Towards the end of June, I reported on a group of three friends from Ballygowan and Ballynahinch who were set to embark on the adventure of a lifetime. Matthew Gourley, Jordan Barr and Andrew Bennett entered the 2015 Mongol Rally, a charity fundraising event that sees entrants drive 10,000 miles and traverse several mountain ranges before arriving at the Mongolia finish line.
On Friday night (4 September), team ‘Car of the County Down’ completed the final leg of their adventure. Having raised over £2000 for their nominated charity, Tiny Life, they arrived back to a family farm on the outskirts of Belfast to huge cheers and applause from friends and family who had gathered.
Interestingly, Matthew, Jordan and Andrew decided to drive their car home after reaching the event finish. By the time they returned to Belfast, they had travelled more than 16,000 miles!
Usually, the rally crews leave their cars behind for scrap, so after an outpour of emotion when they were reunited with their friends and family, I asked them why they took the decision to drive home…
“It was partly because of the price of the several flights required,” said Matthew Gourley. “When we worked it out, it was cheaper to drive and split the fuel costs.”
“It was also a chance for us to see a lot of countries that we didn’t get to see on the way to Mongolia,” he continued. “We were able to spend a lot more time in Russia and stopped off in Moscow. We also spent time in Berlin and Amsterdam which was a great experience.”
Jordan Barr added, “It was also for the added achievement of not only getting the car to Mongolia but also to bring it back again to home soil in one piece.”
Andrew Bennett, the third member of the team, revealed that around 15 per cent of the vehicles entered were driven back home again.
“It allows you to see places you may never see again,” Andrew said. “With having a car, you are much less limited in Europe compared to inter-railing so it was a perfect opportunity for us to explore.”
On asking if they would do the trip again, Jordan said: “I would definitely do something similar, we were actually talking about that! I’ll definitely travel more. It opened my eyes to all of these different countries and places that you would never even think of going.”
Matthew elaborated saying: “Most of the places we visited after Turkey had not really seen tourists before. We were treated exceptionally well and the welcoming side of these people was fantastic. A lot of them signed the car after chatting with us.”
The rally went far beyond the lads’ expectations, with Jordan commenting that the rally was a lot tougher than he thought it was going to be. But now that they have completed the journey, those tough parts are among the most memorable moments when they look back at what they have conquered.
As for the car, it remained fairly reliable for the whole journey and thankfully only suffered some minor breakdowns, some of which the local people rallied around to get the car fixed. However, in Uzbekistan, the lads encountered something that we don’t get in Northern Ireland – a severe lack of petrol! In fact, petrol is largely only available on the black market.
That led to them finding an illegal ‘fuel house’. Soon after filling up, they were met by two old men carrying an array of food ingredients that included bread and ice cream…together with a bottle of vodka!
The food was prepared for them on the bonnet of the car whilst they were forced to drink the vodka. However, with a border crossing to make, the lads finally escaped the hostage type situation via a French translator who had stopped by for some vodka!
Thankfully, Jordan escaped the alcohol drinking exercise as he was on driving duties, so they set off for another border control. The team revealed that some of the border crossings took several hours. In fact, some took up to 12 hours to get through and bribery was rife with so called ‘fines’ being issued but once they threatened to call the British Embassy, the fines were soon revoked.
The Mongol Rally is in aid of charity and after £500 was donated to the event organiser’s charity, the remaining funds raised by the Car of the County Down team will be donated to Tiny Life, the team’s nominated charity.
To date, the lads have raised in excess of £2000 from cash donations and online (www.justgiving.com/carofthecountydown) for Tiny Life, which is the official charity in Northern Ireland for premature babies.
“Thank you to everyone who donated to what is a great cause,” Matthew said. “We would also like to thank all of our sponsors as well as a few individuals that helped with the car, not to mention our friends and family for putting up with us. Each and every one of them helped us out in some way which we really appreciate.”