Many people live in the Australian Outback, and many of those people drive, but they have acquired a very special set of skills to ensure they survive. In the Outback, the sand can be very fine, which can cause havoc with your engine. The distance between towns can be so huge that you can go days without seeing civilization, so if you break down you need to ensure you have supplies that’ll see you through until you’re rescued. Make sure you let someone know where you’re going and when you should arrive; it’s so normal for people to disappear for days that people don’t question it.
And it’s not just dry sand that’s an issue, as during the rainy season (November to April), the sand can look dry on top but be wet beneath the surface. If you drive over this you can get bogged down and stranded. If you like off roading, this is one of the most thrilling places to drive, but you have you could ever drive, but be prepared.
Until this road was built, the only way to access the village of Guoliang was via a treacherous set of steps cut into the mountain, which was known locally as the ‘Sky Ladder.’ In 1972, 13 local farmers decided they wanted a proper road built, so got together and carved this route into the mountain. It took five years to finish the 1.2-kilometre route, with several farmers sadly dying during construction.
The finished result is spectacular as the road cuts through the steep mountainside, however the path is only wide enough for one car, so negotiating the road is incredibly dangerous. Should you make it through alive, you’ll be treated to some of the most spectacular scenery on Earth, as the roads surrounding the village wind their way through the incredible Taihang Mountains.
You might think that if a bumbling buffoon like Jeremy Clarkson - helped, of course, by his ever sensible friend James May - can drive to the North Pole, anyone can. You’d be wrong. Sure, they were the first people to drive a car to the magnetic North Pole, but they were supported by a crew of cameramen, producers and survival experts. Not to mention the fact they had a brand new Toyota Hilux kitted out by specialists to survive the harsh conditions.
Even with all this help, they still struggled to reach the finish line - deep snow, ice fields, and wandering polar bears made this an incredibly testing trip.
In 2013 I entered the Mongol Rally with some friends, and it was the best thing I’ve ever done. I will probably never do anything so cool again, which is kind of sad when you think about it…
Anyway, I highly recommend anyone who’s thinking about taking part does so, but don’t expect it to be easy. The rules state you need a cheap and/or wholly inappropriate car - we used a Chevrolet Kalos; someone this year drove a Porsche. It caught on fire.
Along the way we encountered angry border guards, potholes that went up to your knees, corrupt police officers, water crossings, and one of the guys we got to know while stuck at the Mongolian border for four days had a massive gash across his nose after getting attacked with a machete in Iran. I also spent a day towing a broken Kia Rio across a desert and a mountain, using a car with about 70bhp. Very difficult, both physically and mentally, but so, so rewarding.
The Chernobyl nuclear disaster was a horrifying event, and the story about its attempted cover up is fascinating. I visited the Chernobyl museum in Kiev while in Ukraine two years ago, and the tales of firefighters sacrificing their own lives to try to put out the blaze will leave a lump in your throat.
Now, nearly 30 years after the tragedy, the nearby town of Pripyat - former home to the Chernobyl plant’s workers - lies abandoned. It’s weirdly fascinating seeing photographs taken in the city, with Mother Nature taking over now that man has vacated. If you’re feeling particularly brave, you can undertake tours of the area, as Top Gear proved last year. Get your route wrong, and things could end very badly for you, but get it right, and you can enjoy endless empty tarmac.
The story behind the so called Road of Bones is pretty shocking. It was built by Russian prisoners, with death a regular occurance in the harsh conditions. The bodies were built into the road, since the frozen soil made it very difficult to create proper graves. Therefore, within the mostly gravel road, the bones of its creators can be found. Although around 150km of the road is now tarmac, much of it remains gravel.
It’s not just the difficult terrain you have to face, though. During winter, it gets seriously cold - the town of Oymyakon, which is located near a section of the route, is believed to be the coldest inhabited place on Earth.
From the coldest inhabited place on Earth, to the hottest. The town of Dallol is now deserted, but between 1960 and 1966 an average annual temperature of 35 degrees Celsius made it unbearably hot for the inhabitants. In mid summer, temperatures average nearly 50 degrees Celsius.
The only way to get around Dallol is with a very capable 4x4 - and many, many bottles of water - but road trippers are rewarded with some truly alien landscapes.
Canada’s ice roads are the subject of an oddly compelling TV show. Ice Road Truckers, as the name suggests, follows a group of truckers as they traverse the treacherous ice roads, bringing much needed supplies to some of the most secluded communities on the planet.
As if driving on snow and ice isn’t inherently dangerous enough, the roads actually wind over the top of frozen lakes, creating routes that can’t exist during summer. It all gets particularly dangerous as spring comes around and the ice begins to melt, thanks to the warmer water flowing below, and the warmer air above, turning the ice to slush.