Chengdu, home to the Trans Himalayan Adventure for the past few days, shed a few tears this morning ahead of our departure as the rain fell while the cars prepared to drive under the starting arch. To reach it, the crews had to drive up to the top of the Shangri-La’s Feng Shuai garden so even before the flag dropped it was up, up and away!
Down in the garage there were a couple of flat tyres to deal with, but the most pressing issue was the amount of luggage some of our crews still had to find a home for. Travel light is a new phrase to some. Thankfully, those with ‘roomier’ cars were helping out and soon bags and cases were being swapped.
At 9am, the rain stopped just as Rally Round Event Director Liz Wenman flagged away the first car – David and Julia Little’s Bentley Super Sports – which had a quick fix the day prior with a brake cable being mended at a local workshop.
Soon, all 18 cars had left the safe haven of the luxury hotel and so did the rain! The adventure began as the advance car of Kim and Nikki Bannister discovered that one of the new roads had also had a new height restriction that had been enforced in the past few weeks.
This gave the larger vehicles a bit of a worry but luckily the military brought through some vehicles first, so the barrier was raised. It seems the Chinese gods are smiling down on us already.
Today’s route, the second longest day of the whole event in terms of distance, was to get us out of the city and further into the stunning Sichuan region, where the motorway was flanked by fields growing the popular green tea and kiwi fruit.
We passed through the Tianquan area as we started a gentle ascent, where around 2,000 pandas live in the wild. None were spotted today mind as we racked up the miles.
With new roads and substantial bridges being built, you can see how the area is developing and even since the last recce only a few months ago, new areas and buildings had appeared amongst the vegetation.
Long tunnels fed the cars through the bottom of the mountains with some as long as 13.5km which, when the daylight appeared, opened up into stunning valleys.
It was in one of the tunnels that sweeps Dick Last and Karim De Mynn discovered their first job of the day. Car 9, Xavier del Marmol and Ines Bodmer had broken down in their 1952 Studebaker Champion. This ‘thirsty car’ was making the battery work a little too hard for its liking. The sweeps managed to get the car going again but a few kilometres down the road, and it stopped again. It limped its way to the town of Kanding and with a lack of spare parts available and a failing engine, the Studebaker’s journey ended, and the car is heading back to Chengdu. Thankfully, the car leaves without Xavier and Ines who jumped into the Rally Round support vehicle and will have their own car and driver in a couple of days – as foreigners can not hire cars in this area.
As the climb began in earnest, the road weaved through the misty topped mountains with hair pin bends and prayer flags aplenty. It was at the top of the summit that we found Car 11, the 1938 Rolls-Royce 25/30 of James Hall-Smith and Ed Talbot. The car was having fuel issues because of the altitude but once again, our sweeps came to the rescue and soon, the beautiful yellow Roller we have named Buttercup was cutting through the miles.
The steep climb caused a few issues but in true rally spirit, the Land Rovers and 4x4s on the event soon gave those who needed a helping hand a tow to the hotel. The altitude seemed to affect the cars more than the crews thankfully. There were a few reports of the odd dizzy spell when people forgot how high they were but by the time everyone sat down to dinner, they were all fighting fit.
Once the plates had been cleared, some headed back to the garage for some late night tinkering to make sure the cars can tackle tomorrow’s climbs as we head for Batang.