Peking to Paris: on the trail of life.
At this time, motorised vehicles were such a novelty that the Chinese had never even seen a vehicle engine. The foreigners were perceived by the Chinese authorities as eccentrics and even spies due to their “luggage”. The small number of participants and the many complications along the way eventually led the race committee to cancel the event. However, the five teams which turned up – among which an Italian prince and a French bon vivant – didn’t let themselves be discouraged as simply as that.
In the spirit of adventure so characteristic of this event even today and despite all of the opposition which they faced, the remaining teams decided to start the rally on the morning of 10 June 1907 at 8 a.m. This was certainly one adventure which none of them would ever forget.
12.247 kilometres,33 days,one Mercedes-Benz.
Even today, the idea of completing such a challenging journey in a vehicle enthuses people from all over the world, including Alexandra de Lespinasse and Dirk de Groen from Florida. They registered two years ago already to participate in their Mercedes-Benz 219 “Ponton”.
By being able to participate under the name of Team 69 in this rally which has only ever been carried out five times, Dirk will fulfil his lifelong dream: 12,247 kilometres in 33 days. Sleeping in tents. Being thrown back to elementary structures. The pensioner sums up this experience as “the good life”.
Where wolf and doe saygood night to one another.
The stage through Mongolia is extremely demanding as it comprises 700 kilometres of desert, mountains and steppe. And despite Genghis Khan – and according to legend, the entire country – being descended from a wolf and a doe, the broads of Mongolia seem to swarm predominantly with horses. Accordingly, the terrain is also impassable for vehicles: those who want to find a path through have to create it themselves. Contrary to days gone by, the event has now been conceived as a competition. Those who fail to arrive at the checkpoints on time will accumulate penalty points. Participants do not have access to modern comforts – they don’t even have access to a map! They are only issued with a compass, road book and GPS device.
A nomadic lifestyle.
Dirk de Groen opted to use a “Ponton” for this rally because its impressive performance during previous safaris through Eastern Africa had fascinated him. And it’s a decision which he doesn’t regret: despite the people of Mongolia being friendly and open-minded, its climate and roads are particularly harsh. But the potholes, ditches and numerous herds of cattle crossing the roads have nothing on the “Ponton”. A welcome change to the seemingly endless stretches of land comes in the form of the colourfully dressed locals who, during the few stops, inquisitively encircle the vehicle. The exchange with hands and feet is a welcome diversion for all those involved before they have to move on to the final challenge of the day: building the tent. Then, during a warm meal served by the head of the camp, the enigmatic impressions of the day can be processed in a relaxed atmosphere.
Save the best for last.
From the millions of impressions gathered, one of them from this 33-day period was particularly overwhelming: driving over the finish line. In his hotel room in Paris, Dirk de Groen looks back over his adventure and, besides the inner camaraderie which links all of the rally participants, he remains particularly fascinated by Mongolia: the dust of the Gobi desert. The barrenness of the mountains. The endless expanse. The friendliness of the people. But above all: the complete lack of roads, even in the capital city Ulaanbaatar. “I’ll probably never drive on Mars or the moon”, he grins, “but if I had to paint a picture of those places, then I imagine they would look like Mongolia does.” The only difference being that there is more life on earth. Especially when – just as the two adventurers from Florida did – you discover it anew in a Mercedes-Benz 219 “Ponton”.