Archive for the ‘Mongol Rally’ Category

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People respond well to original, adventurous, slightly mad ideas.

This applies equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

As Tim Fitzhigham said during his talk at the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh on Saturday night,

Tell someone that you’re going to run 40 miles in the desert, or that you’re going to row across the English Channel and they’ll say, “Uh, that’s not that hard”. But tell them you’re doing it in a 40 kilogram suit of armour in 40 degree heat, or in a one third of a tonne copper bathtub and they instantly become inspired and engaged.

Original, adventurous ideas don’t grow on trees.

They’re not easy to have.

And they’re not easy to make happen.

Indeed, it’s a characteristic of original, adventurous ideas that “some people” seem to go out of their way to erect additional barriers to make it even less likely that they will see the light of day.

This applies equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

You’d think that rowing the English Channel in a bathtub was difficult enough, without various authorities on both sides of the water doing their best to make it even more so.

For instance, the French authorities decided that they didn’t like the idea of their bit of the Channel being rowed in a bath, so they passed a law specifically outlawing this very eventuality.

Undeterred, Tim Fitzhigham found himself a friendly Admiral in Whitehall (a story in itself) and worked a solution whereby he was able to register the bath tub as an official British shipping vessel.

In order to make the bath into a ship he had to add a mast (he installed a shower head), he had to have a sealed cabinet for electrics (he installed a sink unit), and he had to fly the Red Ensign.

His indefatigable attitude and his creativity in the face of adversity allowed him to sidestep this particular barrier whilst retaining the madcap integrity of the idea.

When it comes to making adventurous ideas happen, indefatigability is good, creativity is good, and so is a bit of bravery. Tim Fitzhigham had to stick his neck out several times just to get to the start line. He then had put his body on the line to row across the busiest shipping lane in the world.

The first attempt ended in rough weather during which the bathtub and Tim both took a bit of a beating. The waves tore a section off the top of the bath tub and the resulting serrated edge tore into his shoulder to the point that he lost all sensation in his arm.

In true Chumbawamba style he got knocked down, but he got up again and completed his epic round trip journey on the second attempt with a lot of guts and a little ketamine.

(He proved his bravery yet again when he asked a Scottish audience if anyone in the room was a Morris Dancer!)

At the Royal College of Physicians Edinburgh : "Is there a morris dancer in the house?"

Here then are the qualities required to help an original, adventurous idea see the light of day.


To me this auditorium is half full.

Infectious enthusiasm.

Tact and diplomacy.


And the occasional bit of bulldozer-style brute force of will.

These all apply equally to marketing communications and to fundraising events.

Thanks to The Adventurists (those lovely people that brought you the Mongol Rally) for making the evening happen in their own, inimitable, eccentric style.

Thanks also to Hendrick’s Gin for some splendidly curious libations with which we washed down the post-talk cake and sandwiches.

Inspirational stuff from the organiser, the sponsor, the venue and, of course, the speaker himself.


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A nostalgic post, it being a year since I flew to Kiev to join my Mongol Rally team-mates for the adventure of a lifetime.

Indulge me.

A year ago today (Jul 29). Spotless ambulance in Ukraine.

Morning after the night before. Southern Russia. Having talked our way our of a speeding fine a couple of hours earlier, we run out of fuel and have to hitchhike and haggle a Dollar/Rouble exchange rate in a Soviet housing estate to get more.

Kazakhstan. First of several suspension "problems". Helped by some Muscovite truckers who share Russian Cornettos with us in the searing desert heat. Surreal.

What passes for a road in Turkmenistan. 22 hours to cover 200km.

Ashgabat, Turkmenistan. The morning after I was propositioned by a Ukrainian hooker in a hotel Karaoke bar.

The ancient city of Merv, en route to the Uzbekistan border.

On the Silk Road. Samarqand, Uzbekistan.

Tajikistan. On the road to Dushanbe.

Afghanistan seen from the Tajikistan side of the Panj River.

Over 4,600m above sea level on the majestic Pamir Highway in Tajikistan. It was actually cold for a few days. But a welcome variation on the theme of 45 degree desert heat.

The rains that caused the terrible flooding in Pakistan also washed out road and bridges in Tajikistan. We wouldn't have made it if we hadn't been in convoy by this stage. We also stopped to help dig, push and tow out some locals. A task made more difficult by the goat and the huge drum of fuel in the back.

The landlord and landlady of our guest house in Sari Tash, Kyrgyzstan.

More suspension issues. Front shock absorber blown by a pothole outside the arrmy town of Ayagoz in the heart of what used to be Soviet nuclear testing territory in North Eastern Kazakhstan.

Beautiful "alpine" scenery near the Russian border with Mongolia.

Mongol Rally teams stage a "friendly" blockade of the Russian border with Mongolia in protest at how slow the Russians had been in processing vehicles. Tempers ran high that evening, but things were much quicker the following day. Still, at 36 hours in total, it was the longest border crossing of them all.

The day Kelsey and Chala's cop car died in Mongolia. We allowed ourselves to think we'd made it when we crossed into Mongolia but we still had 1,000 miles to go and the northern Gobi Desert wreaked havoc on tired vehicles. Somehow the ambulance limped on.


Made it! Men with beards (aka The Ambeciles) at the finish line in Ulaan Baatar. This was taken before it all got very messy.

Great memories. Great friends. Great event.

If you ever get the chance, jump at it.

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I beg to differ.

This is uncool in so many ways.

On the face of it, it shouldn’t be uncool. But it is.

Climbing Everest is cool.

Being able to share your experiences with others in real time is cool too.

But, put those things together, and the effect is to diminish and demean IMHO.

The whole is considerably less than the sum of the parts.

I say this as someone who has a little first hand experience of wanting to share adventurous experiences.

I was a member of The Ambeciles, a 2010 Mongol Rally team that drove a second hand ambulance (bought on E-Bay for £3,000) from the UK to Mongolia (via Europe, Russia and 5 countries ending in “stan”) to raise money for several charities.

Mongol Ralliers' convention somewhere in Mongolia.

The Mongol Rally is designed to be an adventure. The Adventurists set it up that way.

As the last line of their “adventure warning” clearly states, “You really are on your own.”

"These adventures are not glorified holidays."

Indeed, we found on a daily basis that the most interesting aspects of the journey, the most memorable stories, were the result of things going wrong. And when things went wrong you had to rely on your wits, and on the extraordinary willingness of local people to help you out, to get yourselves out of the messes that you found yourselves in.

With hindsight we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Pamir Highway river crossing - Tajikistan

But you can’t have your cake and eat it.

The remoteness and lack of connection to the outside world that makes for great adventure by definition also makes it impossible to share those adventurous experiences in real time.

So I drafted blog posts on a netbook in the back of what was effectively a dust-filled mobile greenhouse and then published, posted, facebooked and tweeted like mad when internet cafes and occasional hotel wifi opportunities presented themselves.

Meanwhile, back with Kenton Cool on Everest…

Here’s the video clip in which he discussed his intent to send the first tweet from the Everest summit, “in association with” his technology sponsor/partner Samsung.

This really does leave me cold.

I have no beef with Mr Cool. I have the utmost respect for what he has achieved. He is an extreme dude who isn’t pissing his life away in some faceless cube-farm.

(Although I do think he protests too much on behalf of his Samsung sponsor. Less gushing fulsomeness would definitely have been more.)

This image from the video is a succinct visual summary of why I do have a beef with him tweeting from the summit.

It’s the erection of this 3G mast that made the summit tweet possible.

And it’s the erection of this mast that has made the highest mountain (even) less remote than it was.

Less of an adventure? Discuss.

I wonder if such considerations crossed Kenton Cool’s mind. (I’ll ask once I’ve finished this post).

Adventure is an expensive business. We couldn’t have taken part in the rally without the generous support of a number of sponsors.

And I daresay the same goes for climbing Everest.

Every sponsor logo on the side of the ambulance was the result of extended periods of intense begging, stealing, borrowing, committing and promising. Not to mention the emotional punchbag feeling of multiple rejections.

Adventure is an expensive business. And sponsoring adventure is a sophisticated business.

It’s not as simple as “cash for logos”.

Quite rightly in this digitally enabled, socially connected world of ours, sponsors don’t just want a logo on the side of your vehicle. They want content. And if said content can be delivered in real time, increasing the sense of currency and happeningness, then so much the better.

And if a promise of real time content is what it takes to clinch a sponsorship deal then it is very hard not to make said  promise.

Indeed, for our sponsors Direct Travel Insurance, we collected real time GPS data en route and created this piece of data visualisation (plus mini-blog) for them. However, whilst the data was collected in real time, it could only be shared and the site updated when we hit towns which had internet cafes or hotels with free wifi.

And we wouldn’t have had it any other way.

It was great to be properly disconnected for a while.

By and large the world is a better place for increased connectivity.

But there is still a place for remoteness.

Isn’t there?

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Herewith a musical slideshow with some edited highlight’s from this summer’s Mongol Rally shenanigans.

Russia, Kazakhstan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan (again), Russia (again), Mongolia.

Dead animals, dead tanks, dead cars, dead ends.

Really, really bad roads. And some really good new friends.

Still working out what it all meant.

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Just back from a month of Mongol Rally action, driving a second hand ambulance nearly 9,000 miles through lots of countries ending in “stan” for the hell of it and to raise money for various charities.

Lots of deserts, lots of weird and wonderful experiences, and some very good new friends.

Oh yeah and lots and lots of dust…

Hence the lack of any posts on this blog for the month of August.

Content generation energies have been focussed on our team website and our flickr account.

Favourite Mongol posts are here, here and here.

I arrived back in Edinburgh at 10pm on Sunday after travelling more or less 24 hours to the minute, and I was straight back to work on Monday morning, a week later than originally planned. Limping towards the weekend for some proper decompression time and then normal service will hopefully be resumed at home, at work and at blog.

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Trepido, trepidas, trepidat.

Trepidamus, trepidatis, trepidant.

From the first declension Latin verb Trepidare.

(To hurry with alarm, be in confusion, be agitated, be disturbed).

All of the above currently apply to me.

“Be disturbed”

A good friend of mine recently paid a visit to the UK from his home in Canada.

He came to Scotland via Cardiff, where he collected a second hand ambulance which he had bought for £3,000 on ebay.

He and three others had decided to take part in the 2010 Mongol Rally in said ambulance.

Over whisky one night he pointed out that the ambulance has five seats…

And, to cut a short story even shorter, I am now officially an Ambecile.

The Ambeciles is an aptly named team of five people about to do a stupidly exciting thing in an ambulance.

Consider my hitherto quiet life well and truly “disturbed”.

“Be agitated”

There is a lot to do.

The ambulance needs a fair bit of servicing before it’s ready to hit the road.

(Forgetting for a moment that roads will be a luxury for large parts of the journey).

We need sponsors to cover the cost of the vehicle and the journey.

We need partners to help us with equipment.

And we’re raising money for several charities.

All of this to be fitted in around work and family life.

(Oh, and by the way, my wife and I are both Ambeciles. We’re splitting the journey between us.)

So agitation is indeed the order of the day.

Agitation in terms of excitement and anticipation.

Agitating in terms of generating interest and support.

Followed this summer by the physical agitation of the ambulance by hostile terrains.

“Be in confusion”

My passport is away for three months with The Adventurists (organisers of the rally).

They kindly do all the dirty donkey work associated with getting visas for the countries en route.

So far they have secured my visa for Kyrgyzstan, and my passport is currently at the Uzbekistan consulate.

I’m joining the team in Volgograd (former Stalingrad) in Russia and, in addition to the countries already mentioned, will be travelling through Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan on the way to Mongolia.

This is a Google Earth image of the rough route.

Some of these places I’d never actually heard of.

Let alone considered visiting.

To be in confusion?

Well it is all pleasantly bewildering.

Or maybe ignorance is misguided bliss.

“To hurry with alarm”

With any luck we’ll be making good speed (hurrying) in a vehicle that is equipped with flashing blue lights and a siren (with alarms).

Trepidare is obviously the Latin root of the modern English words trepidation and intrepid.

My feelings right now are a cocktail of both.

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