Dispatches from the Mongol Rally
Six weeks, 10,000 miles, dozens of countries, and one little vehicle: this is the Mongol Rally. Teams from around the world pile into improbable cars and attempt the only-barely-probable – the long drive from London to Ulanbataar. There are breakdowns – emotional, vehicular – and mythical creatures that leap from the sand of the Gobi. Few people are brave enough or foolish enough to make the journey, but Thought Out Loud’s founding editor, David Moscrop, and our Wastrel, Bradley Prouse, are at least one of those things. They, along with three others (Amy Morris, Jordan Leichnitz, and Kiavash Najafi), are packed into a Piaggio and probably lost somewhere as you read this. Moscrop will be sending updates for the next six weeks, when time, Internet connectivity, and the team’s bandit captors allow. Check back for updates – newer posts will appear at the top.
Day One – Goodwood, UK – Calais, France – 278 km
The first few days of the team’s journey have taught us some important lessons, which will stand here as an introduction to the entire trip.
For one, it’s possible that we’re not as mechanically prepared as we’d hope to be. The day before our launch we learned that our van can’t support a roof rack, which would risk tipping the world’s narrowest car over. We also learned that our single spare wheel would only fit under the van once it was ratcheted and strapped to the undercarriage, with the help of a Halford’s (inexplicably pronounced “whole-fords”) employee who looked at us as if we were entirely daft before hopping to the ground and securing the tire (i.e. tyre) for us.
Adventure also often involves rain. This summer has been one of the rainiest ever for the UK – which is a pretty rainy place to begin with. The Goodwood pre-departure camping party, which involved a few hundred rallyers bouncing about, drinks in hand, throughout a giant field full of tents, was a muddy and mostly drunken affair. Yet the participants remained in good enough, if not always great spirits. One Irish participant noticed a small Canadian flag sticking out of my wet, muddy boots, and asked with a smile, “What part of America are you from?” “Oh,” I replied, “the centre part. What part of England are you from?” It wasn’t long before he’d taught me how to drink Jameson: two parts rum, one-and-a-half parts boiling water, a teaspoon of sugar, a wedge of lemon, and a clove. Later in the night, teams sang impromptu karaoke from their tents – a few words of Queen’s “Don’t stop me now,” a verse or two of The Backstreet Boys’ “I want it that way,” and something else – I was too wet and cold to remember.
Saturday, 14 July’s launch party – The Festival of Slow – at Goodwood Speedway was also an exercise in climate patience. Teams were placed into small stalls, leading to hundreds of people huddled together, trying and failing to seek shelter from the rain and cold. Within two hours of arriving, our team had been called to the launch party stage, interviewed, and chosen as “Least likely to make it to Mongolia.” I had also been sold in a “reverse auction” for forty pence and had lost a tire changing contest in the soaking rain to a previous year’s team after our jack failed to reach up to the undercarriage of the car. But the gifts we received for our dubious distinction – two she-pees (exactly what you think it is) and an aptly named cardboard shitbox – made it all worthwhile.
We’re not the only team that stands out, though. One team is made up of three members, all of whom are in wheelchairs. Another team boasts a bathtub on their roof. One intrepid traveller is going the journey alone. Still another, in a Chevy Aveo, features a giant inflatable soccer bar on their roofrack. And a Chevy Aveo – yet we’re least likely to make it? Ha!
Overall, most reactions – at home and here, abroad – have been a mix of bemusement and skepticism. “Yeah, you won’t make it,” said one grocer we met. The mechanic who sold us our spare parts was both curious and incredulous, asking, “How many people are doing this?” and then noting, “Oh, I’m surprised there are that many idiots out there!” Other reactions have included, “Well, it’s one way to travel,” “You guys are going to hate one another by the end,” and “Good luck, don’t die.”
But so far, so good. Over 200 teams did a lap from Goodwood speedway while honking, screaming, sitting on top of cars, and waving to one another and the watching crowd. And now we’ve settled for the night in Calais, France, after a long drive around England and a trip through the Channel Tunnel on the Soviet-esque Eurostar.
Five Crew Canoe’s Mongol Rally journey by the numbers
Countries visited: 2
Total crashes seen: 9
Blown tires: 0
Litres of alcohol consumed: 3
Cigarettes smoked: 4
Team fights: 0
Back seat driving infractions: 10
Van signatures: 1
Strangers who helped: 2
“Horse testicles? Oh, dear.” – Dave’s mom, via text