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WHY the Mongol Rally: Paula

Written by: Paula

“All the frailty and uncertainty is ultimately sheltered by the eternal beauty which presides over all the journeys between awakening and surrender, the visible and the invisible, the light and the darkness. When we experience the Beautiful, there is a sense of homecoming.” --John O'Donohue
I am a dreamer: I think big, and I get wildly excited about roads less traveled. If there’s an option that is strange, beautiful, and hard to reach, I want to go there. I want to sleep under different stars and feel the night air of unknown places against my face. When I travel, I come alive and I notice the myriad ways that things can be: I see anew, I am opened and expanded, and new and robust ways of thinking take root and grow. I have traveled to 21 countries and I have a lot more to go, and I know my one deathbed regret will be that I didn’t get to visit everywhere I’ve imagined.
My mottos are “Never trade money for experience” and “Sooner rather than later, because you never know how much time you have on this beautiful earth.” I have been a motorcycle messenger, a NYC art slave, a roadie, and after a long stint in tech (where I tried and rejected a few of the common options like being management and owning real estate), I am on my way to becoming a life guide and shamanic practitioner. I want to use life coaching and shamanic ideas of vision quest and rites of passage to help people design trips that will shake their foundations and change their lives. Trips that will wake them up to the grandness that is possible.
When I travel, especially to somewhere new, I am a researcher and a planner. What are the roads like? The security? How long does it realistically take to get from Point A to Point B? What are the most representative aspects of the place and the people? What are the mind-blowing must-see things that shouldn’t be missed? What happens if the vehicle craps out? What’s my Plan A, my Plan B, even my Plan C, and what’s my emergency bug-out plan?
I have long wanted to do some big overland trips, and planned to spend my 50th birthday in 2018 doing at least a couple of them. I was looking at overland routes from West to South Africa, and from Peru through Patagonia. Southeast Asia. Maybe the Middle East? The website dangerousroads.com is like catnip to me.
Then I heard about the Mongol Rally, and a giant chord struck deep in my soul. YES! WHY WAIT! A mad anti-race in a shit car across some of the most challenging territory on Earth, and to be honest, one that I could relatively afford. I was immediately obsessed and started mapping and planning the route… the possibility of seeing the old Silk Road, the ‘Stans, and of course, Mongolia! I literally upped my strength training so that by the time we go I will be super-strong to push the car out of all the mud, gravel, and sand in which it will inevitably get stuck. It all set my head spinning with imagination. It’s not going to be some cushy guided tour in a Land Cruiser, it’s going to be a weeks-long experience in which you get to test your mettle, to see and do the amazing while trying to conquer the seemingly impossible. And those of us that make it will be forever changed.
But also: how can I bring awareness to this trip, so that it’s not just a joyous free-for-all? I work for an environmental non-profit, and I want to showcase some of the regions that are being hammered by climate change and human misuse. The Aral Sea was already on my list, and now I would like to expand it to include places like The Door to Hell in Turkmenistan and the brutal fires in Siberia near Lake Baikal at the finish line in Russia. I want to document and share these things in real-time, and when I come back, put it together in a book.
My job (when I’m in an office) is User Experience designer, which means I’m always looking at things from the user’s perspective--whether that’s a mobile phone app or more often, people’s lived experience in the world--and working to improve it. Wherever I go, I try to understand the people and the place where they live, and operate from there. How can I improve their user experience of me? How can I bring all of myself, and also my Americanness, to new places and connect? How can I build the bridges that we all so desperately need in order to survive on this increasingly crowded planet?
My dad, a logistics engineer for NASA and builder of Frankenstein sports cars, never got a son so I was the stunt double. I was helping him in his garage by the time I was 6 and I was using power tools by the time I was ten. Some people have called me MacGyver, and I have always been a problem-solver and a fixer. I love a good challenge, when all you have for repairs is baling wire and a few zip ties, some random spare parts, and whatever you can scavenge in the local area.
I have driven literally hundreds of vehicles, including off-road 4x4s, motorcycles of all kinds, 24-foot box trucks, music tour vans (and a tour bus, for a few minutes), and not a few crap hatchbacks… sometimes off-road. One of my favorite cars ever was my 1.2-liter Toyota Tercel SR5 4wd that I got for $900 and drove in some pretty stupid places. I have taken performance driving classes and off-road rally driving school. I have driven off-road in a hatchback off-road in the Sahara, and in a jeep in the mud-rutted roads of the jungles of northern Thailand. I make a point to drive in every country I visit, and when I lived in London for 8 months I drove bands around London, the UK, and Europe in a giant UPS-sized van on the wrong side of the road and never once had an incident. Driving is one of my great joys.
I take my responsibilities as team captain seriously, and I will rely on all of my skills and experience: team management, off-road and foreign driving experience, roadie, mechanic and MacGyver abilities, user experience design, first aid, disaster-preparedness, shamanic practitioner, life coach. Even my yoga instructor experience will come into play with the rest-stop yoga series I am designing to keep us all limber!
The Mongol Rally speaks to some crazy part of my soul, the big part of me that knows nearly anything is possible if you go and do it, one step, one mile at a time.
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