PRAGUE — From the start, we knew that choosing our car for the Mongol Rally would be like picking a fourth member of the team.
The process was rough. Tyler was our eyes and ears on the ground in London, but Matt and I were stuck in Pensacola and Chicago, respectively, looking at online ads. From afar, Matt and I settled on a certain model Suzuki Wagon R. It was roomy, had a stout motor, and glossy red paint. It caught our eye, and we thought it would sway Tyler too.
Then, from London, Tyler notified Matt and I that he had located the car for the trip, that it was all that we had asked for. The final piece of the puzzle. I was sure the wagon was ours. So imagine how aghast Matt and I were when we actually saw Tyler's choice in person—a thirteen-year-old rusting Citroen Saxo that acts twice its age. It's rusting slightly, with blue paint faded to full grey, and powered by a meager engine.
On our first test drive, the car stubbornly pulled to the left when told to go straight. Just as our bodies go through change as we age, automobiles pass through several stages. Judging by our car's creaky joints and dripping oil, it has had a rough life. The car sat in a lot rejected, an aura of mundanity, when Tyler rescued it.
But soon we saw past its imperfections. We know a rough life also presents opportunities to grow. We didn't care that the air conditioning didn't work, or that the car radio displays an error message while putting out static, or that a bit of contortionism is required to wedge our six-foot-plus frames in the back seat. We saw perfection, or at least the chance to challenge ourselves through unthinkable situations, and a perfect resemblance of ourselves: damaged exteriors with questionable interiors.
We named our car Desire because after all the things we hope for in life—success, health, happiness—now that this trip is a reality, my desires are a whole lot more practical: a car that will compete this crazy ass journey across two continents.
Last week, we took Desire on its maiden voyage through the North London countryside. I wedged my knees against the dash when it was my turn to sit up front. We'd given the vehicle a tune up, and since none of us are mechanics it was a chance for plenty of quality bonding time with Desire. Thirteen years of gunk weighed it down. Filth had accumulated on the engine like weight from packing on too many fruit pies and carrot cake. Its tires are bald and unevenly worn. But Desire has good bones: a 1.0-liter engine, 5-speed gearbox, a sunroof to view the stars, and even two power windows.
A lot is sure to come over the course of this journey. The three of us are likely to wear on each other's nerves. We are going to get lost. We will encounter rugged terrain and cold desert nights. But we rescued Desire from a scrap yard, and I think it will be there for us, as EOD techs are famously there for each other.
Brian Castner contributed to this dispatch.