Wednesday, April 22, 2009
Susan R. Pollack / The Detroit News
Cram two big guys into a small car headed a third of the way around the world— from London to Mongolia— with a limited stash of emergency rations, spare tires and camping gear.
Toss in an old-fashioned compass and paper maps (no GPS allowed) and add the prospect of bandits or other hazards along their 10,000-mile route through 16 countries, three mountain ranges and two deserts.
The upshot, no doubt, will be one heckuva “How I spent my summer vacation” tale from Scott Brills and Collin Otto, two 20-something Metro Detroiters entered in the 2009 Mongol Rally. It’s an adventure trip for charity that starts July 18 in England and is expected to end four to six weeks later in the Mongolian capital of Ulan Bator.
So far, the pair has raised more than $2,500 in donations, with plans to help build a Rotary Club-sponsored kindergarten in Mongolia and also donate to Oregon-based Mercy Corps. Their fundraising goal is anywhere from $6,000 to $10,000, plus about $6,000 each in out-of-pocket expenses, including their already-paid $1,300 team entry fee.
They’re also scrambling to buy a used car in England, sight unseen, by June 18, with help from a London acquaintance. Rally rules dictate the car, which they plan to donate at trip’s end, must be no more than 10 years old, with a 1.2-liter or smaller engine— or, as Brills says, about the equivalent of a motorcycle engine.
“They’ve been doing this for five years now and everyone has made it alive,” says Brills, an admitted travel junkie who will take time out from his Farmington Hills Web design firm for the globe-trotting adventure. “I’m cautious where I need to be, but I just kind of go into it thinking everything’s going to work out in the end.”
Still, more than one-third of the roughly 1,200 past participants have not finished the trip. “(They) either lose the will to do it or their car breaks down and they can’t fix it, or they get sick or have visa problems,” Brill says— and he’s not talking credit cards.
Participants in the rally, which is sponsored by a London-based nonprofit organization called The Adventurists, need at least seven travel visas for countries whose names are hard to pronounce and even harder to spell, such as Asia’s Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.
“Each visa costs $100 or so, and if you’re in a country and the visa expires, you’re stuck there,” Brills says.
Even more worrisome, however, are reports from previous rallies about wild nomads and bandits. In 2005, for example, two teams were robbed at knifepoint, a Mongolian nomad shot at—and missed— one of the drivers, and bandits chased three of the teams.
“Once you get past the European Union, around Romania or so, it becomes pretty sketchy,” says Brills, who will turn 27 during the rally. “There have been tales of bandits holding up teams in the middle of the night and demanding supplies and money. And, of course, you have to deal with the cops. They’ll shake you down left and right, especially in the Ukraine and Russia.”
But the presumed positives outweigh the potential negatives for the pair, who have been buddies since middle school. Brills, who was intrigued by Marco Polo in grade school, says the route is similar to that followed centuries ago by the legendary explorer.
And Otto, 25, a freelance illustrator in Commerce Township, is working a second job in landscaping to help finance the trip, which he calls “the adventure of a lifetime.”
Explaining the appeal, he says: “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve loved ‘Indiana Jones’ and the idea of a great, sweeping adventure. But as I grew up, everything seems kind of stable, there’s a routine to it all. This seemed to me like an amazing adventure, and not the kind of thing you can do in America, where there are gas stations and cities everywhere. To go on this kind of adventure and to be able to help people at the same time is a really cool thing.”
Brills is studying the Russian alphabet in anticipation of road signs written in Cyrillic for a large portion of the journey. “It’s a test of endurance,” he says. “Doing it will be very tough— I expect quite a challenge.”
What They Need For The Trip:
What Scott Brills and Collin Otto plan to take with them on the Mongol Rally, a 10,000-mile journey through 16 countries:
• Need to buy small used car, such as a Ford Fiesta or Nissan Micra, in England
• Compass and detailed maps of 16 countries
• At least two extra wheels and tires; air pump, toolbox, gas cans, spare fan belt and car repair manual
• Rope-woven mats (for under-tire traction for sand ruts)
Camping gear, provisions:
• Camping stove and cookware, tent, sleeping bags/mats, portable toilet and shower device
• Toiletries, handkerchiefs, Febreze, flashlight, pocketknife, duct tape, Super Glue
• Canned and dried foods, energy bars, peanut butter, water jugs
• 5 travel visas
• Cell phones, iPod, an older laptop for blogging, walkie-talkies, cameras (digital and video)
• Car DC-to-AC adapter
• Russian language book
• Birthday hat (Brills will turn 27 in Russia or the Ukraine)
• Cigarettes and alcohol (gifts/bribes)
Details: To learn more about Brills’ and Otto’s adventure trip for charity — the 2009 Mongol Rally — or to make a donation, check www.mongolrallyguys.com. (For tax-deductible donations, the pair has an account with firstgiving.com, in conjunction with one of their charities, Mercy Corps.) You also can find them on Facebook.