Mongol Rally: The adventure wasn’t exactly by the book but for it

“As you grow older, you’ll find the only things you regret are the things you didn’t do.” --Zachary Scott

“Leon, please don’t do this.”

Those were the words my mother uttered as I prepared for my second attempt at the Mongol Rally, the 10,000-mile road trip from Britain to Ulan Bator, Mongolia.

The words went straight to my heart. She was scared for me, but then, so was I. Last year, my co-driver, Steve Priovolos, and I nearly died on a dusty Romanian road when a huge 4X4 T-boned us. (We were in a Nissan Micra; all the cars in the Mongol Rally are supposed to have engines of less than 1.3 liters, which means they’re tiny.)


I thought hard about whether to embrace her wisdom ... or not. In the end, I chose not. Frankly, I was devastated (and thankfully, not badly hurt) after the crash that knocked us out of the rally, and I needed to exorcise those demons. I needed to find myself in this adventure.

So I ignored my mother’s pleas and started a journey into the unknown. I hoped it would inspire people along the way: For each mile we drove in our Daihatsu Terios, we donated a book to an underprivileged child through First Book. 10,000 miles. 10,000 books. That was the goal.

At times during the rally, I wasn’t sure we were going to make it. Driving through rivers and navigating potholed roads didn’t do the car any favors. Belligerent policemen and the threat of foreign jail cells always seemed to follow us.

But the worse things got, the firmer our resolve. When the rear suspension of the car snapped, we figured out a way to keep on going. When the car overheated at Chernobyl (of nuclear meltdown fame), we found a way to keep on going. When authorities threatened to confine us at the border, we found a way to keep on going.

Something was different this year: We had a sense of purpose. Teaming up with First Book helped us focus. We had 10,000 reasons to reach the finish line. For us, books represent inspiration, hope and change. We were determined to deliver on our promise.

Along the way we were helped by the people we met. Some gave us actual assistance. Others inspired us. Some offered food, others offered shelter. They helped keep us on the road (sometimes literally) and our eyes on the prize.

When we crossed the finish line, we climbed atop the car to savor our success. There we sat on a dusty street in Ulan Bator, smoking cigars, a sense of elation washing over us and, more important, a sense of completion.

The finish line brought with it a feeling of reinvigoration. It showed us that if we put our mind to something and believed in our dream, we could make it.


The joy was real.

But the adventure over.

Next time I intend to listen to my mother.

But then again, maybe not.


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