Travel bloggers Norbert, Alex and Stephen met for the first time at the starting point of The Mongol Rally in London, England. It was there they joined 170 other teams in a trek across a third of the earth’s circumference, 10,000 miles of essentially undrivable terrain, to a finish line in Mongolia. Along the way, Norbert, Alex and Stephen’s car got wrecked, forcing them to hitchhike, and making for one truly amazing story to the finish line.
Their goal was to reach the finish line in just five weeks. After leaving Europe, the boys traveled through Turkey, first stopping in Istanbul, “the gateway of the East,” and then on to Cappadocia where they jumped on a hot air balloon to experience its famous “fairy chimneys.”
“We all took a moment to appreciate how lucky we were to enjoy this otherworldly scenery from such a vantage point. As the burnt-orange hues in the sky faded into twilight and the eroded shapes dotting the landscape turned into silhouettes, we set up camp and slept surrounded by thousands of years of history,” said Norbert.
After traveling through Turkey, the team was halfway into their journey and had to decide whether or not to enter into Russia or Azerbaijan (a country they didn’t have visas for). They decided to cross the Georgia-Russia border. After five hours of waiting, the team finally entered Russia, but it was too late to purchase the mandatory car insurance to complete their journey, so Norbert, Alex and Stephen slept in their car until morning when they could make that purchase.
“It was 9 a.m., and we readied to drive to the nearest town to do our due diligence. As Alex drove, Stephen slept on the passenger seat, and I sat in the back looking at the sunflower fields. A loud screech, a sharp right turn and a bang brought my daydreams back to reality. We had crashed. Our car collided sideways with the rear of a small truck,” Norbert journaled.
One broken axle and blown transmission later, the team’s Hyundai was completely wrecked.
They couldn’t find anyone who spoke English and were afraid of being thrown in jail for having no insurance, but they lucked out. A man in a passing car volunteered to translate for police.
“You guys are the most interesting thing Prokhladny has seen in a long time. They will treat you well. In fact, you’re soon getting interviewed by the local newspaper,” the man said.
After a night’s rest, their translator helped them catch a bus to Astrakhan where they planned on hitchhiking all the way to the finish line.
“If the rally gods were looking down on us, they manifested themselves once we reached Astrakhan, the border town with Kazakhstan. There we met with three different teams that were planning on convoying for the rest of the rally, and all three decided to take a member of our team. Even though we were in different cars, we were still rallying together!” Norbert wrote.
The convoy drove for countless hours through the Aral Karakum Desert where their cars got stuck in the sand one by one. Thankfully, the crew had the manpower to push themselves out, but they would have to find another way to Mongolia.
“Camping where a sea had flowed just over 25 years ago felt stunningly surreal. There was no light pollution. The Milky Way sparkled in its full glory,” said Norbert.
Five weeks after leaving London, the teams finally reached Mongolia. Those who had experienced the rally before, told the voyagers the adventure truly started there. The Gobi Desert is the fourth-largest desert in the world with no roads or signs. The teams had to trust their navigation skills to make it to Ulaanbaatar. The task proved to be too great and they lost their way. The teams wandered for nine hours before they found a Cher (Mongolian tent) where a family helped them get back on track.
“We went through a valley, crossed rivers and a drove on marshlands until we reached our intended road. Without them we would not have found it,” said Norbert.
A week later and just a hundred miles from the finish line, disaster struck again. One of the cars in the convoy hit a pothole and broke its front axel. Help came, but the flatbed was too small for the car.
“Determined, we figured out we could use the sandbanks, loose wooden planks found nearby and a shovel under the broken wheel to push the car onto the flatbed. With that done, we removed the rear wheels and placed them under the car to serve as jacks. Once the car was tied all over and mostly secured, we slowly drove the last 100 miles to the finish line,” Norbert journaled.
At 5 in the morning on August 27, the teams finally crossed the Mongol Rally finish line.
“As exhausted as we were, this moment lifted our spirits in ways we couldn’t have imagined. We had faced countless challenges along the way; we lost our car and failed a few times, but we pulled through to the end,” said Norbert, “After visiting more than 105 countries — and completing one very long rally — we’ve learned we cannot reduce the world to news blurbs. Those stories often omit the human aspect of a place: everyday life, culture and social interactions. To see and understand the good, the beauty and the diversity beyond our borders, we must experience them firsthand with an open mind and an adventurous spirit.”