Red Square and the Kremlin were all on our to do list. The day was filled with wandering and relaxing, avoiding anything too taxing. It was a pleasant break from the car which had covered thousands of kilometres across the vast expanse of Russia in just five days. We left it parked up out the way and took the metro around which itself is something of a gem. The trains are old and have a vintage look to them and the stations stand out as pieces of art in themselves. TfL take note.

Moscow effectively meant we were nearing the end of Russia. It felt like the penultimate chapter in the rally was ending on a high. We had considered staying for another night but the EU was calling us and we departed for Latvia. The most direct route is through Belarus however this wasn’t possible due to visa restrictions. Bearing in mind that we were on a strict time limit since booking our ferry across the English channel, Ukraine was ruled out as this would have involved two border crossings into Ukraine and out as opposed to just the one into the EU. To get to Latvia there is a road straight out of Moscow with the single longest red light we’ve ever seen. After queuing half an hour to get through the junction, we finally got away. Of course, while Moscow is in the west of Russia, don’t fall for the trap that it is anywhere near the western border like we did. Russia is huge. Inevitably, we lost the daylight en route since we drove for far longer than we had imagined. Luckily the previous night left us feeling nourished by the luxury of a full night of sleep so we kept the the pedal to the metal until we were greeted with the delights of EU border guards. One would’ve hoped they’d be helpful and process us quickly since we’re EU citizens coming home but this couldn’t have been farther from the truth as we wasted a lot of time with them not telling us where to go or what to do. It was relief when they let us go after complaining in Latvian about our twenty litres of cheap fuel we were bringing in and decided, as it was now getting on for 2AM, to find a layby to sleep in hopefully for the last time. The eerie forests of Russia weren’t left behind as we slept in the mist which had descended on the trees creating an image that we’d only seen in horror films. Nonetheless, we were tired. If this was the start to the horror film, we’d probably sleep through it.

After our 5 days crossing most of Russia, just the EU was left to conquer. We woke as usual; cold and exhausted. With renewed optimism as the bulk was behind us and only two and a half thousand kilometres remaining, we drove through the villages of Latvia and soon enough into Lithuania. We rejoiced at the sight of Lidl and stocked up. We’d eaten so many army ration packs, so many Russian pot noodles and so many odd, amazing cuisines over the past two months that something familiar was a pleasant surprise. We began to feel at home. The mighty Micra brought us into Warsaw for another city stop to explore and break from the driving. A lovely AirBnB for the night spoilt us with a proper bed.

Warsaw is a lovely city with rich history and beautiful old town. Longer to embrace Polish culture and see more of the city and country would have been nice. In the limited time, being able to see Palace of Culture and Science, the Royal Palace and Łazienki Park amongst the other hot spots was a brilliant rest from the intensity of the preceding week. Our whistlestop tour ended and we continued to the next European capital on our list.

Berlin was the final planned pit stop of the trip. With no accommodation for that night, we were back on the road hoping to find somewhere to stay for the night whilst on the go. Thank you to the EU for the free roaming! Fortunately, there were plenty of campsites for us to pop our newly acquired tent from the finish line. Unfortunately for the owner, it had gotten late but they were gracious enough to find us a spot although Caroline was left wondering who Alice was: alles gut.

In the morning, a quick park and ride later meant the Brandenburg Gate was standing over us soon enough. The weather was miserable but that didn’t stop us seeing the Bundestag, Caroline’s first taste of currywurst and learning about the history of Berlin and Germany as a whole. There were classic Bavarian architecture and markets to wind through which we thoroughly enjoyed persevering through the rain. At Checkpoint Charlie, we ate our last proper meal of the trip before searching desperately for an affordable hotel. Little did we know that Lollapalooza was on so everywhere was full or far too expensive. We settled for another campsite to the west to prepare us for our journey the next day.

Our final day came and we had a slow, relaxing morning before embarking on the drive to the port crossing through Germany, the Netherlands and Belgium into France. After not caring about the price of fuel for so long, the service station prices came as a shock as it tripled the prices we had become accustomed to. Everything went smoothly despite Germans’ attempts to squeeze cars into any possible gap on the motorways and our complete inability to keep up. Again, our slow top speed was something that we had forgotten about after seeing the all the fancy cars speeding up the authbahns passed us. We’d gotten used to see a lot of old, slow cars on the roads.

The ferry was booked for 3AM on Monday morning. We arrived at 8PM on Sunday evening. Booking a ferry when you’re 7000km away with an unpredictable timeline is inadvisable. We raced through Russia and ruined ourselves day and night in order to make this ferry which we were now early for! The rally has taken an effect on our ability to make sound decisions evidently. After arriving, we were shooed away from the port to the holding area where we tried to negotiate a free early departure but were sadly rejected. We were able to nap and Netflix until boarding the ferry. Filled a feeling of excitement about getting home and finishing the trip but a sense of sadness that it was coming to an end, we boarded the ferry in the dead of night and set off across the channel.

20,000 miles later and the mighty Micra, Sightseers and were back in the UK. We drove off the ferry and onto the M20 heading for London hoping to avoid too much traffic. This was not possible due to our first proper breakdown once we merged onto the M25. We were so close to home but couldn’t quite make it without a little more drama! Not sure, what the problem could be and wondering whether the breakdown cover we’d been contemplating might have been worth it, we checked everything obvious over but the engine simply wouldn’t start. That’s when it dawned on us. The price of petrol was expensive in Europe so we hadn’t filled up since the middle of Germany! We’d run her dry and without a working fuel gauge never knew how low we’d gotten even though there were a couple of hints in Dunkirk when it cut of momentarily a few times We shrugged it off at that point but now we were stranded. Fortunately, there was 10 litres of 92 octane in the boot (don’t tell DFDS). This was our saving grace and we nursed her to the service station putting as much petrol as we could squeeze in. The delay meant that we got caught behind the aftermath an accident leaving us on the biggest parking lot in the UK. Eventually there was some movement as the carriageway reopened two hours later and we got back on with the final leg. A traffic jam was a very apt welcome back to Britain’s roads!

7 hours after arriving into Dover, we arrived home in Derby at last after our epic journey. Mongol Rally? Completed it mate.

One thought on “Episode XI: Return of the Ralliers

  1. Great to hear what finally happened. Remember, sequels are never as good as the original – I don’t think going back for another run at it in the future would ever be able to live up to the thrills of this one 🙂

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