July 16, 2018
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Maine, NH men quit their jobs to make 10,000-mile drive to Siberia in 1987 car

Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly
Rich Beauchesne | The York Weekly
Tanner Pidgeon of York and John Parrinello of Merrimack, New Hampshire, became friends as students at Maine Maritime Academy, and are now leaving their day jobs to participate in the Mongol Rally, a 10,000-mile drive through Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Mongolia, then to Russian Siberia.
By Deborah McDermott, The York Weekly

YORK, Maine — So get this. Two young guys from the Seacoast are flying to London soon, jumping in a 1987 Reliant Rialto Saloon three-wheel car they bought on Facebook, with an engine “about the size of two lawnmower engines,” and driving it across Europe, the Middle East, Russia and Mongolia, then to Russian Siberia.

For fun. And for charity. If they make it.

If you’re thinking they are a little wacky and crazed, John Parrinello and Tanner Pidgeon would not disagree.

“I think you have to be a little insane to do something like this,” said Parrinello, a New Hampshire resident who came up with the team motto: Live Free or Tri. “So I’m pretty stoked.”

It was Parrinello who first heard about the Mongol Rally, one of several fairly wacky expeditions offered by the British organization The Adventurists — with a motto “Fighting to Make the World Less Boring.” They sponsor The Icarus Award (1,000 miles airborne, of course) and the Rickshaw Run (“adventuring at its best in a 7-horsepower cake tin” through India or Sri Lanka).

But the “mother of all rallies” is the Mongol Rally — 10,000 miles, in a tiny, used car with no more than a 1.2-liter engine, following any route you want as long as you arrive relatively in one piece in Siberia sometime between the end of July and middle of September. Along the way, participants are required to raise 1,000 British pounds (about $1,500) for nonprofit organizations.

Locally, Parrinello and Pidgeon are raising funds for the Team Trevor Foundation, started by the parents of Traip Academy graduate Trevor Salema, who suffers from Cystic Fibrosis. Pidgeon, who lives in York, worked as a high school student at Dunkin’ Donuts in Kittery, which is owned by the Salema family.

Parrinello, who is from Merrimack, New Hampshire, but whose parents now live in Portsmouth, has traveled on his own throughout Asia, Australia, New Zealand and Indonesia. He said someone told him about the Rickshaw Run when he was traveling through India a while back, and that piqued his curiosity. When he read about the Mongol Rally, he said he had to do it.

He got in touch with Pidgeon, his old Maine Maritime Academy roommate, one day last fall.

“At first I said, ’No way. No way. Taking a crappy car and driving it 10,000 miles is kind of daunting,” Pidgeon said. “But then I started watching the videos and thinking about it. I have an adventuring side. But on one trip I rented an Infinity sedan and on another I took Amtrak to San Francisco. Now I’m trying John’s style.”

Both men majored in marine transportation at Maine Maritime, and both had been working for shipping companies — Pidgeon on the Great Lakes and Parrinello working out of Diego Garcia, a small British island in the Indian Ocean. Both quit their jobs. They are 25 (they’ll turn 26 on the trip), and there are more important things to do in the world, they decided.

Parrinello found the Reliant on Facebook, and decided this was the car for them. “No one drives them out of England,” he said with a laugh. “The guy I bought it from said, ‘This is interesting. You guys are mad.’ But it’s supposed to get about 70 miles to the gallon. And the people we’re buying it from will throw in some extra parts. Because we’re guaranteed to break down somewhere.”

He said he chose the car to add to the kind of madcap fun of the adventure. “People will be interested in us. We’ll be stars.”

The rally begins at a “top secret location” about 30 minutes west of Prague in the Czech Republic, according to the website, and ends in the Siberian town of Ulan Ude. People can take a highway across Russia to get there in three weeks, but “that’s boring,” said Parrinello. He and Pidgeon will be joining most rally participants along the Silk Road.

Their route: Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Georgia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Russia and Mongolia.

“These are places where so many people don’t typically go,” Parrinello said. “Nobody goes on the Silk Road. You don’t learn about it in high school or college. This is a unique opportunity not a lot of people take advantage of. If you have the time and the assets, it’s better than sitting at home for the summer!”

“It’s one of those things. When are you going to be able to do something like this? It’s so unique and different,” Pidgeon said, adding he has always wanted to go to Kyrgyzstan. “If you look at the landscape, it looks like the Wild West in the United States. Wild and untamed. The nomadic culture is the same as it’s been for thousands of years.”

“You’re just going to see camels walking by themselves across the desert,” Parrinello said.

Both have a bit of wonder in their voices.

The route is not without political intrigue. Since the United States pulled out of the Iran nuclear deal, Iran no longer lets Americans travel through their country — and many miles of their original route was to go through Iran. Instead, they have to take a ferry from Azerbaijan across the Caspian Sea to Turkmenistan.

But there’s a caveat. The Turkmenistan government will only give them a five-day visa to go through its country. And the ferry has been known to keep its own whenever schedule, so because of that it fills very quickly. “That will be interesting,” Parrinello said with a laugh.

They are very happy to be raising funds for Team Trevor, and a logo will be proudly displayed on their car for the entire journey. “Hopefully, that will generate interest,” Pidgeon said.

Christie Salema, Trevor’s mother and a founder of Team Trevor, couldn’t believe it when she got the call from Pidgeon.

“It’s awesome that they are doing it, period,” she said. “But it’s super cool for me because I’ve heard about this event. The first time I learned about it, I said, ‘Oh my God, it’s like the (movie) Cannonball Run!’ And then randomly, I get this call.”

She said in the 10 years since Trevor’s Team was founded, she’s become used to “weird things falling out of the sky to help us. But this is the most unique and awesome one for sure.” The Kittery Dunkin Donuts is among several local businesses sponsoring the men on the rally.

So while Parrinello is “pretty stoked,” Pidgeon admits to being “super nervous.”

“Just look at it,” he said. “Most people have no idea where these countries even are.”

But they’re game and they’re ready — mostly. They’re still waiting for their passports, which they had to send in to get their Russian visas. And the race starts in mid-July. Asked when they started planning, Pidgeon said, “Ahhh, yesterday. We talk a lot. We don’t plan a lot.”

There should be some great stories at the end of their adventure. Live free or Tri.

Right now the two have a small number of business and individual sponsors to help defray their costs, but they are always looking for more. “We’ll do anything. We’ll put your logo on our car. I’ll basically change my middle name if that helps,” said Parrinello. Send a message through Facebook, or email Parrinello at teamlivefreeortri@gmail.com.

To make donations to Team Trevor/Mongol Rally, visit www.crowdrise.com/teamtrevormongolrally. To learn more about the Team Trevor Foundation, visit www.teamtrevor.org.

To donate to help the men defray their costs, visit www.gofundme.com/live-free-or-tri-team-donations. Most people who make a donation will get a postcard from the road, and many will also get an “authentic trinket” from their travels.

Follow the two on Facebook and Instagram at Team Live Free or Tri. They said they promise to post photos, videos and travel thoughts along the way.

Follow the Bangor Daily News on Facebook for the latest Maine news.

 


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