With one team-mate not even making the start line and another dropping out in Turkmenistan Charlie was faced with two options, quit or go it alone. For her there was no choice.
Mama said a lot about crossing your legs, eat your vegetables, “Please” and “Thank You.” Mama said a lot about sugar and spice and everything nice. But mama never said, adventures are only for boys. Where did we get the idea that women should not drive a tiny car across the world? We can and should.
It was the year of 2012 and the statistics on how many #LadyAdventurists heeding the siren call of adventure was appallingly low. With rebellion hardwired in my DNA, I set out to build an all girl team for that year’s Mongol Rally, via Twitter, and a drama of Shakespearian portions unfolded.
There were team dynamic issues, passive aggressive behaviours, stalling tactics, refusal to use the squat toilet and lack of warm clothes for the freezing nights. All was missing was some cross dressing and mistaken identities. This rebellious all girl team was quickly self-eliminating one by one.
In Azerbaijan, I endured the unwanted attention of a local fixer in effort to secure a transit visa into Turkmenistan for the single remaining teammate. Ladies, unwanted attention might be your biggest hurtle and not a broken exhaust.
It was all in vein. The last and final teammate dropped out as soon as we crossed the Caspian Sea. Even though I flirted my way into a transit visa for her, she didn't have her onward visa for Uzbekistan sorted. Doh!
Alone. In the middle of Turkmenistan. There was less than 48 hours before my transit visa expires and 1000km between the boarder and me.
What would a grown man have done? I dunno. What would a #LadyAdventurist do? Keep on going of course. Quitting was never an option. Don't be silly.
I went it alone for the next four weeks, across Central Asia, Russia and Western Mongolia. I was behind the wheel for nearly all of the 13,000 KM - 14 countries - 6 weeks of top-notch mayhem. Mama never told me how much fun it is to drive a car across the river.
The all girl team assembled from strangers via Twitter might have been a total disaster, leaving me holding the bag alone in marble clad totalitarian country but I did not fear. The teams are starting to converge. I am meeting more and more ralliers everyday.
The most amazing thing about the Mongol Rally is the camaraderie. It might have been lacking in my own team but it was something I had and shared with many of the brave hearted, men and women.
Being a woman explorer has distinctive advantages over the gents. It's much easier to flirt your way out of a ticket or a bribe. Many of the gentlemen paid heavily in fines, from tiny bottle of vodka to toy Kola Bears to cold hard cash. I never did. Sure, the Kazakh policeman held on to my passport and asked me repeatedly to stay and hang out with him --- slightly nerve wracking since he has my passport in hand --- but keep on smiling that sweet smile and gently insist that you must keep on going and you will be on your way soon. Adventures allow us to test the boundaries of our power and tenacity in ways Mama never told us about.
The only lady specific challenge in doing the Mongol Rally is where to pee when you are out in the vast empty space of Mongolia. There is not a shrub or rock insight to hide. The men can just stop the car, walk two paces and turn their backs. You, the well-mannered, fair thing, cannot. Fear not ladies. Bring an umbrella. Pop the umbrella open, drop it on the ground, and enjoy a much-sought moment of privacy! Mama would be so proud.