Another difference between road-tripping and rallying is the role of the passenger. In a rally, the person in the passenger seat is in charge of more than music and snacks — he or she is the navigator, a vital role. Each P2P team is given a tour book with detailed instructions that are accurate to the hundredth of a kilometer. “To get from point A to point B, there might be 300 or 400 instructions per day,” Harman says.
“We never failed to get lost going into a city or coming out of a city, because in most places we couldn’t read the road signs and the instructions were very tight,” Ward says. “You’re doing 35 miles an hour in traffic on a four-lane street. If you’re supposed to be in the left lane to turn but you’re not, you’ve got to backtrack and come back around. Those kinds of things keep you pretty busy.”
Breakdowns are also inevitable when you push an antique automobile to its limits. Along the route — which ran from China through Mongolia, Siberian Russia, Kazakhstan, back into Russia, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, and France — Harman and Ward had to make plenty of roadside repairs. There was a dramatic tire blowout, two ruptured hydraulic brake lines, a blown head gasket, a tailpipe that fell off. Outside Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, the team was on a highway when it hit a speed bump at the bottom of a hill and caught air. “But it wasn’t the first speed bump that got us,” Harman says. “That speed bump launched us into a second speed bump. It was like skiing moguls. We came crashing down. The metal part of the Model A is attached to a wooden subframe, which we broke. The doors wouldn’t close until we got it fixed.”
But for all the rough roads, most of the accommodations were surprisingly high-end — organizers put up the teams in luxury hotels. “One of the most luxurious places we stayed was in Erenhot, China,” Harman says. “It was absolutely amazing.” In the middle of Mongolia, hundreds of miles from any large town, the P2P participants camped out. Yet even here, teams enjoyed catered meals and bottles of fine wine at their campsites.
That was also the country that the two friends found most captivating. “Mongolia has magnificent scenery,” Ward says. Harman agrees: “It’s best described as what Montana must have looked like 150 years ago — no fencing, desolate and beautiful, just gorgeous.”
After 36 days, Miss Vicky crossed the finish line in central Paris on 7 July. Harman and Ward had raised an estimated $50,000 for End Polio Now, and they had accomplished their two other goals: “One, arrive in Paris having driven the whole route by ourselves under our own power,” Harman says. “There were 106 entrants: 103 made it to Paris, 21 under their own power who had never been towed or had ignominiously ridden on the back of a flatbed truck. Vicky was one of the 21.”
The second goal? “Arrive in Paris still friends.”
— FRITZ LENNEMAN
• This story originally appeared in the February 2020 issue of The Rotarian magazine.