At the Finish Line With God's Lawyer
To quote Great Big Sea: "I'll spare you all the gruesome details and just relay the end." We got to Ulan Ude after the finish line closed and had to finish the following day. For twelve of the fist fourteen years the Mongol Rally finished in Ulaanbataar, Mongolia. However, for most of those years, teams just dumped their vehicles in the city and hopped flights home. Needless to say, the Mongolian government was not impressed and basically banned the Mongol Rally. Last year the Rally moved the official finish line to Ulan-Ude, Russia, about a day's drive north ofthe border. Additionally, the Mongolian government required a $5000 deposit from all Rally vehicles entering the country and there were conflicting reports about all the teams getting their money back when they exited.
This year the Rally still ended in Russia, but the Rally cut a deal with the government that basically prohibited us from abandoning our vehicles in Mongolia (or Russia for that matter). We had to place a £1000 depoit with the Rally organisers to ensure our cooperation. Coincidentally, for that same £1000 the organisers would legally dispose of our vehicles for us (i.e. Ship the vehicles by rail back to Lithuania and have them crushed).
I was feeling bittersweet as I pulled up to the finish line. On the one hand, I had just done something insane: 10,000 miles across Europe and Asia in a vehicle with an engine smaller than what is found in a SMART Car. On the other hand, I was now condemning this brave little Rascal to an ignominious end in the maws of a Lithuanian car smasher.
I climbed on the roof of the Rascal and popped open a can of gin and tonic I had carried with me from England. My Aussie and Swedish friends snapped photos of me holding my Cascadia flag. It was truly a moment to celebrate.
So why did I feel so down?
The Aussies said that they were going to go to the local cathedral and talk to the priest about donating their Fiat. Several of them were devout Catholics and wanted to see if the church would be interested in taking their vehicle as a donation. I told them to ask if the church might be interested in a scrappy little van. They snapped a photo and took off.
I didn't hold my breath.
While they were gone I wandered over to the beauty salon next door and through pantomime, and some shoddy Google Translate managed to negotiate a beard trim. I hadn't managed a shave since before the start, and I was looking a lot like a world explorer (i.e. really scruffy). I avoided drawing any pictures for her since every other time I had attempted some Pictionary things had gone awry.
About an hour later, the Aussies returned with news: the Catholic cathedral was closed. However, two blocks away was a Russian Orthodox Church! They pounced on a young priest with an offer of a free car, and they were willing to toss in a van to boot! Once the priest recovered from the shock of it all, he called the senior priest to come out. The two discussed it and agreed that, yes, the Church could use the vehicles.
I toldthe organisers to hold off on the smasher and we sped off back to the church. When we got there, the head priest's daughter was there to act as our translator. The priest had called a lawyer and we were all going to go to an office to make it official.
As much as we all wanted to just sign the papers and be done with it, it turned out it was not that simple. Documents had to be translated and then new documents had to be drawn up. We were told to come back to the lawyer's office at 10am.
So, we went back to the finish line where a party was supposed to happen starting at 6pm. The organisers wanted to know what was happening with our vehicles. I simply replied, Ït's in God's hands. Or, God's lawyer's hands." The organisers just shook their heads. Having "liberated"some extra drink tokens from the registration table, we got the party going on our own while we waited for other teams to arrive. Eventually the party got started, the dj started spinning, and we had a great time. Not even the death threats from the Russian mobster could dampen our spirits (One of the Swedes was dancing too closely to the mobster's girlfriend. To be fair, I don't think what the Swede was doing could be classified as either a: sexy or b: dancing, so I'm not sure what the problem was). By midnight everyone had drunk their fill and was ready to go home. I piled the drunk Swedes, Dutch, and Aussies in the back of the Rascal and headed for the hotel. Once again the Rascal was more than up for whatever task I set before it!
The following morning we dragged ourselves to the lawyer's office. While there was plenty of waiting, in the end there were just a couple of places to sign and the deal was done. The Russian Orthodox Church was now the proud owner of a Bedford Rascal, and I was the proud owner of a legal document that said I did not abandon my vehicle in Russia!
We spent the rest ofthe day making travel arrangements, cleaning the vehicles inside and out (cleanliness is next to godliness!) and removing the last remnants of our travels. At 5pm we delivered the shiny vehicles to the church.
I'm going to admit it, I got a little choked up. I was thrilled that the Rascal was not going to be smashed. That little vehicle deserved much better than that! But that van and I had been through a lot together and I was going to miss it. I whispered a few words to it, wished it well, and we headed out the gate.
that night we came full circle. Instead of heading back to the finish line for another night of drinking with Russian mobsters, we went to The Churchill, a British Pub situated across Soviet Square from the giant head of Vladimir Lenin. We started this journey in the UK, and we were ending it in the closest proximate of Russia had to offer. This would be our last night together. I had a train to Irkutsk at 9 am. Two of the Aussies were flying to Moscow at 6am. The Swedes were heading home later that afternoon. The Rally really had come to an end.
39 days. 10,312 miles. A lifetime of memories.