Fresh off the heels of our class win with the 2024 Alcan 5000 Rally, we’re neck deep in prep for our first major overseas competition: the Baltic Sea Circle Rally, the northernmost rally in the world.

My husband, Andy Lilienthal, and I are competing in this year’s summer edition, and we’re piloting it in an unconventional vehicle: an all-electric 2024 Volkswagen ID. Buzz van. It’s an updated version of the beloved old-school bus, yet-to-be-released in North America. The rally runs from June 22-July 7 and will start and finish in Hamburg, Germany. We are Team Crankshaft Culture, #122.

Will it be the perfect #vanlife overlander as we wild camp our way through nine countries and approximately 5,000 miles over 16 days? Time will tell. But first, we need to finish final preparations for this sure-to-be unforgettable competition.

During the last few months, we’ve learned a lot, overcome unexpected rally-planning roadblocks, and prepped in ways we hadn’t predicted. However, we’re stoked to take the hotly anticipated VW ID. Buzz EV on this adventure of a lifetime. But first, we must finish prep and packing to get there.


Baltic Sea Circle Rally Stats
Based in Hamburg, Germany, Superlative Adventure Club, or SAC for short, hosts several different road rallies throughout Europe. From high-mountain escapades and multi-country events to fun treks throughout the United Kingdom and more, there’s a rally suitable for every type of auto enthusiast.

The Baltic Sea Circle Rally has been a yearly event since 2011. This adventure rally starts in Germany and encompasses a winter and summer iteration around the Baltic Sea.


The QUQUQ setup works similarly to the Egoé Nestbox Supertramp box we have in our Mitsubishi Delica van. We will be able to fold down the middle seats and extend the folding bed for solid night sleeps.

Photo: Mercedes Lilienthal

SAC is mostly geared towards older vehicles, where the older your car, truck, van, SUV, or even classic firetruck is, the more points it’s worth. SAC accepts “youngtimers” to classic cars, and even electric vehicles. Basically autos “which are fun and must have at least one wheel.” In 2022, SAC instituted a class for zero-net carbon emissions vehicles, like all-electric vehicles. This is the class we’ll compete in.

As of this moment, we’re the only team that’s coming from North or South America. Additionally, it looks like we’re the only all-electric vehicle competing, too. According to Arved Quilitsch, one of the Superlative Adventure Club staffers, there have been about 10-15 all-electric vehicles in the summer or winter Baltic Sea Circle Rally—however, we’re the first team from outside of the European Union to compete in it. A few Teslas and Polestars, as well as a Skoda a BMW iX xDrive40 EV from the EU have tested their mettle since 2022.

The rally decided to institute a Car Challenge with teams driving older, slower vehicles, or those with pure electric drive (like us). They’re aware we’ll have a more difficult time mastering the rally and their requirements given our chariot of choice.


The Baltic Sea Circle Rally Vehicles:

  • Freshman Cars (10 years and older): no extra points
  • Youngtimer (20 years and older): per year 1 point
  • Old Schooler (30 years and older): per year 1 point
  • Slow rider (under 70 horsepower): 20 points
  • Electric: 10 points

There are nearly 150 total teams for this year’s Baltic Sea summer event. A plethora of 4x4s, AWDs, and even some two-wheel-drive classics will take to the back roads in search of the finish line after they’ve trekked above the Arctic Circle and beyond around the Baltic Sea.


Rally Routes and Maps
This isn’t your run-of-the-mill rally. The Baltic Sea Circle Rally, or BSCR, is an adventure rally which we haven’t done before. Andy and I are used to time-speed-distance or TSD rally, precision-based events to stay on route, on time, and on your prescribed speed perfectly at all times.

The BSCR is essentially a choose-your-own-route (ish) rally from what we understand. No precision, and no GPS or satellite navigation is allowed. Plus, teams must supply their own maps. It’s more difficult than you think to find up-to-date legitimate paper maps of Baltic countries, especially Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia online when living in the United States. Most are at least a few years out-of-date, but when living across the globe and GPS is a no-no during the competition, beggars can’t be choosers.

Not only is this a road rally, but it’s one where daily challenges and missions are doled out. All hints, notes, and tasks are optional but are meant to enhance your cultural experience. SAC’s rallies are all about the back roads vs. the highways so it’ll be interesting to keep our range in check and find charging stations, like in the middle of nowhere Estonia, for instance.

Teams will travel through nine countries in northeast Europe. They include Germany, Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Finland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, and back to Germany for the finish. We’ll travel through cities like Oslo and Trondheim, Lofoten and North Cape above the Arctic Circle, Helsinki, Tallinn, Gdańsk, and Hamburg.


The Jessi Combs Foundation
The BSCR is a charity rally and we’re raising money for a worthy nonprofit organization: the Jessi Combs Foundation (JCF), to help them with their yearly scholarship program (helping women getting into the automotive trades).


It will be five years this August since Jessi Combs perished. However, her spirit will always live on in those who support what she stood for. Please consider donating to our Go Fund Me so we can help JCF.

Photo: Mercedes Lilienthal

Our goal is to raise $5,000 before the rally ends July 7 and we’re currently at $2,784! Consider donating to our Go Fund Me fundraiser to help keep Jessi Combs’ spirit alive and help future generations of women walk in her path. Every dollar helps.


Unexpected Rally Prep Challenges
Andy and I are used to packing for extreme endurance rallies but not one quite like this. Teams make their own overnight accommodation, and other than knowing we can camp, hotel or hostel it, or do whatever you want, we don’t know yet where to stay. We need to find camping apps in each country to see what’s available, especially if there are EV chargers nearby.

Other SAC rally teams have said it’s highly recommended to travel over 300 miles per day otherwise you won’t make it to the finish line in time. Based on that intel, we’ve exhaustively researched charging companies in each country. We realized quickly that charging an EV in Europe is different than the United States—you can’t simply swipe a credit card and start charging—yet.


Our VW ID. Buzz EV van will be outfitted with a Germany-made QUQUQ camping and sleeping setup. Not only will we be able to cook with it, but we’ll also have water, a small sink, and storage space for kitchen supplies.

Photo: Mercedes Lilienthal

Based on our findings, since we don’t live in the Europe and will compete in this rally with an EV (we’re getting it on loan from Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles Germany), we’re not able to simply download each charging app, create an account, load our credit card information, and go.

Living in the U.S., every charging company we tried to download wouldn’t let us. We were “out of their regional zone” because we had U.S. phones and addresses. We tried to do research on if we could even use our U.S.-based phones with those apps once we got over there with little success.

We found articles of other North Americans having similar issues. Andy went as far as to contact Elli, one of the main charging companies we hope to use (they’re apparently in all nine countries we’ll be driving through). They told us we needed to have a European delivery and billing address, as well as a European Appstore/Google Play store to purchase the necessary RFID card through the app for charging. However, they said we should be able to use our U.S.-based credit card to pay for charging. Only time will tell if our modified plan will actually work.


Pre-Rally Research is King
Knowing this, we created an extensive Excel document and noted which charging companies worked in what countries, how you can set up each account, if you need an RFID key or charging card to use it, and other pertinent information.

It appeared that most, if not all the apps, require European-based customers for their services. Even though I’m dual citizen German-American and hold a current German passport, I wouldn’t be able to get a German-based phone and bank account set up in time to make it happen. But, surely, we’re not the first non-EU people to drive an EV in Europe without renting it? An extremely fast-paced rally such as this is seeming to pose a problem when you complicate it with nine countries and non-resident citizens who aren’t renting their EV over a 16-day duration.


Family Matters
However, my sister Monika Thauer-Cronie and nephew Paul Cronie live in Germany. They’re coming to our rescue! We told them about our issues, and they jumped into action. Paul has an old iPhone, and after a few phone calls to their local cell phone company, they got a new SIM card for it, factory reset it, and are currently loading it with all the charging apps on our document.


My sister, Monika Thauer-Cronie, loves to be in the air flying lightweight sport aircraft as much as we love off-roading. She has about 200 hours of flying under her belt.


One of Monika’s favorite places to be is up in the air where she feels “free as a bird” when she’s in the sky.

Photo: Alina Kotova

They’re letting me use their EU-based address for each app and have also created a free Euro-based email account for me to help set things up. Charging apps setup: So far so good! Let’s hope this works.

Additionally, we’re sending a few critical items to their house. We ordered freeze-dried camping meals from German-based Tactical Foodpack as we’re not sure ours would be allowed into Germany after we land. Monika even called border control for us; they couldn’t definitively answer either way. We’re not chancing it.


Tactical Foodpack, delivered!

Monika also took receipt of our vehicle rally decals for us. She’s also got emergency camping supplies we can borrow so we don’t have to haul everything across the pond.

The power of family is indescribable. I half-jokingly call my sister Monika our fixer and Paul our IT expert. Monika is managing “Operation Team Crankshaft Culture’s Rally Success” and Paul’s busy loading the phone and ordering EV charging cards for us. Even my niece, Siobhan Cronie, is helping us buy last-minute items once we arrive.


Even measuring for rally decals took time. The ID. Buzz hasn’t been released in North America yet, so we had to send photos with colored squares back to Volkswagen Commercial Vehicles of Germany for them to measure for us. They sent back metric memeasurements, and I translated them into inches to have our decals cut in the U. S.

Photo: Mercedes Lilienthal


The Final Days
Andy and I hope our modified plan of attack will be an electrifyingly great success. We know there will be challenges creating our own route with paper maps (some aren’t even in English), the language barrier, finding charging stations and maintaining constant charge, among other things. But we’re beyond ecstatic to compete in the 2024 Baltic Sea Circle Rally and can’t wait to hit the ground running on June 22!

From fjords and forests to another set of Arctic Circle crossings and driving to the northernmost point of land in the world, we’re stoked to start our journey together. It’s our 20-year wedding anniversary while we’re there, and we’re planning to make it remarkable.


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