Pamela MacNaughtan

When you’re in the middle of an intense adventure, and your gut says something is wrong. Do you follow your gut, or ignore it?

I realize it sounds as though I am in the throes of having to make a big decision, but, truth be told, I already made it; my question is more of a delayed query.

Are you confused? I don’t blame you, in some ways, I am still confused. Allow me to backtrack a wee bit.


We (Charlie and I) were in Baku, Azerbaijan when we discovered that Charlie’s Kazakhstan visa was only good for 9 days, instead of 30. It was an error, but not one that we could correct. At the time I suggested we skip Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and go straight to Kazakhstan. Charlie disagreed. She felt we could still go to Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, and then cross through Kazakhstan in 4-5 days. I didn’t really share her enthusiasm, which was a first for me. I’m usually all for these kinds of situations.

I let things be, and didn’t press the issue.

I didn’t sleep well for the next couple nights. I was having dreams about Kazakhstan, and the fact that 4-5 days didn’t feel right. It was odd. I generally don’t dream about these things, but here I was, dreaming about it. As a result, I became quiet, reserved, and a tad grumpy. It was weighing on me. But, I let it be.

When the day came for us to take the ferry across the Caspian Sea from Baku, Azerbaijan to Turkmenbashi, Turkmenistan, I had an ‘off’ feeling. Something told me things weren’t right. I figured it was due to all of Ishmael’s double talk, and I boarded the ferry.

I hardly slept. I was quiet, reserved, and grumpy. I couldn’t shake it. Kazakhstan is one of the toughest countries to drive in. The roads are rough and almost non-existent at times. To cross it in 4-5 days we would have to have perfect border crossings, almost perfect roads, and absolutely no problems with the car. I wasn’t convinced that this would be the case. My gut was telling me that going to Kazakhstan was a bad choice.

When we docked in Turkmenistan I realized that the following day was Friday and that I probably wouldn’t be able to pick-up my Uzbekistan visa in Ashgabat until Monday; the day after Charlie’s Turkmenistan visa expired. I suggested we skip Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and go straight to Kazakhstan. The border wasn’t far from where we were, we could totally do it.

I was more than a little surprised by her answer.

Charlie didn’t want to drive through that portion of Kazakhstan as the roads were rough there. She wanted to see Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. She was planning to leave me in Turkmenistan and told me I could find a ride, or another way to Kazakhstan and meet her there.

I was angry, frustrated, hurt, shocked. I had spent almost $200 to get to Turkmenistan (ferry, plus visa fees) and now I was being told that I would be left there to figure out how to get to Kazakhstan on my own.

The next day was a quiet one in the car. I thought about how I would get myself to Kazakhstan, I thought about all the extra costs that had just been dumped into my lap, I thought about the reservations I had about Kazakhstan, and I thought of the possibility of having to endure a similar situation later on in the journey if I found myself stuck in Kazakhstan.

No matter what angle I looked at, the thought of going to Kazakhstan didn’t fit. It was more than the extra money, it was the feeling of being stuck in the middle of nowhere and having to find a way out. It was the thought of blowing through a country because of a visa, it was the amount of extra strain and stress it would bring. There is no way I would have been happy with speeding through Kazakhstan.

My decision was a very difficult one. I decided to follow my gut, and end my part of the Mongol Rally.

It was a heart-wrenching decision; that became even more so when the realities of being in a country with next to no internet access, and no international banking, became evident.

I cursed my situation several times as I tried to book a flight to Canada, then when I was trying to sleep in the airport, then when I was on the flight to Istanbul, then on the flight to Toronto, then for three days after I was home.

The Mongol Rally was my epic adventure. I had every intention of finishing it. I had no idea I would be told that I was being left in Turkmenistan, and then invited to find my own way to Kazakhstan.

As I sit at home, writing and reflecting, I wonder about my decision to follow my gut. I know that I am a lot harder on myself than I need to be, but truth be told, I struggle with feeling like I’ve failed, and let others down. It’s something I need to work on, but right now, I’m not ready to accept that as a logical answer. Maybe in a couple more days.

I’m not the only person who will not finish the Mongol Rally. Several teams never get to Mongolia. Relationships and friendships disintegrate during the rally. These are facts. The Mongol Rally tests you and tests you, and tests you. You think you know what it’s about, and then you start driving, and all your assumptions go out the window.

Was it a mistake to do the Mongol Rally with a stranger? I don’t know. Things are still fresh for me. I want to let some time pass before I answer that question.

Do I regret doing the Mongol Rally? No, there were lessons learned, and that is never a bad thing.

Would I do it again? Yes, but in a completely different way (something I will elaborate on in another post).

I knew the Mongol Rally would be a challenge, and one of the most intense journeys of my life. It was one of the reasons why I decided to do it. Although I’m irritated about not getting to Mongolia, I did get to Turkmenistan! I guess that in itself is a fabulous feat, right? Please say yes, my ego needs a little stroking right now.


  • August 9, 2012

    So sorry to hear about how the rally ended for you. Your gut though is a powerful thing to trust and we’re glad that you found the right answer for you. Can’t wait to hear the rest of the stories 🙂 Thank you again for the postcard!!!!!

  • August 9, 2012

    Aww sad you couldn’t finish your epic adventure but I’m sure you will do it (and finish!) when you do it again. 🙂

    I found a similar situation when I was driving across the US (plenty of internet connection there!) with someone who was a virtual stranger and I to had to put my foot down and fly to my next port otherwise I may have ruined an already heavily tarnished friendship-though-stranger.

    Hope you take some Pam time and can’t wait to hear more about the rally and what’s next.

  • August 9, 2012

    I’m sorry to hear this, Pamela! It’s a shame things didn’t work out with your travel companion and that ultimately led you to cancel the trip. FWIW I definitely think it’s unfair that she expected you to wear the inconvenience of her visa stuff-up.

  • August 9, 2012

    Don’t feel bad. That was a crappy thing to do to you when you were supposed to be a team. But you had an adventure anyways and there’s always next time. Can’t wait to read the rest of the posts. =)

  • Jill

    August 9, 2012

    Hi Pam,
    Sorry to hear your run with the Mongo Rally came to an abrupt stop, but whether you can see it now or not, everything happens for a reason. Perhaps you were on the wrong path by trying to finish up. It sounds like this experience was very testing and trying on your nerves. While we do travel to enjoy ourselves and our lives, once travel begins to UNRAVEL our lives, we need to think twice about our decisions on the road. I know in time you will find peace with your decision to end it early and come away with many lessons learned. Thinking of you.


  • Alex

    August 10, 2012

    Hey Pam,
    Sorry to hear about your disappointment and the end of this journey. I can only imagine how hard a decision it must of been, and as you said it will likely be on your mind for a while. But, such a challenging journey needs to be enjoyable, and your own health (in all aspects) is the most important! We all know you have many more amazing journeys to come, and as the saying goes ‘when one door closes, another one opens’. No regrets, only lessons and experiences! Maybe next time you can take me 😉

  • August 10, 2012

    Wow, just returned to Uzbekistan from Turkmenistan and catching up online and saw this post on Twitter. Ran into a few teams along the way and was wondering where you guys were at since last I heard before I went into Turkmenistan was that you were about to get on the ferry from Baku.

    Anyway, sorry to hear things ended up this way for you, but sometimes you really do need to go with your gut. Are you still planning on going back to the region to do your Solo on the Silk Road adventure?

  • Candice

    August 11, 2012

    “Trusting your gut” is something we don’t do enough of. Sucks that it had to turn out this way, but hey, who says you can’t do it again? Don’t be so hard on yourself!

  • Colleen Setchell

    August 12, 2012

    I am so so sorry to read this. I’ve been following your updates on Twitter and I know this rally meant a lot to you and I can’t even begin to imagine how hard it must have been to make the decision you did. We get those ‘gut’ feelings for a reason, you knew what you were doing and if you viewed the situation like a Vulcan (no emotions), it was the logical thing to do. Sadly we aren’t vulcans and you get left with a bundle of thoughts, feeling and hurt to deal with. If you’re meant to do this rally, something will come through for you in the future… As hard as it might seem, just go with the flow and know that you trusted your gut for a reason.

    Huge hugs from Dubai x

  • August 13, 2012

    I’m so sorry to hear this, as I was following along on your Mongol Rally adventures. But safety is the most important thing, and as long as you stay safe you can have lots more adventures! Also, what if you went along with her scheme, and then later on she wanted you to do something similar to that again or at least something that you disagreed with as much… Plus it’s an accomplishment to get as far as you did!

  • Andrea

    August 13, 2012

    OK, I decided to come to your site to see what happened for myself! EEK! What a decking horror show! So not cool of your mate, and so not a reflection on you. I’m impressed that you did it in the first place! Don’t feel bad about not finishing. Another opportunity will present itself, and you will have learned a lot from this experience.

  • Pingback: Spunkygirl Monologues | Photo Series: Turkmenistan

    August 14, 2012
  • August 14, 2012

    Wow, so sorry to hear this story. Getting “dropped off in Turkmenistan” is not something to take lightly. There’s so much that could go wrong with that situation, not to mention trying to reconnect in Kazakhstan somewhere. Good for you for following your gut. Glad to hear you made it to Canada safely and are catching your breath, reflecting on the great experiences you did have and the new experiences you will have when you take on your Silk Road trip.

  • August 14, 2012

    Sometimes who you’re travelling with is more crucial than the actual journey or destination. If you weren’t enjoying each others company, being in a tough situation would have been all the more miserable. You absolutely made the right decision! No need to feel anything other than proud for what you achieved and for following your gut instinct.

  • August 19, 2012

    aww, that’s really too bad 🙁
    It’s awesome that you made it where you did though, and its obviously not your fault that it had to end. Hopefully you get the chance to do it again, and finish it :]

  • August 23, 2012

    Aw, that’s disappointing, Pam. I’m so sorry you didn’t get to finish. The whole visa thing does sound like a complicated and stressful situation, and then when you add in the stress of trying to make this work with a total stranger….I can see how this happened. For what it’s worth, I think you made the right choice. I don’t think it’s ever a failure if you try something you want to do, even if circumstances don’t permit you to finish. You TRIED. That’s what matters.

  • Rhys O'Sullivan

    August 26, 2012

    Hey Pam,

    Great read. Real shame not to meet you on the rally, I think you have thrown yourself at this thing with both barrels and handled everything that come your way in a really authentic way. I don’t think anyone else thinks you have failed at all, remember that. Our team has been really impressed by the way you’ve handled yourself.

    We went through Kazakhstan, we flew through there and still only managed to do it in 5 days. Border crossings took ages, Uzbek border was an all day affair. You were right to have your reservations.

    Anyway mate, all the best and keep backing yourself in. Don’t let the crazys get you down 😛



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    September 19, 2012
  • October 2, 2012

    I know you posted this awhile ago, I just came across it after seeing your pics on Facebook. My gut says you’ll end up trying again, and hopefully the outcome will be more in line with your expectations. Its still great that you got to see so many new places! Hope you’re feeling better about this a few months on.

  • December 3, 2012

    hey pamela, sorry to hear u didnt finish it – i remember reading about how excited u were to be doing it. I can’t help but think that being stuck in Turkmenistan is what travel is all about, plans out the window, open road, traveling solo. If we only ever stuck to plans, itineraries and tour groups – are we really embracing the freedom that travel gives us? 🙂


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