From Peking to Paris on a Mototri Contal Threewheeler Part 8
Monday 17th of June 2019
Day 17. Nur Sultan – Balkashino camp and then back to Russia
The last camp. Balkashino camp. Like most of the competitors we looked forward to this camp with mixed feelings. It was the last camp, so this kind of challenges walked to its end. On one side,camps are not the easiest part of this defiance. One cannot rest comfortably nor are there opportunities to repair the vehicles as there are in cities. This was a bit alarming since the oil spills seemed to be huge since my boots were full of oil when we arrived in the camp… I feared the worst but since we arrived there without major engine problems and since the oil level, checked regularly, hardly seemed to have gone down, this was an issue that I postponed mentally to the next days. But on the other side… sometimes the most unprepossessing of days turns out to be the most memorable and today proved to be one such day. The roads out of town were unbelievable and the traffic on them was light. But, a storm overnight – on top of all the rain we’ve already had – meant that the first Time Control section on a stretch of scenic unmade rural roads, had to be cancelled. As a result, we were forced to spend another around another 100km on the sensationally smooth and fast flowing freeway, over which the miles fairly flew by. To add to the ‘hardships’ we were enduring, there was also a decent selection of cafes and fuel stops (with decent sanitary installations along the way). This excellent road delivered us to another of the day’s highlights, a loop through the National Park and along the lake at Burabay. And at the end of the day, there was our last camp.
How can I describe the atmosphere that we encountered entering the camp? First of all, there we hundreds of locals, dressed in traditional clothing. There were yurts filled with their history memorials, meat was roasted on large barbeques, music was playing everywhere and people were dancing. The governor, the mayor, their wives and children, all were present for our arrival.
The mood was festive and happy. Herman and I sort of woke up from a bad dream and walked around the camp in utter amazement. Our friends arrived one after the other and bottles were opened spontaneously. Weird! We all seemed to be in a relax, festive mood and the last camp became a wonderful experience. Rainer Wolf celebrated his birthday and before I knew it I was sipping champagne and eating German sausage with truffle.
That evening, all sorrow and doubt melted around the huge campfire and the enthusiast local crowd made us feel like rock stars. The competitors congratulated each other because we all had the feeling, for the first time that evening, that we would make it to Paris. The get-up-and-go-feeling was contagious and we all loved life and each other that evening. All the pain was forgotten and the future seemed so bright we had to wear shades.
The last night in that little tent was a short one, mostly due to the extreme Polish alcohol that was served around the campfire.
It was a chilly, damp but sunny start to the next day and, as we packed up the liggage with frozen fingers and tucked into a little Krgyz breakfast, some of us reflected on the fact that we’re at the halfway point now. And, when we arrived in Kostanay that evening, slightly more than half of the distance of the rally will have been covered, as well as half of the amount of days ticked off from the route book. It’s an odd feeling. There’s relief at getting this far and overcoming some of the “absolutely impossible” but there’s also a certain sadness with the realization that all good things do indeed come to an end. This double feeling would be my regular companion during the rest of the rally. As the kilometers to Paris shortened and the probability of success augmented, a sense of impending loss settled in my mind. The rally rolled into its ‘nursing’ stage which slowly took over from the ‘fighting’ stage. On the technical side, the front axle problem was stable, the oil spill seemed to be manageable and the roads were better. On the physical hand, the discomfort was becoming alarming. My hands, wrists and fingers, hurt more and more every day, especially in the mornings and the diarrhea and abdominal cramps got to a worrying stage. The doctors kept sending me away without medication so they condemned me to visit every toilet in the roadbook. But the pain and discomfort were acceptable issues to handle.
The Contal remained our first and most important point of attention. And attention she needed. The Post Mongolian Stress was never far away. In the early afternoon, driving smoothly at 85 kilometers an hour on the flat Kazakh asphalt, suddenly the power train fell away. Looking in my rear mirror I saw the chain slithering like a snake behind us on the asphalt. After only five minutes on the side of the road a police car stopped next to us. Since the refusal of the Chinese police to allow the Contal on their highways I mistrusted lawmen thoroughly. But these guys just organized our safety on that road and were really interested in our vehicle. The Kyrgyz support team also stopped and helped us to put on another chain. In half an hour we were back on the road… with greasy hands in our gloves. Never a dull day on the Peking to Paris.
That night, we had to change our watches again for the entrance in Russia would mean another time zone. Border day was coming up. I feared the worst. Unnecessary to worry… the Kazakh / Russian border was a breeze. It was fantastically efficient thanks to the months of pre planning from the Rally Office and on the ground Kyrgyz support. No-one waited more than an hour from leaving Kazakhstan, to their arrival in Russia, for the second time in a week.