the story

In March 2016 I signed up for "The Mongol Rally", an event "organized" by The Adventurists. The goal was to drive an incredibly unsuitable car from London, England to Ulan-Ude, Russia via Mongolia. When I announced this endeavour on Facebook, I encouraged people to follow along so they'd be the first to know when we "break down in the middle of the desert in Uzbekistan and I start crying". I said that in humour, thinking that's probably the craziest thing that would happen. 

Well, I was very wrong. I made it to Almaty, Kazakhstan. I switched teams and ended up riding along in a tiny vehicle with four other guys i had never met before. We drove a 1.2L engine over the Pamir Highway without burning the clutch out. We spent nearly three days getting across the Caspian Sea and Turkmenistan's border control. Yes, I cried, and yes, we did break down in the middle of the desert in Uzbekistan. But that's just the tip of the iceberg.

the preparation

Episode 1: Visa Hell
Forms were printed, terrible photos were taken, things were signed, dates of an unplannable journey were “estimated”, cover letters were written, cancellable hotel bookings were made and everything was sent to London, England in hopes that when our passports return, we will have been granted entry to a few of the countries we need to pass through.

Episode 2: The Countdown is On, Visas at 60%
There’s 77 days until the rally begins in London. That’s 77 days we have to get immunizations, the remaining visas, and have a car ready to go.

Episode 3: Meet Our Wheels
It's a 1998 Opel Corsa ECO with 180,000km on it. The colour... like someone ate a few too many gold flakes and then puked it all up. Does it purr like a kitten? No. Absolutely not.

Episode 4: Super Immunity
The big vaccine for the rally is Tick Borne Encephalitis... which I'm just not getting. It's not available in the States so all the Americans are fretting over, "What if we only get the first shot in London, will that do anything?" Doubtful. Wear long pants?

Episode 5: Insure Me & Take My Money (PLEASE?!)
Now think what your insurance company does when you tell them, “Hey, can you insure me for a road trip in a shitty car through 20+ countries that I’m doing to raise money for charity? I promise we aren’t racing. I promise we are good drivers. I promise, we aren’t being paid and I promise we’ll be safe!”

the action

Episode 6: Bad Omens and Shit Hitting the Fan
Yesterday things started going downhill. It was 2 hours before I left for the airport in Chicago when I got a message saying that Shane has had to back out of the Rally due to (very legitimate) personal reasons. That leaves just Eric and I to man this fully unprepared, 30,000 mile attempt to drive across a third of the planet and back.

Episode 7: The Launch and the Deal with Turkey & Why It's Crucial
From the title you might think things are happening fast and all over the place. You’d be right. I feel like an octopus in a garage. 

Episode 8: Eastern Europe & The Canadian Convoy Takes Turkey
A whole new world. The end of "normality". My third-world senses prickled up on high alert. The working bustle was happening without a care for us. People yelling, flags everywhere, stalls, fruit stands, skinny kittens rummaging through garbage bins, the call to prayer that I haven’t heard since my days in Indonesia, old ladies covered head to toe all sitting next to each other in their alleyway doorsteps just observing our two sticker-covered tiny shit vehicles clunking over the cobblestones.

Episode 9: The Georgian Team Shuffle
We’re now in Georgia, a country that I knew absolutely nothing about and didn’t know what to expect. Their writing is funny curly characters and we can’t read anything. I still don’t really know what their currency is called but I’ve got the exchange rate on lock… it’s called GEL, but we’ve taken to calling them George Dollars which completely wrong.

Episode 10: The Baku Ferry Port - The Waiting Game
Now begins the very fun part: the ferry across the Caspian Sea. To put it simply, there are no straight answers. Many teams were issued only 3 days of car insurance at the border for Baku, so after 3 days, the car has to clear customs at the ferry port and after that, you can’t leave the port. 

Episode 11: Welcome to the Stans
The Door to Hell looks a lot more sinister at night than it does in the daylight. The heat comes off it in huge gusts of hot wind and the gas makes the view behind it shimmer. There are different stories as to how it was formed some 40 years ago. 

Episode 12: The Uzbek Engine Fizzle
The key turned. The starter chirped. And chirped and chirped… no bueno. There was no compression, the engine would not turn on. Now the desert looked a lot less friendly.

Episode 13: The Vauxhall Encore
The rollercoaster we’d been riding began to climb from the rock bottom low that our dead engine let it slide to, and it kept climbing until the air got thin, the oxygen got low, the altitude cracked 4,655m and Lane vomited. That’s what happens on rollercoasters. More on that later.

That's it! Want to read about somewhat more "regular" travels? Better check out that regular blog that I do.

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