Hi there! I’m Chase, and I have spent the past three winters working at the Hotel Alyeska and snowboarding. This summer my girlfriend, Charla, and I got the crazy idea to participate in the Mongol Rally; that means we drove a 1.1-liter Fiat Panda from Bodiam, England, to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia, to raise money for the Lotus Children’s Centre in Ulaanbaatar. Alyeska Resort has generously gotten behind us to help raise money for the Lotus Children’s Centre, and we’re grateful for their support.
Our last blog post ended when we hit the Mongolian border, and things started to get serious. Our first hint was when we crossed the border itself; there was a very clear definition because the road actually ended at the edge of Russia. Everything beyond that point was a mixture of guessing, intuition, and exploration.
Mongolia is a truly massive country, and it is also the world’s most sparsely populated. It was possible to drive for six hours without seeing another vehicle or person, let alone a town. With the exception of the city of Ulaanbaatar, the national capitol, the roads in Mongolia aren’t paved; in many cases they aren’t even roads in the traditional sense. Even the main highways were just networks of many dirt paths all roughly parallel to each other and coming together and separating like the channels of a braided river. When you got off the main highways, you were driving on two-tracks which were barely discernible in the rough desert terrain. During the week we spent driving in Mongolia we only saw four road signs, and two of them weren’t correct. At one point, after a few hours of aimlessly driving around the mountains when we accidentally lost the road, we happened upon a village; I got out of the car with my map to ask directions, and the villagers laughed at the idea of a map in their area.
There was only one factor that kept us continuously (hopefully) on the right path in Mongolia: from the moment we entered the country in Tsagaanuur in the far west, we knew that we just had to continue driving in a vaguely eastern direction and we’d eventually make it to Ulaanbaatar.
Despite our difficulties with the roads, Mongolia was a starkly beautiful location. We had nights camping at over 8,000 feet in the Altay Mountains under snow-capped peaks which were frigidly beautiful, and we also had nights in the Gobi Desert where we camped on absolutely flat plains that allowed us to view the stars from horizon to horizon. The nights were crystal clear in Mongolia, with absolutely no light pollution from any source to get in the way of some amazing stargazing. Every so often we’d drive by a traditional yurt camp, or nomadic camp, in the middle of nowhere and we’d feel pangs of jealousy for the land they called home. It was truly spectacular.
Unfortunately, the terrain was also tough on the Panda. Once across the Mongolian border, we had four flat tires and we tore the exhaust off. And, just to ensure that we wouldn’t get too cocky, less than 100 miles from the finish line we spent four hours waiting on the side of the road after a double blow-out with only one spare tire! Though it was frustrating to be stuck so close to the end, it made finishing that much sweeter.
We did indeed finish the Mongol Rally, and pulled into Ulaanbaatar with two other cars full of friends we had met on the journey. We ended up driving over 10,300 miles in exactly 40 days. We had driven one-third of the world, over mountain ranges and across deserts, and we had more adventures, stories, memories, and new friends than we could ever hope for. Additionally, we also raised money for an excellent cause and helped the Lotus Children’s Centre.
We want to give a big thank you to Alyeska Resort for supporting Team Turnagain and the Lotus Children’s Centre, and also a big thank you to our readers here on the Alyeska blog that have followed us on the journey.
As the Alaskan summer winds down, there’s only one last thing to do: pray for snow.