A weekly round-up of events on the road as Land Rover’s Journey of Discovery travels 8,000 miles from Birmingham to Beijing, uncovering a unique variety of stories en-route. The trip aims to raise £1 million for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies.
After months of preparation, the Journey of Discovery continued on its countdown to Beijing this week when it set off from Geneva through the Alps towards Eastern Europe – with its first stop in the Aosta Valley to discover the secrets of avalanche control.
On the roads out of the city the convoy made an impressive sight, already turning plenty of heads despite Geneva locals being well used to all manner of exotic machinery passing by with the Motor Show in town. Based on this, the impact when the team rolls into some of the wilder stops on the journey can only be imagined. It’s certainly going to make for some memorable moments.
Before hitting the road though, the cars needed packing and every last piece of kit double-checking. Piled up behind the vehicles, it seemed the team had everything but the kitchen sink and looked improbable that it would all fit in.
But while the Journey of Discovery is following a route through both urban and wild terrain, when it goes remote it will be very remote – and then the team must be self-sufficient in every way.
So along with personal kit bags – containing clothes ranging from suits and shiny shoes for the ambassadorial events to polar explorer-style jackets for the remote mountain moments – comes a great amount of specialist gear.
There’s enough tools to stock several workshops, with fuel cans, spares, and even equipment for cutting people out of cars if need be – something that the team, of course, are absolutely hoping not to need, but travelling without it on a journey like this would be foolhardy.
Then there are the specially designed boards for freeing cars sunk into deep sand; the inflatable jacks that can be filled from the exhaust; and last but not least, several cases of boil in the bag ready meals to tide the team through the more remote sections once they hit Kazakhstan and beyond.
Incredibly, the Land Rover vehicles eagerly swallowed it all up and still left space for the team to travel in comfort.
The essential last-minute packing, however, also had to be fitted in around the glitz and glamour of an international launch at the Geneva Motor Show, where the team took to the stage alongside the millionth Discovery.
Behind the razzamatazz of flashbulbs, bright lights and elegant staging lay a serious message, as the driving force behind this Journey of Discovery is fundraising, with a £1 million target for the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) water sanitation project in Uganda, making this Land Rover’s most ambitious fundraiser ever.
The money raised will help to provide a long-term fresh water source for 45,000 of the world’s poorest people in Uganda, where 51% of the rural population have no basic sanitation and 36% cannot access safe water.
By raising the profile and awareness of this shocking scarcity of a commodity so many take for granted, the hope is great changes can be made that will save a huge number of lives.
Robert Fraser, senior officer for water and sanitation within the Red Cross, put the problem into stark context:
“780 million people in the world still have no access to safe water. This lack of clean drinking water and basic sanitation is arguably the biggest killer of children worldwide. Under fives are particularly at risk, especially as coming from the world’s most deprived areas their immune systems are already further weakened by poor diets. A stomach bug from bad water really is a matter of life or death for many of them.”
The white Discovery vehicles, in full livery to promote the £1 million fundraiser for the IFRC, will continue to deliver this important message as they follow their journey and, after leaving the shores of Lake Geneva, it was a short but spectacular drive, winding up the mountain roads under a burning blue sky towards towering snow-coated mountains, to the resort of Pila in the Aosta Valley.
There, accompanied by polar explorer and Land Rover ambassador Ben Saunders and cameraman Johno Verity, who himself has survived an avalanche; the journey discovered the secrets of avalanche control, joining the Pila team to detonate explosives and remove a snow cornice.
With a surreal plume of smoke from the neighbouring ridgeline, followed seconds later by the heavy ‘kaboom’ of 20 kilos of explosives being detonated, a perfectly controlled avalanche tumbled down the empty mountainside. All captured on camera as the first of many stories depicted on this incredible journey.
After a celebration evening in Milan, the team tested their skills on a Land Rover Experience Ice Driving course – which should come in handy along the journey. They will then head off over the Alps to the Austrian capital Vienna, Budapest in Hungary and into Ukraine over the coming week to seek out its next discoveries.