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ORIENT EXPRESS















Written by RICH SMITH




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Friends stuff blandness in the trunk by entering a Signing up was Sarah’s idea, but Anand, Andrew and Jessie needed
charity car-rally from England to Mongolia
zero persuading to hop aboard. Says Sarah, “When you tell people you are about
to drive a third of the way around the planet in a tiny, crappy car, you get two
HMC graduates are many things, but bland isn’t one of them.
kinds of responses: ‘Uh, why?’ or ‘Awesome! Can I come too?’ I got the latter.”
Still, as the years race by, even the most intriguing Mudder runs the
More to the point, the Mongol Rally afforded an opportunity to reunite old
risk of incrementally turning bland.
friends who now live far apart: Anand is a Bayesian statistician in Oxford, Eng-
Except in the case of Anand Patil ’01, Sarah Olmstead ’02 and
land, developing next-generation methods for characterizing and predicting hu-
Andrew Cole ’04. This past summer, they and Scripps College alumna
man malaria distribution; Sarah is a Santa Monica-based doctoral fellow wading
Jessie Wender (a New Yorker magazine photo researcher) put the brakes
deep into Central Asian water-management issues; and Andrew is a video-game
on any such swerve into dullsville. Calling themselves the Creeping
programmer in Seattle.
Blandness Prevention Group, the quartet participated in a thrill-packed,
Their road trip began on July 18. After three days of comparatively easy
10,000-mile road-rally for charity that began in London and ended in
travel through western Europe, they arrived at a medieval castle in the Czech
the capital of Mongolia—an occasionally punishing trip involving pas-
Republic, in time for a costume party. Sarah, who came dressed as a pirate,
sage over desolate steppes and craggy badlands.
says of Anand’s getup, “His was by far the most original—a spaceman with a
Perhaps at times during the six-week event, which tracked more
jet-pack and a drawn-on mustache.”
or less along the route used by silk traders centuries ago, the group
From there it was on to Vienna and then Budapest, affording the team an op-
wished their Czech-made hatchback was a camel or a horse, for there
portunity to at long overdue last employ its most-practiced Hungarian phrase—
were places where the pavement all but vanished beneath their wheels.
“Hol van a mosdó?” (meaning, “Where is the toilet?”).
Indeed, many of the other rally teams ended up having to hoof it back
Smooth driving into Bulgaria, but a mixup at the Turkish border and sub-
to civilization when their own less-fortunate automobiles succumbed to
sequent car trouble briefly waylaid the plucky group. A mixed bag of delights
the brutal, seemingly endless stretches of rutted, rock-strewn roads.
awaited in Georgia. The big downer was loss of Internet connectivity, a problem
To participate in the daunting excursion—officially called the Mongol
that continued into Azerbaijan and made blogging and messaging to well-
Rally—the Creeping Blandness Prevention Group was obliged to raise
wishers back home a temporary impossibility. Cyber-shutouts also plagued
$1,500 for a favorite charity. They decided to do so in benefit of Mercy
them through the vast emptiness of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan and
Corps, a world hunger-relief organization, and lined up enough spon-
Kyrgyzstan.
sors to deliver nearly $2,400 (this, in addition to a handful of corporate
Toward late August, the team reached Mongolia. They crossed the finish
donations that helped pay for gas and tires and otherwise provide a
line in the city of Ulaan Bataar on Aug. 27. Theirs was the 252nd vehicle (out of
modicum of creature comforts). Rally rules also compelled the foursome
approximately 450 entries) to complete the rally.
to hazard the journey in a vehicle no older than 10 years and equipped
Clambering from their cramped, mud-encrusted car, the friends felt they
with a 1-liter (or smaller) engine.
had succeeded not only at preventing the creep of blandness but also at adding
See Orient Express, page 32
FALL/WINTER 2009 Harvey Mudd College 31
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