Will Midgley, a Research Associate in Low Carbon Delivery Vehicles in the Department's Applied Mechanics group, will drive from Cambridge (UK) to Ulaanbataar (Mongolia) as part of the Mongol Rally 2013.
"This is not a glorified holiday. It's an unsupported adventure and so by its very nature extremely risky. It is a genuinely dangerous thing to do. You cannot overestimate the risks involved in taking part in this adventure. You really are on your own."
—The Adventurists - organisers of the Rally
We spoke to Will about his forthcoming adventure and how it all started....
Why the Mongol Rally?
My brother and I have always liked cars (it's the main reason I ended up in engineering in the first place), and he has a flair for the ridiculous (he has a mini covered in fake grass). He suggested it more as a dare than as a serious suggestion, and for want of a sensible person to ask for advice, I decided to take him up on it. Whilst talking about it to one of my equally responsible friends, I dared him to do it, he took me up on it, and 'Khan Touch This' was born.
It's not just about adventure - what charities are you supporting?
CoolEarth is the official charity of The Adventurists (the organisers of the Rally), and they're doing amazing work saving rainforests around the world. To quote The Adventurists: "we must save every rainforest in the world so future generations have somewhere to get stuck. Not because we're tree hugging sandal weavers, but because the world would be s*** without them. It's not just about the carbon, the point is rainforests are indescribably excellent."
The second charity we're raising money for is Rose Charities. My mother has worked with Rose Charities for years, helping them raise money for their pioneering rehabilitation projects in developing countries. For example, they have an eye clinic in Cambodia which treats around 1500 patients per month for eye diseases, infections and injuries, and they also provide educational help to children in Sri Lanka.
What sort of preparations are you making?
The first step was to decide on a route - The Adventurists take great pains to say that there are several ways to get to Mongolia, and it's completely up to you how you get there (going via North Africa was even suggested). Deciding that we would only ever do the rally once (assuming we do even finish!), we chose all the countries we would never have visited off our own bat. The next thing to do of course is apply for all the visas! The final list stands at 8: Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Russia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and of course Mongolia (we plan to get visas to Armenia, Turkey and Georgia on the border). That list alone was a day's worth of filling out visa forms (did you know that you have to glue your photo to a visa application for Turkmenistan, but use a paper clip for Russia? No, neither did I...). After that we had to find a car, which led us to the boxy-yet-practical Suzuki Wagon R (affectionately known as Isabelle). After that, it's been buying camping equipment, taking the Wagon to the mechanic and building a roof rack worthy of a trip to Mongolia. Oh, and making sure the on-board fridge works.
What sort of trouble are you expecting?
For all that my family and friends are concerned about Iran, I have heard from other ralliers that the people there are some of the nicest in the world. They will have just finished Ramadan when we go through, and so I think much of the country will be on holiday.
The biggest risk is probably some sort of mechanical failure with Isabelle. The great thing about travelling 8,000+ miles over unforgiving terrain is that we have absolutely no idea what will go wrong! We could blow up the engine, we could have an accident, we could have all of the wheels stolen, we could run out of windscreen washer fluid, we have no way of knowing what calamity adventure awaits us!
What's gone wrong so far?
Well, after we bought Isabelle, the ownership papers came through addressed to 'Miss Will Midgley' - we're still working on getting that one fixed. There have been some problems with visas into Iran (the government there is suspending all visa applications until after the elections in June) which our friends at 'The Visa Machine' have been immensely helpful with. Also, we have had to have some mechanical work done on the car to make it rally-ready, and it looks like some of these will take longer than we had thought.
What do you plan to see along the way?
Apart from some highlights like the 'Door to Hell' and the city of Shiraz, we are basically going to make it up as we go along. We have entry and exit dates for some countries because of our visas, but as to what we do inside the countries, we figure that we'll ask the locals.
What happens to the car afterwards?
The car is officially imported into Mongolia at the end of the rally (assuming we make it), fixed up and sold, with the profits going to charities in Mongolia. In addition, any gear that we leave behind will be auctioned off as well, to raise even more money.
Wait, how long is all this going to take?
Absolutely no idea! It really depends on how quickly we make progress. As I mentioned, we have some firm dates with visas in the middle of the trip, but there is definitely some flexibility either side of that. I think the longest time anyone's taken to get there is 100 days, the shortest is about 11. We leave on 13th July and plan to be away for around 7 weeks, give or take.
What can I do to help?
The best thing you can do is donate, either to CoolEarth, or Rose Charities. Otherwise, we're always looking out for gear to help us on the way (camping equipment, a toolkit, screenwash), and in return we will put your logo on our car and on our merchandise. Alternatively you can help spread the word: Follow us on Facebook and Twitter, and please tell your friends about these great causes we're raising money for.