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Wylie man to take on wild ride

LAKE WYLIE -- Joseph Harrison, well he's fine with people calling him nuts. Heck, his friends expect as much from him. What he's much more interested in are the comments he gets just after everyone tells him how far out of his mind he is.

"Then they'll say I wish I could do something like this or I had done something like this," Harrison said. "I just don't understand why they don't."

The lifelong thrill-seeker Harrison, 35, takes on his most extreme and distant challenge July 18 when he begins the Mongol Rally, billed as "ridiculous cars setting forth to tackle 10,000 miles of adventure."

Harrison fully intends to spend up to two months in a 2002 Suzuki Alto with a man named Domino, traversing from the launch point in Goodwood, England to the final stop -- Ulaan Baatar, Mongolia.

"I've been looking for something to do that's adventurous and hopefully where I could travel out of the country, because that' s not something I've done as much as I'd like to have," Harrison said.

In all 344 teams beginning in England, Spain and Italy plan to make the drive. Organizers tout the trip as borderline lunacy and unmapped adventure, two things Harrison's mother Bobbie English generally expects from her son.

"I won't catch a breath until he sets foot back on American soil," she said. "He is a very adventurous young man. He does these kinds of things and he's not really afraid of anything, even though his mother is for him."

English describes her son as an expert storyteller, mostly due to the first person nature of his accounts. Like the time, defying an impending lifetime of one-liners Gamecock grads, Harrison spent one spring break from Clemson walking home. To Lake Wylie. Because he could.

"He had a car down there," English said. "And he didn't tell anybody. He just showed up in the yard and we all knew what he'd done. He said he just camped out in people's back yards."

Harrison's Mongol Rally teammate Domino Ireland, who he met hiking the Appalachian trail four years ago, credited Harrison's storytelling and sense of adventure as reasons for picking the Lake Wylie carpenter as a partner.

"Have you met him?" asked Ireland. "His nickname's Cooter. How could you not do it with someone nicknamed Cooter?"

Fending off dangers like rabies (one in 10 Mongolian dogs has them), Japanese encephalitis, Siberian and Mongolian bandits, extreme mountain colds and desert heat, virtual homelessness and likely car trouble--every vehicle in the rally uses a one liter engine--Ireland took the teammate selection process seriously before settling on Harrison.

"He's intelligent enough and worldly enough and easy going enough not to sweat the small stuff," Ireland said.

As for the two-month trip, the list of probable destinations reads like an Inuit edition AAA travel guide -- Moscow, Turkmenistan, Scandinavia, Kazakhstan, Mongolia. The rally has no set route, though Harrison did compromise somewhat with his mother. She promised prayers and support, he promised not to drive through Iraq.

"This new project is scaring momma a lot," English said. "I told him to keep all your Southern manners and be on your best behavior. I can't get you out of a Russian jail."

Yet even international incarceration seems only a slight bump on the Mongol road to Harrison, who more than likely would take the experience as another story to tell.

"We're just going to have to try and wing it," he said. "Neither of us are mechanics. If we get arrested, we'll have to get ourselves out of jail. If we break down I guess we'll just have to wait until someone comes along to tow us out of trouble."

Harrison expects sleeping accommodations on couches of strangers, Ramen noodles for most every meal and people throughout the trip--regardless what language they speak--who simply don't understand him. What he doesn't know is where his trip will take him, what trouble will come first or even how far he and Domino will go.

"You can't Googlemap Russia," Harrison said.

So with a $900 car bought off Ebay but never seen, Harrison plans to buckle in and make a go of it. Just one more chance to prove what he always believed, that South Carolina is the "single greatest place you could live" but that the only way to know for sure is to go anywhere and everywhere else. A chance Harrison hopes is only one of many more.

"I hope it's not the last," he said.

Still, even Harrison understands that for most people the Mongol Rally scores pretty high on the insane-o-meter.

"I wish him all the best and I will pray for him every day," English said, adding that her son actually is "very much sane."

"You've got to be a little nuts to do this."

Want to know more?

The Mongol Rally, roughly 10,000 miles beginning July 18, features more than 300 teams and thousands of dollars in charitable giving. Each team must raise $2,000 for a charity, with Harrison and Ireland collecting for Mercy Corps. Also, the vehicles used are donated once they reach the finish, either to be used as ambulances or other service vehicles in Mongolia or sold for parts to benefit a local orphanage.

For more information, visit mongolrally.theadventurists.com. For more on Harrison's team, The Sleepless Knights, including updates and video from the trip, visit sleeplessrallyteam.ning.com or cafepress.com/sleeplessknight.

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