TWO young men are taking on the rigours of the Mongol Rally to raise money for the Pickering Cancer Drop-in Centre.
Team Pandamonium consists of Harry Birch, 25, a mechanic from Langton Green, and Aaron Simpson, a 24-year-old builder from Crowborough.
Their gruelling, travel adventure started near Prague in the Czech Republic on Monday and they are aiming to cross the finish line 10,000 miles away at Ulan Ude in Siberia, Russia.
The pair will drive through more than 20 countries, traversing mountains, desert and steppe – and the infamous 5km-long ‘Tunnel of Death’ in Tajikistan. The voyage is estimated to take around six weeks.
The cars have an engine capacity limit of 1200cc – the organisers specify they should be ‘relatively clapped out’ – and teams are not allowed back-up.
Team Pandamonium are driving a VW Polo which is more than 20 years old, emblazoned with decals donated by local printers Signal.
It will be a daunting experience for Aaron, who admitted: ‘I’ve never done anything like this before, maybe camping for two days. I’m looking forward to the World War II side of things, Auschwitz, Berlin, it would be good to see them.’
He is also excited about travelling along Pamir Highway, which winds through Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan: ‘It’s scary, high altitude, very little road surface whatsoever.’
Harry is more used to ‘roughing it’, and said: ‘I went backpacking about two years ago so I’ve got some experience of being away from home for a long time.’
He wants to visit Turkmenistan’s Darvaza crater, nicknamed ‘Door to Hell’, a vast hole full of burning methane that opened up around 40 years ago.
They will donate 70 per cent of the money they raise to Pickering. The charity’s co-founder, Polly Taylor, said: ‘We are so touched that they have chosen our charity as the main one. The more we find out about this journey, the more inspirational we feel these youngsters are. Good luck team!
‘We’re sure it will be the adventure of a lifetime. I’d have loved to have done it when I was their age. Just think of the memory book they will have.
‘They’re lovely boys through and through. The challenge was massive financially. As well as raising money for this horrendous journey – they needed £1,500 just for fuel – they also have to raise £2,000 for charity. So they were organising pub quizzes, tombolas, raffles – it’s amazing.’
The intrepid duo would like to thank Hendys, Royal Victoria Place, Morrisons, Sainsbury’s and family, friends and neighbours for their support.
Follow the boys at: blogging.theadventurists.com/tracking/team/team-pandamonium
To donate, visit uk.virginmoneygiving.com and search for Team Pandamonium
PICTURE: DRIVING FORCE: Aaron Simpson (left) and Harry Birch cross Europe: ‘Germany and Poland are massive!’ And they’ve broken down already