Team Flopgear

The car Aoibheann and Tommy traveled was generously donated by Ray Canney, Tuam.

The car Aoibheann and Tommy traveled was generously donated by Ray Canney, Tuam.

Friends Aoibheann and Tommy traveled 10,000 miles in a scrap heap car to raise money for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland

Spending six weeks travelling through the mountains, desert and grassland of Europe and Asia, in a car that has seen better days might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but that’s exactly what Aoibheann Browne and Tommy Torrades plan did in summer 2017. The pair, who hail from Galway and Sligo, made their way to Russia to set off on the Mongol Rally, a 10,000- mile journey, with little more than a compass to guide them. Woman’s Way caught up with Tommy and Aoibheann ahead of their adventure and this is what they had to say.

Tommy, who is no stranger to long-distance driving, says the rally will be unlike anything he has previously undertaken. “I was in love with the idea of driving a beater car across deserts, so it will be my first event like this but not my first ridiculous journey driving. I drove 4,000km around New Zealand in a beat-up camper and 13,000km all around Europe in a van I converted myself.”

Aoibheann, who is studying medicine, and marine scientist Tommy met in 2012 while volunteering in an orphanage in Nepal, with the two soon becoming firm friends. Their mutual appreciation for adventure is what led them to enter the competition and e Mongol Rally is something Aoibheann and Tommy had considered taking part in numerous times before. Between work and study, finding a time that suited both of them proved difficult explains Aoibheann.

Tommy Torrades in the arctic circle wearing his Sligo jersey

Tommy Torrades in the arctic circle wearing his Sligo jersey

“It is a very unique experience and as our careers and college life become increasingly consuming we felt there was no time like
the present to go. e Mongol Rally is not a race, it’s an adventure. It will take us through twenty countries and if you don’t get lost or break down you’re doing it wrong. After all, that’s what makes for the best stories.”

The annual event - which claims to be the greatest motoring adventure on the planet - is run by e Adventurists, a UK based company. e rules require each team to raise over €1,100 for charity, with half of that amount going towards the rally’s official charity, Cool Earth. e remaining fifty per cent will be donated to the contestant’s charity of choice and Aoibheann and Tommy, otherwise known as Team Flop Gear, have decided to support Cystic Fibrosis Ireland. Not only do they feel that it is a very worthy cause, it also bears special significance for them.

“When myself and Aoibheann were first discussing the trip, she wanted to remember a dear friend of hers, Emily Feeney who passed away ten years ago,” says Tommy. “Emily was extremely fun, loving and outgoing. With this year being the tenth anniversary of her passing, I felt it was the perfect way to honour her bright and vivacious spirit,” adds Aoibheann.

“Cystic Fibrosis Ireland is an incredible organisation who aim to improve the treatment and facilities of patients with CF. Considering Ireland has the highest rate of CF in the world, I feel it’s important to contribute to their ongoing work. In the spirit of challenges, we have set ourselves a target of raising €1,000 for Cool Earth and €10,000 for CF Ireland.”

With no back-up available throughout the duration of the rally, the amateur drivers will be more or less left to their own devices, should they find themselves in trouble. “We’ll be relying on fellow drivers and the kindness of locals to get us out of any situations we may encounter,” says Aoibheann. “We will have to fix the car, which was generously donated by Ray Canney from Tuam, or somehow ask locals to help us out,” adds Tommy. “Essentially we are on our own.”

Taking this into consideration, it’s fair to say the rally is quite a challenge. e friends have taken this on board, understanding the possible risks, while simultaneously doing all they can to prevent them. “We will be taking an unfit car to some
of the roughest terrain on earth, pushing it far beyond its limits, so unfortunately it is very dangerous. Along the way we will pass through a number of countries experiencing turmoil and of course, there is always the risk of road traffic accidents. We’re optimistic that with the necessary precautions, adequate planning and a bit of luck, we’ll cross the finish line unscathed,” says Aoibheann. “Like any journey there are risks involved and certain aspects will be quite dangerous, so safety is on the mind,” Tommy adds.

Acknowledging that her understanding of cars is poor at best, Aoibheann plans to spend lots of time educating herself about vehicles, before the rally begins. “Beyond being able to change a wheel, I have very little knowledge on the workings of a car and so, I will spend the weeks in the lead up to the rally learning about mechanics.”

Tommy, who is no doubt well versed
in this area, hopes the aesthetics will be
up to standard ahead of their trip and is concentrating on alterations and appearance in the meantime. “We are aiming to have the car altered to be able to handle rough environments and more importantly look cool.”

Cars and mechanics aside, the more crucial aspects of the journey, such as the course they will take, along with remembering why they decided to take part in the rally in the first place, have not slipped their minds. “We’ve mapped out our planned route, started on the Visa application process and received a lot of our required vaccinations. e main thing for me is to raise awareness and funds for Cystic Fibrosis Ireland so we will be trying to promote the event as much as possible,” says Aoibheann. “Since Aoibheann is studying and I’m working, we are both limited in preparation, so it’s going to be tough,” Tommy says.

Aoibheann has traveled to many unique and exotic locations, including Zanzibar

Aoibheann has traveled to many unique and exotic locations, including Zanzibar

The duo hope to cross the finish line within six weeks of leaving Ireland but have given themselves one contingency week to allow for any mishaps along the way. It is possible to finish the rally sooner but they want to take their time to enjoy all that this once in a lifetime trip has to offer. “We are aiming to get to Iran as quickly as possible, after which we will take our time,” says Tommy. “We want to try and meet as many locals as we can, telling them about all things Irish, while learning and making new friends.”

A natural gas fire in Turkmenistan, known as the Door to Hell and a hot air balloon ride in Cappadocia are two things Aoibheann is anxious not to miss out on. “ ey have been on my bucket list
for quite some time so we are going to take the time to see these along the way. After all, it’s about the journey, not the destination.”

The rally will be a personal test for Aoibheann and she is looking at it as an opportunity to overcome her fears. “Given that road traffic accidents are probably my greatest fear, this journey will definitely be testing but is a challenge that excites me. Having travelled a lot in the past few years I have found that the best experiences come from being pushed outside your comfort zone.”

Tommy says that everyone, particularly his family, have been incredibly supportive of him and he’s thrilled to be realising his dreams. “I don’t think many people would
be in a hurry to enter the Mongol Rally themselves but my friends and family know that it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a very long time. Everyone’s delighted to see me finally having the opportunity to partake in such an incredible event and tick something else off my ever-growing bucket list!”

Michelle Newman