Mongol Rally – Part 1: Prelude

The Mongol Rally

So this post is a recap on the events leading up to, during and the wrap up of my Mongol Rally Adventure.  (If you haven’t seen it already, check out http://mongolrally.ting-b.com).  Note: Some of you might have got most of this post in an email way back in July…

Basically, in the months leading up to July 2014, Team Raven Shoe, consisting of Gary, Bej and I have been balancing jobs (well, Gary and Bej were working.. :P) and travel with sorting out visas, fundraising for this epic journey and my part, which was sorting out the car and the gear which would take us 1/3 around the world.

In the lead up

I ended up buying my car (a 2000 Nissan Micra) for £420 the day I landed back in Edinburgh after my 6 week journey up, across and back down the USA (from an elderly lady who was medically diagnosed unfit to drive literally 3 days earlier).  The paintwork was impeccable.. And as a parting gift (because I was such a nice young man…. her words, not mine…), she gifted me her box of car cleaning products and several micro fibre cloths that she used to condition her car every week.  One of the big pluses of the vehicle was that it had a full service history from new, including receipts for all repairs and replacement parts.  Even though it had only covered 90000km in 14 years, she had it serviced on the clock every year without fail.

Our ride....
Our ride….

Anyway, that was in March, and between then any May, I actually didn’t have much time to sort out the renewal of the roadworthy… Thankfully the ever reliable ‘fixer’ by the name of Marcin managed to get it through roadworthy for me, even with a severely corroded body sills by the time I got back from my Transylvanian adventure.

As soon as I landed back in Edinburgh, it was off to getting the vehicle prepared.  Time was ticking as it was only 2.5 weeks before Departure Day.

A trip to two scrap yards and after paying £100 for some steel roof racks off the top of a flipped service van, a couple of spotlights and fog lights, a few square metres of checkerplate aluminium, an altimeter/compass/inclinometer/thermometer pod from a 1998 Mitsubishi Pajero Exceed, a new throttle body, MAF and lambda sensors as well as a heap of European-required safety equipment (BMW’s have far better safety gear than Audi’s…) and it was time to hit the streets of Edinburgh outside my sister’s flat near Polwarth (yep… including the famous and newly renovated Polwarth Tavern) to start working on the car…


Curious neighbours would often come down to see what I was up to, and it wasn’t really all that clear to them until I stuck the decals on.  Suddenly overnight, the neighbour’s perception of me changed from a wannabe-boy-racer-who-put-a-checker-plate-roof-rack-with-spot-lights-on-his-car to a modern day ‘adventurist’! 😛  After that, it was all encouragement, with some neighbours even offering old car parts to put on the vehicle (I was offered so many pairs of driving lights, but decided to stick with two, as the alternator on the Micra is only rated for 65A and two sets would draw around 38A…).

Progress over the few days was good, with not only the roof rack and lights fitted and wired, but also a sump guard put together from a few scrap pieces of 3mm checker plate aluminium.  The emphasis here was to create something that should deflect small objects without weighing down the front, causing the vehicle to hit more objects.  If any of the neighbours on Temple Park Crescent are reading this post, my apologies for all the loud noises I made during drilling, cutting and hammering the sump guard to shape!  I really wished I had an actual workshop to work in, but I guess you just gotta make the best of what you got! In my case, concrete tiled floor, a G-clamp, some vice grips, hacksaw, jigsaw, drill, scrap metal and a hammer!

Now when the car was purchased, the check engine light kept on.  According to the old lady, “it has something to do with the oxygen sensor and the mechanic said it would cost 250 pounds to fix…”  The vehicle also had a tendency to bog down under acceleration (found this out trying to merge onto a 70mph freeway…) and sounded like a boy racer.  A ‘new’ lambda sensor pulled from a Micra in the scrapyard solved the check engine light issue and replacing the fuel filter seemed to have solved the acceleration issues.  Some steel wool, a metre of aluminium tape and some stainless hose clamps around the exhaust made all the difference with the engine now singing away like…. well a 1L 4 cylinder car…

Though the vehicle had gone through a ‘service’, I gave it a quick once-over to make sure all the little things were okay.  Last minute changes included new wiper blades, drive belts and two brand new front tyres (some el-cheapo, yum-cha brand called Rovelo… :S).  With time to spare, I was even able to give our ‘wheels’ a fresh coat of white paint with clear coat!

Last minute visa issues…

In this time, the attention of Gary and Bej was back onto visas, or specifically, a visa.  That is, the visa for Iran.  Basically, in 5 months, we were able to secure visa’s for Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, Russia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgystan and Mongolia.  The key to actually getting to all of these places is Iran… Unfortunately, the embassy refused to give out visas more than 3 months before our planned entry (28th July FYI).  So… with only 3 weeks til they flew out of Australian to meet me in the UK, we put in our application to get our Iranian visas, which are known to take up to 2 months to get.  After being rejected and having to pay a 3rd party visa agency to do some pre-authorisation check, we finally were able to re-submit our passports.  On Thursday morning, (the guys flew out Friday afternoon), the passports were returned with the visas in check.  Talk about calling it close!  Without it, we would have basically blown $700AUD each on visas which we wouldn’t have been able to use…

Our gear

Anyway, I was hoping to get more time in Edinburgh to practice packing our gear.  This included:

  • 2x 10L petrol jerry cans (20L jerry cans are apparently illegal on the continent, including Germany…)
  • 1x 10L for water
  • Extra spare tyre, air filter, oil filter, fuel filter
  • Air compressor, hydraulic bottle jack, camp mats, tents (we’re going with 3x 1 man tents as after spending a whole day in the car, the last thing we need is to share a tent – my executive decision), chairs, etc.
  • Rucksack and kit bags, each containing: 2x quick dry shirts, sleeping bag + liner, long-sleeve thermal top, desert scarf, soft-shell jacket, beanie, utility gloves, team shirts, team polo shirt, team singlet, emergency kit, 1-man first aid kit and a thermos flask.

Basically, all our clothing for the event was customised with the Team Raven Shoe logo, courtesy of the screen printing equipment at the Owl and Lion.   Once again, thanks to my sister, Marcin and Martin for helping out with this!  We definitely intended to ‘look the part’ for the Rally (in the upcoming posts, you’ll see what I mean!)

With one week to go before D-Day, the car ready, the gear packed and the car fully fuelled, it was goodbye to Team Raven Shoe’s Edinburgh Engineering Facility and off to our staging base in London!

2014-07-13 10.07.26
Ready for London!

The drive down was pretty fun, cruising along the motorways at 70mph, though I had to downshift to go up anything greater than 5deg gradient at this speed (I could measure this with the inclinometer!).  At each stop I made, people were pointing fingers and taking photos with their smart phones and even coming up to ask “What’s this all about?”… Felt like a minor celebrity of sorts!

Drew more attention than that girly TT
Drew more attention than that girly TT

Luckily for me, the ‘shakedown’ drive to London was rather uneventful, arriving at my cousin’s place (and Team Raven Shoe London HQ :P) by late afternoon.

Rendezvous in London

On the 15th July, I met Gary and Bej for the first time in 7 months, when I picked them up at Heathrow.  Unfortunately, one of the two care packages checked in by Bej was lost-in-transit.  The lost package happened to be carrying the most important cargo… our vehicle ‘snatch strap’, 5 boxes of Cheezles and a large tin of Milo! 😛

Luckily it was found in Spain and we managed to receive it well before D-Day, along with the medical care package put together by Bej’s girlfriend (now fiancée as I understand!).

One of the first things we in London did was to ensure we had our currency sorted (USD’s and Euros), maps purchased (a trip to Stanfords), lunch (at Shepherd’s Bush – It was here that we actually put pencil to paper in deciding our route to Iran, including a rough time frame to get us there by the 28th July), plenty of coffee and emergency copies of our ID’s and other important documents.

We even managed to meet up with a  friend who was visiting the UK with his wife (aka Jomily) for a trip to the British Museum…

2014-07-15 18.04.40

After recovering from some mild jet lag back at HQ, other preparation activities included a stowage and ‘systems integration‘ trial to ensure that we could fit everything in and on top of the vehicle, all photography, comms, navigation and electrical systems could be fitted (including chargers for Bej’s MacBook Air, phones, cameras etc) and were operable and that we weren’t overloading the vehicle!  Luckily we were successful!

So with all the visas sorted, all the gear packed, all equipment tested and functioning A-OK, the team rested and relaxed, the only thing now was to get to Battersea Park on the 19th July… To be continued!


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