Mongol Rally: The Optimistic Fools Make a Plan & Find a Car

February 21, 2008 by

Europe, Places to Go, Travel Advice & Inspiration

Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t
do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the
safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.

– Mark Twain

Since the last article — which saw the Optimistic Fools without a vehicle, penniless and with no specified route — many things have changed. And the world-renowned Mongol Rally slips progressively closer into view.

This rally is unlike all its rivals in as much as it has little more than three distinct rules which its participants must adhere to. The first is that each team must raise a minimum of £1,000 for charity. The second dictates that the vehicle that will transport them from London’s Hyde Park to the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator, must have an engine displacement of less than 1,000cc (or 125cc if your car has two wheels) and ‘generally be considered crap’. And the final rule is that the teams are not allowed support teams following them. Even so, the road less traveled has, for the Optimistic Fools, become mildly more chartered.

The Fools — full of unfounded optimism — is made up of two idealists, Ollie and me (Chris), who have had little time to prepare for this epic escapade. The moderately loquacious lackey, Ollie, is from Guernsey, a small picturesque atoll nestled in the English Channel between France and England. In the final throws of building a house, his time has been limited to assist in the planning of such a grand adventure. And myself, half-German half-English, living and working in London (where working 9 to 5 is a cruel myth). However, despite the initial lack of planning, we Fools are steadily surmounting the many obstacles laid before us, in a slightly dubious mission to cross more than a 1/3 of the Earth’s circumference in some rusty old throw-back from the automotive world.

Mongol Rally: The Fools’ Route

Mongol Rally 2008 London to Mongolia Route Map
Mongol Rally 2008: The Fools’ Route Options

On a weekend visit to London, Ollie and I sat for three hours in an internet café on the fashionably alternative Brick Lane. This East London street, once cheap and arguably unattractive, has since become trendy. With street signs both in Urdu and English, the road is lined with secondhand clothes shops, small cafes and Bangladeshi curry houses catering to everyone from the prosperously sleek city crowd to the followers of retro trends that are awkwardly seeping back into fashion.

The sole aim of this meeting, the first of the Fools, was to assess the route and to plan a path from the centre of London to the plains of Mongolia, and from there to our final destination, the origin of the illustrious Genghis Khan, Ulan Bator.

However this simple task proved harder than originally expected. If we decided to head south we would miss the wonders of Poland, the foothills of the Carpathian Mountains in Ukraine, and the fertile steps of Russia. Yet if we opted to travel north we would forgo the glorious sights of Turkey and the wondrous charm of the Iranian people. As frustration stated to gnaw at and penetrate our fervent enthusiasm, we dropped the map, left for the pub and picked up the pints with a mutual friend — whose suggestion that we flick a coin led us simply to our chosen route. Head south.

On this elected itinerary we would take the ferry from the English port of Dover to the French docks of Calais, across and into Belgium, the land of chocolate. Onward bound would see us accelerating down the autobahns of Germany through the ancient historic towns of the Czech Republic and into Slovakia. Hungary would follow, then mystically romantic Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Armenia, Azerbaijan, the long open plains of Kazakhstan, a brief glimpse of Russia and finally, after 10,000 miles of exhilarating highs and piercing lows, the glorious land of Mongolia.

Mongol Rally: The Fools Meet Irene

With the route planned, we had something to focus our hearts and minds on, something concrete. We could now start to scour the internet, dive into books and pick the minds of knowledgeable souls to learn and prepare ourselves for our epic journey across sea and plain.

The next step was also to find a vehicle under 1,000cc that could possibly be worthy — let alone capable — of such an awesome voyage. The first choice was the Citroen 2V, inimitably beautiful yet ultimately made from little more than papier-mâché. On the opposite side of the spectrum was the Suzuki SJ40, a heavy duty four-wheel drive with built-in crank, resembling a sturdy tank and therefore far too boring. Or the robust curves of the cute little mini? Light and fast, yet predisposed to trip over a pebble or drown in a puddle.

Mongol Rally 2008 London to Mongolia Their Car
Irene using logs to aid her non-existent brakes, and Irene with Ollie in Guernsey

After much deliberation, a spectacularly kind gentleman from Guernsey who is a Renault 4 aficionado, offered to donate one of his beloved cars to the cause. Initially with a price of £200, he succumbed to the charm and charisma of my teammate and relinquished his pride and joy into the hands of us Fools. Born around 1970, this sky blue Renault 4 with four axel independent suspension originated in France as a trusty alternative to the donkey and cart. This little car is the most successful French car to have ever been produced, and in Colombia is still known affectionately as Amigo Fiel (trusty friend). With a high carriage base and simple mechanics this vehicle would suit the bumpy rural terrain of the Kazak steppes and the dusty Mongol dessert like a duck to water. And so, no doubt to her great dismay, it was that Irene became a Fool.

Mongol Rally: The Fools Need Money

Asking actual people to part with their cash is an undertaking laden with obvious hurdles. And nevermind large companies, which get a plethora of such requests on a daily basis.

Viator, however, didn’t even have to be asked and proffered their generous support before any other. But the Fools want to raise as much as humanly possible, from all possible sources, to help their four chosen charities. Suitable sponsors might be travel organizations, clothes companies, and extreme sports retailers but even after numerous letters, the effort proved to be fruitless. We even thought of oil companies such as Shell, to donate petrol for the 10,000 miles, but as it turned out they couldn’t afford (despite their record-breaking profit of $31.3 billion this year) to spare even a few hundred on much-needed positive publicity.

We soon realised that in order for companies to take us seriously, we had to have a website. So armed with embarrassingly meager IT skills the Fools set to work, pen to paper and fingers to keyboards, to conceive and give birth to Second step, we had to get the press interested, so us Fools contacted our respective local publications, smiled for the cameras, answered the questions and basked in their Andy Warhol predicted 15 minutes of fame. After this, the tide soon turned, having stirred either certain wanderlust, or the promise of an excellent marketing opportunity. The phone has started to ring…

Christoph Courth

Editor’s Note: Please, for the love of adventure and the sake of wanderlust, send the Optimistic Fools some money! They are doing all of this for charity, the cause is worthy, and if you don’t send them 10 bucks, euros, pounds or whatever local currency you use, then we wash our hands of you! Seriously, send the fools a few bucks. Click here for full details on donating to their cause.

3 Responses to “Mongol Rally: The Optimistic Fools Make a Plan & Find a Car”

  1. Richard Brown Says:

    Ah, she looks just like our ‘Isabelle’ :) Bit older thought, Izzy is only 20 this year! Looking forward to seeing your lady at the launch. Rich

  2. Christoph Says:


  1. Mongol Rally: Meet the Optimistic Fools | Viator Travel Blog - February 22, 2008

    [...] 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 [...]

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