A CHARITY trip of a lifetime ended in disappointment for five friends when the ambulance they were driving repeatedly broke down.
Ashley Dale, 21, Alex Garrow, 20, Luke Gowers, 21, and Max Stocker, 21, all from Horsham, and Chris Pearce, 21, from Billingshurst, tried to complete a 10,000 mile rally to Mongolia in a Renault Master LH35 Ambulance.
The plan was for them to donate the ambulance for community use once they reached a Mongolian village called Ger, where the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation houses homeless children. But this wasn’t to be.
The team’s troubles began before they had even set off when the ambulance first broke down on a test run in Horsham. However, they still made it to start event at Goodwood motor circuit near Chichester on July 23.
They made the off, but on day two more problems started. Luke told the County Times how they first lost second gear, followed by losing all gears between Nuremburg and the Czech border.
The team managed to find a Renault garage in Germany, and were forced to camp out on the garage forecourt for four days while waiting for a new gear box.
“It cost us quite a bit of money to get it fixed but we decided to spend it as we had only got to Germany and felt we had to go further,” said Luke. “We hoped that was the end of our troubles.”
But it wasn’t. With a new gear box the team decided to go at a quicker pace, missing the Czech Republic and heading through Austria and Hungary.
But as they left Budapest more problems struck the troubled crew.
“Our engine light suddenly came on,” Luke recollected. “As the engine temperature suddenly soared, we pulled over and opened the bonnet to find that the coolant was really low.”
They phoned Max’s dad, fortunately a mechanic, who told them if coolant was leaking without an obvious sign the head gasket was probably going.
But on they went, wary of their head gasket set to blow, continuing across the Turkish border where they found a dealership in a town 1000km from Istanbul.
“The garage were amazing with the son of the owner being the only person to speak English,” said Luke. “They fed us, put us in a cheap hotel and got the mechanics working on it immediately.”
Unfortunately, though, their fears were confirmed. Furthermore, when work began it was discovered some of the pistons were worn down, meaning the repairs would cost 2,000 euros. The team were forced to quit.
“It was a hard decision to have to pull out,” said Luke. “We spent an evening discussing our options but we simply didn’t have the money to pay for the repairs that the ambulance needed.”
The trip had already cost them about £6,000 for the ambulance and the forced repairs. Thankfully Horsham estate agents Brock Taylor had helped with some of the costs.
Having made the difficult decision to abandon their Mongolian quest, the team were soon to learn their troubles were not quite over though.
In Turkey they learned they were unable to sell the ambulance as it had British number plates.
And they couldn’t abandon it because Chris had a visa stamp for the vehicle in his passport, meaning he had to leave with the vehicle, or face a fine.
The only option they discovered was to hand it over to Turkish customs - effectively importing it into the country.
Luke also spoke of his disappointment at having got so close, but never reaching Iran. He said: “I personally had studied modern Iranian history in my final year of my degree this year so was eager to get to Iran and I’m now gutted not to have made it.”
The trip wasn’t in vain however, as so far they have raised £2,100 for the charity.
They wanted to thank everyone who donated money and wanted to thank those that sponsored them including: JAG Publicity and Press, CINCH!, SL2 Signs, Evolved I.T. Solutions, Anglepoise LTD, Crawley Downs Group and James E. Pearce LTD. As well as the Renault garages in Germany and Turkey that helped them.
To read the full blog or to donate visit www.underthefog.co.uk.