Journey of Discovery: Day two
After 50 days and over 8,000 miles, we're on board as the expedition ends in Beijing
Based on the gridlocked traffic we enountered last night, we decided to wake up before the rest of China and make our getaway from Taiyuan at 6am. Fortunately, hauling myself out of bed wasn’t difficult with a thunderstorm shaking the hotel.
By the time we were set to go, the rain had subsided – but disaster had struck. The downpour had washed a portion of the precious dirt, accumulated since the start of the trip, from the Discovery's bodywork, Honestly, I’ve never seen a group of people so disappointed to wake up and find their cars cleaned for free!
Today’s trip involved another significant motorway stint before arriving at the expedition’s final destination in Beijing. But before crossing the finish line, we still had more than 500km of Chinese roads - and Chinese drivers - to negotiate. As I learned yesterday, the rule of thumb is to assume everybody wants to crash into you, and you should be fine.
Speaking of Chinese drivers, what they drive around in is equally dumfounding. You’ve probably seen pictures of Chinese clones of Japanese and European cars, and these things are everywhere. In the space of an hour we spot a ‘Chevrolet Matiz’, a ‘Toyota Aygo’ and a ‘Lexus RX450h’, or more specifically the Chery QQ, BYD FQ and BYD S6. How they get away with it, I have no idea.
Another worrying phenomena is their disregard for maintaining tyres. Over the course of two days we saw the shredded remnants of at least five blowouts scattered across the carriageway and spotted a BMW X5 (a real one, not a clone) with what looked like racing slicks at each corner.
Our progress towards Beijing was slowed somewhat as the grey skies closed in and another unwanted car wash ensued. We dived off the motorway following signs to a service station, only to find the service station was still under construction, and the only road available took us 10km in the wrong direction. Only in China.
Undeterred by the fog, drizzle and the fact that we were running behind schedule, we pushed on and arrived in Beijing around lunchtime. Our aim was to pick an iconic landmark to finish the trip in style, and where more appropriate in an Olympic year than the Bird’s Nest Stadium in the North-Eastern corner of the city – the centrepiece of the 2008 Beijing games.
Once the photographers were happy, we crawled though the traffic to our hotel and handed over the keys for the last time. One of the cars was whisked away to be installed on Land Rover’s motor show stand in time for Monday, while the other two were taken to be on display at a celebration dinner tonight, before being shipped back to the UK.
For the entire convoy to arrive on schedule and unscathed (well almost, we noticed a smashed foglight when we pulled up at the hotel) is a stunning feat of organisation and endurance. More to the point, it was a demonstration of just how rugged and reliable Land Rovers can be when used as they were intended.
On arrival at the hotel, we were greeted by a Land Rover fan who had flown all the way from Canada to see the expedition cars in the flesh. Now, having been a part of the expedition and spent time with the Land Rover crew, it’s easy to see why this great British brand has such a fanatical following the world over.
And one last thing; the purpose of this trip was to raise £1,000,000 for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. So far the total is more than £600,000 I’ve been told, so if you want to inch Land Rover closer to its goal, you can donate at www.landrover.com/million.