World traveler Charlie Grosso is currently speeding across one third of the planet in her chariot: a red 2005 Dacia Logan that she bought in Romania.
The Mongol Rally brings together about 1,000 participants in a challenge that combines adventure travel with philanthropy. Originally started in 2004 by two friends who go by the moniker The Adventurists, the event is raising money for The Lotus Children Center, a charity that takes care of street children in Mongolia. The rally takes approximately six weeks to complete and covers 10,000 miles of pavement, desert, and dirt road, from the Czech Republic to Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia. And it’s not easy, as The Adventurists explain: “Your chances of being seriously injured or dying as a result of taking part are high. Individuals who have taken part in previous Adventurists’ adventures have been permanently disfigured, seriously disabled or lost their life.”
While in Baku, Azerbaijan, Charlie stepped out from behind the wheel to speak with us about learning how to drive stick, searching out world food markets, and what inspired her to join this epic event.
When you’re not racing around the world, where are you usually based?
I moved from LA to New York in 2010. I do some advertising photography, but primarily I’m a freelance brand consultant and executive director for an art gallery.
What is your own personal approach to travel?
I’m usually a down-and-dirty backpacker with minimal gear. I also like to anchor my trip in a project, and I’ve been working on my photo documentary “Wok the Dog.” It’s a project about food markets around the world that’s given me a focus to the places I visit.
And when did you start the Mongol Rally?
We started July 17th, Klenova, about an hour outside of Prague. You can go whichever way you’d like to go to reach Mongolia, and you can go your own speed. It’s an unsupported rally, so that means when they say goodbye, you are completely on your own. And crazily enough, we are using Google maps to navigate so far.
What inspired you to join this adventure?
Before I started driving, I was very much into the adventure end of it and finding the edge of where my limits are and going beyond. Once the driving started, there have been days when I get into the car and ask myself: “why am I doing this again?” But somewhere along the way, I became really confident that we will make it. Now that I have that sense of confidence, I began thinking about how this car is a gift for the Mongolian children (it’ll be auctioned off at the end of the rally). It gave new meaning to the journey.
Have you been to any interesting food markets on this trip so far?
This trip has become multi-purpose: there’s the glory of it, and the charity, but I’m also trying to shoot as much as I can for “Wok the Dog.” I’m hoping the markets will get better the farther east we go. Even though my documentary is called “Wok the Dog,” I have yet to try dog meat. My travel mates won’t have it.
What has been the biggest challenge in the rally so far?
I would say, team dynamics. You are in a highly stressful situation with someone you don’t always know. I met my teammate, Pamela MacNaughtan, on Twitter!
What has been surprising about your journey?
One surprising thing is that we are two women traveling alone, and the locals have been extraordinary. I think it has worked in our favor.