Mongol Rally Is International Race in a Tight Space

Host Debbie Elliott talks with a pair of contenders in the Mongol Rally, an annual race from London to Ulan Bator, Mongolia that covers about a quarter of the Earth's surface. We check in with Team Newyorkistan, one of 200 teams that cram themselves into tiny cars for the ride.

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DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

It may very well be the mother of all adventures. It's certainly likely to be one of the grimiest and most cramped. Later this month, about 200 teams of two will squeeze themselves into tiny cars in London and head off to, of all places, the capital of Mongolia, Ulan Bator.

It's the Mongol Rally, now in its third year, an 8,000-mile race across one quarter of the Earth's surface, in cars that have been known to roll over, float away, and even split in half. Along the way, if they follow the advise of the race's organizers, they'll cheat, sneak, bribe, connive, and generally outwit the world.

Audrey Roofeh and Paul Hanson make up Team Newyorkistan, one of five U.S. teams in this year's race, and they join us from NPR's New York bureau. What are you thinking? Why in the world would you want to do this?

Mr. PAUL HANSON (Team Newyorkistan): It's the opportunity to serve as a goodwill ambassador from New York to the world. I could not pass that opportunity up.

Ms. AUDREY ROOFEH (Team Newyorkistan): And to get to see so much of the world. Unpaved roads, yaks, there's a lot to see.

ELLIOTT: You think you'll really still be a good ambassador after going through all of that.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ROOFEH: He'll be a smelly ambassador.

Mr. HANSON: But we will still have the goodwill with us, and that's what matters.

Ms. ROOFEH: There's actually a charity requirement for the rally, that every team raise a thousand pounds, so that's just under two thousand U.S.

Mr. HANSON: We're proud to report that we've absolutely blown away the charity requirement. We've raised close to $4,000.

Ms. ROOFEH: Four thousand dollars, something like that.

ELLIOTT: Now tell me a little bit about yourselves. Are you all seasoned world travelers?

Mr. HANSON: I'm not the climbing Kilimanjaro type, but I am the type who can economize and get by with, you know, do a lot with a little.

ELLIOTT: Audrey?

Ms. ROOFEH: Well, I spend most of my time in New York these days. I'm a litigator. But before doing that I did work for the United Nations in the former Yugoslavia, and I've traveled through Australia and New Zealand and Eastern Europe.

ELLIOTT: Now I've read where this can get pretty tricky. Not only do you have sort of the terrain that you have to battle, but people have actually been held up at knifepoint. Are you afraid of anything on this trip?

Mr. HANSON: Of course we are.

Those are the perils of international travel on a good day. If we only get held up by knifepoint, I'd say we're lucky.

Ms. ROOFEH: Actually, my biggest fear - I don't know about you, Paul - but is our car breaking down in the middle of the Kazakh Desert without the means to reach a mechanic to get out.

ELLIOTT: Tell me about your car.

Mr. HANSON: Well, our car is known as a Lada. It is a Russian...

Ms. ROOFEH: Fiat.

Mr. HANSON: Yes.

Ms. ROOFEH: We have a joint Fiat-Soviet government endeavor.

Mr. HANSON: It's small, but it packs a lot of power. This is probably the best car you'd want to take for this kind of adventure if you're restricted to the size range that we are.

ELLIOTT: What do you pack? What are you taking with you?

Ms. ROOFEH: Spare parts, tents.

Mr. HANSON: We're making lists of the essentials. Anything else, we're hoping to pick up along the way.

Ms. ROOFEH: Including but not limited to the dinner jacket that Paul needs and the evening gown that I need for the black-tie event when we reach Ulan Bator.

Mr. HANSON: I think you can get some good deals on off-the-rack stuff in Almaty, Kazakhstan.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ELLIOTT: Now, what about weaponry?

Ms. ROOFEH: I don't think...

Mr. HANSON: That's not going to be in our car.

Ms. ROOFEH: The consensus seems to be that any trouble you run into you should first try and address with a really big smile and some American cigarettes...

Mr. HANSON: Yes.

Ms. ROOFEH: ...and see if that doesn't take care of the problem.

ELLIOTT: What about your language skills here?

Ms. ROOFEH: I learned some Russian in college. I'm trying to remember all the really important things, like I'm on a race from London to Mongolia, or where can I buy beer?

ELLIOTT: Will you all call us from the road when something exciting happens?

Ms. ROOFEH: You bet.

Mr. HANSEN (Team Newyorkistan): Absolutely.

ELLIOTT: Audrey Roofeh and Paul Hansen of Team Newyorkistan. They leave soon on the Mongol Rally. Thanks for talking with us.

Mr. HANSEN: Thank you, Debbie.

M. ROOFEH: Thank you, Debbie.

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