Rally to Benefit the Smile Train

  • Written by Kristen Hamilton
When Jake Leland graduated from Cedarcrest High School in 2008, I doubt he ever envisioned embarking on the greatest motoring adventure on the planet touted as the Mongol Rally.  But…that is just what he is doing next month with his bride, Madison, and his younger brother, Jaren, who is graduating from Cedarcrest this month.
After Jake graduated from Gonzaga and Madison from Washington State, they started their careers in Chicago.  He has been working for United Airlines while volunteering for a program that helps homeless youth in the city.  Madison settled in the corporate environment working for a law firm and on her MBA but they felt as though something was missing. 
Mongol Rally 7Jake & Madison (Courtesy photo)They’ve been in the city for five years and although they embraced volunteerism, they wanted to do something different, something more to give back.
They were wed last fall and as Jake explained, “we planned to leave our jobs and do a stint of traveling.” Then a friend tagged Madison in a Facebook post about The Mongol Rally.  She did a little research and when Jake arrived home later that day she announced, “I’m going to Mongolia.”
It was a bit impulsive but as they learned more about the rally, they decided it would be a great adventure for both of them. 
Founded by The Adventurists out of the United Kingdom, this will be the 11th annual event.  The Mongol Rally starts July 15 at a secret location 30 minutes west of Prague in the Czech Republic.  The route is 10,000 miles across the mountains, desert and steppe of Europe and Asia. There’s no backup, no support and no set route.  You are on your own with your crew and a tiny 1000cc car. 
The team (Jake, Madison and Jaren) will be driving a 20-year-old Ford Fiesta that they bought from someone on Facebook for $100.
The best part about the adventure is that participants in the rally are all raising money for charity.  Each team must raise a minimum of $1,000.  $500 of that automatically goes to Cool Earth, the main charity of the event itself.  Cool Earth is an environmental charity that works in partnership with indigenous communities. The charity protects rainforests that without intervention will be destroyed within the next 18 months.
Jake and Madison chose Smile Train as their personal charity. Smile Train is an international children’s charity that provides 100 percent free cleft lip and palate corrective surgeries for children in 85+ developing countries. This cause is special to them because Jake was born with a cleft lip and palate.  They will donate the remaining $500 and any additional donations they receive to Smile Train.  They are hoping to raise $5,000 total for the charity, which would pay for 20 surgeries. 
Mongol Rally 4Jake & Jaren (Courtesy photo)They are personally paying for all of the other expenses on the trip that includes the many of the typical travel and supply expenses you’d think plus a whole host of other expenses including eight visas.
While on the trip, they are hoping to visit some of the hospitals that Smile Train performs surgeries in such as Mongolia, Bulgaria, and Kyrgystan.
Jake and Madison are currently traveling, and I spoke to them from Nepal.  They’ve been on the road since January and have also visited Sri Lanka, Maldives, Malaysia, and plan to go to India at the end of the trip.
Then the twosome will head to the United Kingdom (UK) and Jaren will be flying out from Washington state to meet them there on his 18th birthday.  He’ll be part of the team for about a month then he has to fly home prior to staring school at Washington State in Pullman.
The trip is Jaren’s graduation present from Jake and Madison.  “An awesome adventure before he starts college,” as Jake said.  I asked what his mother thought of the “adventure” and he admitted it took a bit of convincing but agreed nonetheless.
From the UK, the trio heads to Germany to pick up their beater car then to Prague by July 15 for the start of the rally.  From there who knows until they get to the finish line in the Russian town of Ulan-Ude (which is about 400 miles due north of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia the original finish line).  The finish opens August 10 and teams have until September 10 to cross the line.  Of course it’s still called the Mongol Rally but the organizers moved the finish in 2015 to save each team about £1000. 
One way or another, they are definitely in for an adventure.  Madison said, “We are nervous but really excited…we’re not sure what we are getting ourselves into.”
If you’d like to follow Jake and Madison on their adventures, visit
To donate to Jake and Madison’s Smile Train charity for the event, visit
To learn more about the Mongol Rally, visit

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