Mongolia, At Last

The 2Big2Fail bus crosses into UlaanBaatar and nears the Mongol Rally finish line.

Casey Peterson ’12 completed her 10,000-mile journey from London to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, in a short yellow Ford school bus last week and filed her final report with middmag.com below.

The 2Big2Fail team raised $10,000 in pledges for Room to Read, about $5,000 for the nascent non-profit Women in India, and a soon-to-be-determined amount for the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation.

Casey dons an Uzbekistan fox fur hat

They also received about $3,000 for diesel fuel and bus repairs, of which there were many along the rugged route.

As Peterson detailed for Middlebury Magazine in her four previous reports, the team of six adventurers traveled across 24 countries over a span of 39 days and found generosity and kindness nearly everywhere they turned during the Mongol Rally.

Starting in New York they shipped the bus to England and drove through France, Belgium, Luxembourg, Germany, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia, Macedonia, Greece, Turkey, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Kygryzstan, Russia, and Mongolia.

“I thought we were still at least 30 kilometers from Ulaanbaatar when a sudden bend in the road revealed the greyish, smoky, Mongolian capital city laid out before us. The confusion regarding our map-reading skills was quickly replaced with elation as my team of five fellow travelers rejoiced at the absurdity of actually making it to the other side of the world in a short American school bus. Our ecstasy was again replaced with confusion when we found ourselves navigating the congested urban streets of Ulaanbaatar after an entire week of driving some of the most deserted roads in the world. Earlier that day I had bent out our rear bumper on a muddy ditch in the Mongolian highlands, and now I found myself honking at Hummers cutting into my lane. The absurdity of it all seemed like an appropriate way to end our five and half week journey.

“What separates the Mongol Rally from other continental road rallies are the vehicle restrictions. Driving Fiat Puntos, ambulances, fire trucks, and other cars that are unsuitable for extreme terrain make the adventure thrilling and call for more ingenuity. For example, I met a Scottish guy who fixed his flooded engine from a river crossing by pouring vodka into it, burning off the watery vodka, and then flushing petrol through. It worked. Our second day in Mongolia, we passed an ambulance whose frame had collapsed into the right rear wheel well. When we parted ways, we weren’t sure how they would make it 700 more miles, but sure enough, last night they pulled into the finish line with the entire rear carriage of the ambulance replaced by some wooden slats. They paid a Mongolian man $500 to transform their ambulance into a flatbed truck.

“The vehicle restrictions make for some amazing stories, but it also means that many teams breakdown before reaching Mongolia. I feel very sorry for these teams, because the final leg of the journey was by far the highlight of the trip. When we crossed the border from Russia, and the smoothly paved asphalt immediately turned into potholed gravel, we knew the nature of the trip had changed. And sure enough, as we careened over mountain passes, forged deep rivers, and suffered some minor spinal injuries in the back of the bus, all we could do was laugh and smile with utmost delight. We also experienced unprecedented hospitality while staying overnight in a Mongolian family’s yurt, or gyr as they call it, and a strange feeling of coziness while camping next to a friendly herd of yaks.

“Our school bus was sold yesterday, and I will fly home on Sunday through Beijing. I will then have less than a week to pack and prepare for senior year at Middlebury. I’m bound to face quite an adjustment, but today, while I was having lunch with recent Midd graduate Vince Blais [Class of 2011], who has been working in Ulaanbaatar for two months, I realized once again how small and interconnected the world is. And maybe the transition won’t be so hard after all.”

 

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