The Mongol Rally Review
Is this the greatest road trip on Earth?
The rules are simple:-
1. You must take a farcically small vehicle.
2. You're completely on your own.
3. You've got to raise £1,000 for charity.
Once signed up a group of like minded people get together in a field somewhere before driving over 10,000 miles from the United Kingdom to Ulan Ude, a place no one's ever heard of in the ass end of Siberia - That's the Mongol Rally, proclaimed and accepted as the greatest road trip on Earth.
Think of it as the best episode of Top Gear they never made, except you get to be in it - only without the budget - or support team - on call mechanic - back up car - security force - or anything else that those guys have. Actually it's just you, some mates and a shit lot of road.
There is an entry fee for this summer of fun, and at the time of writing that figure stands at £650 per team, split between however many you can squeeze into your wagon. For that kind of money it's fair to ask...
What Do I Get For Signing Up?
On the face of it, all your appear to get for your sign up fee is a few car stickers, a few pre-arranged parties, a t shirt and a wrist band, but what you're actually buying is something unseen. You're buying an idea, and it's that idea that is worth every penny.
It's the idea that you can drive a third of the world in a ridiculous vehicle without knowing a thing about how engines work because you've seen it done before. Without it you would look at someone in a Nissan or Fiat crossing continents as a suicide attempt. It's the idea that even if you're the only one of your friends that has the time, the money or the adventurous need to do this kind of thing you can find somebody in the same situation as you looking for someone just like you. It's the idea that it's not exclusive to those who can afford Jeeps or Land Rovers.
There are hundreds, if not thousands of rallies taking place across the world, each with varying criteria as to what car you're allowed to have and what route you have to take, some more interesting than others yet few can match the size, accessibility and diversity of countries that can be potentially crossed as you aim to complete the Mongol Rally.
Within a few days of leaving England you could find yourself heading northwards towards Scandinavia or in the steep mountains of central Europe. A few days later you might be skirting the Black Sea before crossing into the Asian frontier and beginning a new continent. If you're feeling invincible you might venture into the middle east hoping they can all calm their tempers for a moment to let you pass through without being crucified. Maybe you'll head north into lesser known places in Russia before moving further east into countries ending in 'stan' - Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Happyslappystan. Is that a place? Slip it into conversation and see if anyone notices. If they ask what it's like just say, "Very, very violent."
You're On Your Own
One of the greatest features of the Mongol Rally is the route. There isn't one. There's a start and a finish with everything in between yours to play with as you please. You can pass through seven countries or you can pass through twenty seven. You can take six weeks or you can take six months. There are no stop watches or check points. There's nowhere to be unless it's where you want to be.
The organisers let you decide what you want to do and how you want to do it, and it's that lack of intervention that is perfect. Like Tinkerbell they show you the way. They facilitate the meeting of like minded individuals, bring them together to share their collective dreams and excitement, fill you with confidence about the madness that lay ahead then they tap you on the nose with their magic wand and tell you to piss off, live your life and have a damn good time doing it. Any more intervention than that would ruin the whole thing.
But You're Not Alone
The clear benefit you get from joining will be the people you meet. In the case of my team we were four strangers from three different countries. Before the rally started we first had to meet each other. Then at some pre-rally drinks we met other teams and made new friends, and on the rally itself we met some more people who made the whole thing even more amazing.
One of my best days was our last day in Turkey. The entire morning was spent in a car park just off a busy street. The evening was mostly spent queuing at the Georgian border before eating at a truck stop, then driving in circles before sleeping by the side of the road. Described like that it sounds tragic that it might be the best day of any journey, yet I don't think there was a minute of that day I wasn't laughing hysterically. Without the people who were there it might well have been as mundane as it sounds.
The fact there is no set route only makes seeing a rally sticker all the more exciting, because it's pure chance where you'll spot one and who it'll be. The average local in every country is helpful and kind enough, but there's something about spotting that logo somewhere on the road. It's someone with something in common, someone with a connection, maybe when you need it most.
There is no explanation as to what the Mongol Rally is or what you'll experience. As pompous as that sounds it is one of those things that has to be done to be understood. More than anything it's a mind set. It's looking at a roundabout at a truck stop service station covered in stinging nettles and long prickly thorns and deciding that's where you're going to put your tent. It's waking up two hours later because the sun is cooking you from the inside and although your body desperately needs to sleep it can't accept the unbearable conditions, so you eat your bland powdered mashed potato at the side of a busy road and ask the person next to you how badly they slept.
If you haven't taken part already then hopefully you're signed up or just about to be. Because that means one day soon you'll be driving along a piece of dirt trail that looks slightly more drivable than the piece of dirt next to it (which will be the only criteria as to what makes a road in some places) and you'll see a group of men who make you question the theory of evolution digging their fully loaded Russian all terrain vehicle out of a hole. You'll pull up in a creaking, clanking 1 litre shit box with the exhaust trailing behind and ask them if they need any help from you and your now scrawny undernourished friends.
Take that moment to look at your car, at the trail you're on, the vastness of your surroundings and all that's happened to lead you to that point and smile to yourself, because that is why you chose to take part in the greatest road trip on Earth.
It's the build up. It's every moment that you have on a journey so grand that no matter what comes after, it will live long in the memory.