It could just be the craziest idea ever: On July 21, over a hundred teams from across the world will depart from London’s Hyde Park for Mongol Rally 2007, an annual 10,000-mile race during which contestants travel a third of the world’s surface—from England to Mongolia—in a piece-of-crap car with an engine less than one liter, crossing deserts, mountains and wilderness with no guide, no guarantee of arrival and no safety net.
According to organizers, the Mongol Rally’s mission is to bring some much-needed adventure to a sanitized, safety-proofed, over-planned world. “The world is just a little bit too safe,” the group’s website reads. “What if you want things to go wrong? What if you want a bit of unknown in a world full of health and safety measures?” The Mongol Rally promises to deliver: “If nothing goes wrong, then everything has gone wrong. You only start having fun when you break down in the desert with only a short stick and some chewing gum to fix your car. If your automobile completely lets you down and all else fails, e.g. the sky has fallen on your head…prop it up with a windscreen wiper and carry on.”
This year, the New York Press’s very own Joshua M. Bernstein, of My So-Called Strife infamy, will be one of the brazen participants taking part in the rally. We spoke with Josh for an insider’s look at how a team prepares for the journey and what type of person is willing to risk life and limb all for a damn good story. Click here for the Q&A.
So what on earth inspired you to join a race that requires you to travel one-third of the earth’s surface in a crap-mobile with no support team, no mechanical knowledge and only a 50-50 chance that you’ll make it to the finish line in one piece?
What else would I do with my summer that’s so exciting? I long ago exhausted all my good cocktail-party blather. I need a new stockpile of ludicrous anecdotes for when I’m blasted on olive-laden gin martinis, and I’m hoping the Mongol Rally will provide stories in spades.
Have you ever participated in anything like this before?
Not to this extent of utter stupidity. I once drove about 6,000 miles to Alaska with my friend Andrew, who’s traveling with me on the Mongol Rally. On the second day of the road trip, our radio died. We were forced to drive the rest of the trip in awkward, uncomfortable silence. We nearly killed each other. Rather, I nearly killed us, as I lost control of our car while barreling down a tall, steep mountain. But that’s another tale, and one I’ll need several beers to fully recount.
Are there any particular places that you’re really looking forward to seeing?
I am hoping to make it to Beijing, where I will buy many colorful handmade suits and return to America in incomparable style. Still, all my friends tell me that I need to go to Hong Kong to buy really cheap suits. So I will settle for eating my age in dumplings. Or perhaps investigating the abandoned ships of the shrinking Aral Sea.
Anyone who has ever been on a road trip knows that your fellow travelers can either make or break the experience. Who’s on your team? How do you all know each other?
I am traveling with my best friend, Andrew, and my friend Mims. I went to college with Andrew; Mims was the only other friend with both the gumption and money to embark on this ludicrously expensive venture. We all know each other well enough to understand that this is a horrible notion, and we will likely hate each other at journey’s end. But what’s travel if not pushing yourself to extremes? I’d rather huff gasoline than spend the summer on a beach, slurping piña coladas and reading the latest Dan Brown thriller.
How did you choose your team name?
For our name, we tried to think of a something as nonsensical as the Rally. Andrew thought up Mr. Dinosaur, which seemed as good an idea as any, which is to say, it was a horrible idea.
Can you tell us a little about the car? Where did you get it? And why didn’t you choose a Hummer or a Range Rover or something with a little more power?
The rules of the race dictate you have to drive a teeny auto with a piddling engine. Hence, Hummers are nixed. On eBay UK, we bought our white, 1994 hatchback Subaru Justy with a busted driver’s-side door and 60,000 miles on it. It cost us $585. That’s something special, when a used car costs less than your rent.
You guys will be leaving in less than three weeks now. What have you been doing to prepare for the journey?
I acquired visas for a colorful assortment of hard-to-spell countries and received an inoculation for hepatitis A, B, typhoid and tetanus. I also bought new underwear. They’re dark, for when I likely lose control of my bowels when a border guard points a weapon against my soft, soft skull.
So now, a couple of hypotheticals: You’re in Kazakhstan. It’s the middle of the night and you’re steaming along in your little Subaru, when suddenly a big Suburban rolls up beside you, rolls down its windows, points flashlights in your direction and starts screaming, “Pull over! Out of car! No Americans here. Out!” What do you do?
Open our wallets wide and, as the rappers do, make it rain.
You’ve reached Tsagaannuur. You’re only 2,000 miles away from your final destination, but at this point, you’ve lost one of your teammates and the two of you left are riding on bicycles stolen from Uzbekistani school children. You’re bruised, battered and exhausted. Now, just to make things worse, the wheels of your bicycle have suddenly fallen off, and rolled off a cliff into the Dood Tsagaan nuur. What do you do?
Take a slug of whatever rot-gut liquor’s around and hitch a ride. Once we’ve come this far, there’s really no turning around.