The Mongol Rally by numbers

There are a lot of things we don’t know about the adventure we are about to go on. How many other teams will be leaving the UK with us? How many of them will reach the finish line? What will they be like? What cars will they be driving? Is it really dangerous? Where exactly is the finish line?

It might seem a bit careless to set off on such a big trip without knowing a bit more about what we are getting ourselves into, but in the spirit of adventure we are trying not to overplan and to ‘go with the flow’. This is something Shane is very good at and something I’m not so good at.

In keeping with the idea that the Mongol Rally is all about jumping off a cliff into the unknown, the Adventurists haven’t exactly overloaded us with information, but they have given us some interesting stats from previous rallies. Check out this infographic about the teams who took part in 2015:

So how does our team compare, and what are we letting ourselves in for?

We are the ‘average’ age - in 2012, the oldest rallier was 74, the youngest was 18 and the average age of all ralliers was 30. We don't know what the average age will be this year, but at 27 and 33 (soon to be 34!), Shane and I also average out at 30 years of age, so we shouldn't find it too challenging to make some friends.

We have a woman in the team (OMG) – seriously, the vast majority of Mongol Rally participants (9 out of 10) are men. There are some other women out there, but girl power is seriously lacking.

We have an ‘average’ car – or do we? The Nissan Micra is the rallier favourite. This may seem quite strange, as a Nissan Micra is obviously way too small and completely impractical for driving in the desert. But out of all the 1 litre cars you could choose to drive to Mongolia, they are one of the most reliable makes out there, and easy and cheap to fix along the way. Several ralliers deliberately avoid driving to Mongolia in a Micra, because it’s too ‘easy’ or ‘mainstream’. Shane and I might have a ‘mainstream’ car, but we love her. Also, at 21 years of age, Martha is older than most. She is also gold. It’s hard to see how something so old, so gold, and with so much character could ever be described as ‘average’.

We are taking it very slowly – On an average 'drive day' we are hoping to drive for around 8 hours and cover about 500km. Most days will be drive days, but we are planning to take a few days off along the way to see the sights, fix Martha when she inevitably breaks down and to sort out our Turkmenistan visas. We also know there will be other days when we won't move very far becuse we won't have much choice – days waiting at borders, or days waiting for the ferry to take us over the Caspian sea. Factoring in the deliberate and the not-so-deliberate days off, we think it will take us about eight weeks to get to the finish line. Even with our fairly intense driving schedule and limited stopping time, we will probably be one of the last teams to get to the end. This is partly because we've chosen a long route which involves complex borders, the Caspian sea and a lack of good quality roads, but it's also partly because some of the other teams are happy to drive a lot further each day, and spend more days driving and less days enjoying. In 2015, one team completed the entire rally and made it to Mongolia in FIVE DAYS. They drove for 24 hours a day. We may be one of the last teams to reach the finish line, but hopefully we will have a nice time and get to see some of the countries we're driving through.

This could end in divorce – in 2012, there were two marriages created on the Mongol Rally. It’s amazing and lovely that romance was able to blossom in such harsh conditions. But one marriage was also ‘uncreated’. In 2015, 19 teams ended up splitting for various reasons along the way. Shane and I have travelled together before. We’ve camped together, we’ve driven long distances together, we’ve survived extreme temperatures, extreme tiredness and not showering for days at a time. We’re confident we can make it through in one piece and that we’ll still love each other at the end… but team ‘marriage uncreated’ probably thought the same thing.

This could also end in death – in 2010 a British man died participating in the Mongol Rally. He was killed in a car crash in Iran. Since then several other participants have been seriously injured – some through car related accidents, others through alcohol related accidents. In 2015, eight people ended up in hospital. Cars flipped over. Cars went on fire. While car crashes can occur anywhere at any time, the odds of serious injury or death are greatly increased when you’re driving on the wrong side of the road, in a car which shouldn't really be on the road, in different countries where the rules keep changing, and other people don't necessarily keep to them anyway. Fortunately for me, I’m going with Shane, and he drives like a tortoise. Unfortunately for both of us, we’re also going with me, and I don’t.

Having read through those numbers and written this post, I’m starting to see why the Adventurists might be cautious about how much information they share. Maybe being kept in the dark about what we’re letting ourselves in for would have been better after all.


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Nature vs Martha

Since humans first evolved on planet Earth they have been trying to overcome the forces of nature and control the world around them. But humans aren’t separate from nature – they are products of it – and usually nature triumphs in the end. Just as a big meteorite or change in climate could wipe out the dinosaurs, we could be gone in an instant if nature had its way.

While there are examples of humans taming nature, there are also places where nature is slowly reclaiming what once was human territory.  A few years ago, Georgia and I visited Ta Prohm – a temple at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, where the jungle is slowly consuming the ancient buildings which once made up this temple.

Georgia at Ta Prohm temple, Angkor Wat, Cambodia

In many ways, Martha is similar to Ta Prohm. Nature is slowly trying to take her back. Each year, Martha has her MOT, and each year we find that more bits of her have rusted away. When a big hole appears nice people at the garage find a piece of steel and cover it up. When the extra pieces of steel also rust away, you know nature really is trying really, really hard to reclaim our little gold Micra, who at 21 years of age is pushing her natural lifespan to its limit.

Even Martha’s rust is rusty

While welding bits of metal over holes has been just about enough to get Martha through the MOT each year, they probably won’t stop all of our belongings from falling through the holes when we drive on bad roads and no roads.  Martha’s last attempt to get an MOT certificate back in April ended badly. The garage refused to fix her and get her up to MOT standards, classing her as an “uneconomical repair”. Essentially, Martha is so rusty, she has been written off.

Undeterred by rust and claims that she is “unfixable”, we have some brave family members who have very generously started to save Martha from nature, return her to being a car, and prepare her to drive 10,000 miles across the world.

Martha on the operating table ready for her armour

The big things to do (after repairing the rust) are:

  1. Replace the tyres and get some spares – one of the most common problems rally teams face are driving over giant potholes which destroy tyres. Martha needs some serious tyres to keep her going in the wilds of Mongolia, and some spares for when she inevitably suffers some damage.
  2. Replace the shocks and springs – this will mean her suspension is in tip-top shape, ready to get us over those non-roads with only mild discomfort.
  3. Body armour – maximum protection for Martha, turning her into a sort of golden tank immune to all bumps and bruises.
  4. Make sure she can stop – new brakes, discs, pads and pipes.
  5. Fix the speakers – Georgia already has her Taylor Swift CD ready to bust out the tunes while we’re on the road. Once Martha’s speakers work, we will be able to entertain ourselves and any locals we meet along the way. Hopefully they love Taylor just as much as Georgia does.

Martha’s extra body armour

Sounds simple. The first time our “Pit Crew” saw Martha they must have thought so too, as they didn’t say much. Perhaps they were horrified that we are attempting to drive to Mongolia in such an obviously inappropriate rust-car. Or perhaps they were merely wowed by Martha’s beauty and the classic struggle between nature vs human structure, just as Georgia and I were once wowed by Ta Prohm at Angkor Wat. History would tell us that nature usually wins in the end, but hopefully, with a little help from our friends and family members who have no choice, we can get Martha to Mongolia before nature returns her to her base chemical elements.