The Ultimate Road Trip Memoir

In 2007, Dina and Bernard joined the Centennial Beijing to Paris Motor Challenge, a 36-day car rally that would stretch for 9316 miles across the Gobi desert, Siberia, Russia, and eastern Europe.

Married for twenty years, the couple had owned and operated a successful business together. In 2005 they were living on a ranch in Colorado, bailing hay, fixing fences, and horseback riding in the sunset.  At a local event, they learned about the motor rally and quickly decided to enter. They had a lot to learn and a car to purchase, but they would do it together.

Dina describes herself as a worrier who can easily imagine the worst.  Yet she is also a romantic who loves the idea of adventure. She hates the unknown, is prone to car-sickness, and knows horses, but not cars.  Bernard, a transplanted Frenchman, is a man who loves cars, can fix them, and thrills at driving fast. He meets problems with calm, rational thinking.  Naturally, Bernard would be the driver and Dina would be the navigator. Neither of them had ever participated in a car rally before entering the Beijing to Paris sponsored by the Endurance Rally Association.

Dina’s memoir, written several years after the adventure, describes the ultimate Road Trip.  Peking to Paris, Life and Love on a Short Drive Around Half the World, is a delightful read from start to finish. Full of anecdotes, the memoir is as much about romance and marriage as it is about travel adventure.  Dina’s voice is honest, lightly humorous, and self-deprecating.

There was so much in Dina’s story that rang true and familiar to me.  Bernard, like my husband Tom in Wherever the Road Leads, was a genius at repairing their car, a 1940 GM La Salle two-door coupe.  Dina describes the pleasure of helping just enough to understand what Bernard was doing and to appreciate the challenges of road-side repairs.  Like myself, she had romantic notions of what might happen on the trip, but soon learned to accept the day-to-day stress of keeping the vehicle running.  And Bernard was willing to help her live some of her romantic dreams when the trip allowed. Between car repairs, there were bad roads, an engine prone to over-heat, border crossings that took all day, making friends along the way, and occasional breaks to enjoy local food at a roadside cafe.

For me, the rules and traditions of the endurance road rally were a fascinating look into a totally different kind of road-trip. Dina clearly described the need to keep to a schedule, to show up at the starting gate each morning at their assigned time, to check in along the way each day and at the delegated lay-over each night. So much of the rally was completely different from a normal road trip.

Intermittent time-trials added excitement to some stretches.  In the Gobi Desert, sand storms and dirt tracks that disappeared into nothingness added their own suspense.

A sense of community developed among the drivers and navigators. At the end of the day, over a drink, they often exchanged stories of their tribulations along the road. The more experienced rally participants freely shared their knowledge with Bernard and Dina. On the first evening in Beijing, one lady taught Dina, a complete novice, the basics of the duties of the navigator. The men loaned each other tools and even, on occasion, car parts. Participants waved signs that said “We’re OK” or “Need Assistance” when they stopped along the route.

Dina has added a series of appendices at the end of her memoir, including statistics about the rally and rally terminology.

If you enjoyed my memoir, Wherever the Road Leads, you’ll love reading Peking to Paris by Dina Bennett




One response to “The Ultimate Road Trip Memoir”

  1. Karen Dennis

    As always, I enjoyed your Wherever the Road Leads as well as your Immigrant Soldier. I was never as adventuresome as you were, but I certainly know what you were talking about. You just kept moving on and things changed. Our summer using the book, Europe on $5.00 a Day, was fun and full of experiences, such as getting your laundry done and paying extra for a handle to the faucet to use the bathtub down the hall! Fun to remember such times.

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