10,000 miles of adventure

10%2C000+miles+of+adventure

Noah Hausmann

Imagine cramming with your friends into a tiny, used car and driving over 10,000 miles across the mountains, desert and steppe of Europe and Central Asia, navigating with a map and compass and traversing the borders of 19 countries, through Mongolia to finish in Siberia, in pursuit of adventure and to raise money for charity.

This summer, three NMU alumni, along with about 300 other teams from around the world, will attempt exactly that as they participate in the 13th annual Mongol Rally. This rally isn’t a race—it’s an experience.

“The way [the rally] is set up, you’ve got such a small car that it’s bound to break down,” said Austin Fogt, who graduated NMU in 2012 majoring in outdoor recreation leadership and management. “At some point in the rally, you’re going to have to walk up to some unknown house and say, ‘Hey, my car broke. Do you know any way to fix it?’ So it’s not like a vacation that you’d think of in a Westernized sense where you go to this hotel and see the Eiffel Tower and go home.”

Fogt, the 27-year-old originally from Chicago who now makes his living as a property manager in Marquette, continued, “You actually get to be in a country and interact with the local culture in ways that you generally wouldn’t if you were on just a normal vacation.”

The rally kicks off July 16 from Goodwood, England; from there, teams will cross the English Channel and head to Turkey, making their way to the finish line at Ulan-Ude, Russia. Teams are on their own to plan their routes and handle logistics, like getting vehicles, maintenance, accommodations and visas to enter the different countries. In event history, there has never been a year when every team completed the journey—some getting lost, crashing, being arrested or deported, or just giving up.

Under the team name “The Yooper Troopers,” Fogt and his long-time college friends Gordon Mortensen and Hanna Derby will depart Marquette July 6 and fly to the United Kingdom, where they will see for the first time the car they will be driving across continents and living out of for two months—a used 2006 Toyota Yaris they bought online for 900 British pounds (about $1,161) from a U.K. guy they met on Facebook.

The Mongol Rally has only three rules: First, the car must be “crap” and have an engine of 1 liter or less; second, teams are entirely on their own, so don’t expect any rescue from the rally organizers— “if it’s not dangerous and you aren’t lost, you’re not on an adventure”; and third, help “save the world,” by raising at least $1,290 for charity, $645 of which goes to the organization Cool Earth, which aids indigenous communities and preserves rainforests, and the other $645 can be donated to a charity of choice, according to the rally’s website theadventurists.com. The Yooper Troopers have chosen to support the local Bay Cliff Health Camp, which helps children with disabilities.

Needless to say, a certain level of danger is inherent in the rally. This might dissuade some, but it can be a draw for those brave enough to accept the challenge.

“The safety features many of us are accustomed to [on a normal vacation] will not be there to make it easy,” said Derby, 25, of Ishpeming, who graduated NMU in 2016 with an associate degree in surgical technology and plans to continue her education in sports science to become a physician’s assistant. “That’s exciting to me.”

They plan to navigate without GPS—only paper maps and compass. They’ll be sleeping in mostly hostels, a camping tent or in the car. On their journey, they expect to run out of gas, get a few flats and do other car repair. Fogt will handle fixing the car, they said with laughs, and Mortensen, an emergency room nurse by occupation, will fix any injuries. They’re especially looking forward to visiting “the stans,” like Kazakhstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, since that is a region none of them have ever seen.

“I’m most excited to get out of Europe and get into Central Asia,” said Mortensen, 28, from Wausau, Wisconsin, who graduated Northern with a nursing degree in 2011. “It’s not a touristy vacation—it’s not a touristy place. It’s going to be pretty neat-o. A lot of people say that Mongolia is fantastic.”

There will be a party at the finish line in Russia, which is open for about a month as teams arrive at varied times. The Yooper Troopers plan to complete the rally sometime at the end of
August, then ride the Trans-Siberian Railway through Moscow and sightsee in Europe until their time and spending money run out.

Folks can follow The Yooper Troopers’ travels on Facebook and Instagram or make donations to their charities at gofundme.com/yoopertroopers.

“My mother begged me not to go,” Fogt added. “‘You can’t do this,’ she told me. ‘You’re definitely going to die. Is there anything I can do to convince you not to go?’ I said no.” He smiled. “But my parents are going to drive us to the airport.”