When people ask how we felt when we broke the world record, we give the usual ‘it was amazing’, ‘brilliant’ and ‘a great personal achievement’ but when we crossed the line in Qinghai province I felt a sense of anticlimax. We had been working to this moment for three years but when we reached this magic mileage there was nothing , no fireworks, no big brass band to accompany us. I honestly don’t know what my mind was conjuring up in the lead up to the record, maybe it was the high altitude ruining my sleeping pattern or the long days driving from morning to dusk with an annoying Chinaman perching on your shoulder.
We pulled up on the side of the road, reversed back slightly so that we were on the right place for the GPS mileage and got Frank the guide to take our picture. We had been looking for a bottle of champagne to go with the record since Nepal, but to no avail adding to the feeling of anticlimax. but suddenly things started to change, Matt pulled out a hidden bottle of the finest, cheapest Nepali champers and popped the cork and it started to click; we were elated. WE HAD BROKEN THE WORLD RECORD! We were being sprayed and covered in the stuff, standing on the top of the roof of Hannah in a very barren section of Tibetan plateau. Spending the next thirty minutes taking pictures and relaxing, the achievement spread throughout the group with each one of us taking in the news at different times. We had done it!
Breaking the world record!
Breaking the world record!
[Paul: I felt… on top of the World (ahem)]
On the days approaching to the world record we may have unexpectedly set a new world record, the highest ever taxi journey. We had not gone under 3,300 meters altitude since arriving in China and this had some adverse effects on us and on Hannah, she did not have much power to begin with but at this height the horsepower of the engine was effectively halved. Black smoke was billowing out of the exhaust adding to our environmental credentials, some sections we accomplished in first gear going less than 20km/hr infuriating our Chinese guide, Frank. He expected that our car would be a top quality four wheel drive vehicle, instead, when he was crammed in the back with two other tall men, it slowly sunk in that our car was not going to do well on these roads and he didn’t like that. “You should have got one of those cars” and “we should take 4×4 as your car is not good” were some of the comments expressed within a very short time frame. We knew this would be a long 25 days.
Highest ever taxi Journey?
Highest ever taxi Journey?
The highest plateau we reached was on the border with Tibet and the rest of China, at 5,218 meters we realized this was pretty damn high, discovering that we may have broken the World Record for the longest ever taxi journey! The effects at this height were apparent, breaking all of the rules of acclimatization for altitude, becoming out of breath by just getting out of the car and becoming light headed as if you stood up too quickly. Luckily for us as we headed north through China the altitude reduced as we left the plateau relieving both ours and the taxis symptoms; the team aimed to get to the city of Dunghuang in just a couple of days.
One of the sections that we needed to traverse included a restricted missile testing zone where we needed special permits; we did not organize these ourselves because our tour agency (a compulsory requirement for driving a vehicle through China) was supposed to do them. Our permits through Tibet seemed to work fine but as we arrived on the outskirts of the restricted zone, we soon found out that our tour guide did not have the right permits, and, to our surprise we also found out that no one has brought foreigners through this region within the past five years. Great service by the ‘self drive China experts’ we were forced to pay a small fortune to arrange this leg, we figured(!).
Frank, the guide, decided that we should drive a whole day back to the nearest major town to use a fax machine (A BLOODY FAX MACHINE?!) we could not believe our ears. Frank was throwing his toys out of his pram a few days ago when we were struggling on the track to Mount Everest base camp, that we were ‘going to be behind a whole day and that we should have had a 4×4!We refused and convinced Frank to phone up his office to get the matter sorted out. Frank was telling us we must go back, but we were determined to stay-as it would cost two tanks of fuel and a whole day- the thought of going over our own tracks for so many kilometers depressed the crap out of us and we had started to learn that Chinese can be very defeatist as soon as the smallest problem occurs. We refused to move, but it worked, eventually a phone call came through from the police chief allowing us entry.
The restricted area was desolate for a large portion u apart from an off road section we had to endure parallel to a beautiful new tarmac highway which was not currently open reducing us to a 20km/hr crawl. We then came across one of the most amazing roads, newly built and similar to a race track.
Brilliant Chinese roads.
[Paul: A brand new road had been opened, wide carving bends and hairpins wound their way through the rolling hills down from the Tibetan plateau. It was one of the most incredible driving roads… if you were in a sports car and not a two ton black cab with a tendency to lean disturbingly!]
[The road was lined with small concrete cubes alternately painted red and white making me feel like I was on a Super Mario track. After a while the cubes were unpainted, then unfinished, then not present at all… and then we were back on standard roads again.]
Arriving at Dunhuang we finally had a day off, the first break in the past two weeks. Frank was enthusiastic about seeing the largest indoor Buddah in the world (in China ) and also the night markets there. Determined to sample the cultural delicacies of this region the team unanimously decided to go out for our first night since Lahsa, We hit the markets, ate some chicken’s feet and drank a few beers. The next thing we know we are in a small Chinese bar teaching them the concept of a ‘Lock in’, consuming more (and more) beer and learning phrases in Mandarin.
Waking up the next morning we were informed that a Chinese man had entered our dorm room in the early hours of the morning and took some keys; panic set in, thinking that we had our car keys stolen. In fact, the Chinese man was the owner of the bar and Paul had taken the keys for locking up the bar to promote the concept of ‘lock in’ literally.
Hung over, the four of us went to see the giant Buddha leaving Paul behind to recover [Paul: I didn’t fancy paying the entrance fee, nothing to do with the hangover…]. We found out that Chinese tourist attractions are relatively more expensive than their neighboring countries (£18!). The sight was impressive but we soon learned that China likes to promote itself by having the ‘best/biggest/highest things in the world’ (even when are not). We will soon witness the largest Buddha in the world (in China), the highest bridge in the world (in China) and many more.
Leaving Dunhuang, Paul managed to back into the only lamppost in the carpark and we witnesses Frank misbehave for the first time (“quick, drive, before anyone sees” he said, as we left the pole leaning at an angle)[Johno: See attached picture]
We were only 100km south of the border with Mongolia, so we had to head South East to make it to Xian, the ancient capital city. Along the way the Great Wall of China was beckoning, we were told by our guide that this was the section that had been made from mud and you could definitely tell. From the satellite images and picture we’ve seen, the brick section of the Great Wall of China looks like an engineering marvel but the bit we saw is just a mud wall that didn’t look like it would hold the smallest Mongol horde out. It was a big, long wall, but just a wall all the same.
We had 25 days in China and we were already half way. The weather darkened and the heavens opened when we were 200km from Xian, we pressed on but the combination of bad Chinese driving (mixing good roads, high speed and no driving sense),with the introduction of contra flows and the darkness culminated in one nervous driving experience.
Chinese designed toll booths .
We pulled up and ignored our guide’s useless advice for a hotel and directions, going by theLonely Planet’s advice; finding a reasonable priced hostel to prepare us for our adventure in Xian and the second half of our China adventure…
Next up we see Pandas and girls with whale eyes filled with water.
Days on the road: 199
Miles covered: 24,646.
Tanks of fuel used: 113
Meter reading: About £44,642
World Records Completed: 2 Hopefully!