(This originally appeared on our team blog but has been copied here as I am the author).
I recall hearing the words “Mongol Rally’ somewhere someplace at sometime but it wasn’t more than a fleeting thought really. Surprisingly in some respects, I’d never met anyone who had done it and since I hadn’t heard much about it, I’d never looked into it.
That was all to change one Sunday in late 2012. I’d only been living in London for a few weeks and had made plans to meet up with Dyl, a fellow Saffa I’d met just over 2 years before whilst following the Proteas (that’s the South African cricket team) round India for the world cup. Dyl was meeting up with Adam, an Aussie he’d met in Burma in June 2011. Surprisingly, one or two quiet beers turned into an afternoon’s drinking before Ad suggested we have just a couple more at a bar where he was meeting Mark, a mate he’d met travelling in Chang Mai in July 2011. Mark had recommended the bar is it had live music and free snacks every Sunday, and with free food on offer Dyl and I needed no second invitation.
Fast forward a few months; with Mark as the initiator and brains behind the operation, Ad first on-board early in 2013 followed by Dyl and myself a few weeks later, and team ThereAndBactrian is up and running (to read more about the team, please check out our team blog).
Mark and Ad’s inspiration for the name came from the Bactrian camel – an animal native to the steppes of central Asia. My knowledge of camels isn’t great but I’ve subsequently learnt since signing up that there are two species of camel with this breed by far the rarer. Further, unlike its single-humped dromedary cousin (I looked that word up!), the Bactrian camel has two humps. I’ve met many camels in my time travelling round Egypt and Jordan, and although somewhat funny looking and foul smelling, I find them rather fascinating.
Moving on from camels for the time being, the rally is run by The Adventurists; a company who, in their own words, are “Fighting to Make the World Less Boring”. This is actually the 10th anniversary of an adventure that started with just a handful of teams and has grown hugely over the years to some 300 – certainly more than I had thought when I first decided to get involved.
In a (long) sentence, the rally is a ridiculously crazy adventure to travel some one-third of the way around the world over some of the world’s toughest terrain from London to Mongolia and raise a whole heap of cash for charity in the process. The mode of transport you use to get there is up to you (some people do it in ambulances, others on motorbikes) as is the route you take and the amount of time you take to get there. While there are “Celebratory Welcome” parties in Ulaanbaatar four, five and six weeks after the event kicks off, some teams decide to race and have done it in just seven days while others have taken three months. Given work commitments, we’re planning (well, more hoping) to arrive in time for the last party.
On the face of it this you may think this all sounds a tad foolish, but when you account for the inadequacies of the vehicle, the uncompromising nature of the terrain and our team’s total lack of mechanical knowledge, it is clearly verging on the idiotic.
In all seriousness though, and to reassure our mothers who may well be reading this, we’re obviously taking this very seriously and doing everything we can to ensure we make it to Mongolia. From modifying the car with a bash plate to protect it from stones kicking up off the roads and packing the necessary spares to ensuring we have comprehensive-all-eventualities-covered travel insurance, we’re realistic to the fact that all will most certainly not go to plan but determined to give it a real go and enjoy the adventure no matter what.
I remember staying with a university friend of mine in Amsterdam some three years ago at the start of my travels and pulling out a coffee-table book about Mongolia from his bookshelf. Paging through pictures of wide open expanses and stunning scenery, friendly smiles and more horses than I’d seen in ages, I realised it was my mate who’d actually put the book together.
Chatting about it that night, Dave explained that just a few months back he’d spent three weeks on a horse exploring the country. The word he used to sum up the country was “emptiness” – a land of vast open spaces where people were still nomadic and the horse still the preferred mode of transport. The thought of visiting at some point resonated for sure but I had no plans as to when or how.
Fast forward to London 2013 and we’re just under two months away from setting off on what promises to be a tell-your-grandkid-a-story-or-three-while-you-bob-them-on-your-knee-in-thirty-year’s-time experience. But Mongolia is just the destination. What lies between Dover Castle on July 13th and Ulaanbaatar six weeks later are five ‘Stans’, some 10,000 miles, three deserts, five mountain ranges, numerous bottle of vodkas, a few car issues and no doubt our fair share of hair-raising experiences.
But that’s what life and this adventure are all about and I cannot wait to climb into our trusty stead (read Vauxhall Agilla 1.2) with three of my best mates and set off on the road. I’ll be blogging about our preparations over the next few weeks leading up to the rally and then, internet permitting, while we’re on the road. First up though is the route so look out for that in the next blog article.