Southampton student Luke Gowers is currently preparing to drive approximately 10,000 miles through sixteen countries from Sussex to Mongolia in an old ambulance. The History and Politics third year will be missing his graduation ceremony to take part in the Mongol Rally, run by The Adventurists, who describe the event thus:
“Imagine you’re lost in a massive desert, hundreds of miles from civilisation, driving a car even your granny would be embarrassed by. 50% of your wheels just fell off and a search for tools turns up a dirty sock and two dried apricots. This is what the Mongol Rally is about. Getting stuck, lost and in trouble, then finding your way out armed with just your wits and the sock and apricots.”
The rally has minimal support and no set route. Luke’s five man team, named ‘Under the Fog’, have chosen a route that takes on Iran, Kazakhstan and Russia before arriving in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. The team are hoping to raise £2000 for the Christina Noble Children’s Foundation, a charity that seeks to protect children in Vietnam and Mongolia who are at risk of economic and sexual exploitation. So far they have raised money selling Krispy Kreme donuts at Bournemouth University, and at Southampton’s EnviroRAG Week, where they raised £300.
Luke is not the first Southampton student to take on such a challenge. In 1990 two Southampton engineering students raised money for Children in Need by driving the 4000 miles to then-USSR (now Russia) in a £250 Vauxhall. The Southern Daily Echo reported that ‘Keith and Nigel saw little sign of Moscow’s current food shortages’ and that the boys remarked ‘it’s hard to see how the Soviet Union can be taken seriously as a super-power when we were having to dodge horses and carts on the motorway.’ Over twenty years on and the world may have changed, but some students drive to take on crazy challenges for charity remains unabated.
I caught up with Luke to find out a bit more about his adventure:
First of all, what made you decide to do this?
It was back in the Christmas of 2009, I was at work (I work in a hotel) and I was chatting to one of the receptionists and she began telling me about some rally her son was doing when he graduated (last summer). So she showed me the website and told me all about it and was going on about how nervous she was that he was doing it, then I text my friend Max in my break and was literally like “google this, we’re doing it not this summer but the summer after”, and that was that. We all love a good adventure. Me and Chris threw ourselves into the deep end back in 2009 by doing the trans-Siberian which was our first real travelling experience. Max, Alex and Ash I’ve known for years and we used to be part of the scouting community up until we came to uni so we’re all into the outdoors and facing some challenges and we’ve camped and hiked in Italy, Switzerland and Canada during our time in scouting. We’ve always been up for organizing trips and then getting out there and doing it.
Where did you get your team name from?
Chris signed us up on the day registration opened and they demanded a name there and then and we were unprepared. He had his itunes opened and went with Under the Fog which is the name of a King Blues album, which is a favourite band of all of us.
How did you choose your route?
We wanted to make it as awesome as possible so we didn’t want to go straight across Europe into Russia. We knew that this was our only chance to go to countries like Iran and Turkmenistan, so had to do it. We did contemplate skipping Iran and crossing the Caspian but the ferries are unreliable and expensive and basically corrupt. Iran is a country that people have misconceptions about, its one of the places every team each year says is their favourite country, and after studying Iranian history all year I’m desperate to go. Iran and Turkmenistan are the two I’m most looking forward to.
What are you most worried about?
I think one of us falling ill for whatever reason is a worry. One year a guy needed his appendix out in Uzbekistan. Things like that I definitely don’t want to happen. The other is the vehicle breaking down completely. We’re taking an ambulance for a reason and I’d like to get it there so it can be used in Mongolia. Max has looked at the head gasket in the ambulance and he said if it goes we’re done because it’s in a very awkward place.
Why did you decide to drive an ambulance?
Because we’re going to have such an epic adventure we wanted to give in everyway we could during the rally, so we decided that an ambulance as our vehicle would be the best way to do this. We also have a 5 man team so the vehicle size is perfect. Doing it in a 1 litre Clio or something would have been a nightmare!
Will you be taking a luxury item?
I haven’t thought about that much. We’re taking cameras to document it all, apart from that we’ll be roughing it pretty much.
How can people contribute?
If people have family with companies that may want to sponsor us that would be great. We also have a wish list on the website with bits and pieces we need if anyone has anything spare. You can also donate on our Just Giving page.
What if anyone fancies it themselves?
Sign up this summer and check out our site. It will be live for a year after the rally so we can answer any questions once we’re back. We also know of a guy with ambulances for sale if people want to do it in an ambulance.
To see the guys wish list, route and pictures of their ambulance go to: www.underthefog.co.uk
To donate to the teams fund raising efforts visit: www.justgiving.com/underthefog
You can also follow their progress throughout the trip on www.facebook.com/underthefog and on twitter at @underthefog2011
Anyone wanting to take on the challenge next summer, you can sign up at http://www.theadventurists.com/