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Last Updated: Tuesday, 24 July 2007, 12:24 GMT 13:24 UK
Rum, raisin and rotten roads
The ice cream van

To drive from London to Mongolia takes some doing. In an 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.

Mini crosses water
Teams have a month to get from London to Ulaanbaartar
Vehicles have one-litre engine
Started in 2001 as two friends tried and failed to get to Mongolia
Second in 2004 when six teams attempted journey - four made it
IN 2005 43 teams took part - 18 made it
In 2006 167 cars took part - 118 made it
This year there are 200 teams, all in vehicles with one litre engines

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 50C and going as low as -25C. 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.

Racer enjoys break
Not everybody will make it

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.

The intrepid trio
Ryan Walker: Automotive engineering graduate, favourite ice cream mint choc chunk
Alex Welsh: Favourite ice cream chocolate
Mike Hollaway: Weather forecaster, favourite ice cream cinder toffee crunch

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".

Below is a selection of your comments.

They should play Ice cream man by Jonathon Richman and the modern lovers. "I love your chimes they reel and they rock"
Emma, Manchester

They're insane! But I love it!
Chris, Dallas, TX USA

This is a wonderful idea, obviously better than the Bush policy of invasion in the name of "war on terror". Instead of seeking non-existing "weapons of mass destruction' this is a step towards "mass enjoyment". What can be so difficult or terrifying about delicious ice cream in a turbulent world? Just think how much ice cream we could send to the Middle East for the same money that the USA is wasting in the Iraq war.
Paul Gregg, Seymour, Wisconsin, United States

Please send that truck over to Houston, its 33 and 80 percent humidity, I'm dying. I would love a 99 now and a screwball.....
Dilip, Houston, Texas (ex-pat)

I thought they were lactose-intolerant in Mongolia? Better rethink the whole "delivering dairy to Asia" plan, boys.
Mike Smith, Beverly Hills, Ca, USA

Sounds exciting. wish you well and hope you get to finish up in good time. I know the ice cream is sure to be a big hit with the kids you meet on your trip.
Salome, Accra Ghana

Completely hatstand but well done and I really hope they make it!!!
Darrel Coltrini, S. Devon

Such a stupid race can not be good for the environment. But the increase in global temperature might be good for ice-cream sales.
Gavin M, London

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