Selling ice-cream to the Mongolians
To drive from London to Mongolia takes some doing. To try it in this ice cream van, stopping to serve cones to passers-by and border guards along the way, is one step beyond.
Here Ryan Walker explains why he is leading a team of three intrepid travellers across Europe and Central Asia on a gruelling and bizarre race.
"Backpacking just isn't for me. Everyone goes backpacking, or so it seems, I want a proper old-fashioned adventure and to do something nobody has ever done before. And so we are pushing back the boundaries of ice cream vending.
After a pub conversation where we wondered if people ate ice cream in Mongolia, we thought we might find out. The Mongol Rally is a charity event limited to 200 teams and this year all the places were snapped up in under one minute. Participants travel a third of the way around the world from London to the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar, in about four weeks, in a vehicle with a one-litre engine or less.
Each team has to design their own route and, unsurprisingly, not all vehicles are expected to make it over the finishing line. The principal charity for the Mongol Rally is Mercy Corps with the money raised funding projects in Mongolia that support rural communities.
Ten thousand miles of freezing mountains and scorching deserts - temperatures potentially hitting 50°C and going as low as -25°C. That's 20 countries in 30 days and about one third of the way round the earth. In an ice cream van.
Swales Yorkshire Dales ice cream gave us a fully functioning ice cream van and all the delicious ice cream we need to deliver along the way. In the two weeks prior to departure we went up and down the country dealing out dairy ice cream from our mad van raising money for charity.
Where to sleep in the van is a logistical nightmare in itself. There would be plenty of room if we had no freezer, jerry cans, tyres and wafer cones, but as it is Alex has claimed the front seats, I am sleeping with the freezer in the back and Mike is outside in a tent.
Four days into our mission we don't know how we are getting back from Mongolia - the van gets sold for charity once we arrive. After getting 10 visas to enter some weird and wonderful countries - some of which, like Turkmenistan, didn't really want us to come, we forgot to get a double Russian or Chinese visa to get back out. Mike was escorted out of the Kazakhstan Embassy in Prague. They say it takes seven days but all it is is a stamp on paper.
Having left Hyde Park in London on Saturday, we have driven through the night to reach Prague by Monday, before all the competitors go their separate ways to Mongolia. Already, we've had some funny encounters.
Two days later, after passing through Slovakia, Hungary, Romania and Bulgaria we hit Turkey for a much-needed rest day. Then on through Turkey to Georgia and Azerbaijan, where we catch a ferry to Turkmenistan. We have a five-day Turkmenistan visa, no more, and we are in trouble if we are not out within this time.
We're quite looking forward to getting into the off-road side of things. But we don't know how we are going to handle it with hills. The van, with the ice cream and equipment, weighs an absolute ton. It'll do the downhills but going uphill may be different.
From there we pass into Uzbekistan to the great Silk Road city of Samarkand, before heading to the tiny mountainous country of Tajikistan. From here we pass through one of the worlds highest roads at well over 3,000 meters through mined borders into Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan. Then it is a long drive through to Russia before tackling the world's least densely populated country of Mongolia to our finishing post in the capital, Ulaan Bataar.
As mentioned, along the way we will be giving our delicious dairy ice cream and we have become a dab hand at whipping up a "99-style" ice cream complete with flake and sprinkles in a matter of seconds to please passing kids and border guards alike.
As for chimes, we have an mp3 with Greensleeves and so on - although we also hope to entertain passing nomads with other classics such as Van Halens "Ice Cream Man" or "Ice Ice Baby".