Editor’s Note: Read the latest on the Optimistic Fools preparation for the 2008 Mongol Rally here. Viator is pleased to be a sponsor of the Optimistic Fools rally team, on their journey to complete the 2008 Mongol Rally from London to Ulan Bator, Mongolia. We’ll be checking in with the team over the next 6 months as they prepare for the 2008 Mongol Rally. The team will also blog for us as they make their way from London to Mongolia.
Do you sit in your car each morning — or on the bus, the train or tram — the sun not yet broken above the horizon and the sleep-dust still in the corners of your eyes, headed for a day in the office thinking, “why do I do this each and every day?”
|The Optimistic Fools: Christoph Courth & Oliver Westgarth|
If the answer is ‘yes’ then you are not alone. We all do, we all yearn for something else, something new to test ourselves and to make us feel alive again. For this very reason Oliver Westgarth and myself (Christoph Courth) have decided to take leave from the daily grind and take up the challenge of the ‘greatest adventure in the world’. As in, the Mongol Rally. Our team name: the Optimistic Fools.
Mongol Rally, Explained
Whilst sitting in a pub on a dark and dreary Sunday morning, head pounding preparing myself for another week at the office, a few friends including Ollie and I were nostalgically discussing past trips around the world. And our dreamlike adventures for the future, one of which being the Mongol Rally. The following day while downing my first cup of strong black coffee at my desk in my windowless office, I Googled the Mongol Rally website and found that the lottery to sign up for the rally was to open that very afternoon at 2. Come 2 o’clock, I excused myself from a meeting, ducked back into my office and quickly signed up for this awesome challenge. Three weeks later an email arrived in my inbox and the planning began.
Launching on the 18th of July 2008, 200 teams of ramshackle cars and bikes will convene in Hyde Park, London, ready to journey across both Europe and Asia, to meet up again, should luck and providence dictate, at the finishing line of the Mongol Rally in Ulan Bator, Mongolia. Now in its 5th year, this rally was founded not only for adventure but to help Mongolian charities such as Mercy Corps Mongolia and the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation through fund-raising and public awareness. Each team is required to raise a minimum of £1,000 which is donated to these designated charities; any extra raised by the teams can be given to a charity of choice.
Founded in Bristol, England, by the League of Adventurists International Limited, the inaugural rally rolled out of London in 2004, seeing 6 teams leave and 4 stumble across the finishing line. In 2005, 43 heaps of petrol-fuelled rust wooed the crowds in London, of which only 18 arrived intact in Ulan Bator. The 2006 Rally left the UK in July with 167 cars crossing the English Channel and 117 teams arriving in Mongolia. In 2007 the number of teams rose to 200 with only around 70% arriving at the finish line. Due to high demand, 2008 will again see the places limited to 200, however the real question remains; how many will survive the crossing?
Each year the Mongol Rally has gone from strength to strength, attracting adventure junkies and press coverage from across the globe. These modern day adventurers attempt to traverse the 8,000 – 10,000 miles in three to six weeks, crossing up to 16 different borders and two continents. Some teams even find that on arrival in Mongolia all they want to do is turn around and drive back or continue traveling into China or Russia. Those that return via plane or train donate their cars to the League of Adventurists who then pass them onto local charities.
Mongol Rally: Just a Bunch of Normal Disenfranchised Amateurs
Facing the unknown, the participants are mostly amateurs; just normal people disenfranchised with the humdrum drone of everyday life, yearning for something challenging to keep the innate restless beast at bay, if only for a short time. People from all backgrounds of all ages take part in this annual event; it was even chartered in the 2007 rally when Jack Osborne filmed his participation in a 1991 Fiat Panda for a television production.
This rally is by no means conventional for many reasons. First of all the cars must have an engine displacement of less than 1,000cc and bikes less than 125cc, which rules out all vehicles designed for such an epic voyage. Cars such as the Mini, the Renault 4, the CitroÃ«n 2cv and the Fiat 500 (and bikes such as the Yamaha RXS) are typical choices. However, exceptions to the above rule are considered “for vehicles of notable unusualness with high comedy value”; in fact the event organisers actually stipulate that the vehicle ‘must be generally considered to be crap’.
Secondly the participants have none of the comfort of support teams and have to cross the vast unpopulated areas of land, left only to their own devices. Thirdly there is no specified route, as each team can choose its own way from north through Russia to south through Turkey. And finally there is no prize for the winner; the sole golden trophy sought by the 200 contestants, is the golden cup of adventure.
Surprisingly so far, no one has been killed whilst attempting to complete this epic voyage. And my team mate and I sincerely hope not to change this astounding statistic. All routes are fraught with considerable danger and the very specification of the vehicles, with all odds stacked against them, makes for true adventure. Each year there are numerous accidents, muggings, hospitalisations and a worryingly high percentage of participants never even make it to Mongolia. (In fact the 2005 rally saw one team engaged, 3 people banned from Turkmenistan for a year, 2 teams robbed at knife point, 1 car snapped in half and another team cycling 200km to reach the finishing line after their car blew up.)
Mongol Rally: 3 Simple Rules
There are three basic rules to the rally. The first being the “on your own” rule that stipulates if you get into a ‘pickle’ you must fend for yourself. In fact prior to signing up for the challenge the organisers ask all participants to sign an agreement so that ‘you can’t sue our arses when you die’. Maybe it would have been more reassuring to use the word ‘if’ instead of ‘when’.
The second rule is the aforementioned ‘charity money rule’ whereby the participants must raise the £1,000 for the specified charities.
The third and final rule is the 1-litre car maximum. Aside from these the organisers note that participants ‘are free to sneak, bribe, cheat, connive and generally out-wit the world to get yourselves to the end’.
The widespread press coverage that this rapidly expanding rally attracts enables the participants to sell off space on the facade of their car to companies and organizations to emblazon with their logo. All money raised in this manner helps the ralliers to raise finances for their desired charities. For some companies however, sponsorship through material goods such as tents or tyres are preferable to money yet equally as important for the teams, some teams have even managed to get their vehicle donated.
So far, however, the Optimistic Fools have no car, no route and no funding as the application stage has only just come to a close. Designing the website, seeking sponsorship, finding a cheap or donated car and sourcing the route are all in their infant stages, but bit by bit this challenge, this life long dream, will become reality. To find out more about the ‘Optimistic Fools’ or to get involved in any way, keep watching the Viator website or visit www.mongolrally.com.