Rallying from Prague to Siberia

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Barrett Gibb has just wrapped up an adventure that most people would probably find difficult to even imagine.

Team Grizzly Rims – left to right, Barrett Gibb from Hay River, Jackson Weibe and Jamie Dainton – celebrate after reaching the finish line of the Mongol Rally in Ulan-Ude, Russia. Photo courtesy of Barrett Gibb
Team Grizzly Rims – left to right, Barrett Gibb from Hay River, Jackson Weibe and Jamie Dainton – celebrate after reaching the finish line of the Mongol Rally in Ulan-Ude, Russia. Photo courtesy of Barrett Gibb

The former resident of Hay River and two of his friends that made up Team Grizzly Rims, completed the Mongol Rally – a 43-day, 21,000-kilometre drive from the Czech Republic to Siberia.

In between, they travelled through 23 countries.

“It was fantastic, really,” said Gibb. “It was so many crazy things going on, mixed in with a boatload of stress and hijinks and whatnot. It was quite the adventure.”

The rally started on July 16 and Gibb’s team arrived in Ulan-Ude, Russia, on Aug. 26.

Not surprising, he has a list of things when asked about the highlights of the trip.

“Iran was just wonderful,” he said. “It was interesting to just see the scenery there, but also the people in Iran were absolutely wonderful. They treated us like celebrities.”

Gibb also enjoyed seeing the countries of Central Asia, although the welcomes were not always of Iranian calibre.

“Turkmenistan was probably I’d say the most inhospitable country,” he said. “The country itself doesn’t really allow tourism, apparently. We had to get a transit visa, so we only had four days to get into and out of Turkmenistan. And then the people there were kind of guarded. They didn’t really seem as welcoming, to put it lightly.”

However, Turkmenistan did offer two of the more memorable sights for Gibb.

One was the capital city of Ashgabat.

“I’ve never seen a city like Ashgabat,” he said. “It was all white marble, gold trim on every building.”

The other was the famed Gates of Hell, a 230-foot-wide hole in the ground that has been burning since 1971 near the village of Darvaza. It was created when a drilling rig accidentally punched into a natural gas cavern. Instead of allowing poisonous fumes to escape, the hole was intentionally set alight and it hasn’t stopped burning since.

“It was just really cool to see this big burning hole in the ground,” said Gibb. “I thought it would be a lot smaller, but it was huge.”

The 28-year-old also noted that some highlights are not necessarily good highlights.

“We had to bribe a couple of cops in Kyrgyzstan because we were speeding and they were going to take our licences,” he recalled of two separate instances. “You had to literally bribe cops. It was crazy. We couldn’t believe it.”

Gibb and his team also worked to keep their vehicle – a Skoda Fabia – in running order

“All throughout the rally we had eight flat tires,” he said. “We punctured our gas tank. We had leaking coolant. Our tires all leaked even after we repaired them, because we never bought any new tires. We just repaired them ourselves or once or twice we took them to a shop to get a patch on them. We had to bend rims back into place, sometimes with rocks.”

And they faced challenging driving conditions.

“Sometimes there was no highway and sometimes you drove on what was left of the highway,” said Gibb. “It was pretty crazy.”

In Central Asia, he said at one time they were basically driving on a goat path.

Gibb and his teammates – Jackson Weibe and Jamie Dainton from High River, Alberta – travelled through a wide variety of countries, including Austria, Croatia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Greece, Turkey and many more.

“It was a fantastic trip to be sure, but I hope to have many more crazy adventures in the future, so maybe not the trip of a lifetime, but a trip to remember,” he said.

“It definitely was way more than I expected,” he added. “It was just by orders of magnitude greater.”

While Gibb and his friends survived the rally, their car didn’t. In Ulan-Ude, a Russian TV news team wanted a car on a stage, so Gibb’s team drove their car onto the stage.

“So we all climbed up on top of the car and the other teams were like, ‘Let’s jump up and down on the car,'” he explained. “So we were like all jumping on our car. And then our roof collapsed and basically shattered our front windshield.”

As part of the rally, each team pays a C$2,056 deposit to get their vehicles transported by train out of Russia to Estonia, where it is either held for the team or scrapped.

“Ours is getting scrapped,” said Gibb.

The Mongol Rally featured 360 teams this year, and Gibb’s team finished in 155th place.

Part of the event is to raise money for charity. Team Grizzly Rims raised over C$2,000 for Cool Earth, a group which works to stop deforestation in rainforests.

While Gibb was completing the rally, his mother back in Hay River, Bev Gibb, was keeping track of her son’s progress on the Internet, and she’s happy he is safely back in Canada.

“I was quite excited to share the journey vicariously from a distance,” she said.

Bev Gibb said the highlight for her was that her son and his two friends were brave enough to do the rally.

“I think more than anything I’m just incredibly proud of what they did,” she said. “They set out to do something that was a very, very big undertaking and they did it. They managed to figure out the different challenges that they came up on and they all arrived in the same car at the end of it.”

Barrett Gibb, who recently earned a diploma in mechanical engineering technology, is now back in Calgary.