Sunday, 15 December 2013

Les takes around the world - Part 3

We were on our way to the Nurburgring. We had lost our camera bag. Not feeling too happy about the situation, I reluctantly decided to forget the bag and press on. 

We arrived at Nurgurgring a little after 2.00pm and stopped at the main office. I went in fully expecting to be told to 'bugger off', or words to that effect. I opened the door and went into a glass clad aircraft hangar and in front of me was the longest curved counter I have ever seen. There was only one person in the place, a very BIG lady. She looked like a rugby player, big shoulders and muscles a weight lifter would give his truss for. Before I could ask where do I go to ask if we can drive around the circuit, she bellowed out “COME!” I nearly swallowed my Adams apple! Her eyes focussed on me and it felt like I was being drawn across the floor by a tractor beam from Startrek. 

I arrived at the counter and looked up. I felt like Oliver clutching his bowl and about to ask can I have some more. I explained who we were and what we are doing, and asked if it would be possible to drive the cars around the circuit. There was a few seconds silence while I was waiting, expecting my marching orders. She leant forward and bellowed in an English speaking German accent “OF COURSE YOU CAN IT IS AN OPEN DAY!” That was a relief. I pointed through the glass at the two Jimnys outside “can we drive these cars on the circuit?” she bellowed again “ OF COURSE”.

It's great when a plan comes together. I'd organised it from the UK some weeks ago, but you never know until you're there whether its going to come off or not. Finally arriving and being told that we could drive the Nurburgring was fantastic. I purchased the tickets and casually asked to my new friend, “is it OK to film as we drive around”. She stood up blocking out the light.  Looked me in the face and said, “FILMING IS FORBODEN”, and gave me a big wink. I said “can we film then?”, she repeated “IT IS FORBODEN”. Her eye fluttered away like a royal navy ships signalling lamp which I took to mean that it’s not allowed but don’t get caught. My new best friend Helga, gave me directions to get to the circuit entrance.  We got into the cars and drove to the assembly area where you wait to go onto the circuit. 

Thinking that we had to wait our turn until the fast boys were finished I turned the engine off and settled down to wait. I was about to get out of the car to have a chat to the guys, when a steward banged on the bonnet frightening the life out of me. He pointed to the opening gate, saying “you go”. As I looked through the gate race cars were flashing past, another steward was looking for a gap and before we knew it we were on the track with race cars flashing past. This is crazy I thought to myself, I started to laugh, I could see the funny side of it.  There we were bombing along at 60 mph and the race boys passing us at 170mph. We couldn’t catch them on the straight but they were certainly not happy when we occupied the fast line in the bends. It was an experience of a lifetime and we enjoyed it immensely. Unfortunately it was over to quickly.

Tomorrow we travel to Bensheim to meet with guys at Suzuki Europe to receive a cheque for Save The Children and then on to meet Mr Lech Walesa past President of Poland ….. to be continued

Sunday, 24 November 2013

Untold elements of the project ... part 2

I left it last week that we were in our team meeting. We'd dealt with matters relating to start readiness, then got around to receiving everybody’s payment. My contribution was part of what my wife and I put in at the beginning and the three guys who were doing a 30 day stage had their £6,000 ready. I asked the additional two guys who were also doing a 30 day stage for their £6,000 and that's when it all went badly wrong. They told us they had only budgeted for £5,000 and that’s all they could pay. My reply was 'you were at all the meetings when we discussed and agreed the contributions, didn’t you read the minutes?' They were adamant all they were going to pay was £5,000 and no amount of discussion was going to persuade them otherwise. 

Why had they waited until that moment, they knew we had enough problems, heaven help us. The guys who had already agreed the payment suggested they pay the full amount and the other two pay their £5,000. As I listened to what was being said, I thought to myself, shall I say what I would really like to say or should I try and hold everything together, for the sake of the project. That was when I made the only decision I could under the circumstances and said that if they are only paying £5,000 each then everyone else pays the same. Thanks to the inconsiderate action of two people they effectively wiped a further £5,000 of our already reduced budget.

Time was running out, we only had six crew instead of eight, and the budget was down from £60,000 to £40,000, how many knocks could I take.

We had no crew for stages 1 and 2 and about this time I was informed by one of the founder members that he had been diagnosed with cancer and would need immediate treatment so he could not go. That was a great loss, I was looking forward to his company on the journey. Surely nothing else could go wrong. Things didn’t look good at this stage. I desperately needed a crew to drive stage 1 and there were no takers. A day or so later the phone rang, it was one of the guys who had pulled out earlier, he said I hear you might need crew for stage 1, he told me he and a friend would do it. What a relief! Two weeks to go and we finally had crews for stages 1, 3, and 4. Myself and the cameraman would do stage 2.

Looking back over the past two years, it seemed as though there was a problem of one sort or another dropping into my lap every week to sort out. It continued to be like that leading up to departure day and throughout the journey. There were no shortage of problems or issues for me to deal with as we travelled.

Two weeks before departure day March 31st.. Everything was checked and rechecked to make sure we were ready to load the vehicles when the time came. Roland and Keith were all ready to drive the first stage. I then contacted the guy I hoped would be our cameraman for stage one and was told that he could no longer make it. A week or so to go and we had no cameraman, “will it never end”. I phoned Maureen who handles our Press and PR and told her that we had no cameraman and didn't have a lot of time to find anyone now. She suggested she put an ad on Facebook and see what happens. A week later she phoned me to say someone had replied and would I talk to him, which I did. I made contact, and for the purposes of this article I will refer to the cameraman as Tom. We discussed the project and I explained to him, as cameraman, he would be required to take care of all the filming while he was with us.

Not knowing much about the film business and I only spoke to Tom briefly, I thought it prudent to ask our film people and Keith who manages the web site to talk to him and come back to me to let me know if they thought he will be up to the job. The reports came back and the general feeling was he had the experience and could probably do the job. Not being in a position to be choosy, I called him back to have another chat. I needed to know if we could sit in my Jimny for long periods of time together day after day, and come out at the other end as friends. I asked a lot of questions to get a feel of the person at the other end of the phone. As I said, it was not the time to be choosy so I invited him to join our merry band. On reflection I should have known better. When questioning Tom told me everything I wanted to hear, nobody is that perfect. Yes he had been a cameraman at some time, but he also had many other jobs and hadn’t worked at anything for a long time before he received my call. And that’s not all. I was to find out later that he was taking antidepressants to control his mood swings. That’s all I needed!
A day or two before departure. I had done all the checking I was going to do. What we didn’t have we go without. All I could think of was that on Sunday we will be off on the journey of a lifetime, not knowing what may come. I would need to travel around 7,000 miles and be at a place called Novosibirsk in Russia no later than the 9th May to meet Graham and Mike who would join me for stage three. The thought of not being there to meet them was constantly on my mind.

Ready or not, it was departure day, March 31st. I hadn’t had a decent night’s sleep for some time, I could remember standing by LC02 in the drive thinking, have I forgotten anything, is what I had put together going to work, or be a total mess when I leave, what will my wife and family think of me. All these questions and a lot more continuously buzzing around in my head. I didn’t feel good but I got in the car and drove out of the drive to be immediately confronted with a road accident. It had just happened. Bits of the two cars involved were still spinning around in the middle of the road. The people were all right so I drove around the accident as I couldn’t be late for the departure reception.

I was pleased the way the reception came together, everybody was there, all the guys, our families, sponsors and supporters Press and TV. Roland, Keith and Tom the cameraman were there so I knew we could start. We shook hands and dealt with the speeches and posed for pictures. The hard part was to say good bye to our families and friends. I felt bad at leaving my wife Vi, we have been married for fifty two years and the longest we have been apart was for three weeks in all that time, so I wasn’t exactly her favourite. It was time to go, I gave Vi one last kiss and a hug got in the car and started to roll forward, I checked to see that LC03 was behind, at last we were on our way.

I felt sad as I drove out of Southampton, but we were soon on the M3 cruising along at 55 mph, the tension that had been with me for as long as I could remember had eased, I looked at the speedometer and seeing that we had travelled ten miles, chuckling to myself and saying out loud we have done 10 miles, only have another 19,000 miles to go. I chatted to Tom as we drove, outlining what lay ahead of us, and before we knew it we were checking in at the channel tunnel. An hour later we were travelling through France on our way to Bruxells and the Novotel overnight stop.

We arrived at around 7.30pm put the bags in our rooms and headed for the bar and a well-deserved beer. I felt much better, we were on our way, all the months of preparation were behind me and I could focus on what lay ahead. I thanked Roland and Keith for joining me for stage one and enabling the journey to start and go ahead more or less as planned. Chatting during the evening it was clear to me that I couldn’t be travelling with better companions we laughed at everything. It was just what I needed. Before turning in for the night we had a brief discussion about our schedule for the next day. I explained our first stop in the morning would be at the European Parliament and hopefully we would find one of our MEP’s to ask what has happened to the 12 billion we paid in last year. After we had given them a tongue lashing, we would drive to the Nurburgring to keep a promise I made to myself to drive the two Jimnys around the old race circuit.

Monday 1st April day 2. We were up bright and early with a good breakfast inside us and we hit the road for the European Parliament. I commented to Tom that the traffic seems light for a Monday morning. We found our way to the main parliament building to find that everything was locked up and no people wandering about. We parked the cars and found an official looking person to ask why everything was closed. We were told it was a national holiday and to come back tomorrow.

Pity, I was all keyed up to give somebody a piece of my mind, probably just as well, I tend to get carried away. I probably avoided being locked up for the night for saying something I shouldn’t have. On the other hand, the place being closed meant that we had it to ourselves for filming. Tom was already filming our disappointment at not being asked to have dinner with the president, and seeing that the camera was rolling we slipped into our acting mode. You know, all teeth and grinning like Cheshire cats, this went on until Tom said that he had all he needed so made our way to the Nurburgring expecting to be there at 2.00pm.

We made our way out of Bruxelles and had been driving for about two hours. Tom had been noticeably silent during this time and kept turning in his seat to look in the back of the vehicle. This went on for a little longer, then he suddenly popped the question, “where did I put the camera bag”. I looked at him for a second or two while I tried to think. “Why are you asking me?” I replied, “I haven’t handled the filming equipment at all and the last time I saw the bag it was over your shoulder at the European Parliament”. Tom had another look in the back then sat in his seat and looked out of the window.

I waited for a few moments for him to tell me what the problem was, but he just looked out of the window. “What’s the problem Tom” I asked, “ I can’t find the camera bag” he said. Luckily we had communicators which allowed us to communicate between vehicles. I called the guys to ask them to stop to see if Tom had put the camera bag in their car. We search both vehicles but found no bag. I questioned Tom to find out when he had it last, it appeared he took the camera bag with the camera in it, out of our car when we were talking to the official at the parliament, did the filming got back in the car and we drove off leaving the bag behind. I said to Tom “didn’t it occur to you that something was wrong? We have been driving for two hours and you have been holding the camera on your lap all that time. Had you established a routine to put the camera in the bag when not in use this would not have happened”.

When buying the camera bag I made a point of purchasing a good quality and of course expensive one that would protect camera when in the rough stuff. My dilemma now was, we had been driving for two hours away from the bag. If went back it would take two hours, the bag may or may not be there when we arrive, and another two hours to get back to where we are at the moment. If we go back we will miss our appointment at the Nurburgring and a chance of driving around the old race circuit. At this point I am only thinking that we have lost the bag. It didn’t occur to me at the time, to ask Tom if there was anything else in the bag. He knew it contained all the kit we needed to support filming, such as, plug adaptors, battery charges, cables and camera accessories and so on. He never told me. I found that out for myself in the middle of Kazakhstan …... to be continued

Sunday, 17 November 2013

Les starts to reveal some untold elements of the project ...

Three years of actual time, but I seemed to have aged ten years, undertaking the Ultimate Challenge so far. I say so far, because we've still got the film to complete. I first thought of the idea September 2010 and actually arrived home having completed the journey 29th August 2013. 

The project involved quite a lot of people, the home team, the road team (those who did the actual driving), our sponsors, supporters and well-wishers. Everybody played their part and contributed to its success. I saw my part in the preparation stages, as driving the project forward and keeping momentum going, equally important for me personally was to remain adamant that I would drive the entire journey myself, irrespective what format the project took. I was to find out soon enough that there were people who thought what I was proposing was crazy at my age. All that did was to make me more determined.

2010 proved to be a challenging time to try to put a fund raising charity project together. The country was in recession and the public was being sucked dry of what money they had by high profile fund raising charities wanting their piece of the action. It was clear to me that it would be a struggle financially from the outset. If I was to rely on donations to fund the project it would take for ever to raise enough money to get started. I thought long and hard about the financial aspect of the project, the first of many obstacles I needed to overcome. I had to find a solution to this problem and at the same time give the public confidence enough to support us. I had a word with my wife Vi about the problem. We are not rich by today's standard but we have enough plus a bit extra so we were comfortable. I think I mentioned previously we lost our son, Lee, to cancer on June 4th 2008. We suffered our loss like any parents would, so to soften it a bit we agreed to start the project by making available up to £50,000 in memory of our son. We also wanted send a message to the effect that I was serious and committed to see the project through to the end. I am not trying to be boastful or big headed by the fact that we made such a contribution, but I wanted it out in the open as to how the financial structure came together before departure.

The other issue that needed to be considered, was how the public would view a group of old guys in their seventies driving around the world for charity. To ensure the project was not seen as a jolly for the boys, I made it clear that everybody taking part as road crew, those doing the actual driving, would pay all their own costs. I arrived at the final cost later on during the preparation, but for the record I worked it out on the assumption that there will be a road crew of eight plus myself and a cameraman. Briefly it worked out that the journey would be in four stages, the cost to participate would depend on how many days the stage lasted. For example, if stage one was twenty days, the contribution would be £5,000 and if stage four was thirty days would come to £6,000. If all went according to plan we would have £46,000 plus part of the money from my contribution which meant that we had around £60,000. The cost of the cameraman would be covered by myself on the assumption that it would be recovered when the film was sold. So six months before departure day it wasn’t looking too bad.

The period leading up to departure day focussed on bringing everybody together. Crew training, acquiring equipment, talking to possible sponsors, documentation and visas, injections and medical checks, and anything else that needed to be dealt with. Throughout the time leading up to departure there were regular meetings with everyone involved to deal with all aspects of the project and in particular the project's finances and the crew contribution. So at that point every one of us knew what the financial commitment would be for anyone taking part. Departure date was set provisionally for the end of April, 2013. About six months before departure day little things began to happen that gave me cause for concern. It began with one of the team pulling out due to medical reasons, others who had expressed interest in the early days were no longer available. Another member who joined us late in the programme had to pull out as his financial circumstances changed. It was becoming a nightmare. Out of the original eight plus myself we were down to four, and it didn’t end there. I needed to do something drastic if the whole thing wasn’t going to fall down around me.

I put an advertisement in the local paper and was pleasantly surprised to get a phone call. We were back up to five. Realising that we needed crew, he said that he had a friend who would like to join us. We were back up to six. At this stage four of us had committed to pay our contributions at the price agreed, however in subsequent meetings when I raised the issue of the other two paying their contribution it seemed to fall on deaf ears. This situation continued up to about six weeks before departure date which had now been set for the March 31st. We had a meeting organised and I had to face up to the possibility of bringing the situation to a head, what I wasn’t prepared for was what actually happened …... to be continued  

Friday, 1 November 2013

Graham Higgins Stage Three Log

This log is made up of extracts from the emails that I sent home while I was on the third stage of the challenge. The gaps are where we had no WiFi. Stage three was from Novosibirsk, through Mongolia and eastern Russia to Vladivostok. Michael and I then went on into Japan by ferry and train while Les was relaxing in Greece.

Hopefully they will give a good picture of the journey as they should reflect exactly what I was thinking at the time.

Wednesday 8th May
Michael and I flew from Gatwick to Novosibirsk via Kiev on Air Ukraine. We had a three hour wait in Kiev. The flights were OK, I don't think flights are ever very enjoyable, especially as these were the cheapest we could get! We had the same meal on both legs of the journey! Les met us at the airport. It was quick and easy to clear customs and immigration.
Graham and Mike get their Jimny briefing

Novosibirsk is a typical big Russian city, the third biggest in Russia. Big industry, very grey, big potholes in the roads. Some buildings very modern and some very old and in a bad state of repair. We had the choice of making the journey through Mongolia or staying in Russia all the way. Mongolia is more unknown and Les has had some bad reports of the state of the roads. Russia may be easier, better roads, less hazardous......... we choose to go through Mongolia.

Friday 10th May
We have made it to Biysk, about 350kms from Novosibirsk. It took about 5 hours. More traffic than I expected, heavy industry all around coming out of Novosibirsk, smoky and dirty. Roads are tarmac some good and some not so good. We are still in quite populated areas, big fields being ploughed, still some patches of ice in some fields. Raining at times, very windy, not cold, a big contrast to yesterday which was hot and sunny. We have checked into an hotel, not luxury, quite old and rundown but clean. It has roughly a 100 rooms but it's not full. They still made a complete muddle of the room numbers. I don't know what they would do if the hotel was anywhere near full! We might eat in the restaurant tonight if weather is not good. Off to Tashanta tomorrow on the Mongolian border, about 600kms.

Saturday morning. 11th May
Power cut in hotel at breakfast. Lucky nobody was in lifts at the time. We are on 6th floor so have to carry bags down. Strange things for breakfast. Slept better last night, I must be getting over the jet lag. Very windy and quite cold, the wind blows up the sand and grit onto your face. It hurts.

Saturday evening.
Had a long time on the road today, we started about 9 in the morning and did about 350 miles. It took 10 hours as it was slow going along bad roads. 50 miles out of Biysk the terrain changed from flat grassland and forest to big mountains and narrow passes. The little Jimnys don't have much power up hill and are very heavily loaded. We were in the mountains for the rest of the day. We got to Kosh-Agash at 7.30 in the evening. Found a boarding room with 3 beds for the 3 of us. Its in a wood cabin with a communal kitchen and shower room. Its cold and very windy outside, but its warm in the room. 
Kosh-Agash is like a a real frontier town, just cabins and small shops. Rocky and gritty ground. We ate in a Restaurant that we were taken to by the owner of the room. The Restaurant opened specially for us. We had local food, spaghetti, vegetables and rice. The people have changed now from looking Russian to looking Mongolian. We have found out that the border is not open on Sundays so we will have a quiet day tomorrow. That's a shame as we did a lot of driving today to get a good start tomorrow across into Mongolia.

Sunday 12th May.
Got a good night's sleep. Drove to Tashanta, where the border post is, about 30 miles. The border post was closed, we were told that it opens at 9 tomorrow. Mongolia is closed on Sundays. 

We have come back to Kosh-Agash as there is nowhere to stay in Tashanta. Fill up with petrol and the cans as well as fuel may be difficult in Mongolia. We have been told it's 4 days to Ulan Bator, the capital, but we may take longer on the poor roads. It's about 1000 miles. We don't know how much of it will be tarmac. The weather is beautiful today, there was frost on the cars this morning and it was very cold, but its bright sunshine now, 5pm, and it must be 20 degrees in the sun. Walked around the town, maybe 10 shops. You can buy most anything but its all very utilitarian, picks and shovels and rope are obviously popular items.

Monday 13th May
Today we want to get to Olgii, maybe 200 miles. We crossed the border this morning. The whole process took about 2 hours. Much form filling and stamping forms and passing the form to the next person, most of the staff there did not seem to have anything to do. Big frontier post but almost no one crossing. Very windy today, sunshine, quite cold. Into the unknown........ 

Graham at the wheel

The roads turned immediately to rough gravel and rocks. Down to about 20 miles per hour, sometimes more, sometimes less. After about 40 miles we came to one very bad patch which we could not find a way through. Huge mountains of rocks in the road. Many tracks but none of them get anywhere. No signs how to get round them. We had to go back to a Yurt and ask. 

The people are friendly and helpful, warm inside house, just one room, big cooking pot in the middle. A man and his wife. What a bleak existence! They had a pen of goats but the Yurt is on the side of a big hill, completely windswept and miles from the next person. He showed us the way to go to get round the rough bit but it must have taken more than 1 hour all together. We found out after wards that it was where they are doing big roadworks, moving tons of rock and making cuttings because just after that the tarmac new road started. Brand new, the smoothest road you have ever seen. Booked into hotel which is very run down. Trying to get some hot water, bed like a plank of wood. I took 10,000 Mongolian Tugrugs out at the ATM and then found out it was worth about £4.50!

The bitter wind has dropped, not too cold now. Had a good meal in Mongolian Restaurant, most were closed. It cost £16 for the 3 of us with two beers each. Les has had his bank card stopped and the Sat Nav has packed up. This is a problem as there is not one signpost in Mongolia! And we have got another 800 miles to go to Ulan Bator.

Friday 17th May.
We have made it to Ulan Bator. It is a chaotic city, some very modern, some very poor and old. Big shanty towns on the outskirts. We arrived in the dark last night, which was a mistake. Traffic gridlocked, impossible to find your way around. Unlit road works, big potholes, no street names or signs. No English, all writing in Cyrrilic. People, cars and animals in the road all pushing and hooting. It was not surprising we could not find our way around.

We have a touch of comfort tonight staying in the Ramada hotel to make up for the very spartan conditions we have had for the last few days.

After Olgii, we made overnight stops in Khovd, Altai, Bayankhongor. We have had 5 days of really tough going, about 250 miles per day over dirt roads and tracks, through Fords and round boulders. Petrol stations few and far between. You can only do about 25 mph average. Some bits over the plains are ok at 40 mph, the dirt tracks are quite smooth. In the mountains you get Fords, big rocks, big ruts and are down to 5 mph at most. Huge trucks have to use the same tracks that we have driven. We have been doing 10 hour driving days to get across Mongolia in 5 days. 

It has been worrying when the track splits, as it often does. How do you figure out which way to go? Luckily most of the tracks end up coming back together in a few miles time, its just the locals trying to find a better way to go. The other fortunate thing about this, is that the country is so sparsely populated with so few towns that if you go in roughly the right direction then you are pretty sure the tracks will end up in the town you were aiming for. Certainly for us, navigating by the sun (which almost always shines in Mongolia) and a good map, we always got to where we wanted to go. And all of this was mixed with some completed sections of new super smooth tarmac road which is being built by the Chinese. One extreme to the other.

The hotels were very basic, poorly maintained but usually clean. The people did their best with few resources. Les made sure we ate the dried fruit that he had brought with us every morning for breakfast, I think he is very concerned about our bodily functions! Very nice friendly people, very helpful. It must be a very tough lonely life completely isolated and that is in summer.
Saturday 18th May.
Rest day in Ulan Bator today. Off north tomorrow back to the Russian border. I have a walk around the town, Les and Mike stay in the hotel sending emails and on Skype.

Monday 20th May.
Roads are improving, we are back on tarmac. We crossed back into Russia today at Kyakta. We drove about 70 miles to the border from Darkhan, where we stayed on Sunday night. Spent 3 hours at the border filling forms, having the cars searched by sniffer dogs and waiting for many officials to do things. It causes much confusion that both vehicles are owned by Les in the Logbook and we are driving his vehicle. They expect the driver to be the registered owner. Russian roads are better, only a few excursions off the road onto dirt tracks to get around road works, some bits are new and good tarmac, some bits are old with big potholes, but at least you can follow the tarmac so we are not in danger of getting lost! When they do road works they just put a big heap of soil to block the road at the start of the works and leave it up to you to go off onto the dirt at the side and find your way to get back onto the road after the road works. We did 120 miles from the border to Ulan-Ude, where we are staying. We are all well and off towards Chita tomorrow. My one regret for the trip was that we didn’t take a day to see Lake Baikal at this point but we didn’t know the state of the roads between us and Vladivostok, and that was about 2500kms, a bloody long way if the roads were not good. We had to be there by 1st June to get the vehicles loaded and shipped.

Saturday 25th May.
We are in Khabarovsk. Ulan-Ude and Chita were big cities but not nice, nothing much to see. The journey round the top of China was long and very isolated, 1300 miles Chita to Khabarovsk. Very poor people all the way but good new road, all tarmac except where road works are repairing damage from the winter snow melt. The damage is so severe it just washes away big chunks of road and the ice breaks the tarmac. Endless pine forest. The towns around the top were poor and dirty. The people have no hope, only crime and vodka, the police told us that when they looked after us in Magocha. Small wooden houses are in a terrible state. It must be a bleak existence when its 30 below in winter. It looked like the film set of one of those post apocalypse movies. Khabarovsk, by contrast, is a nice city, clean and neat with good architecture. Museums and a nice waterfront to the massive Amur River. We are in the Intourist hotel in the middle. It's an old soviet era building but has been made a bit more pleasant.

Tuesday 28th May
We got to Vladivostok at 2pm this afternoon. A reasonable drive from Kirovskly but many road works got us back on the dirt. The road works are huge moving mountains of earth. We went straight to the Suzuki agent and handed the cars over to get them serviced. They gave us lunch and coffee and took us to our hotel. We are doing a press conference at 11am tomorrow as publicity for Suzuki at the Agents and then taking the vehicles to the test track they have just outside Vladivostok. We are in the Vladivostok Hotel which has been recently renovated. It's a big old soviet era block but its ok. It's just as well its been renovated as it has some terrible reviews on trip advisor! I think we are here until June 5th so hopefully it will be ok. The weather is rain and very poor visibility today, quite common in Vladivostok apparently. It was hot and sunny yesterday. The vehicles get handed over to the shipping agent for preparation for containerisation to Vancouver on Thursday. Vladivostok is a busy big port, much traffic and congestion, many modern buildings and much less poor then other Russian cities. Many Japanese tourists.

Wednesday 29th May
We went to the Suzuki Agent this morning to do the press conference. It lasted about an hour and there were about twenty people there. Then to the new motor sport track which is being built. It's only half finished. I have never been photographed so much, cameras going all the time. Then we met the guy who is organising the shipping of the vehicles to Vancouver. Its still raining but its supposed to be nice tomorrow.

Thursday 30th May
We got the cars from Suzuki and took them to the Shipping Agent. The vibration on our car is still there. The cars were washed and then taken by lorry to be put into the container. 

The Shipping Agent took us to lunch to eat Shashlik, kebab meat and potato. He said it was the best Shashlic in Vladivostok, but it was tough. We then went to the Agents office where Les did a 5 minute phone interview with Julian Clegg which was on Radio Solent.

Saturday 1st June
Yesterday I did the walk around Vladivostok that is in the guide book. Mike and Les were too lazy. It was hot and Vladivostok is very hilly so it was tiring. The walk took me to the main station which is magnificent and recently renovated. The Trans Siberian express takes 7 days to get to Moscow. I walked past the house where Yul Brinner was born then went into the department store which was very old fashioned, past the docks with many Russian warships and then to the big arch in the gardens where you go to have your wedding pictures taken. Then I walked to the Funicular which takes you to the lookout place to get a good view of Vladivostok. Unfortunately I misread the map and walked too far uphill so I walked to the top of the Funicular and not the bottom and it was hot! I came down in the cable car. In the evening we had a meal in the Yacht Club right outside our hotel, which was nice. It was a lovely evening. Les and Michael are keen on boats so they liked it and were impressing each other with their boating knowledge.

Monday 3rd June
Today I went to buy a Japanese rail pass that is only for tourists. It's much cheaper than buying individual tickets. It will last me all through my stay in Japan. It took a lot of time to buy it as nobody in Vladivostok knew anything about it so it took a long time to find out where to get it from but I managed in the end. I am now trying to plan our rail journey through Japan with Michael. He wants to go to Kyoto, the old capital, and Hiroshima, then to Tokyo.

Tuesday 4th June
We walked to the ferry terminal to confirm our bookings to Japan. The terminal is close to the hotel. We leave for Japan on Wednesday. The Ferry is like a cross channel boat, it looks good in the brochure so we shall have to see what its like in real life. It sails overnight to Donghae in Korea where we can get off for a few hours and then sails overnight again to Sakaiminato in Japan. We land in the morning of the 7th. Then we went to the Submarine Museum, which is actually in an old submarine. Weather is warm and sunny, we walked to the promenade and had ice cream. It's evidently a very popular place for the people of Vladivostok. There was a big stage where a children's talent contest was being held. Mostly dancing and singing by many children in local costume. There are many modern buildings in Vladivostok but a lot of the roads are still very bad and the pavements have manhole covers missing and big holes! Also you have to be careful as many places do not have guard rails where you would have to have them in UK. We have eaten in the Chinese restaurant in the hotel most evenings we have been here but we will venture out tonight. Maybe to a Japanese restaurant, there is a lot of Japanese influence here.

Wednesday 5th June
Les has gone to the airport to fly to Greece. Michael and I go to the ferry port to go to Japan. What an adventure so far!

Log part two – Japan

Sunday 9th June
Mike and I got the ferry from Vladivostok, landed in Donghae in South Korea for a few hours and then went onto Sakaiminato. We got the train to Okayama, where we stayed for two nights. Japanese trains are fantastic, fast, clean and comfortable, always on time. Yesterday we went to Hiroshima. Mike wanted to visit the museum and memorials of the atom bomb. Today we have moved to Kyoto and visited temples and shrines. Kyoto is the old capital. Tomorrow we move on to Tokyo and Mike goes home. Japan is very hot and humid, which makes sightseeing tiring, when he has gone I can take it a bit easier. We have been rushing a bit as he only has three days in Japan. I can use my train pass and spend all day on the train if I want to, which is luxury. It's fascinating to see the train guard bowing to all the people every time he walks up the carriage, not at all like British Rail! Hotels in Japan are really cheap and food is good and cheap, in fact with a train pass you can get a cheap holiday in Japan. It is a very pleasant place, clean, tidy and well organised.

Friday 14th June
I went to Suzuki in Hamamatsu today. The journey from Tokyo took about ninety minutes each way, once again by bullet train. I met Mr Osamu Shibata, the European Sales and Marketing General Manager and Mr Kenta Gotoh his assistant. Mr Shibata spoke good English, Mr Gotoh not so good. I was a little unsure if they were pleased to see me or not, I don’t think they knew quite what to make of me. They had been told that I was coming but I don’t think they really thought that I would. I spent three hours at Suzuki. I told them all about our trip and the website and the charities that we were supporting and that we hoped to make a film of the trip, that we are all old and that the Jimnys had performed well all through the rough conditions. They gave me a tour of the Museum which was interesting but I didn't get a cup of coffee. I was thirsty. 

Mr Suzuki started out making weaving machines and moved onto putting small petrol engines into bicycles. The rest is history.

Tokyo station is huge. Its about 20 times the size of Waterloo with three levels of underground shopping mall interspersed with platforms. Even the Japanese get lost in Tokyo station!

I got to the station early and watched the cleaners do their work when the train turns round in Tokyo main station. There are two cleaner ladies to each carriage, all in pink trouser suits and white gloves and hats. They get on the train after the passengers have got off and the doors close behind them so the new passengers can't get on until they have finished. They spray the whole carriage and brush all the seats, wipe all the armrests and put clean head cloths on all the seats. They sweep and polish the floor and its all done with great formality, energy and attention to detail. Typically Japanese.

In the town, even the smallest road crossing or piece of work on the pavement has three or four people directing traffic with luminous wands. Goodness knows how they manage to pay all the people. Once again it's all done very correctly and with much bowing and ritual. The whole place is very structured and regimented, not by law but by culture and teaching. Very few houses have gardens. Tokyo is much more crowded than London, much more high rise. The cars are mostly small, square city cars, many hybrids. No pollution at all even with heavy traffic. There are many bicycles, no old or dirty cars. They have very strict tests for cars about six years old, so most are exported at that age and the Japanese buy new ones.

Saturday 15th June
The hotel has bicycles that you can borrow if you are staying there. They are town bikes with baskets and mudguards. All the bikes in Tokyo are like that. There are lovely cycle ways by the rivers, of which there are many. The roads all have wide pavements and cycle ways. They are so good you could play billiards on them. I cycled a long way all around the east side of Tokyo, Tokyo Disneyland and the Sea Life Centre, then round the docks and all the way to the middle of Tokyo. On the way back I went past a baseball stadium close to my hotel. It’s the stadium for the local amateur team. I went in and watched the last bit of the game, it's free to get in.

Sunday 16th June
I had another bike ride this morning but only did about ten miles due to sore bum, which is a pity as I would like to do more. I think I did too much on the bike yesterday. I might go to the baseball game tonight.

Monday 17th June
It has rained hard today so I took the Metro to the fish market. It’s the biggest in the world, every kind of fish you could imagine. I had Sashimi for lunch. There are many small casino type places in Tokyo with Pachinko and slots. Pachinko is a cross between an upright pinball machine and a slot machine. The places are very noisy with millions of metal balls crashing around. Very popular with the Japanese.

Tuesday 18th June
I cycled all the way to the Tokyo Skytree today, a big tower with fantastic views over Tokyo. I didn't really mean to go that far but just started out and kept going. I didn't go up it as there was a three hour wait and it cost twelve pounds. I cycled back. It was hot and humid. I stopped to watch quite a lot of the practice baseball game on the way back. I am getting to understand the rules a bit better now. Even the fans at the baseball game are very regimented, one team's supporters stand up and cheer and chant while the other set of fans sit quietly and do not interrupt, then they change over and take it in turns!

I have just realised one of the big plus points in Tokyo is that there are no cars parked on the roads, not even the side roads. It makes all the roads much nicer, you wonder where they all go. Some houses have parking spaces under them but the many huge apartment blocks must all have underground parking, they must be massive. The big car parks you see all have automated parking. You drive your car onto a tray and get out, it parks the car for you, moving the tray to a vacant space. When you come to collect it you type in the number of the space where it was parked and it fetches your car back to the exit. Even bikes are parked like that.
In Tokyo there are all sorts of ways they try to save space. There is great public service TV, everything from teaching you English to teaching you how to cross the road with a bicycle. When crossing the road, everybody waits for the little green man to light up even if there is no car in sight and the cars always give way to bikes and pedestrians.

Wednesday 19th June

Home today. I have had a fantastic time!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Will Les every have any luck with shipping??

Hi Guys, I thought that things would quieten down a bit for me once I got back after the journey. No such luck, I haven’t stopped. The homecoming reception has occupied some of my time, I have been typing articles for magazines and papers, replying to mountains of emails from people and dealing with the never ending lists of daily chores around the house. You may recall that when we were driving across the U.S.A. I had a senior moment and ending up buying a Triumph Bonneville, a bit of a classic motor bike. 

I got seriously told off about it but the dust has settled now, so I guess I’m forgiven. A few days ago I reminded myself that I hadn’t heard from the shipping agent who was organising the freight so I emailed them for an update and as far as I can make out this is what has happened.

If I recall I brought the bike Saturday 17th. I parted with a deposit and said that the remaining amount will follow in a few days. While I was waiting for that to happen I emailed the shop that sold me the bike to give them instructions. I asked if the bike could have the front wheel removed so the overall length including the crate would not be longer than 7’ 9” or short enough to fit ACROSS the inside of a container. I said a standard motorcycle crate will do, the type that bikes are shipped from Japan to the U.S.A. I also asked that the keys and paperwork be put into the crate and shipped together. For this service I paid $100. I told them the bike would be collected by our agent who was organising the freight for the Jimnys from Newark on the East coast to Southampton. So far so good.

I then contacted our agent in Vancouver who, handled the Jimnys clearance through customs when they arrived at Vancouver for Stage 4 and I told them that I had purchased the bike and could they arrange collection from the bike shop and have it delivered to the shippers on the East Coast. I organised with them to consolidate the bike with the two cars that were being containerised for the UK. The bike should be in the UK by the end of October. Everything was organised nicely, what could go wrong!!!

This is what happened. The truck arrived to collect the bike from the shop, loaded it and was on its way, (which way?). Not to the shippers on the East Coast, but to a consolidating agent at San Fransisco! When it arrived, there was no paperwork, it had been left behind at the shop. They said sorry, no problem, we will mail it urgent mail to your agent. The papers arrived but not to San Fransico but to the shipping agent on the east coast! That's just great. The bike was in San Francisco and the papers were at Newark on the East coast. The agent at Vancouver contacted the shop to say they had sent the papers to the wrong place. Sorry about that, we will get them back and send them to the people at San Francisco. By this time the paperwork had lost its urgency status and disappeared in the U.S mail system for over two weeks so everything came to a standstill.

The paperwork finally turned up at the shippers at San Francisco and they had a container being prepared for the UK. It looked as though things were starting to happen! The Consolidator at San Fransisco phoned our agent at Vancouver to tell them that the crate is too long to fit across the inside of the container so the bike will not be included as part of the shipment they were working on and will have to wait for a container that had more room so the bike could be put into the container long ways. The guys at the bike shop forgot to remove the front wheel and shorten the crate.

When I received all this information from our agent at Vancouver, and my head had stopped spinning trying to understand what had happened, I asked, “having made arrangements and given you instructions, why did you send the bike to San Francisco, a thousand miles in the opposite direction and not to Newark on the East coast, which is the direction it should be going?” The reply was, “we were told by our shipper at San Francisco that it would be quicker”. I pondered that for a moment wondering if I should ask the next question - “do you have any idea when the bike will arrive in the U.K?” - the reply was “I am confident the bike will arrive by Christmas”. Heaven help us.

Monday, 30 September 2013

Reunited with our Jimnys!!

Hi everybody. I think you know that we arrived back in the UK on August 29th., after having seen the Jimnys safely tucked up in the container at our Shipping Agents at North Bergen near New York. We were all exhausted by the time we got home. As for myself it is taking a lot longer to get back to some sort of normality. It has been four weeks now and I am still struggling, so if I start talking about something that makes no sense at all have pity on me!

Where was I? Oh yes .... the vessel OOCL KUALA LUMPUR arrived on time at Southampton on Sunday, August 22nd. It discharged its cargo, which I hoped and prayed included our container. I contacted our Agent to get conformation to ask if our container was on the docks. They said it was but they didn’t know when it would be cleared, it looked like it might be Wednesday afternoon. I phoned Roland who would drive LC03 after it cleared customs, to tell him the news. I also phoned David Ellery, who would film us driving away from the customs compound, to tell him the same. Wednesday came and we were ready to go. We didn’t hear anything all morning and it dragged on into the afternoon. We were still waiting when I decided to call the Agent to ask what was happening. “Sorry, it won’t be today, may be tomorrow” was the reply. Here we go again I thought, Vancouver all over again. Thursday, once again we were all ready. We waited all day but no phone call. I phoned our Agent once more and was told that it will not be cleared today but the container was at the customs and would be cleared some time Friday afternoon. I felt terrible having to tell the guys that once again it wasn’t going to happen and it was delayed yet another day. We had no choice but to sit tight and accept the situation. Then late Thursday I get a phone call from the Agent asking if I could be at the customs at eleven clock tomorrow. I was already a bit unhinged and that phone call just about sent me bouncing around my little office head butting the wall. A few frantic phone calls to everyone involved and we were organised to go.

We arrived at the customs to find there was a further delay as nobody there knew that we wanted to collect the vehicles. Heaven help us. I won’t tell you what was going through my already damaged brain but luckily a man from the office came over to talk to us and took pity on me. He said that if we could wait for half an hour he would deal with the paperwork and we could take the Jimnys. Eventually our Jimnys were driven out of the compound and at long last we were reunited with our courageous little cars.

Having nursed these Jimnys all the way around the world I had formed a strong attachment to them and it was like meeting two old friends when we finally were given the keys and could drive them home.

If you would like to have a good look at two Suzuki Jimnys and all the equipment they carried around the world, come along to the Home Coming Reception to be held at the NOVOTEL, 1 West Quay Road Southampton SO15 1RA,  Saturday 26th October at 2.00pm. 

The entire team, crew and the home support team who made the journey possible will be there. We really look forward to meeting you and thanking you for your support throughout this remarkable challenge.


Tuesday, 24 September 2013

It's busy behind the scenes

It might not seem so busy on the Blog, Facebook or Twitter at the moment, but behind the scenes it's still very active.  Les is writing articles that will appear in magazines over the next month or two. He's sifting through the hundreds of photos that were taken by everyone who took part and we're busily preparing for the homecoming celebrations.

Here's a selection of more unseen photos .....

Into Mongolia .... the dirt roads begin 13.5.13

Cross roads in the middle of the Mongolian Desert

The broken rear left lower shock absorber broke, we discuss a plan of action

We were lucky we found a man meticulous about his work. 
He welded the shock absorber bolt together while the bolt was in place. 
It took all the punishment of the Mongolian section and the rest of the trip.

A job well done, this man was a real gem.

Sunday, 15 September 2013

Les sets the scene for the next month or two on the blog

Hi everybody.  My body and mental time clock has been trying to play catch-up ever since arriving back in the UK. I am still not back to normal, well at least that’s what I tell my wife Vi when she wants something attended to around the house.  However, I can usually keep Vi at bay, but Maureen is another matter.  She phoned me this morning, it was like being poked with a cattle prod.  I need you to write something for the blog and being to weak to argue I thought I had better get on with it.

Over the past months I have, through the Blog, given you some idea as to what has been happening as we have travelled around the world. What I wrote was in the main governed by what time I had left after dealing with everything else that I had to do at the end of the day and at some point falling asleep. But to be truthful what you have read about is but a small part of what we experienced, the people we come in contact with, the situations we got ourselves into for one reason or another, the highs and lows of the journey, and the physical risk to myself when driving alone for anything up to 10 or 12 hours a day, day after day, to make sure that we kept on schedule. Full credit to Keith Twyford, Roland Spencer, Graham Higgins, Mike Bailey, Glyn Maher, and Roger Winkworth, as the going was just as tough for them as it was for me.

I have always looked at the Ultimate Challenge as being a team effort; I could not have achieved what I did without the support of the guys that drove with me and the project would not have been so well organised if it hadn't been for the guys at home helping me with the build-up and departure. Also as we travelled by keeping the information flowing to enable Keith Rimmer to manage the Website, Maureen Wycherley to keep the Press interested and manage the Blog, Facebook and Twitter at the same time. 

The other and most important member of the team at home is of course my long suffering wife Vi. At one point I thought it might not happen. Vi doesn’t usually swear but I guess that she must have had a crash course on vocabulary update at the Open University, what she didn’t call me isn’t worth mentioning.  To say that we had a communication breakdown is an understatement. It got so bad that when she went to bed at night I would wait until she was asleep before I got in bed and then I would sleep with my eyes open in case she did something nasty to me during the night. I played the waiting game, she had no chance.  I applied the charm and within a few months I had her eating out of my hand. She helped me through the preparation period and right up to departure. Now I come to think of it, she was 'too' keen to see me go, I wonder why!!!! I guess that you have realised by now that I tend to elaborate when it comes to my lovely wife Vi, but in truth I love her to bits and missed her a lot and looked forward to phoning her as I was driving around the world.  That is, apart from the time when I bought the motor bike at a town called Sturgis without telling her. Boy did the poo hit the fan that day. It was ok though, I had two weeks before I got home, plenty of time to get back in her good book.

That’s enough about us for the moment, so where do we go from here? Well I promised you that I would write something every two weeks or so, focusing on what happened as we travelled. Now that I am back home I would like go back over the journey with you, but this time giving you more detail about what happened.  The highs and lows, the mistakes and what went wrong, the tension and fun time of the crew and so on. I promise to make it interesting and in addition to this I will be writing articles for magazines, working on the book and film covering the whole project, along with on-going fund raising, and anything else that comes along.

The next and most important item is the home coming reception for the vehicles and crew.  It will be held on 26th October 2.00pm at the Novotel, West Quay Road, Southampton, SO15 1RA. Refreshments provided. There will be a number of posh people attending but it will be nice if as many friends and supporters could join us for this very special occasion so put it in your diary. All the crew will be available to chat on the day but if you would like to ask me questions about the Ultimate Challenge or the journey just go to our website and use the Contact Form I'll attempt to answer as many questions as possible.

Until the next time keep upright and drive straight Les

Monday, 9 September 2013

Questions from one of our followers ...

We recently had an email from one of our followers, Dave Smith.  He had some questions for Les on the preparation of the Jimnys.  We thought it might be of interest to other followers and Jimny fans ....

From Dave ...
Hi there. Brilliant adventure and welll done to Les and co on a lasting the course!!! I've really enjoyed reading the blogs and listening to the adventure. Our family have 3 Jimnys and have covered in excess of 250,000 miles in them over the last 13 years! One question I do have - please could you tell me more about the modifications carried out to prep the Jimnys. What make and size are the tyres? Did the Jimnys only have a plus 2" suspension lift only or did they have castor corrected radius and trailing arms to compensate for the lift? Were longer shock absorbers used or standard ones? If longer, who supplied the springs and shocks as I'm interested in preping one of my vehicles for a simialr although shorther type of adventure. Did Les and co have any problems with the front wheels rubbing the inner arches with the bigger tyres fitted under articulation or cornering? Are there any modifications which they wish had been carried out looking back in hindsight? Hope you can hep with the above questions and well done - superb story. Many thanks, David Smith.

From Les ...
Hi Dave, nice to see that you have been following our progress as we have been travelling around the world. Just for the record, the journey was made into four Stages. Stages 1,3 and 4, I was accompanied by two friends. Stage 2 the cameraman and myself drove the vehicles as we had no takers for that part of the journey. I was the only one that drove the whole distance, and when I say that I paid the price I mean it. When we arrived at north Bergen just outside New York I was totally drained and shattered. I guess the other two guys were the same. The flight home and jet lag just about pushed me over the edge, it is taking some time to get myself back together.

That's enough about me, lets talk about the Jimnys. My decision to use the Jimnys was the right one, my task was to see if we could drive the low cost Jimnys around the world and bring the vehicles and the crew back safely. That I believe we have done. I am not sure that we could have achieved this with any other vehicle. The guys at Suzuki who designed the little off roader knew their stuff. Strong,100 percent reliable and comfortable to drive over long distances, the fuel consumption was around 30 mpg on average.

It all depends on what you intend to do but if I was contemplating doing the same journey again I wouldn't do so much preparation it is not necessary. To get the best from the power available from the engine you need to keep the weight down. We were too heavy, you don't need heavy steel bumpers and bull bars on the front, one spare wheel and 10 litres of fuel just in case. You can always up-grade the spec just in case, if you think it necessary. I will at some time be producing a general specification, but so you don't think about things you don't need this is what I will start to put together.

First, all you need is a standard Jimny. If you intend to travel the roads that we did then you will need to fit upgraded springs and shocks, but if you will not be running heavy you may not need them, so don't rush out and buy them. 
Having the rear left lower shock absorber repaired in Russia

The standard tyres will do if money is tight but it depends on what you want to do. Perhaps if you can let me know what your intentions are I can help you more. If I was going to do the same journey tomorrow I would use the standard Jimny but focus on crew support and comfort for the duration of the journey, I can tell you how I would do it but I would need to know what sort of journey you are proposing. Kind regards Les
From Les  ...

If anyone one else following The Ultimate Challenge has questions for Les don't hesitate to contact us through the website. If you happy to share your questions we'll publish them here on the blog.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

After driving pretty well every day for four weeks we finally arrived at our shipping agent at North Bergen just outside New York.  Sad that the journey has come to an end, but glad that we were going home to meet up with our family and friends. 

The fourth and final stage of our journey started when I met Glyn Maher and Roger Winkworth when they arrived at Vancouver July 22nd.  We left for Anchorage, a journey of 2200 miles and when we got there, we then turned around and travelled south along the Alaska highway to Calgary and the US border. We then went east to New York.  A total journey distance of 7,705 miles. 

The exacting and demanding pace of the driving continuously day after day has a draining effect on your body, so when we arrived at North Bergen we were pretty shattered and in need of some R&R. I have grown very attached to the Suzukis and was sad to see them being strapped down in the container for the last time.  

I just hope the container arrives at Southampton as scheduled this time.  Les

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Idle hands in New York

I just couldn't stand it any more.  Five 5 weeks looking at Glyn's eyebrows They're like two blackberry bushes, one over each eye.   I told him it made him look like an old man and talked him into letting me trim them. 

I borrowed Roger's hair trimmer and it ended up rather like the chair leg syndrom.  A bit off here, a bit off there until when I thought I was finished there was hardly anything left.  So I decided that he didn't need them and removed them completely!!

When he still had them, they only stopped his hat falling over his eyes anyway. It's probably a good idea that I'm catching plane home tonight, it'll stop me getting into any more trouble.


Monday, 26 August 2013

An email from one of the crew to Les on the completion of Stage 4 ...

Vancouver to New York. 7705 miles in a Suzuki Jimny by
Roger Winkworth accompanied by Glyn Maher.

If one asks how was it and why, the answer is simple, chance of a lifetime.  Was it worth it, every mile and to contribute towards a very special cause.

The Jimny,100 percent all the way not a single problem.  Was it cramped?, not at all.  As a 6 footer I had ample leg room whilst a passenger and very comfortable when driving, the seats were comfortable and the driving position fine, the handling excellent.

The places we passed through and stayed, read Les Carvall's book, but some fantastic sights.  Highlights, Alaska, Jasper, Banff, YellowStone, too many to mention.

The boring bits, the I 90  Interstate hundreds of miles of  crops. The Rodeo in Cody akin to watching paint dry.

The rest stop lodges varied and fun, good quality except Anchorage.

The food,  great choice of burgers, but also some great steaks.
Best stop, Rochester with my brother in law Steve and Dianne.
The natives, all were interested in what we were doing all helpful
and lovely people.

Bad bits, falling out of my bed at the camp site, getting bitten by numerous flying things.
Crazy time, Les Stopping to check his wheels at a garage and walking out after buying a Triumph Bonneville Motor cycle.
Best laugh, listening to Les explaining it to his wife.

Things to forget, Glyn Maher snoring. Thomas our cameraman always late for everything except meals.

Things I may do, take my wife to see some of the fantastic things I have seen.

Regrets none.

Les thanks for the opportunity.