What I’ve learnt driving 23.492km in a Volkswagen Van from 1987. Mongol Rally.
Some useful tips for future ralliers.
Dust. Everywhere you look, as far as your eyes can see, there is dust. Not your average dust, we’re talking fine dust, the one that you’ll get while sanding the freshly added plaster on your drywalls. So fine that when you stand your foot in it you wont actually feel the dust, it’s just there surrounding everything. It’s so fine, it’ll get into every nut an cranny of your entire being. You can’t escape it, it will be in the air your breath, the food you eat and the water you drink. You might as well get used to it.
This summer I sat off into the unknown, driving from Sweden, to London and from there all the way to Mongolia. The plan was to drive through Europe in a breeze and from Turkey try to relax and experience more, this simply because Europe is more accessible then Central Asia. At least from my vantage point.
The reason for driving the stretch really came late last year, during a christmas party at a friends house. We (Me and my girlfriend Jennie) where talking about what to do later 2014, summer holiday, travels in general. While under the influence of maybe two or three beers to many, we googled an event called “The Mongol Rally”. Right there I took up my credit card and made the first down payment on the Rally admissions fee.
A bit of history about the Mongol Rally, this year 2014 was the 10th edition of the Rally, in other words, back to basics if we where to listen to the company behind the event. 1000cc car, maximum of 1 ton weight and minimum 10 years of age… and your car should not cost more than 1000 euro. Well that was easier said than done, at least for us. We first had a Suzuki Samuraj (SJ413) but had to sell it due to lack of space, by now we where three people driving the Rally. And we needed to get a bigger vehicle. There where turmoil acquiring the second car, a Volkswagen Vanagon from 1988, it was too big, and the engine was too large, and it was too expensive. But we really wanted to dive an old car, and to make things worse the engine was a Volvo engine from 1979.
Arrangements before the Rally was without an undertaking one of the most time consuming things I’ve ever had to do before a trip. Arranging with paperwork for visas, car papers, insurances, drive plans, packing, sponsors, vehicle maintenance, paying the full entry fee, making a final deposit for even being able to participate. Make no mistakes, entering the rally un-prepared might add the experience of totally being lost, but in my own experience, the most important thing, get your visas sorted in time, and learn a little bit about engines, just the basic needs, water, air, oil & fuel. Make sure everything that these 4 things touch in the engine bay is in good order. That’s the most important thing, chassi is something you can do without, windows is something that adds to comfort but you can do without. Engine, really bad if you loose this component, so make sure your cars little engine is in good shape.
Don’t get every spare part on the planet, for what ever you’ll bring I’ll bet you 100x that somethings else will brake. On that matter, don’t lose your breaks, we did at 3500 meters, that’s an other story, but you really want your breaks to work in mountainous areas. Bring the essentials, fuel lines, spark plugs, cap & rotor, head gasket, fuel & water pump ( if this is hard to get where your planning to visit ), maybe the essential belts. This might already be too much, but I would truly recommend you to bring these items.
Starting to drive is the easiest part. Keep driving is hard, but becomes as necessary as breathing. Eat, sleep, move-on-east. This is a mantra that you’ll need to practice once you’ve decided to drive the Mongol Rally. Everything you do will evolve around one simple task, to move you, yourself and your car towards the east until you’ve reached Ulaanbaatar. And forget everything you know about roads, you’ll most likely drive on some of the worse roads in existence, you’ll long for a proper dirt-road, and you will for all foreseeable future hate bad and beaten tarmac with potholes big enough to hide a couple of sumo wrestlers.
Brace yourself for long days behind the wheel, long hours crossing borders, and please do understand that you are participating in a Rally, even if there is no prominent winner, it is a Rally, you’ll be driving your car every single day, for as long as it will let you. Remember your car is your god. Treat it like your baby, nurse it, care for it and keep it clean, inside out.
People might lure you into thinking and acting like the rally is a big laugh and you can get through it drinking beer long into the wee hours. Don’t get me wrong, I think you can, but is that the experience you want to (not)remember when you look back at that adventure 20 years from now? Not to talk about how irresponsible it is to sit in a car the next day and drive for 10 hours while sobering up. My advice stay of the alcohol if you are driving the next day. If you are more people rotated the driver role.
Take photos, loads of photos. No matter if you tend to make this a annual trip, there will be so many things happening, that If you don’t record and keep track with photos/videos and sound bites, everything will blend into one large dusty memory, where time-lines, events and stories will start to morph into new illusions of what happened. On that note, bring backup hard drives, and maybe an extra backup if the backup fails.
Don’t forget water when you are heading into the dessert, not just because you are passing through the dessert. Plan for the worse, what if you’re car breaks down and you are 12 hours from the nearest city? Do you have enough water to be able to wait for help? For us there was only a few sections where we knew we had to prepare, but be sure you are ready for the worse. Means you can focus no the good stuff and less on what if everything goes wrong.
Team up, convoy, meet amazing people and make friends for life. There is no better opportunity to bound with like-minded people than this. You are all crazy enough to embark on something as crazy, that alone means you got more in common that you think. Enjoy every single minute, enjoy the good and the bad. This is an experience you wont find in any other travel brochure, it’s off the beaten track, far away from swimming pools and umbrella cocktails. I’ll end with a quote that we had written next the door handle of the drivers door, and that we now have on the front door of our apartment.
Life begins at the ends of your comfort zone
— Neale Donald Walsch
This post was originally written in september 2014, but published in October 2016. I’m not native in english writing, that’s why there can be lots of spelling mistakes, I’ll do my best to correct, please give me feedback.