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Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 20 – Beyneu Camp to Aktau – 532km

Syd Stelvio, Peking to Paris 24 | Day 20 – Beyneu Camp to Aktau – 532km

Day 20 was a significant one in this year’s P2P, as we completed the final kilometers in Kazakhstan, reaching the port city of Aktau and the Caspian Sea. Over the past three weeks our travelling band has crossed the width of China and Kazakh, and in doing so broken the back of the adventure, and for those that have made it this far it is a significant milestone.

The sun was early to rise on the morning of day 20, as it always seems to when we are camping, piercing the thin canvas of our tents with complete indifference to the time alarm clocks were foolhardily set for. This would be the final time that camp would be broken, the final time we would share the ground with the creatures of the desert and as we wiped the sting and the sand from our eyes, I daresay most were glad that this element of the experience had been ticked off.

Personally, I was a touch melancholic, looking forward to a decent shower yes, but this final farewell to camp meant that the toughest of miles were perhaps now behind us all, and there was a certain sadness to that. It had certainly been hard going, one competitor describing the journey through Kazakh as some sort of penance and the cars leaving camp on flatbeds and those nursing mechanical ailments was testament to that. But if it was just a drive down the highway would any of us come? I daresay not, and I would also wager that in the months and years to come, it will be the stories of the past three weeks that we are all keenest to share with friends and loved ones.

We aren’t at the finish yet though, and as sand was shaken from groundsheets for the last time it did well to remember that we weren’t even out of the desert. There was still a 500km day ahead, including some more desert, but also with the promise of some tarmac miles, a few hours of acquiescence before the days competitive section, that would mark the final STC in this country.

On the way up the highway, we passed Hernan Levy and Felipe Ledermann, the first time we had seen the Ford Tudor Taxi for a number of days, and as we exchanged waves it was a reminder of those that we would be reunited with in Baku, as people had made their own way as best they could through this part of the trip. For people like Hernan and Felipe decisions on route start to become about necessity, it is a case of by any means in the venerable old Ford, a marker of the importance of the journey over the competition. Therein is a reminder of those five pioneering crews that attempted this challenge over a century ago, completing it by any means and without all of the modern comforts that we enjoy. The only competition then was getting to Paris, and so, for those with us that are engaged only with this aspect, they are no less carrying the spirit of the rally than anyone who completes every control and every planned mile.

Regardless of how much anyone has enjoyed the past week in Kazakhstan, you couldn’t label it as a beautiful country. For the most part the steppe is devoid of feature, absent of interest and save for one or two fleeting moments it looks the same in every direction. On the final day though, it did offer up a wow moment. As we completed another largely flat sporting section, across another seemingly endless plateau, all of a sudden there was a gap in a cliff face and far below the landscape opened up, looking like something from the Serengeti. We were much higher than we had thought, or, perhaps more accurately the landscape we were descending to was much lower, as in fact Aktau and its surrounding countryside sits below sea level.

The descent was a steep one, with some competitors quoting a slope of 30%, and it was also rocky and slippery. Not for those of a nervous disposition, but for the view alone it was worth the nervous moments, hoping that brakes and gearbox would play the game. Once this had been negotiated there was a short run of desert, before we would leave the dirt roads of Kazakhstan behind us and head to the port to deposit cars into the capable hands of the Sweeps, to load onto the ferry. The Sweeps, or officially the Mechanical Assistance crews, would be staying on the boat for the duration of the crossing, whilst the rest of us fly, and were found busily preparing their black-tie dress and studying the onboard wine list as we arrived at the port.

Once the results had been calculated yesterday, they showed there hadn’t been a great deal of movement amongst those at the sharp end, indeed in the tussle for overall honours the gaps between the top three remained the same, with all of them posting thirty seconds of penalty on the day. The biggest casualty was car 79, Cole and Kev Bradburn, who suffered a slipping clutch on the Porsche 912, adding two minutes and thirty seconds to their time and dropping them out of the top three. There was also trouble for fellow Porsche participant Marco Fila, who was experiencing a number of smaller ailments on his 911 that were compounding into a bigger problem. Marco is famous for his air of nonchalance around the paddock, but even he looked concerned whilst on the phone attempting to sort out fixes in Baku, joining the Porsche casualty list with car 79 and car 86.

If ever there is a good time for getting a mechanical problem though, it is as we go into some non-transit days, and no doubt all those with problems to solve will be lining up the pieces so that as soon as that boat gets into port, the cars can get the treatment they need. All of us, too, now have three days to rest and recoup after the efforts of the past three weeks, before we head into the final half of the rally, with Europe just around the corner.


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