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By Eric Weld   Date: 5/28/10 Bookmark and Share

Mongolia or (More Likely) Bust

They’ll be driving a 15-year-old Volkswagen ambulance with 435,000 miles already on the odometer. Their route will traverse 10,000 miles through not-always-friendly terrain on roads that at times amount to no more than dirt paths. They expect to break down in the middle of nowhere, sometimes several times in a day.

Team Magical Mongolian Mystery Tour (left to right): Tom Dorwart, Stephen Jan, Judith del Cuadro-Zimmerman.

Support the team's Mongol Rally fundraising drive with a donation. Also, follow their Weblog.

Judith del Cuadro-Zimmerman ’08 will team this summer with her friends, Stephen Jan and Tom Dorwart, to take on the Mongol Rally 2010, a quirky cross-continental vehicle rally in which participants make their way from London to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia’s capital.

The annual event, coordinated by a British group called the Adventurists, invites hundreds of similar teams to make the rugged trip as a fundraiser for international charities that help the people of Mongolia. Del Cuadro-Zimmerman’s team, dubbed the Magical Mongolian Mystery Tour (they love the Beatles), will raise money for Mercy Corps, a nonprofit organization that helps Mongolian families become self-sufficient; and Doctors Without Borders/Medicins Sans Frontieres.

The team will set out from London on July 24, taking turns driving Lennon, the name they’ve given their road-wise vehicle (other candidates considered for purchase: Ringo, Harrison and McCartney). Their planned route—one-third of the way around the earth—will take them due east through Europe (the easy part), across Turkey, Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan, Siberia, and finally, Mongolia. The trip is expected to take four weeks.

“We have no idea what we will encounter,” says del Cuadro-Zimmerman. “I expect the most dangerous part of the trip will be driving. But other concerns we have include sickness, disease, corrupt border officials and thieves.”

The unfortunate fate of many a Mongol Rally vehicle.

Del Cuadro-Zimmerman gives both official and unofficial reasons for taking on the monumental trek. Officially, it’s about raising money for good causes, she says. But it’s her unofficial reasons that speak to the truth of her wanderlust.

“There are plenty of concrete and particularized reasons to not participate in Mongol Rally—it’s dangerous, inconvenient and time consuming,” she admits. “But I don’t want to be the type of person who is afraid to take risks or create movement in my life. I think this will be a life-changing experience. I am sure I will see and do things that most people only get to dream about.”

Del Cuadro-Zimmerman’s team is one of more than 400 to attempt the Mongol Rally. Each team must raise at least 1,000 British pounds (nearly $1,500) for its designated charity to participate. Typically, only half the teams finish the rally.

For its zany organizers, the Mongol Rally is at least as much about adventure as it is about raising money for charity. “The world is just a little bit too safe,” they proclaim on the event Web site. “You only start having fun when you break down in the desert with only a short stick and some chewing gum to fix your car.”

When not taking on adventure, del Cuadro-Zimmerman is a law student at American University, Washington College of Law. When her friend Jan asked her to join him for the Mongol Rally, she didn’t hesitate. “I didn’t give myself time to think about my answer,” she recalls. “I just said ‘I’m in’ and figured I would work out the details somehow.”

Though her parents are supportive of her participation in the rally, some of del Cuadro-Zimmerman’s friends think she’s crazy to take on such risk. She doesn’t argue. “This isn’t the type of experience where you can convince someone to see your point of view,” she says. “They either get it or they don’t.”


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