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Plymouth to Dakar in a Car Bought For £100 – Part 1 of 8 (Andrew)

In 2004 a friend and I tried to to drive from Plymouth to Dakar in a car bought for £100. In August 2022, Livejournal sent me an email to congratulate me on my 18 anniversary of starting a journal with them. When I checked the link I discovered they still had all my old online journal (not called a blog then!) entries. I thought it would be fun to publish them again.

11 July 2004 – First Date

Pandemonium has broken out at Team Bandit HQ at the news that we have a car! Bought yesterday on ebay for the princely sum of £205 (ok – so we slightly broke the rules, but nobody’s really counting) she currently resides in Merseyside, but we won’t hold that against her. Here are some of her best features:

1. She’s a beauty! Yes, we have to confess, we bought with our hearts and not our heads, but she truly is a beautiful beast. A pleasure on the eyes and on the senses, although we’re a bit concerned about the damage she might inflict on our wallets.

2. She has four wheels! And an engine! It’s true – she has almost all of the major components one would expect to find in a motor vehicle!

3. She was cheap! Ok, ok, hang on a minute here – this list is starting to seem a little ropey. I mean, what sort of car can you get for £205?

All will be revealed very shortly when we make the trip up north to collect her…

18 July 2004 – Team Bandit Own a Car!

For hours, days even, she has been nothing but a dream, a dream in chrome and wood. But now she is reality. She has come into our lives, drinking real petrol and smelling really fousty (trans. “fousty”: an acrid smell caused by dampness; orig. Scottish). But she’s lovely. More than we could have hoped for. Sorry, clearly I’m smitten, but it is half past one in the morning and I’ve had a few glasses of wine. Perhaps I should explain in rational terms…

After bidding for our car on e-bay towards the end of last week, this weekend Gav travelled from London to Liverpool to pick her up. It was always a bit of a risky venture – buying a car in an internet auction for the price of a good Scouse night out, on the basis of a couple of grainy distance photographs and a loose description.

But nonetheless it’s all paid off. She made the trip down without so much as a grumble, surviving what could only be described as a torrential downpour on the motorway along the way, although admittedly the aquaplaning was a touch on the frightening side. So what information can we share at this early stage? Well, she’s a good looking 22 year old – only 4 years younger than us – so we’ll all get along perfectly. She started off her life in Canada, moving to Georgia and then Florida, before coming to Wales, then Liverpool and now London (before Gibraltar, Casablanca, Sahara, Dakar…). She’s better equipped than most new cars today – with an automatic transmission, air conditioning, power steering, electric windows all round, and intermittent windscreen wipers with variable speed control. We’re particularly excited about the wipers. On the run down the road she got up to a whopping 75 miles per hour. But more than that, she got admiring glances all the way. No, honestly, people smiled, children waved, petrol station attendants actually made conversation – even in London. It’s a dream start. 

We have to thank some people for bringing her into our lives. Lynne and Katherine – Liverpool’s finest taking time out of their Saturday to help a couple of fools with a stupid plan. Sharon for risking ridicule amongst her neighbours for letting the car stay in their ‘lock-up’. Joe (and John) who sold her to us for such a bargain basement price – they don’t actually know that she’s going to end up crossing a desert, and I’m not sure how well they’d take the news. And lastly, Joe’s grandkids, for letting us have their favourite car (sorry kids). Thank you all so much.

Now, if only someone could tell me what the big red warning light on the dash that says “BRAKE” is meant to be telling me, I’d feel much better.

We’ll post pictures in the next couple of days, and launch the naming competition. Check back soon!

Me Luv U Long Time, Mr Smokey

Tomorrow, Arbroath Smokey will finally get to meet our ride, our lady, our chariot across the Sahara. 

He seen the pictures, he’s read about her on the internet, but as he lives in Glasgow and she stays in London he hasn’t had a chance to meet her.


Tomorrow, that will change.

Is our lady ready for Mr Smokey? Is Mr Smokey ready our lady?

Tomorrow will tell.

Like the time he ordered a mail order Thai bride (and, to think, he said that would be the last time he bought something on the internet just by looking at a picture…) he can’t wait to see our lady in the flesh, to take her out and show her a good time.

He only hopes, that this time, she doesn’t break down far from home…

To be continued….

I Have A Confession (Andrew)

Tri-suits are not flattering. Every lump and bump is highlighted when it’s covered by lycra. That’s why, when I go to a race, I always admire anyone who would wear one because it requires a level of body confidence I don’t possess. I’d much rather have a tri-burlap sack.

But, at races, among the ‘normal’ athletes you will also find the men and women who couldn’t crease a suit even if they breathed out after eating a dozen Krispy Kreme donuts. The Kreme de la Kreme of triathletes. The ones you can’t help buy admire if you end up running, cycling or swimming behind them.

I don’t notice these physical gods at any other time. I don’t think “oh my, what broad shoulders he has” or “what a slim waist she has” at any other time. They only catch my eye at races and only with a tri-suit. That’s why I think I might be… ahem… tri-sexual.

Norseman ferry (Iain)

The Norseman triathlon https://nxtri.com/ took place at the weekend

I noticed the jump from the ferry has changed.

It used to be a car ferry

but its now a passenger ferry

For me one of the biggest attractions of the race was the car ferry. Seeing the door open and the athletes jump out was the reason I wanted to take part.

It doesn’t look as cool seeing people jump off a “normal” boat.

I know 99% of people wont care about it. But its funny how it was this one thing that attracted me and not the race itself.

I believe the new ferry is electric therefore it is better for the environment. But I’ll miss the fact that this scene no longer exists…

Celtman 2022 – Run Kit (Iain)

The celtman has a mandatory kit list for the run. These are the items I used. The item I would definitly recommend is poles. They made a big difference when I was tired.

Shoes

I’ve worn Hoka’s for years. I find them very comfy and great for trail and long distance events. The down side is that they are expensive and they are not the most long lasting of shoe.

I try to by mine from sportshoe.com as I can usually get a good price for last years version of the shoes rather than the lastest version. Hence for this race instead of the £135 Speadgoat 5, i was able to get a pair of Speadgoat 4 for £80.

Hoka Speadgoat 4 – https://www.sportsshoes.com/

Walking Poles

I never use walking poles for hills but I thought in this case I’d make an exception. If it even helped a tiny bit then it would be worth having.

These carbon poles are super light and fitted in my backpack. The only negative is they are tricky to put together if you don’t read the instructions first. They were fine once I went read the instructions.

Backpack

I normally use a salomon vest but in this case I decided I needed a bit more space so I could carry more stuff. This is super lightweight and very adjustable. That meant I could easily set it up so that I could run with it on.

Jacket

My only goretext jacket was big, heavy and 10 years old. It’s great for walking but not great for running. I decided to treat myself to a new jacket. One that was designed for running. This is super light, easily pack-able and water proof.

Trousers

I’ve had these trousers for 10 years. They are lightweight and keep the rain off my legs. I didn;t bother getting new ones as my old pair are still working well.

Whistle/Compass

I bought some cheap ones on Amazon.

Head Torch

I have the older version of the Petzl 900. Its comfy and the light it produces is very bright. Battery life is excellent.

Pants

When running a long distance I like to be comfortable. These are great for wearing underneath shorts.

Hat

I normally wear a cap if the weather is bad. I like to keep the rain off my face. I thought this would meet the requirement of the race. It didn’t.. They wanted a woolen or cloth type hat instead. Luckily my brother had a spare so I showed them that instead. Although on the day I wore this. But I kept the other one in my bad so I could pass the kit check.

Wet, Wet, Wet (Andrew)

For someone who loves wearing a wetsuit, I do hate getting wet.

The first time I was properly soaked while running was at the Helensburgh half marathon during a day where it was impossible to tell where the sea ended and Helensburgh began. The puddles were so deep that trident submarines were using them for dive practice. It was a grim, grim day.

Yet, I ran anyway and my only thought the entire way round was to run as fast as I could so that I could get back to the car, back home and to never venture outside again. With such a thought, I ended up running my fastest ever half marathon – and my fastest ever medal collection as I didn’t stop at the finish line, I just kept going straight through, grabbed a medal, and sprinted back to the car.

The second time I was properly soaked was during the Three Peaks Challenge. We started at Ben Nevis and it was so wet that you could practically swim to the summit. It was impossible to stay dry even in thick waterproofs. By the time I got to the summit I pulled off my sodden gloves only to discover flippers instead of fingers. It was a grim, grim day.

The third and last time I was properly soaked was during the Celtman 2022 run route. I was acting as support runner for Iain TwinBikeRun and, thankfully, I had assumed that by the time I joined him, he’d be knackered and would be walking rather than running. As such, I brought my full mountain gear rather than trail running clothes. A thick waterproof jacket instead of a packable one. Gloves so thick you could pick up radioactive blocks at Chernobyl. And a pair of full length trousers rather than waterproof shorts.

This time the rain was on and off but, as we walked, the rain spells would last longer and stronger until, eventually, I was soaked through again. Another, grim, grim day.

So, the lesson I want to pass one is not the one about rain making you run faster (which it does) or always be prepared for the weather for more equipment or clothes than you think you need (and more again, you can never have enough clothes where you’re cold and wet), it’s a simple one: move to somewhere it doesn’t rain!

What’s the connection between my three tales? They all happened in Scotland. Scotland is a grim, grim place! Why not live in Dubai? The Sahara or even the middle of Death Valley? It never rains there!

Celtman 2022 – Swim Kit (Iain)

The average temperature of the water in the swim is 12-13C.

I wanted to ensure that I stayed warm, and if there were Jellyfish present that I would be protected from their sting.

Wet Suit

I’ve been using the same wet suit for about 6 years but a couple of months before the race my zip snapped. I treated myself to new wet suit on the Huub Sale. The website claims this suit is about £500 but I think I only paid around £250.

I bought it because it looks like it could be from the film Tron.

My old suit was quit thick. This feels allot thinner which makes it easier to swing my arms. its allot more comfy than my old suit and I’d recommend, if you have an old suit, that you upgrade. it does make a big difference.

Swim Cap

A full hood rather than a cap is good for keeping my head warm and it protects my neck from jellyfish. The only downside is that it makes me feel a little bit more restricted than a normal cap.

Swim Vest

A vest adds an extra layer of warmth to my core. I went for lomo as its cheap. Its not as if a more expensive version would do anything better. It did an excellent job of keeping me warm but it does add a but of exra buoyancy which can take a little bit of getting used to.

Gloves

I’ve tried lots of gloves and these are miles better than any other I’ve tried. They are warm and feel great. Swimming with gloves does take a bit of getting used to so make sure you practice with them first. They provide great protection from Jellyfish.

Socks

Similar to the gloves. I’ve tried various types of socks but these are the best. Some can feel very draggy in the water but I’ve never had an issue with these.

Swim Googles

I used the tinted version of these. They provide good protection from Jellyfish. The wide field of view means its very easy to sight and see where I’m going.

Drying Robe

Every man and his dog had the proper dry robe but I prefer the towel version. I can dry myself and warm up. The proper dry robe is very difficult to dry with.

Celtman Support (Andrew)

Conditions for Iain TwinBikeRun at Celtman were brutal. 3K swim, 120 mile bike and a marathon in 40mph headwinds and driving rain. However, I can report, with my duvet and pillow, the support car was roasty toasty.

Swim Start

Competitors need to register in Sheildaig and board the bus to the start line by 4am. There’s no access to the swim start for supporters so, once you’ve helped them set up at transition and register there’s nothing to do but keep warm and wait until they return to shore from 6am onwards. One of the local cafes was open, so there is an opportunity for some food or a hot drink, but I just used the time to try and catch up on sleep. We were up at 2:30am with a target of leaving the AirBnB at 2:45am so I’d only had a few hours sleep.

Sleep wasn’t helped by Iain TwinBikeRun booking another pre-race base with no curtains. And, just like Norseman, it was another night of trying to sleep while it was still as bright as noon outside. One day, maybe, Iain will book a room with blackout blinds..!

The swim exit is easy to find – it’s the one surrounded by supporters, braziers of fire and a drum troupe. You can’t miss it in Sheildaig. And with the drums banding away, you probably couldn’t miss in half the western Highlands.

You need your support t-shirt to access the exit and transition so remember to wear it as, with it, you can get onto the shore and help your competitor over the rocky beach and up to transition.

After you help them change, you pack up everything, pick up your car and you have a couple of hours before you can join them again. You’re not allowed to support competitors during the first 15 miles of the race. I used this time to go back to base, eat some breakfast, pick up Mrs TwinBikeRun and BabyTwinBike and ensure the car had everything for the rest of the day.

Bike Course

We met Iain TwinBikeRun around three hours after he started. We then tried to meet him roughly every 45 – 60 mins. He didn’t always stop but we wanted to give him the chance to pick up food or drink or to change into or out of his waterproof clothes.

The thing to watch out for on the bike course is that many parking spots are slightly off the road requiring you to pull in, rather than parking at the side of the road itself. It’s particularly tricky to find a spot on the road between Ullapool and Garve. So, you may want to agree in advance the spots you’ll meet.

Other than that, the support cars are well spread out and there’s plenty of room for everyone on the road. I had been concerned that the Gairloch coastal road may have seen some bottlenecking but there were no issues at all.

Run Course

Car parking at Kinlochewe is challenging. This year, parking was in a field. A muddy field. A VERY muddy field. A local farmer had to pull some cars out of the field with a tractor as they struggled to get through mud at the entrance.

Luckily, we were directed to park just outside the field so had no problems but a lot of people were struggling and panicking about how they were going to get to the transition T2A without a car to take them there.

At T2A there’s no shelter, just a portaloo. This year, that meant I had to change into all my warm clothes and waterproofs while waiting for Iain TwinBikeRun to arrive. This was okay as it was largely dry while I waited with only a few brief showers. However, if it’s a decent day then you’ll normally be arriving here around peak midge times. So, if there weather is decent, prepare face the might of a million Scottish midges as you wait.

Overall

The race is well organised and each transition is supported by knowledgeable and friendly marshalls. We always knew where we were going, what we had to do and where we needed to go next.

Celtman 2022 – Run (Iain)

I headed out of T2. I had 17km and 2 hours 45 minutes to reach T2a so that I would be allowed to complete the course using the low route. What I didn’t realize was the run starts with a 5km climb.

The last section of the run has a high and a low route. The abysmal weather meant there was no chance the high route would be open. So all competitors were on the low route.

The low route is easier than the high route but its not easy. It is a very technical path made harder if the weather is bad.

I had assumed the run from T2 to T2a was easy. It wasn’t. It was muddy with a lot of off road sections through heather. I thought I would cruise round but I had to work quite hard to make it to transition in time. A few people behind me were walking as they thought they had time but none of them made it to transition before the cut off.

The weather at T2a was bleak. It was wet and windy. I was supposed to have a medical check here but that seemed to comprise of someone asking if I had my bag with me. I said yes. They said ok, you are free to go then.

I changed into a full rambler outfit of waterproofs and a pole to help me walk.

There was no time pressure to complete the race so we walked all of it until the end. It was a long slog and at times the weather was horrific but I never felt tired.

Towards the end of the walk I opened a can of Pepsi that I’d been carrying for nearly 30km. What a treat!

My aim was to do the run in less than six hours. I wasn’t too far out.

At the finish line, one of the volunteers said “Congratulations. Now hand over your GPS unit or you’ll be fined £25!”

They need to work on their end of race speech. It’s no “Iain, you are an Ironman!”

PS – if you look at the first picture of me on the run you will see I have a blue cap on. I don’t have it on at the end. That’s the third blue cap I’ve lost whilst running! If you find it in Torridon then give it a good home but don’t wear it when its windy or you won’t see it again.

Celtman 2022 – Bike (Iain)

Near the start of the bike leg

The forecast for the bike leg was wet, windy and sunny. A typical Scottish weather system – it couldn’t make up its mind what it wanted to be.

It was straight up hill from Sheildaig onto the main road. Thankfully, I left the bike in transition set to a low gear but from the sound of gears clanking and competitor muttering “FFS” a few others had not.

The first section was nice. It was slightly uphill and there was a nice tail wind. The route went through Torridon valley. It was very pretty. I felt good. I had brought my TT bike intending to use it but due to the windy weather I’d made the decision to switch to my road bike. I think I was one of only three people who did the race on a road bike with no tri bars. I knew it wouldn’t be quick but I felt safe and comfortable.

A few competitors came flying past me on the early stages of the bike course, before I settled in to a group who would see each other on and off over the next 100K.

My brother had gone back to the house to pick up his wife and daughter so I knew it would be about four hours into the bike before I saw him again. I was ok with that, i had enough water and food to last.

The section down past Loch Maree was straightforward. A few wee climbs and few bits of head wind but nothing too bad. The only issue was when I reached a narrow bit of road and discovered it was blocked. A supporters vehicle and a bus had got stuck.


I used it as opportunity to drink and eat whilst they tried to sort it out. Which was tricky as the bus driver only spoke German and the bus driver only spoke gruff Scottish. A very hard to understand dialect even for me.

There was a few heavy showers after this. I was glad I was wearing a Gore-tex top and shorts. It meant I never felt cold even in the worst of the weather.

After four hours Andrew turned up. This was a boost to my morale. Biking is easier when I know I’m not completely on my own. He had some Hula Hoops with him and they went down a treat.

There was a very fast down hill section alongside little Loch Broom. I hit 75km/h at one point. Which went down to 10km/h when I reached the bottom of the Loch and I had to turn into an uphill head wind. There was about six miles which felt like I was cycling in treacle with a puncture.

I was not looking forward to the Ullapool road as I though I was going to have a headwind all the way along it until I reached Garve. I was wrong. There was a tailwind and the sun come out. I also got a boost as my brother told me that a friend of mine who was also doing the race was only 5 minutes ahead of me.

I took off all my Gore-tex and raced off down the road. Determined to catch and pass my friend.

I caught him and passed him which gave me a mental boost. I didn’t want him to catch up so I concentrated on putting a good performance down until it would be time to turn off the road at Garve and head back to the start.

At Garve I turned into the headwind, and knew there were over 40km still to go. The wind was brutal but not as bad as I thought it was going to be. So that was a small positive.

I got my head down and battered through until the end. My aim for the bike was to average 25km/h to reach the end in less than 8 hours. I managed it….just.