100 days on the Mongol Rally: the last team finally crossed the finish line today
Previously we had him marked down as 'MIA' and almost given up all hope of ever knowing what became of the one missing Mongol Rallier from the 2012 edition.
Lesser rallies might have even sent out a search party. We nearly called his boss to tell them he wouldn't make it in this week. Nearly.
But earlier today, from out of the wilderness the last Rallier, Ken Lau of The Empire Strikes Yak finally crossed the finish line an astonishing 100 days after he left the start line at Goodwood Motor Circuit. The previous record stood at 79 days (set by 2009 team The Italian Wheels) so that's a new Mongol Rally record.
As the rally draws to a triumphant close we look at what it takes to be among the most successful teams: also known as the ones who arrive last at the finish line. The losers if you will. If it were a race. But it isn't. So they are actually the winners. Because they had more adventures than the teams that crossed the line first.
So what causes a team on the Mongol Rally to take the best part of 2 (or even 3) months to get from the start to the finish? We asked the slowest Mongol Ralliers of 2012 to explain...
Coming first is over-rated - Ken turns back to fix his broken car
"Since being first is clearly over-rated, I figured being last would be much more fun", explains a newly triumphant Ken Lau. “I broke down 84 miles outside Khovd when my rear left control arm snapped. I had resigned to giving up the Rally. I handed over the car to the drop off manager and made my way to Ulaanbaatar [several days travel from Khovd].
But after sleeping on it a few days, I decided that I couldn't give up yet.”
So Ken set about finding the spare parts that he needed before heading all the way back to Khovd to fix his car and finish the job. Bravo that man.
He did get a little distracted though, “I partied way too much with fellow ralliers for about two weeks... Then ended up going on a road trip with Liam Sweeney (Piston Broke) and Rhys O'Sullivan (Mongol Rally Roos) all over Mongolia. Then I went to the Eagle Festival in Olgii on Rhys’ new Chinese motorbike. I made it back to Khovd a whole month later...” After fixing his car it was by this stage so late in the year Ken got snowed in to one of the last towns en-route to Ulaanbaatar. "In the end it only took 100 days to get Suzy to the finish line."
He's dedication to Suzy, his beloved Suzuki Swift, is unusual for a Mongol Rallier, but he wasn't the only Rallier of 2012 who returned to his stricken steed.
A proverbial doff of the cap should be made towards Liam Sweeny of Piston Broke who also reasoned that you should never leave a man (or a car) behind. And another doff of the very same cap goes to Rico Pajarola and Fredrick Roubert of Ambulance to Mongolia who stayed in Krasnoyarsk for two weeks fixing their machine.
“We had a serious breakdown in Siberia and spent two weeks waiting for spare parts,” recounts Rico, “but what an adventure. Every single time we had a problem, friendly people magically appeared out of nowhere, and went out of their way to help us solve the problem. Even in the middle of the desert.”
Jiz and chips
“We spent 15 nights in Bukhara sorting the clutch out on one of our motorbikes. This is longer than any normal person's summer holiday” says Nick Plotnek of Idiots Abroad. “It's a nice place but we were madrassah-ed out after about three days, and there's only so much jiz and chips that a man can take” [See the photo for a culinary explanation].
Team mate Kevin Strickland explains: “Nick had burnt his clutch out.”
They had been riding towards the Dervase Fire Crater - the infamous ‘Door to Hell’ in Turkmenistan. “There was an old guy there driving a 4WD. He was trying to tell us not to attempt to drive to the crater on our bikes some 7 kms across the sand. We ignored him..."
They should have listened... "50 metres up a gentle slope in deep sand Nick stopped, killed his engine and shouted to me that he had no gears.”
A bit of a disaster for a team who’s Turkmen visas were due to expire the very next day.
In their 1000 or so mile dash to the border they took the clutch cover off over 12 times in attempts to lock the clutch using 8mm nuts jammed in the plates so the bike would drive, “this seemed to work a treat” says Kevin. But the clutch was destroyed, and on top of that “we had bent the valves, and the timing chain was not on the bottom sprocket correctly.” They had no option but to replace parts or face retirement. “Parts ordered we settled in to Bukhara.”
Eventually they carried on, two weeks behind schedule. “It was hard on the bikes, especially with the corrugations and our suspension having no damping left. Enjoyed it immensely but next time I will take spare clutch plates.”
Forwards. Not backwards.
“We always planned to take as long as we possibly could...” Nick Kneale of The Yurt Locker tells us convincingly. “There was no point going to all these amazing countries only to drive through them without seeing anything.”
“Having said that. There are a number of reasons as to why we arrived later than we planned” admits teammate Mim Glasby. Leaving Olgii in western Mongolia the team stocked up on supplies at the small village of Tolbo before driving on in convoy with The Empire Strikes Yak and a Turkish hitchhiker. “We travelled a short distance before setting up camp and enjoying the sunset whilst playing a spot of golf.”
Idyllic. But the pleasure drive didn’t last long, the next day the tiny convoy hit upon a rather tricky road. “We only got about halfway up... We took pretty much everything out of our cars and managed to push them all the way to the top. We soon realised we were in no way at the top of this particular mountain - We were up against slopes that were similarly gravelly, but significantly steeper in parts.”
Nick explains the team's logic: “We figured we'd eventually come out the other side of the mountain pass, so we persevered, sticking to our Alan Partridge like mantra of "forwards, not backwards!" As a result of which we found ourselves in the most picturesque mountain valley you could ever imagine, albeit with a precipitously steep mountain track either side and almost no hope of being able to go either forwards or backwards.”
Had they gone the wrong way? Running ahead more than a kilometre to see over the next ridge Mim discovers “emptiness. What I was slowly beginning to suspect is that where this road was actually leading us to, and the mountains I was looking at in the distance, were, in fact, China.”
“This was as a result of our somewhat poor map skills - it's not that we can't read maps it's just that we didn't have any maps to read” admits Nick. Bravo.
“We decided to turn the cars around whereby heading "forwards" back the way we came. We had to spent a night above the snow line where, despite wearing every single item of clothing I had, I damn near froze to death. It may have taken us a day to push our cars up the hill and back out of the valley but my god was it worth the detour!”
A lot can be learn from these brave acts. In the words of Sir Winston Churchill...
‘Never give in - never, never, never, never’
Mongol Rally 2012's most ambling teams...
# 210. The Yurt Locker ~ 7 September 2012 (55 days)
# 211. Idiots Abroad ~ 8 Sept (56 days)
# 212. Khan-Tiki Tours ~ 9 Sept (57 days)
# 213. Piston Broke ~ 10 Sept (58 days)
# 214. Ambulance to Mongolia ~ 11 Sept (59 days)
# 215. The Empire Strikes Yak ~ 22 October (100 days)
- 10 Pictures
- 10 Years
- Adventure News
- Afternoon Tea
- Bicycle Racing
- Film Festival
- Guest Blog
- Hendrick's Gin
- In Numbers
- Institute Of Adventure Research
- Legend Of Adventure
- Mongol Derby
- Mongol Rally
- Mototaxi Junket
- Rickshaw Run
- Saving The World
- Space Programme
- Tale Of Adventure
- The Ice Run
- World Cycle Race