Overlanding the world or across a continent is increasingly popular and people do it for a number of reasons. But to drive to the other side of the world for the Japan Rugby World Cup – and as it turns out, celebrate your 60th birthday there as well – was a new one for us.
Meet Mark & Sue, from the UK who are doing exactly that: overlanding to the Japan Rugby World Cup!
We had the pleasure of meeting them in Bishkek one evening. We loved their story, I totally fall for what they do as well as how they do it. As you will read, for example, how thoughtfully they shaped their Land Rover into their home on wheels is so touching.
I can say a lot about their journey but instead figured to let them tell it themselves. They did.
Driving the many kilometers in a relatively short period of time, I appreciate all the more the extensiveness of their replies. So read on, be inspired, and let us know if you have a unique story you’d like to share with us on Landcruising Adventure.
To Mark and Sue: one evening was way too short and we sincerely hope our roads will cross again. Enjoy the wide road, that Amber may be your home on wheels for many more adventures. And of course have a blast at the Japan Rugby World Cup, and that in the great company of your kids and friends!
1. Tell us a bit about who you are
We are Mark and Sue Farrell, from a small English village of Hemyock, in Devon, UK. We are both semi-retired, myself from a career with New Holland agricultural machinery and Sue as a G.P. in our local practice. We both have travelled extensively with work and holidays and have always wanted to do a Big Trip, having enjoyed travelling in many different countries and continents.
An overland trip in a Land Rover was my long-term desire after meeting up with a couple of English guys who were travelling from London to Cape Town in an old series 2, whom I met whilst working for Ford Tractors in Johannesburg in 1986.
2. You started the trip in the UK with 2 and will end in Japan with 5 to watch the Rugby World Cup. What’s the plan?
Our kids, Hazel and Douglas, will be joining us in September just before my 60th birthday to help celebrate this momentous occasion! We will be meeting up with my brother Simon who lives and works in Japan so a big family reunion is planned with some traditional treats – including Restaurants and an Onsen or two.
Hazel and Douglas are both world travellers themselves and are looking forward to joining us in Japan and attending the Rugby World Cup England group qualifying games, for which we have tickets. They have also invited Alex, one of our family friends, who like the rest of us is Rugby fanatic! So our little group is getting bigger.
With the possibility of another friend of ours Jude Zebedee, the first solo female to cycle around the world unsupported, potentially joining us as she is planning to be a co-pilot in an Austin 7 driving from UK to Japan, check out “Celebrate the Seven”.
We are really excited about them all joining us as we are really close to them all, and missing them. They will be travelling in a hired campervan and using tents, so Amber won’t be overloaded.
3. When did the idea come up to combine an overland trip with the Japan Rugby World Cup?
The last Rugby World Cup was held in England where I was a volunteer driver involved in transporting various dignitaries to and from the stadiums. It was at one of these games that Sue asked,
”Where is the next Rugby World Cup being held?”
“Japan”, was the response.
The rest is history as this fitted in well with our retirement plans and gave us a reason for doing our Big Trip at long last!
Check out the fascinating stories of other overlanders:
4. What’s the story behind calling your overland rig Swing Low Sweet Chariot. Why orange and why the lovely paintings above your doors?
Having researched various vehicles for the trip, we decided upon an ex-military Land Rover Pulse ambulance having seen one at the Adventure overland show in the UK, and immediately wanting to buy one.
We were lucky enough to purchase from Withams who dispose of ex-military vehicles in an online auction, this was a tense experience, but worth the stress as she arrived in Devon as a complete ambulance still with siren and flashing lights!
Knowing the route we were taking I was intent on making her look as non-military as possible so a major colour change was required. Our choice of colour was inspired by her name “Amber the Ambulance” so a colour as close to amber was sourced and the hand painting commenced.
I also wanted to make her a bit different and not just be yet another overland vehicle but one with some character. So some line painting was done by a coach painter friend of ours that included a little reminder of our kids Hazel and Douglas with hazelnuts and a douglas pine fir cone painted above the cab.
One of the negatives of a Pulse Ambulance is the handling capabilities of such a lump, they are top heavy and wide so tend to sway, especially in a side wind, this coupled with the England Rugby supporters song gave me the idea for the name for our travel blog – swinglowsweetchariot.blog.
This is sign written on the back doors and will have amused and confused many a following driver throughout our journey so far I’m sure.
5. People love gear talk, so what’s the best thing you packed and what’s the stupidest thing you brought (and ditched)?
Mark, Best thing: Tea towel with photos of our kids and dog which hangs up on the back door so when we’re parked up and locals come and have a look in, they all want to know about them as language is always a difficulty a picture says a thousand words.
Mark, Stupidest thing: Electric shaver! As I have decided to grow a huge moustache for Movember the charity that concentrates on men’s health, issues from illness depression and suicide.
Sue, Best thing: Has to be the mosquito net, allowing a relaxed sleep wherever we are even with the doors and windows wide open as we like them.
Sue, stupidest thing: My knitting. And other leisure activity items – sketching, painting, running equipment. These were added to my list when we had a longer and slower journey in mind. .. next time!
6. How’s the Land Rover holding up? Breakdowns and how did you fix them?
Cable ties and gaffer tape the best things to pack!
The first issue was the back of the alternator coming loose so some cable ties and a bit of superglue resolved this minor issue which was found on one of my daily vehicle checks. Which are so important, not just fluid level checks, but a good look around under the bonnet finds all sorts of potential issues waiting to happen from loose jubilee clips to partially blocked radiators, it’s 10 minutes well spent every morning.
Read More: Car Gear
Our two major issues were fairly serious.
With a clutch master cylinder failure giving a wet left foot, whilst well off-road up in the mountains en route to the Seven Lakes in Tajikistan. A well-known Land Rover experience!
We were 250 km from the nearest town, Dushanbe, and a serious range of mountains to conquer. I managed to make contact with a parts supplier who I found on iOverlander. Good to his word, he supplied me with a new master cylinder assembly 5 days later, having shipped it from Moscow on time, and a correct original part. With a lot of double declutching and stopping to top up with brake fluid we made it to Dushanbe.
The other issue was a lot more serious with complete loss of braking! After extensive off-roading on corrugations that could shake your fillings out we were approaching the main road when I pressed the brake pedal and nothing happened!
Luckily I managed to coast to the roadside and after an inspection found that we had lost a front brake pad and the retaining pins! Which had obviously shaken out on the rough tracks we had been travelling on.
The only thing we could do was to walk back down the track and try and find the missing brake pad and pins, after 4 kilometres of scouring the track by foot we found the pad sitting in a pile of dust, but the pins were nowhere to be found…
Back to the truck where I stripped out the brake calliper, checked the condition of the pistons, and pushed them back into their correct position. We now had to find some pins to retain the pads. Sues knitting needles were too small in diameter and not really up to the job but she then suggested some aluminium tent pegs, which were the correct diameter if a little too long.
This was the perfect solution to the issue and got us going for the next 400 km until we reached Almaty where we met up with Leigh and Steph from GrizzlyNBear Overland, who introduced me to the same guy that had fixed their truck a few weeks earlier. What a small overlanding world it is, as I had been following them on their YouTube channel for some time, and I had just bumped into Leigh when trying to source new pins from a so-called Land Rover specialist in Almaty.
7. How do you make sure you are not feeling rushed yet know you have a ferry to catch in Vladivostok. How do you decide where to go and what to skip?
We constantly check where we are, where we need to be and how much time we have for deviations which works well as Sue is the Ideas and navigation specialist. I just go where I’m told, which is great as if it were just me I’d crack on and take the straightest route which is completely the wrong thing to do.
Knowing we have a ferry to catch on the 28th August in Vladivostok if we want to be in Japan for my birthday is a target to aim for, but achievable with the time we have, including some fairly major off-road expeditions as we progress eastwards.
It may be a different type of trip to our very original plans but it is working well, and luckily we are both happy with how things have panned out. We are nature tourists more than cultural tourists and we have certainly seen a lot of landscapes.
One advantage of the Land Rover is we go slowly – plenty of time for observation! Our next trip may be slower.
8. What was the most challenging part of your overland journey so far? And the most inspiring?
The most challenging part of the route so far has been the Pamir Highway which was both exhilarating and exciting with 4600m of ascent up narrow mountain tracks with steep drop offs and multiple hairpin bends, winding up through the snow line and then descending, with the temperature rocketing from minus 2 to plus 30 degrees C in one day.
The most inspiring was travelling through probably the poorest country we experienced – Tajikistan and seeing the hard-working farmers in their fields. Using sheer manpower to pull a plough through the soil they were preparing to grow their own crops, but they still looked up and gave us a wave.
This is such a vivid memory, these guys who have so little yet appear so content with their lot, which rubs off on their children as well, as every village we entered a group of kids would gather and wave at us with genuine happiness and friendship. Something missing in our normal everyday living experience at home I fear.
Other travellers are also a constant source of inspiration. From first time rookies like us, to long term overlanders, from those on a mission and those able to allow the journey to be their mission or life. And fascinating and inspiring modes of transport. Maybe we will cycle to the next Rugby World Cup (it is in France so may be achievable from Devon).
9 What’s your tip for those who’d like to do an overland trip like yours, but who are afraid to do so.
Make your mind up whatever it is you want to do, and then tell everyone you know what you are going to do. Once you have told people then it’s too late to back out! Just don’t think of the reasons not to do it, but think if you didn’t do it how much you would regret, not just doing it!
Every day has been a pleasure and there is excitement around every corner, as we always said on family holidays on our old Land Rover 90,
10. Where can readers follow your road trip to the Japan Rugby World Cup?
All photos @Swing Low Sweet Chariot
Check it Out: The Road Trip t-shirt Collection
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