The plan was to collect my thoughts and provide pithy character sketches and vignettes of the day’s events in the specially purchased hard-backed notebook; sad to tell it was actually a moleskin notebook as used by Ernest Hemmingway or so the advertising says and I’m a sucker for anything that could vaguely link me with the great man. How difficult could this travel writing lark be?
Surely it was no more than a glorified diary made interesting, not because it featured me, but because it featured me in interesting places, making my life interesting by association. The trick would be achieving the balance; factual – where were we on a particular day, which hotel/hostel/hedge did we sleep in, who we met and when – versus the entertaining summary of those hilarious moments when the car crashed/overheated/didn’t start, or we got lost, suffered food-poisoning, were robbed at gunpoint or arrested for being drunk and disorderly.
Some of these things did happen, however I’ll leave you to try and work out which occurred or are figments of my imagination that will be featuring in my future novel using the Mongol Rally as the background to a story of love, intrigue and gun-running along the Silk Road.
Strangely enough things didn’t really go to plan. The whole idea of catching up at the end of each day proved to be a non-starter almost from the first day. When I first discussed the idea of undertaking the Mongol Rally the notion of writing something almost immediately came to mind.
The Mongol Rally seemed eminently suitable to my idea of travel writing, doing something that not too many people do; The Rally challenges you to travel from the UK to Ulaanbaatar in Mongolia in a car with an engine capacity of 1.2 litres or less in the company of other like-minded idiots; travelling through countries that most people would struggle to find on the map, Turkmenistan or Azerbaijan anyone? And stopping in some of the most evocative cities, Samarkand, Bukhara, on one of the most romanticised routes, the Silk Road, which the Mystical East has to offer.
Most attractive of all it would involve long periods of sitting down with nothing else to do, so much so that ultimately I would be forced to do the thing that’s always last on the list of things to do, write. There would be lots of time to find the perfect way to describe the fun and frolics my team, Back Man! Turn Her Over, Drive! would be having as well as all the interesting and profound conversations with the 200 teams doing the same stupid thing as us during July and August.
So what was the problem?
Sitting in a car not designed to travel on rough roads and by the time we reached Mongolia, rough dirt tracks, is not as relaxing as you would imagine. Our trusty steed, El Doblo, or the 1.2 litre Fiat Doblo we had selected was many things, roomy……., come to think of it that’s the only thing it was. The many things that it wasn’t included not a Landrover, not a 4-wheel drive vehicle of any sort, it wasn’t overpowered, we had a top speed of 60mph if we chose to ignore the persistence knocking coming from the engine, it did not have great clearance; we had a sump guard fitted to protect the engine which ultimately made contact with even the slightest bump in the road and it wasn’t reliable. Any kind of less than perfect road created so much vibration in the car it was impossible to write anything that could be read afterwards.
Beyond this the only thing it was possible to do well in it was sleep. And even when the driving had stopped with the bumpy roads and long days, we were driving for at least 9 hours most days, I was generally too exhausted to do more than sleep and sleep was filled with dreams of driving.
There is one saving grace. I took a lot of photos and made a fair few videos. It’s amazing that watching the videos in particular has taken me back into the moment, so much so that I can almost taste the dust crunching between my teeth. So if I use the videos and photos to inspire me would I be cheating? Is this like painting from a photo rather than capturing the moment as it happens?
I’m not sure, however, because I lost my moleskin notebook, if I want to write my gun-running novel, then it will be with the help of the videos, photos, memory and those things you either have or you don’t, imagination and ability.
Has a trip or journey inspired you to write? Share what motivated you in the comments below.