August 07, 2011

by Stephen Jan in Philadelphia, PA

Last year, pre mongol rally, high tea with the adventurists sounded pointless, frivolous, and totally pompous. Why would anyone fly out to Colorado for a spot of tea? Ridiculous. But post rally? high tea with the adventurists meant a gathering of like-minded fellows who would drive a 50 dollar used car 10,000 miles from London to Mongolia. I’ve never been to an event like this but I’m sure it’ll be an opportunity to swap a horrific Azerbaijan story for a ridiculous Tajikistan story. The assembling of all these people could be nothing less than an epic event. And with that, I decided to attend the 2011 Adventurist High Tea in Philadelphia.

Union Hall in Park Slope is a complete hipster magnet bar where one can play bachi ball and drink martinis in a dimly lit room that looks like a library. There’s also Union Bar is in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, a stone’s throw away from Union Square park. And then there the Union League Club in Philadelphia. I figured it was pretty much the same sorta deal, trendy bar with some cool modern spin. Well it wasn’t. The Union League Club in Philly is not the typical hangout spot. Here, “Union” means non-Confederate. Here, “Club” means exclusive, not your hip bumping, bottom gyrating dance hall. The Union League Club was established as a patriotic society post Civil to “Celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s policies”. When I neglected the dress code on the Adventurist invitation, I was turned away by a voice crackling teenager dressed in an oversized suit no doubt picked out by mom. It’s not every day I get told that my attire was “not suitable for walking down these hall ways”. What could I do? Who was I to defy 100+ years of post Civil war tradition? I took a quick trip across the street to Banana Republic and despite the uncomfortable heat, suited up.

The Adventurists have an awesome motto: “fighting to make the world less boring”. They regal us with storied from teams that “get into loads of trouble”. You’d think that the event would be a sausage fest of beer drinking adventure adrenaline junkies. Imagine my surprise when I arrived at the registration desk to queue up behind a line of women dressed in elegant, flowing gowns all dolled up as if they were attending a semi-formal. Is this the face of the next generation of adventurists? Girly girls armed with long lashes of mascara, layers of makeup, and coach hand bags? Honestly I thought I was in the company of hired actresses there to stoke the adventurer’s ego. When I spoke to these ladies, none of them had heard of the Mongol rally, despite mongol rally stickers scattered all over the room. It turned out that the event was advertised through several outlets completely unrelated to Adventurists. Some were here to check out the open bar, others were here to listen to this Charles Brewer Carias talk about cave exploring, and some just found free tickets in their mail box.

I spotted one man who looked completely out of place. In a room full of suits and tuxes, there was one guy who looked like he rolled off the airplane not 10 minutes ago with his travel shoes and backpack. Eric, it turned out, did the mongol rally in the summer of 2010 – the same as me! In fact, he did it with his 18 year old son. This guy took the biggest detour you could imagine by driving from England to Barcelona, to Prague, to St Petersburg, through Finland and down to Kazakhstan through Volvograd. That guy racked up 16,000 miles on his Toyota pickup truck he won in a raffle. To those who claim they cant do the rally because they have children, eat that. I also met the Rolling Cones who did the Mongol Rally in 2009. They shipped they car from Newark to South hampton but intercepted their pink ice cream truck in Germany. I also met team Reckless Abandon from Seattle who was planning to do the rally this year, looking forward to an epic adventure. Swapping rally stories with these guys was pretty damn fun.

Toward the end of the evening, the bar was closing, and people were leaving. I saw that Eric was still standing there with the small crowd of people that I left him with about 2 hours ago. In fact the crowd of people haven’t moved at all. There was a writer from New York interested in doing a piece about the rally. She was there with her boyfriend in law school. The other two were locals, Sarah and Mike. If it’s one thing i’ve noticed about people who’ve done mongol rally, it’s that they (we) tend to talk endlessly about adventure. I’ve since dubbed it : PMRS Post Mongol Rally Syndrome.

Eric and I were planning to find another bar. I expected Mike and Sarah to pass on coming out with us – being that they had already spent the last 2 hours listening to Eric rattle on about adventure. But they decided to be good sports and I guess we were curious creatures. I remember following Mike across streets and making turns here and there, walking into a building, taking two different elevators up a building to a random floor. I had no idea where we were, but there I was, lounging on couches in a hotel bar tuck deep in the bowels of Philadelphia. Once Eric settle down into his couch. He started regaling us with stores about his rally and life. I’ve decided that I will call him Uncle Eric. He’s clearly addicted to adventure. He’s looking forward to taking a motor bike across the Siberian tundra in the middle of the winter in minus 35 degree cold. He’s debating that versus driving a rickshaw from Bangkok to Jakarta. To those that think adventure is a young man’s game, Eric would beg to differ. We left the bar at around 2AM, much later than I had anticipated. I turned to mike and told him that he should consider doing the mongol rally next year. I told him that this sort of thing is remarkable and interesting in every way. In fact, I’m headed to africa in december. If he had it in him, he was welcome to join us to Timbuktu. We all exchanged contact information said our goodbyes.

So, there I was, in the middle of Philadelphia in a dark alley half drunk, lost, and nowhere to go. I was supposed to stay at my cousins but i wasn’t able to get in touch with her. I wandered around this foreign city, eventually coming across a neon chicken sign. Hm food. Fried chicken sounded pretty good. In New York, people grab midnight pizza. I guess in Philadelphia, you can look forward to midnight chicken. I can still vividly recall sitting on the counter staring out through the window into the street dazed and confused in the company of loud drunken locals. Anyway I returned to the parking lot across the street from the Redding Junction Market and passed out next to my car for some time like a vagrant. If anyone were to walk by i’m sure they’d have mistaken me for junkie down on his luck.

I got back home to New York at around 6:00 am Sunday. It was a wonder that i didn’t get into an accident or anything. I was dead tired, feeling terrible, and probably still a good deal drunk. The drive home which normally takes about 2 hours turned into a 4 hours start and stop marathon where I stopped every 3 gas stations for a 10 minute nap. The things I do in the name of adventure.

Onward to Timbuktu