Some people dream of traveling to far away parts of the world; places most people have never seen.
Michael Kundak-Cowall, 22, of Dexter Township is living that dream as a participant in the Mongol Rally where he hopes to travel through 19 countries during a 12,000-mile charity trek. He’ll be riding and driving in a 2003 Renault Clio with two teammates, a couple from Scotland.
If they get to the finish line, the team will have crossed three major mountain ranges, two deserts and a war zone, according to the team’s Website.
“The Mongol Rally is an annual event, part of a mostly British trend of events, called banger rallies wherein people drive crappy little cars – poor quality little cars, if you want to use slightly more refined language – from point A to point B,” Kundak-Cowall says.
This year’s rally began on July 14 (Kundak-Cowall’s 22nd birthday) just south of London, in a town called Chichester and ends in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia. About 300 teams are expected to participate, and Kundak-Cowall says that 50 or 60 teams will fail.
“Thus, about 250 of the 300 will probably succeed and hopefully we will be among that number,” he says. “Of the teams that fail, they usually fail in Mongolia itself, and they are close enough to the finish line that they can hitch a ride through some local Mongol or something,” he says.
“There’s no real prize for first (place) in these things and they usually rely on public roads so there’s no racing or encouragement of going really, really fast,” he says of his adventure of a lifetime, which is expected to last about five weeks.
Kundak-Cowall planned to fly from Newark, NJ, airport to London to met his travel mates, Alex and Elena Fulton, a husband and wife from Scotland. Together, the three adults comprise team “Scuderia Badger.”
“Elena, the wife, has good language skills, I, as a former Boy Scout, have good camping and outdoor skills, and Alex, the husband, well, he has a car,” Kundak-Cowall says of his team’s strengths.
The Fulton’s have chosen two charities for the rally – Moni Malawi, an organization that assists people in one of the least developed and most densely populated countries in Africa, and the Lotus Children’s Foundation, a Mongolian non-profit organization that works with vulnerable children and families to provide the basic human rights of shelter, food and education.
The team will start in Glasgow, and make their way to Goodwood for the rally launch, according to the team’s Website. From there, they will cross into France, head to the Czech Republic, via Belgium, Holland and Germany.
From there, they’ll travel through the Alps, to Italy, then cross Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia and Serbia and make their way to Romania. After navigating around the Black Sea, they will head south through Bulgaria into Turkey, then into the “volatile Caucasus region.” The team plans to make its way through Georgia, and into Azerbaijan.
The most dangerous part of the whole journey will come when they cross the Caucasus Mountains into “the disputed Russian territories and war zones of Chechnya and Dagestan,” according to the team’s Website.
They will cross the deserts of Kazakhstan, exiting into the mountainous Altai region of Russia. From there, it’s “a quick jaunt across the Mongolian steppe and a bit of the Gobi desert en route to their final destination, Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia.”
Follow the team’s progress via a Facebook page.
“Since there’s no set route, there’s not much in the way of support between the points, and since there’s no need to compete with one another, the teams usually put together an informal convoy where three, four or maybe five cars choose roughly the same route,” Kundak-Cowall says.
“And, in case something bad happens, you can bail, you can hitch a ride, and there’s some sort of support with you,” he says.
So what do his parents think about this amazing adventure?
“My mom, she’s pretty wound up about this whole thing, but my dad, (Jeff Cowall), he’s fine with it,” Kundak-Cowall says. “He told me, ‘If you can work it out yourself, and you make all the arrangements, then he said he’s fine with it.’”
Jennifer Kundak, his mom, is understandably apprehensive about her son’s adventure, and worries about his safety and protection, but she’s also very thankful for her son’s vision, desire and creativity to strive for a very unique and challenging experience.”
She says, “As a history major and Russian minor, this will enhance his appreciation of global cultures and languages. I don’t know how life-changing it will be, but I can’t wait to hear his stories when he gets home.”
Even before his adventure began, Kundak-Cowall says he would love to organize something similar in the U.S. “Maybe driving from Chicago to Panama City in a crappy little car. That would be very fun. I’d like that.”
His biggest fear, he says, has been the cost of the adventure. “I know people fret about things like the Chechen rebels, but I mean it’s pretty easy to avoid bad areas if you know what you’re doing, stay on the main thoroughfares, and don’t try to provoke people.”
The senior at Wayne State University says another big issue is corrupt cops. “But, that’s a matter of giving them free cigarettes and dollars. They prefer American dollars to Euros.”
So what is he most excited about?
“I get to see a lot of things that most people don’t see,” he says. “I could have gone to Florence or Spain or stayed in London or Paris, but that’s kind of pedestrian, in a way. It’s expensive. It’s touristy. A lot of people go there if they have the ability to do so. But not many people go to, say, the Altai Republic in Russia.”
And what would he like people to know about his adventure?
“Go to Georgia, the country, not the state. Go to Turkey. Go to Russia. Kazakhstan. Mongolia. Go to these other places. See these places that other people haven’t seen. Other places other people don’t go to. See the world.”