It’s a really long drive from Ulan-Ude to London, and from the moment we started the engine to leave the safety of the hotel car park a number of factors came into play to create a pretty challenging environment.
With such a distance to travel and a specific window of time in which to do so, we also knew that we’d have to keep the motivation up once the shininess of the adventure had worn off and a couple of long days of driving started to test energy levels. This meant seeking out little wins along the way in any shape or form they could be found. To truly appreciate them, it’s important to understand the context in which we were operating.
Ginny (a 20-year-old VW Polo with 80,000+ miles on the clock) had already travelled 6,000 miles across some pretty dodgy roads. Along the way the shock absorbers blew, fuel tank was punctured, fuel line was cut, the bolt attaching the suspension to the chassis broke and 5 tyres blew. By the end of our first day of driving, a dead alternator and the start of a significant wheel alignment issue would be added to the list. As well as passengers, Ginny was laden down with sand ladders, jerry cans, spare tyres, camping gear, a spare battery, a well-stocked toolbox and enough medical equipment to stock a small hospital. Top speed, going downhill with a 3-minute run up, foot to the floor and passengers leaning as far forward as possible was 76 miles/hr. Ginny also came with a quirk that required close daily management – a broken fuel gauge that always showed the tank as full. She couldn’t be described as being in the best shape of her life.
It’s also worth mentioning that our collective mechanical skill set extended to being able to change a tyre and identify odd clunking sounds that might be problematic.
For the first 3,000 or so miles we would be driving on a semi-trailer heavy, (mostly) single lane highway with a maximum speed limit of 55m/hr and heavily policed. We’d be navigating this alongside drivers with completely mad over and undertaking skills. Given that large parts of the highway are destroyed each year due to the extreme winter conditions, the road quality veered from small sections of newly laid bitumen to hundreds of miles of gigantic pot holes to freshly graded dirt and everything in between.
The Russian visa is very specific in terms of your exit date. Overstaying presents its own set of problems – you gotta get out! This meant our driving time had a limit which was further tested by the false start after our first tow required a 2-night stay at the mechanics. To make up the time, we were averaging 11-13 hours a day in the car.
The little wins snuck up on us at first, and then we actively went searching for them, building them into our daily routine.
- Chancing upon petrol stations with an indoor, flushable toilet as opposed to the side of the road holes in the ground (it really was the lucky dip of toilet stops)
- Finding petrol stations with A-92 unleaded petrol. A-95 was the holy grail. Finding a brand-spanking new Shell petrol station on driving day 10 was pure magic…
- Correctly guessing how much fuel was required to fill up the tank based on an incredibly complicated mathematical formula that I had concocted
- The utter joy of the realising on driving day 5 that the alternator had not died again but we’d just run out of fuel (the mathematical formula was quickly ditched after this incident)
- Finally figuring out how Russian petrol stations work on driving day 9 (it’s a very complicated process exacerbated when you don’t know how much fuel you actually need) and not getting yelled at by any staff members for the first time when filling up
- Any time we were actually able to overtake another vehicle. Triple points in the little wins bucket when it was a semi-trailer
- Navigating a police traffic stop in Russian in under 5 minutes with no cash changing hands
- Every time we made it up any road with an incline without rolling backwards (this included crossing the Urals)
- Every time we successfully and safely drove in and out of a new city (Irkutsk, Tayshet, Krasnoyarsk, Tomsk, Novosibirsk, Omsk, Kurgan, Ufa, Kazan, Nizhny-Novgorod, Moscow & St Petersburg - the Moscow buzz lasted for 2 days)
- Crossing another time zone
- Working out how to order a flat-white in a keep cup
- Finding a Maccas nearly 2 weeks in
- Crossing into Finland and rediscovering recycling bins!
- Ginny holding it together during a long day’s drive to bring us to our planned destination every night in one piece. Fervent please and thank you prayers were offered up at both ends of the day
As I look back 6 months later, I am amused at how many of these little wins were based around fuel and petrol stations – not at all what I expected.
These little wins kept us going when we were tired, cranky, bored and frustrated. They gave us that extra push at 5:30am when the alarm went off to face to the day ahead. They kept us going late in the afternoon when we knew we still had a few hours to drive.
They built our confidence as the trip went on. Our rusty manual driving skills were well and truly rediscovered by the time we tackled Moscow on a boiling hot, Sunday afternoon complete with traffic jam. We had already driven the worst of the roads and not written off Ginny in the process. We were able to buy petrol like a local. We knew what Ginny felt like when she ran out of fuel and it was okay.
We cheered our little wins – some louder than others – but every single win elicited a cheer in its own right. The challenges hadn’t gone away and we were still thrown new curve balls each day but we were able to harness the power of our wins to keep going.
I’m finding myself in a similar situation at the moment professionally. Navigating new challenges, developing different skills – a space that can easily feel overwhelming and difficult. So, it has been a timely reminder to really look for those little wins now to carry me through. They may not come from the most obvious places, but they can have immense power.
Ending on a reflective note, I wonder where are your little wins coming from and how are you using them in your life?