episode 7: the launch & the Deal with Turkey and Why It's Crucial

June 20, 2016

Read next: Episode 8

From the title you might think things are happening fast and all over the place. You’d be right, I feel like an octopus in a garage. 

If you look at a map and try to draw an unbroken line from Bulgaria or Greece, to Azerbaijan without going through Turkey, there's only a few ways to do it. The only alternatives being to head north through Russia or to take a 60 hour, $590USD ferry ride (ahem... cargo ship) across the Black Sea that only leaves once a week. 

So there was Shane leaving last minute, my bags being lost between the US and London (reclaimed,  very happy!), the car’s registration papers being completely in Swedish… and now an attempted military coup in Turkey. 

The Government of Canada changed Turkey to the status of: “Avoid All Travel”. So did the States. It will take at least 4 days to drive through Turkey and if we enter and something happens, our insurance isn’t going to care under that travel advisory. They’re going to call us idiots. Which I guess... technically, we could be.

Most teams don't know what they are doing if they can’t get through Turkey, because not getting through Turkey kind of breaks the whole trip (read: this means most teams will drive through Turkey no matter what). If you don’t get through Turkey, most peoples' Russian visas don’t start until mid-August, leaving little time to even head up and over north and slam the pedal down for Ulan-Ude (figuratively speaking, since these cars aren’t fast), let alone for all the other countries we bought visas to go see (Azerbaijan, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan). So, we wait to make that decision. 

In happier news we did actually make it to the start line, which is a feat in itself. There were teams that didn’t due to passport issues, car issues and teammate issues. We all camped out in the field opposite the Goodwood racing circuit and found all the Canadians, promising to convoy through Turkey with them if the government changed the travel status. It looks like we put zero effort into our car compared to most other teams (we did put zero effort into it…). A lot of teams have been planning this for a year or more so their cars look amazingly ridiculous. There’s one guy who is attempting to drive a 3-wheeled open top car with a 400cc motorcycle engine dropped into the front, so like a motorcycle, it doesn’t have reverse. Luckily for him, the car is so tiny that to reverse it, he just gets out and lifts the back end and drags it where he pleases. He found the skeleton of the car rotting in a cabbage patch two months ago and decided: she’s the one. It’s from 1959.

The next morning after an eternity of waiting and a headache (happy birthday to me), many awards and announcements, including a cheater award given to an American team with a 2.0L engine (“Shame! Shame! Shame! Shame!”) - they have to carry a massive golden cone, AKA the Cone of Shame, on top of their car through every single country as punishment, all the teams did a loop around the Goodwood circuit before heading out in various ways to the ferry to France. Within the first 10km, we saw three cars on the side of the road that had already broken down, so on some level we are succeeding. Small victories. 

Eric and I weren’t even sure if we were going to be let out of England, because there was an off chance that someone realized the ferry ticket is in Shane’s name, asked why he isn’t there, and then asked who owns the car, and then asked for the power of attorney… which we only have a scan of at this point. The hard copy is being sent to Serbia. 

We stayed in Belgium the first night. The second day we made it to Biel, but we did it by shooting through Luxembourg, France, Germany and Switzerland. Five countries in one day (my new personal best). For the record: French drivers, not my favourite. I got flipped off a few times for passing people too slowly. I’m sorry guys, but this car maxes out at 125kph, and that’s on a flat grade. If I get an incline while I’m beside a truck I was trying to pass… I’m stuck. My bad. But whatever, we had cleared the first hurdles.

It was odd driving back through Switzerland. We crossed roads I’d cycled on many times. The Alps are still my favourite mountains. We detoured through Liechtenstein because everyone ignores poor Liechtenstein and it’s a pretty place (but it might as well be Switzerland). We wove through Austria to Hallstatt along amazing roads and curvy mountain passes - I’ll be heading back there on two wheels at some point I hope. 

We usually don’t know where we are sleeping until about 9:00PM but today was an exception; we’re in Budapest, Hungary and besides not being able to understand a word or the funny currency, this city looks amazing… not that I’ve seen any of it. We arrived at 7:00PM and it’s an 8:00AM departure tomorrow. Such goes the Rally: can’t stop, drive drive drive. There’s word of a foam party tonight but I left that up to Eric to investigate. At least he’ll be clean!

Wifi is scarce, time is sparse, the distances long. Currently, Canada has changed it’s Travel Advisory on Turkey to “Avoid All Non-Essential Travel”. You know what that means? If nothing changes… Turkey is a GO!.

And we better get through Turkey, because Shane will be waiting for us in Tbilisi, Georgia on July 30th. It's looking up!

Cheers from Budapest, Hungary.

Read next: Episode 8

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