Saturday, March 19, 2011

Avé Avo

The Red Thread team spent last weekend poring over plans for the trip, sampling food and making movies. For the first time we all gathered in one place and renewed our commitment to the rally. Tom booked his flight to Frankfurt. The gutsy plan is for Mike to leave Goodwood and the Festival of Slow on July 23, swing by FRA, pick up Tom, then head straight to the Czech out party on the 25. From there it’s anyone’s guess as to how long things will take. Tom’s reckoning, as chief navigator, and the one tightest on vacation time, is three weeks to Ulaanbaatar, or roughly 500 miles a day. Mike was reckoning on four weeks and about 350 miles a day, our planned arrival coinciding with the Adventurist’s first Finish Line party. As they say assumption is the mother of all foul ups and this one is pretty important to straighten out. It might mean the difference between the team making the finish line together, or dropping off Tom for an Aeroflot flight home somewhere near Novosibirsk. There’s work to do. 
Travel plans aside, we spent a little time bonding and learning more about each other. Some lengthy video recording will be trimmed down to a web-digestible length shortly. We also broke bread together and as part of that team building activity we found food and advice in Portland’s best Near Eastern grocery, Anoush Deli. We introduced ourselves to Avo, the owner, and when he learned of our Mongolian ambitions, he said simply, “Take me with you.” He is our kind of guy. Upon inquiry, he gave us a tour of Moldovan and Transylvanian wines, along with delicious homemade dishes for an impromptu meze. Between the pinot noir, pepper relish and the mushroom perogies we feel assured that we won’t starve on the journey. The challenge will be finding food as good as Avo’s. 

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Does this fit you through the shoulders?

A visit to southern Switzerland was the perfect opportunity to see first-hand how a 1.2 Liter car would work out as wheels and home for 10,000 miles. I asked for a Fiat Panda at the rental car counter and should have been tipped off when they asked "Is your jacket size a 46 or 48?" Then, "Anna, can we have the silver Panda taken out just a bit on the driver's side?" Uh oh. To give you an idea of how this class of car stacks up, the silver Panda is parked among mid-size European cars in this picture (4th from the bottom if you didn't guess). The first test was loading luggage. The large suitcase could only fit in the back seat. Lesson: pack light in soft bags - check. Next, pick up Keeley in Bergamo and take the back roads to Como and then the highway to Lugano. Winding roads through the foothills and the autostrada were no problem. Plenty of power. Lesson: it's all about the gearing - check. Next test... load up the Wolfpack, a group of Franklin College women, and check ground clearance, power and handling. With a total of 7 passengers (they claimed they could fit in 2 more easily) we would have had minimal sag, enough power to get up the steepest hills, and still corner with caution... if it had actually been legal or safe to do this test run. Lesson: roof-top cargo will be limited more by center-of-gravity issues than weight limits - check. Final test... how does this speck of a car handle poor driving conditions? To test this we set off for St. Anton in Austria. Mid-way at San Bernadino pass as darkness fell we hit a hard driving (gorgeous) snow storm. 5+ inches of snow on the road, both hard packed and new, semi's stuck in the middle of the road and insane 4wd Audi drivers careening in all directions to pass, explore the ditch, or see what pointing the wrong direction might by like. No problem for the Panda - no skids, no slips, no drama. Lesson: new highway tires can handle the worst condition on paved roads, and knobby tires are a good idea for the dirt and mud in Mongolia - check. We pulled in to St. Anton safe and sound having made good time despite the snow. Final verdict? I ended up developing a real fondness for this class of car. Comfort and performance are remarkable for something light enough that we can use sweat, muscle and foul language to get out of a rut. Oh yes, and it's small. Very.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Progress Report

Team Red Thread has been making progress. We’ve developed a solid understanding of what the adventure is going to entail and are continuing our research on all fronts, by which we mean everything from road conditions, through visa requirements, and where the best pubs are in Moldova. We’ve received sage advice about handling medical emergencies and to memorize the phrase “I am not a spy” in 15 languages. We’re also feeling a growing sense of awe about the impact our adventure can have on the lives of thousands of children. As we start building momentum we have been looking for analogies that can best explain what we’re doing. Our 10,000 mile journey across Asia is the equivalent of driving across the United States three times - back to back to back. Most folks we’ve talked to understand that means it’s a heck of a long way. When we talk about our goal of raising $211,600 - a dollar for every child Half the Sky Foundation will touch with its programs in the next five years - people understand that’s a big hairy objective. But that’s what it’s going to take to change the lives of thousands of children and to change the world for generations to come. We’ve almost hit our first $5,000 in donations and are building our base. Encourage everyone that you know to join us on the website, our Facebook page and Twitter. We’re only just starting our engines!