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Senior Correspondent

Duct Tape — Don't Leave Home Without It
June 14, 2011

So as not to distress any more toll booth attendants, Ed duct-taped our license plate to the underside of the right side visor. So now when we approach a toll booth, we just flip it down! Very clever man. Who knows what additional uses we will have for it before we are done.

We traveled more secondary roads today, which produced much shaking and bumping of the cars. Jerry’s Corvette didn’t like the potholes at all, and he has an unidentified rattle that most likely will require pulling the right rear wheel off. We will loan him our jack stands for his diagnostic look in the morning.

Today was my birthday, and at dinner I was surprised with a cake with candles. It all got sort of mixed up since Ed and I opted to have dinner alone in the hotel restaurant that had Western food. We had lamb chops, French fries and a Caesar salad. We have had some very good Chinese food, but it is nice to have a change. As a gift, I have a bottle of Chinese "wine," 42 percent alcohol! I haven’t opened it yet. Thank you, Doug and Mir Corporation for my birthday celebration. 

Already Tuesday, and everyone spent the morning off working on their cars. We canceled the tour of the city and a visit to a museum. We will do a boat tour of the Yellow River in the afternoon.

More from the road tomorrow.


If I Were a Chinese Parent …
June 16, 2011

I would encourage my child to become a civil engineer. Forget the computer software or even hardware, the construction of highways, dams, elevated rail beds (for the high-speed trains China is developing, streets and roads for new apartment buildings are proceeding at a mind-boggling rate). This country is trying to put together an infrastructure for the future. There is a lot they don’t yet have, clean air and drinkable water and sanitation standards. If your child isn’t material for engineering, then send them to school to become a trunk mechanic. The number of trucks on the roads here must outdo the cars and most of them are in bad repair with diesel fumes emitting from the back. They are all so overloaded they breakdown on a regular basis, clogging the already overcrowded roads.

So much has happened since I was last able to get online, that I hardly know where to begin.

But the most important thing is Stewball. We may have a very serious problem. Yesterday it was cutting out in low r.p.m. Ed changed the spark plugs and leaned out the fuel since we were at high altitudes — nearly 8,000 ft. Today by the afternoon it was running even worse. Now he has determined that the compression is seriously low on number three valve. The best news would be that it is out of adjustment. He is out now with Stewball trying to determine that. The worst news would be a burned valve which of course he is not prepared to deal with. One choice may be to truck the car to Almaty, Kazakhstan. We know there is a garage there that can do this work. Right now we just don’t know. It may be that we can’t move with the group tomorrow. I will let you know the outcome as soon as I am back online.

Hopefully still on the road to Paris,


Catch Up
June 17, 2011

Already in the Silk Road Resort hotel in Dunhuang. A town founded during the Han Dynasty in 111 B.C. This place makes up for last night — that one was “best available” and  that included a rock-hard bed, cold shower and Motel 6 food. The good part was meeting up with a group of Global Motorcycle riders, Americans and Canadians, traveling from Istanbul to Xi’an. 8,000 miles. They are also booked with Mir Corp. so Doug asked if we wanted to meet them one night — and we thought we were hardy!

We have two nights here in Dunhuang. Since I have some time, and internet, I’ll catch you up on some of our activities and sites since some have asked for more.

Let me back up to the Great Wall. I never did get to share that experience. Yesterday we had a photo op at the most Western end. I must say, this was not nearly as impressive as the Juyyongguan section near Beijing.

We climbed a section near Beijing. I even have a plaque to prove I did it! It is overwhelming to think that this section dates to the Ming Dynasty — 1366-1644 and stretches over 3,800 miles. The western section is much older and dates back nearly 2,000 years.

I really found this much more impressive than the terra cotta warriors. The story of the warriors is fascinating. but I really got tired of all those statues!  

Ed is out searching for an engine repair shop, and once he returns, I’ll post an update on Stewball. Just to say, we did drive today. The engine is still cutting out, but no worse than yesterday. When the time is right (not the middle of the night in the U.S., he will call Mid America Motor Works to see if he can get cylinder heads shipped in, and how fast?

Enjoying this stop on the road to Paris,


Beetle for Sale or Rent
June 18, 2011

In 1908, when the remaining French team (out of the original three that started in N.Y.) arrived in Vladivostok, they sold their car to a Chinese businessman because their financial support was withdrawn. They continued to Paris by train.

Today, I stayed behind because of “personal travel problems” and did not go on the camel ride in the Gobi. (More from Jan on that later. Just let me say from the pictures, she looks good on a camel.)

But this is my blog. I was in front of our elegant hotel, (it is laid out to replicate the architecture of the Tang Dynasty — mud walls enclose a courtyard and our room has a view of the Gobi Desert) checking the oil in Stewball when a Chinese man approach me who said this was his hotel. He said he wanted to ask a personal question. “How much would you sell the Beetle for? It must be very valuable and I want it for a museum. You can fly on to Paris.” I told him that it really wasn’t valuable, that there were many of them still in the U.S. He paused, then added,”you must be very wealthy, perhaps a billionaire.” I assured him I was not, but that I really wanted to drive this car around the world, not fly to Paris. If he had approached me yesterday, history might have repeated itself!

I have learned Jack Crabtree driving his Model A, doesn’t take “Out” seriously. So, after checking in, Jack, Peter, our Chinese guide and I went searching for an engine repair shop in this tourist city, one cylinder misfiring as we went. Almost at the same time, Peter and I spotted a hole in the wall VW service place! Peter explained our problem. They were fascinated by Stewball, most likely having never seen an air-cooled one, and went to work immediately. Peter told me afterward he had explained to them that if they didn’t think they could work on this engine, to not even touch it! There was no inside work space, this was done outdoors. It wasn’t compression after all. The new distributor that the San Francisco shop put on (without consulting me) was bad. I had a spare along – so much for not having the one part that you will surely need. They put it on. Stewball is healthy again. Total bill for two hours labor, and Castrol 20W-50 oil for an oil change, $50.00 U.S. 

So, no sale or rent for Stewball, we continue to Paris,


The Ghost of George Schuster
June 19, 2011

If part of this adventure was to feel the presence of George Schuster and his crew, today did it. We drove from Dunhaung, a photographer’s delight with the ever-changing light on the Gobi desert sand to Hami, a distance of 267 miles. Piece of cake — NOT. There are a lot of things I don’t understand about China and here is one more. There is only one road to Hami, that I get, there are no towns between these two cities and no needs for multiple roads, but tearing up a distance of 138 miles before resurfacing any of it, that I don’t get.

So, all the traffic still continues — or not — on rock-strewn, rutted, gutted, potholed, sometimes muddy, flooded road. This photo was the best section. Once the road got really bad, I couldn’t take photos. It is really hard to describe this drive. People have made their own detours, sometimes going up onto what will be the new road, then back down onto our not-road. The trunks mostly stood still. Engines off, drivers sleeping or hunkering in groups, smoking and talking until our cars came by then they all waved and smiled and helped us snake our way, creating lanes, among the trucks to continue our very slow journey.

I do believe these trunk drivers have more patience and courtesy than those in the U.S. We saw no indication of irritation or impatience — just resignation. They moved to the right and left, leaving space for cars to make a third or even fourth lane to make what progress we could. It took seven hours to cover this 138 miles. Like Schuster, we even had to build a ramp of rocks and straw to get up and over a not yet finished bridge on one of our many man-made detours. It was a challenge in driving that we have never experienced. There were no police to move things along, just drivers helping drivers. What a life this is.

Tomorrow, Ed will check the oil bath air cleaner because of all the sand.

Jan and Ed

Bits and Pieces from China
June 21, 2011

Ever wonder who writes the instructions for your electronic devices? Check out these fire safety instructions on the door of a recent hotel.

“Please don’t worry if a fire is occurring. Our hotel have owned superior facilities to ensure your transmitted to safety. Please follow the direction route to the information corridor and the safeguards will take you out to the safe belts. Point profess your location.”

We have really been welcomed by people everywhere. I don’t know what I expected, but I did expect the Chinese to be more reserved, maybe even suspicious of us and our activity. I am coming away with a different opinion. They are very curious about our cars and us as Americans driving through their country. Ed was told by one young woman, traveling with her parents, that he is a good example for the older people in China. That life can still be an adventure.

We don’t see old cars in China. We were told by an American, Chuck Brown from Kernersville, N.C., who has lived in Beijing for the last nine years, that cars have an “end of life” when you buy one.

I forgot to ask him how long is the life of a car, but he did say buses have 10 years. From the trucks we’ve seen, I don’t think that law affects them but maybe it is just the overloading and long hauls.

Everywhere we stop, including for gas, we have new friends wanting photos with us. It is never-ending, without common language, we smile, shake hands and use lots of gesturing.

The message is clear, they are glad to have us here. The language is so different that it is even difficult to read the body language or voice inflection, but being pulled to the car for a photo is clear!

Today we elected not to tour Urumqi, and stayed behind to take off the oil bath air cleaner and check it. I washed off the Gobi dust and dirt from the past two days while Ed managed the engine. Even in the depths of the hotel garage, we managed to collect various (hotel employees?) people watching and even holding the flashlight for Ed. Then it got more interesting. While having lunch — again in the hotel, we were approached by one of the young men who had been in the parking garage who asked in English if his girlfriend, a reporter for the Urumqi newspaper, could interview us. His English was not good enough, so the hotel manager served as translator. We have no idea what the article really will say since there was a lot of conversation that did not get translated. So if anyone following the blog, reads Chinese, we’d be happy to have a translation of the article. The lovely young reporter gave us her card, and respecting the Chinese tradition of exchanging business cards (with two hands) we gave her one with the photo of Stewball. Since hers is in Chinese, we don’t even know if she really is a reporter! Picture taking followed, but I didn’t have my camera this time.

Tomorrow is a short run only 171 miles so we will not depart until 10:00 a.m. Tonight is a dinner with Uighur folk dancing. I am sure that will produce photos.


Enough of China!
June 23, 2011

Three thousand miles is at least one thousand too many. I retract my comments that I made about Chinese food, hotels and rapture. That was Beijing. People who think they know China after a visit to Beijing are like those who think they know the U.S. after a visit to New York City. As we have driven west, the food and hotels, with very few exceptions, have become worse and worse. China has a long way to go to bring this entire county up to any Western standard. From reading the IHT, I know they hope the high-speed train will connect East and West (of China), but not yet. Health and sanitation does not seem to be on the agenda yet, just energy, roads and infrastructure that impresses.

Tomorrow is the border crossing, really two borders, first China, then 2 km of neutral zone and then the Kazakhstan border. Of course each border requires different documentation. Cross your fingers that our paper work is in order, or we will get to experience Doug’s promised “opportunities for adventure." We have learned only the driver of the car can cross with the car, Jan along with the other navigators will cross in a bus (make that bribe a driver with an already full bus to let them stand in the isle with our extra luggage for the 2 km trip). No one is allowed to walk this distance and no photographs. Our support vehicles cannot cross (they are Chinese) and new vehicles and drivers will meet us on the Kazakhstan side.

All I can say, is, if you plan to drive China, be prepared for friendly people, a travel adventure and the lack of creature comfort as we know it. I am really ready for a different country and I am not alone.


Lost But Not Lonely in Kazakhstan
June 27, 2011

NOTE: This is being posted by daughter, Lilla, since for some reason we cannot access our blog here.

Today finds us in Karaganda, somewhere between Almaty and Astana. Actually this is the second largest city in Kazakhstan. But the story is how we got here.

The day started out easy enough and we only had a run of 251 miles.

There are not a lot of roads in Kazakhstan. The only thing I would trade in Kazakhstan with China are the roads — that is most of them. We did have our share of road horrors in China. The Kazakhstan Highway is a two-lane, often bumpy surfaced road. The washout of the undersurface produces potholes and broken surface near the shoulders. The good thing is traffic is much lighter, especially truck traffic, but we still have to make our way around many broken down trucks. It’s quite straight from Almaty to Astana but somehow we managed to lose our lead vehicle and Jerry’s corvette. It’s really not hard if you get stuck behind a couple of trucks and out of range of the walkie-talkies we are using for communications. We really expected they would be waiting for us at the city border but they apparently thought we had stopped to let Jack in his Model A and the back support vehicle catch up. Point is, we entered the city (remember, second largest in Kazakhstan) with no one to guide us to the hotel. Not without our own resources, we stopped by the side of the road to wait on Jack. We knew we were ahead of him. Minutes after we stopped a car stopped behind us and out popped three young people. With no common language — there is a lot of English here — they gestured, could they photograph themselves with our car? We of course said yes, then with a bit more sign language, they wanted to know where we were heading. I pulled out our World Race itinerary and showed them the name of the hotel. The young man indicated he could lead us there. 

Now this is something you have to understand, in Kazakhstan and Russia, there are lots of informal “taxis”. People pick up money by taking on passengers. This is well described on pages 218 and 219 in The Long Road to Paris T. That was Moscow, but it could have been any city in Kazakhstan as well. We followed them easily and with only a slight degree of anxiety. They lead us directly to our hotel, which was quite close to the side of the city where we entered. There in the parking lot was Jerry’s Corvette and our lead vehicle wondering how we had found the hotel since we were not with Jack or the other support vehicle. This guidance was not for money, just friendship and interest. We introduced our guide to our new friends, pictures all around and a wave goodbye!

I don’t think we need a lead vehicle again on this road to Paris! You may not read another post until Russia, but all is well. Stewball is over his bad fuel problem, no more dieseling and Jan and Ed are well too.


We Love Kazakhstan!
June 29, 2011

We are now slightly more than half way between Beijing and Paris and have a day off in Astana, the capital of Kazakhstan only since 1997. Almaty was the capital before that. According to our guide, Alexander, the president made this decision based on natural threats — Almaty has twice been destroyed by earthquakes and once by flooding — and man-made threats since Almaty is very close to the border with China. Anyway, like Almaty, this is a beautiful, clean, modern city. We walked through the city center yesterday afternoon.

I have been surprised at how much English is spoken here. I had assumed a second language would be Russian since they were part of the Soviet Union for so long. Those we speak to ask us if we like the city and like Kazakhstan. They are proud of their country’s progress and are curious if we see it the same way. I am happy to say we do. I don’t know what I expected, but this county is certainly a place to watch. They have their act together.

So, today for some was a tour of the city, for us, a tour of the parking lot. Ed had to adjust valves and lubricate the car. We were in early enough to do this yesterday, but this job must be done when the engine is cold, so, it was a job for this morning. Ed borrowed Jack’s grease gun and his blue blanket to make things more comfortable. I helped, well, sort of. I played gopher and washed the exterior and straighten up the interior. Seems car maintenance is the way all the drivers spend any day off.

Tomorrow we are back on the road to Paris a run of 368 miles to the border town of Petropavlovsk. It will be an early start to be sure. We have enjoyed our time in Kazakhstan. This country I would happily return to.


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