MOST people on getting to their mid-60s probably plan to take things a bit easier, doing nothing more arduous than pottering about the garden or perhaps working on their golf swing.
But not retired Kelso chartered accountant Bill Quarry. Not for him the slippers and pipe by the fireside. Because at 5.30pm tomorrow, 65-year-old Bill and his fellow traveller, Andrew Scott-Paul from Yorkshire, will set off in their Toyota Landcruiser on an epic 20,000-mile round trip to China.
Travelling on some of the harshest and most-unforgiving roads in the world – where there are roads – the duo are not undertaking the journey to raise money for charity or promote any cause, but simply for a love of adventure.
Estimated to take three months, the journey will see the two men cross the Channel into Europe before heading across the continent and into Russia and the country’s capital, Moscow. From there it will be on to the Siberian wilderness, before crossing the border into Mongolia and then onwards to China.
Keen angler Bill – he oversees the access to the River Tweed for disabled anglers on behalf of the River Tweed Commissioners – says he hopes to get a bit of fishing in along the way, including at the world’s oldest and deepest body of fresh water – Lake Baikal in Siberia.
“We’re doing this so we can make the journey as travellers rather than as tourists,” Bill explained during a break in his preparations for the expedition.
“The main attraction for me is really about getting to meet the local people along the way, eat and stay with them, and learn about their lives and their culture.
“You can’t do that when you’re on pre-packaged-type holidays. You have to get off the beaten track yourself.”
Bill and Andrew – Andrew’s wife hails from Yetholm and he spent some time in the Borders managing farms before relocating to Yorkshire – had originally thought about making the journey via the famous Silk Route.
But travelling through countries such as Iraq, Iran and Uzebekistan where there are currently major security concerns was deemed too dangerous, so Bill and Andrew are taking the northern route to China that will see them pass through some of the least populated areas of the world.
“Siberia is one of the truly great last wildernesses left and something I am really looking forward to seeing,” Bill told us.
“I have been almost everywhere else – Australia, New Zealand, Africa, South America – but these were on holiday-type visits. This will be different. We have done plenty of research – speaking to people who have made the trip before, researching information on the internet, in books and so on.
“Andrew knows a fair bit about diesel engines from working on farms, so in the event of anything mechanical going wrong with our vehicle we should be ok.”
Bill and Andrew’s Toyota Landcrusier Colorado is powered by a three-litre diesel engine and has been fitted out with heavy duty off-road tyres, snorkel, roofrack and winch.
With extra sets of equipment such as tyres, the vehicle preparation work was carried out by four-wheel-drive specialist Gavin Dagg from Kelso. The two-man team will also be carrying satnav phones to allow them keep in contact with home.
“We were advised to use a Toyota vehicle. They’re very reliable, tough as old boots and, where we’re going, parts will be easier to get in the unlikely event we do need them.”
The vehicle has actually been painted with a map of the route, including place names in their own native languages. “That’s so we can always point to them and ask locals how to get there!” Bill laughed.
One highlight of the trip will be meeting and staying with the people of the Mongolian steppe. “They are legendary for their hospitality. We are taking a tent and camping gear in case we need it, but the plan is to stay with local people such as Mongol herders where we can.
“It’s the best way of really finding out about a country and its culture.”
Bill is no stranger to unusual challenges. In 2000, at the age of 55, he completed 12 marathons in the space of just six days, raising £100,000 for charity.
Asked if he was at all concerned about undertaking such a trip without ever having done anything as difficult before, Bill is pretty sanguine about the whole thing.
“You can plan and plan and plan, and that’s good. But you don’t want to sanitise the whole thing to the point that there is absolutely no risks at all. But obviously, we don’t want to get ourselves kidnapped or anything like that, so you have to be sensible.
“However, there’s a saying that tourists don’t know where they’ve been and travellers don’t know where they’re going, and I think that sums modern journeys pretty well.
“As the world shrinks and urban and industrial development encroaches ever further into the world’s last remaining wilderness areas, time is getting short to visit such places before they are changed forever.”
After 16 injections and reams of paperwork, documentation and visas, with their vehicle weighed down by kit and spare parts, Bill and Andrew will finally set off to the skirl of the bagpipes from the rear of the Queen’s Head Hotel in Kelso tomorrow night.
And at various points along the way they will file reports which TheSouthern will be publishing in a special adventure diary so that readers can keep up with their progress.
No doubt there will be some who think them crazy, but most, we suspect, will envy them and wish they too were setting out on a grand adventure to the lands of the Cossacks and Genghis Khan.