The Windy 500 – Interview with Steve Blackmore.

Mission: 50 teams – 23 Countries – 23 nights –  in a vehicle worth £500”

1. How did you come up with the idea ?
I’ve always liked travelling (as opposed to tourism) and soon discovered some talent and enthusiasm for taking others with me. I began organising groups (mainly friends and family) to go backpacking to such locations as Morocco, Borneo and Thailand. My stepfather pointed me in the direction of an article about the Mongol Rally, which really appealed but the dates didn’t fit. Eventually my plans of a trip to Mongolia became a trip overland to Ethiopia in 2008 and as there were a few who wanted to join me, we chose to do the trip in a double decker bus (a hard, but ultimately rewarding venture). When I returned to England there were a number of people who said that they really wanted to come on my next venture. Too many to fit in one vehicle. Hence, the idea to do a trip with a number of vehicles. I did have some wild plans of importing tuk tuks and running a trip from Egypt to UK, but with the current political state of Syria (and Libya) this wasn’t feasible. Hence the plans of using vehicles from the UK and travelling out from the UK and back.

2. Any particular reason that the vehicle cost has to be under £500 ?
I am aware that there are some fairly hard core banger rallies out there. The Plymouth-Dakar Rally specified £100 to be spent on the vehicle. I guess they aim at people with some decent mechanical knowledge. Alas, I don’t have such skills and neither does my wife. I figured that there must be a good number of people who wanted a trip that was challenging, but not quite that challenging, interesting but didn’t involve being oily up to your elbows every day. Besides, once we had the name ‘Windy 500’ it seemed sensible to use the figure of £500. You can generally get something with an MOT for this figure, just.

 

3. How many people are going ?
I’m not entirely sure yet. I have set a limit of 50 teams of 2 or more. This gives a minimum of 100 participants if all the spaces are filled, however several teams are larger than the minimum.I have a team of 7 in the process of booking up and sorting out leave, etc. They will be looking for a minibus.

 

4. What’s the plan for each day, drive all day or stop at all the touristy points ?
From when I did the bus trip in 2008 I am aware that you need to have some down time between drives and that it is important to underestimate how far you can go in a day. I think 23 days of solid driving would be very unpleasant and you would miss all that Europe has to offer. Hence, I’ve tried to make sure that daily targets are achievable and hopefully there will be time to drop in at places of interest, stop for photographs, suck in the local culture and even have time to catch up with the main group should you be delayed for any reason. There are few days where teams will drive over 300 miles, there are 2 rest days thrown in and some days of less than 100 miles. Hence, there should be opportunities to see local sights. When planning the route, I have tried to take in as many interesting locations as I can, attractive towns and cities, scenic areas, beaches, mountains. I certainly hope that there will be enough to keep just about everybody interested.

 

5. Give me an outline of the kind of people signed up so far ?
Fairly diverse. We have an age range of 5 years to 75 years so far. We have young and old couples, (including a honeymoon couple), we have groups of friends and colleagues and a few family groups. We have some (but surprisingly not many) from the motor industry. Most are in employment, some are retired or retiring soon. Many are local to the Dorset area, but many aren’t.

 

6. There are 50 teams, how much contact will they have with each other ?
I think the answer is as much or as little as they like. I have organised a few events to raise some money for charity and also to get to meet various team members. None have been compulsory to attend. Once we are on the road, every day each team will be given a destination (probably a bar or similar) to get to by the next day. I shall also be highlighting what campsites or hotels are nearby. So, teams may well meet up at the destination and may well converge on a certain campsite to swap tales over the campfire, or alternatively they can, if they wish, distance themselves from others and chose their own accommodation far from the madding crowd.

 

7. Why put a time limit on it ?
Whilst each team is expected to make their own way and navigate from one chosen destination to another on a daily basis, I felt that most would want to feel part of an event and have the opportunity to meet up and socialise on a regular basis with some of their fellow travellers. Hence, daily target destinations. The limit of 23 days was setting a timescale that I felt many would be able to take off work. It works out as 3 weeks plus a weekend, so for many only 15 days (3 weeks) off work.

 

8. How did you map out the route ?
Over many nights, with plenty of research, consultation, changes of mind and a fair bit of frustration. I think I’m there now though!

 

9. Who are you raising money for and why them ?
The principal charity is Julia’s House. It is a children’s hospice in Dorset, providing assistance to children or their families with life limiting conditions. I have raised money before for various charities and I have found from experience that if it is something you really believe in and can feel passionate about, you are more likely to put yourself out. Each team is expected to raise a minimum of £100 for Julia’s House (most, I’m sure, will raise a lot more) but should a team have it’s own favourite charity, anything after this initial £100 can be for their charity of choice.


10 Where will you stay every night ?
I’m a camper usually. I personally will be staying mainly on campsites. Others may not want to rough it quite as much and will find hostels, cheap hotels and the like. I shall be listing a few camp sites and cheaper hotels and similar close to each daily destination, but teams are free to ignore these should they find anything more appealing.

 

11. Is there any space left for late recruits ?
Currently the answer is yes. There are a few spaces. There are also spaces on the shortened version, The Windy Lite, launched at the end of May. This is a condensed version of the trip taking about 14 days. It will involve some very long drives at the beginning and end to link up with the main group but does still involve driving on the Transfagarasan Highway in Romania
and the Stelvio Pass in Italy.

 

12. ‘You won’t be informed of the next destination until the day before’. What is the
reason for this ?
To add something different to the trip. A ‘magical mystery tour’ of Europe as it were. To provide a talking point for competitors and those following their progress at home, guessing where the next destination will be. I’m aware of at least one team running a competition for people to guess which 23 countries we shall be visiting.

 

13. Is this the first year of it, are you hoping it will become an annual thing ?
Yes, it is the first year of it and yes, I do hope it will be an annual thing. I have already had some teams who can’t make it in 2013 for various reasons ask if they can put their names down for 2014. I see no reason why it shouldn’t become annual, or even why it would have to be limited to Europe. I have a few ideas at the back of my head….

 

14 It sounds like unreal fun, why do you think people should do random adventurous stuff like this ?
I would like to think that this would be much more than a holiday, more an experience of a lifetime. Something to talk about before, during and after in the way that a pleasant week on the beach in Benidorm is not. I have thoroughly enjoyed my travelling experiences to date. Even those moments that seemed dreadful at the time, getting stuck in the sand in the Nubian Desert on a double decker bus, that horrific hotel in Thailand, the petrifying ferry ride in Cambodia, now seem amusing over a pint or two whilst reminiscing. I’ve made friends and acquaintances whilst travelling and I would hope others would on this trip.

 

15 What is the plan for sleeping ?
As mentioned before, I shall be setting the day’s destination. It will be up to participants where they want to sleep and what sort of accommodation they want to use. I expect many will have tents, some will fancy something more luxurious. I may be able to highlight where some campsites and hotels are but I won’t be recommending any.

 

16. What’s the advantage of doing this with you guys rather than doing it alone ?
I would say that one of the main advantages is the camaraderie that I’m sure will build up between teams. Somebody at the end of the day to swap tall tales with, who will understand what you have been through and possibly to help each other out in times of difficulty.
We are also aiming to have some social functions before we go, as we gather to leave Weymouth and also on our route (currently planning something in Romania, watch this space…). There will also be some research of the route, what there is to see and do on the way and at each destination, what accommodation may be available and advice on legal issues of driving in each country.

 

17 All the race organisers – is this your job or is it all volunteer ?
I had better pick you up on this firstly, it isn’t a race. I would have chosen something much faster than a 30 year old VW camper van if it was. I work full time, so I am organising and researching this event in my spare time. There is an entry fee for each team. I don’t envisage making a huge amount out of the event, probably not much more than covering costs.

18 Why pick Weymouth as a starting point ?

Weymouth is my home town. Before the event was formally launched I had chatted it over with a few acquaintances who expressed an interest in going. It seemed sensible to start it off where we were all based. Also, with local contacts, it made it easier to organise our leaving event at the Pavilion on Weymouth Seafront. It has a large car park, which is a necessity for an event like this.

 

19. Is everyone going actually from the UK ?
No. Most are, but we have a Finnish contingent in one team and a team (possibly two ) from Switzerland.

 

20 What is the reason for asking each team to start a blog ?
From my early backpacking trips onwards I always kept a travel diary. Even now when I dig them out and go through them, they bring back some great memories. Certainly a lot more memories than I would recall without them. With the onset of technology, I did a blog for my bus trip, from the initial idea onwards. I know there were many, many people following my regular updates whilst on the trip and I know that others have used my experiences for their own research into the own trips. I have found them to be a useful tool and hence the encouragement for others to do the same. It is also a great way for teams to share their experiences with each other or with friends and families back home. Blogs aren’t compulsory, but I would encourage people to do them.

 

21 How do the teams raise money ?
The fundraising minimum requirement is purposefully very low. £100 per team. How teams want to raise money is entirely down to them. We have had some charity events, such as a horse racing night. A number of us are off to complete the three peaks challenge in a few weeks. Others are looking at getting corporate sponsorship on their vehicles. There is the competition to guess all the countries we shall visit. These are just a few of the suggestions. Several teams are already well in excess of their £100 minimum and still looking to raise more.