Category Archives: Mongol Derby 2014

Sarah’s Recap of the Mongol Derby 2014

How to Prepare for an Ultra-Endurance Horse Race

One of my favourite things is when a stranger (or sometimes friend) pops me an email or PM on Facebook and says “I am thinking about applying to (or have been accepted to) the Mongol Derby or Race the Wild Coast.  Where do I even begin?”

I love sharing the spirit of adventure with like-minded, or at least equally crazy folks from near and far.  But an open ended question like this…. how do I even begin to tell you what an amazing experience it is, what you are about to get  yourself into, and even worse, what should you do?  I never like to give finite plans because everyone is different in the way they do things, everyone has different goals, everyone will have a different experience, and there is never just one right thing to do.  I can however give you my opinions to consider and help shape your plan to the best ride of your life!

race the wild coast

1. Start talking to people

If you aren’t one of the people who have already dropped a line in my inbox, why not?  I am happy to chat about my experiences as are a lot of other race veterans.  Chances are you have someone within your extended network that has done it.  Suss them out and start talking!  If all else fails, email the race organizers directly and find out more about the races.  They may even be able to point you in the direction of a veteran in your area.  Why do this now?  It will help decide which race to shoot for – which one suits you the best and hopefully land you a mentor for the rest of the process.

2. Just apply, say yes, and sort out the details later

Usually I would never recommend this to anyone.  I am a meticulous planner and this could land you in some deep dog doo, but when it comes to your dreams sometimes you have to take the leap.  Signing up and having the end goal will help you mentally get your shit in order.  It is going to make you accountable for everything you do in the next 6-12 months before the race start because everything will merit a question “does this get me closer to my goal?”  Its a huge undertaking, bigger than most people will ever take on – and that’s before the race even starts.  Being a little afraid of the enormity of this challenge is going to give you some serious perspective but you will get there.

Another benefit to getting one of the first horses... quality scratching time!

3.  Budget Budget Budget

These adventures don’t come cheap, in fact that’s probably the part that scares off 99% of riders considering these adventures and probably accounts for at least half of the conversations I have with starry eyed riders.  At the top end Mongol Derby will set you back about $30,000 CAD, with the more recently introduced races coming in much cheaper, but still in the range of a half decent car.  You need to find a plan to raise this kind of money for your entry fees, flights, equipment, local travel, accommodation and food, day trips, gifts for family and sponsors, training costs.  You need to think of everything ahead of time and get your dollar value.  Here is where having a mentor can help you.  What you need to do yourself is have a plan – whether its build your savings (or back to the KD diet), take out a loan, or trade your future wedding for it (yes, I know riders who negotiated this with their family!).  Unless you are a big name rider already with big name sponsors, expect to foot the bill yourself and maybe you will be lucky enough to get a few product sponsors to help with your gear.

race the wild coast
Photo credit to RocketHorse Racing

 

4.  Get fit – off the horse!

These are grueling races and you are going to need to be in the best shape of your life if you want to be successful.  Start with a personal trainer, I used Heather at Equifitt before the Mongol Derby and highly recommend her.  She gave me a plan and exercises to prepare me, and I have used these lessons ever since.  A few major tips that you might not have thought of?  Build up your shoulders so your backpack won’t kill you after one day of riding.  Stretch… a LOT –  before and after every ride and at the end of each day.  Lastly, hike or trail run… a LOT as well.  Depending on what race you pick and your luck, you may be spending a lot of time running or walking on your own 2 feet.  Be prepared!

Aprilfest sat IMG_9352

5. Get fit – on the horse

Something that makes me cringe is when I hear riders say “I am going to ride all the naughty ponies, the worse the better” when referring to their riding program for Mongol Derby.  Eek!  This is the worst idea ever!  Seriously, if you can’t yet sit a buck or rear or runaway, you have no business applying for these races.  Putting yourself on the worst horses is only going to put you in danger of hurting yourself before the start of the race – having invested that $30,000, do you really want to risk that?  Better idea, start volunteering at and riding in endurance rides.  Get on decent horses and get used to the feeling of riding all day.  Your muscle memory and mental strength will develop – this will be far more beneficial in the long run.  Added bonus, if you compete in endurance, you will have a better understanding of basic endurance rules and the required horsemanship that comes along with managing yourself and a horse over long distances.

Coates Creek 2016-341

 

6. Get your gear in order

Start this early.  Way earlier than you think you need to start it.  Lots of riders have shown up to the start camp having never tested critical components of their kit.  If you can sort this out early, you will have a lot of advantages.  First being peace of mind.  Second, you will never just look in your closet and pick out a perfect kit (and if you can… please call me, I want to know your secrets!) so you will have time to get it right.  You are going to go through several backpacks, pants, shoes and who knows what else trying to perfect your kit (but you will always bring stuff you don’t need and need stuff you forgot so relax just a little bit!) Use your mentor to get suggestions, then put everything to the test.  What works for them may not work for you.  Work through equipment issues early then start riding in full kit.  Know exactly which pocket you have put each item in, become a pro at rolling up your bed roll before riding every morning, know how to program and reprogram your bloody GPS.  Use the last few months of your training not testing out new shoes or messing with how to tie your equipment to yourself… but riding every ride as you would when the big day comes.

my ger mates working on their tack
my ger mates working on their tack

 

7. Connect with other riders

In our year of the Mongol Derby, winner Sam Jones made a facebook group well in advance for all of us to connect and plan day trips.  It was the best thing we could have done, because we could share our training stories, meet before the race, and just get really comfortable with everyone.  It took a lot of pressure off and most of us are still great friends (as evidenced in my post Mongol Derby adventures!) who see each other on a regular basis.

Strong like Ghengis (Chinggis)
Strong like Ghengis (Chinggis)

 

8.  Enjoy the ride

Accept early on that there are things you can perfect, and then there are things that you will never ever be prepared for.  The task ahead is daunting but no matter what happens, you are going to cherish the memory.  Allow yourself to be happy and excited, don’t fear the challenge, but embrace it!

 

Headed up the hill to where we would swap, looking back at the herd following us.
Headed up the hill to where we would swap, looking back at the herd following us.

 


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So what now?

Likely the question I am asked the most… what now?

Yes, I do intend on taking another go at the Mongol Derby.  Overall I enjoyed it, and I am not satisfied that merely attempting it crosses it off the bucket list.  When will I attempt to return?  Well that is still TBA.

Also, since my return, I have had several friends wish to do the Derby, in particular join me in a team effort.  That’s one of the reasons the date will be TBA.  I am very flattered that this isn’t viewed as a failure by most of my friends, and that they want to use me and abuse me so we can all get through it!  So stay tuned, there may be some new faces on Eat Sleep Ride Repeat shortly!

Fundraising will continue!  So I will be modifying my Eat Sleep Ride Repeat fundraising tshirts (so there is no longer a date, and it can support all team members), and coming up with a second design.  So expect the first haul of these to arrive in the new year.  I am also squirreling away any pocket change and miscellaneous earnings that come my way.  If you or someone you know want to support my adventures through personal or corporate sponsorship, please let me know (cuthbertson.sarah@gmail.com) I have a long and crazy bucket list that extends beyond Mongol Derby, all offerings are appreciated!  Lets talk!

Training continues!  While its hard to stay motivated when I don’t have a specific outcome, I am going to continue to ride local rides with Bentley, hopefully make my way to the States to do a few new rides there, and continue to hone my skills and improve my physical well being, so when I am ready, its already done!  So the good news is you can always come back here and I will have something for you to read about.  I will continue to make this blog as interesting as I can, and please! Comment with ideas!  If you want me to write about something, or ask questions about anything, don’t be shy!

 

 

The final day of Riding, with the back of the Pack

I woke up on the final day completely gutted.  This was it, the final day of riding, and I was not given the opportunity to ride the last leg.  This means officially, that I had run out of chances to ride the incredible Mongolian horses, and there was no more hope for an offer.  It was done. Over.  Gone.

I snuck out early, and headed up the mountain that I had not yet climbed.  A few riders had mentioned the night before that they would be interested in joining me, but I just needed the time to myself (and I am sure they needed their rest anyway!).  I set my sights on a peak, followed it down with my eyes and laid my path.  Despite it being early, the rocks were already beginning to heat up.  I made it to my peak, and sat there for a while, eating my breakfast of potato chips purchased from the concession stand, and crying over my disappointment.  It was pretty refreshing, and exactly what I needed.  From there, I saw a few more riders cross the finish line.

Breakfast of champions, Pringles and a camalback on the top of a mountain.
Breakfast of champions, Pringles and a camalback on the top of a mountain.
Thats the one, I want to go there!
Thats the one, I want to go there!
View of the finish line from my mountain
View of the finish line from my mountain

 

After having time to settle, i moved on.  Still not quite ready to be with other people, I set my sights on another peak that I had not yet climbed, and made my way down and up again.  My music was blaring in my ears, and confident that only those nasty spiders could hear me, I sang along.  Perhaps my poor vocals were enough to scare off the spiders, because this time I did not have one try to tag along.  I felt lifted.

I reached peak number 2, found more wildflowers, new ones I had only seen here at the top of the mountain.  What a privilege, it was likely I was the only derby rider who could be able to appreciate them.  I continued to soften.  From this peak, I was able to see the neighboring camp – a teepee camp!  I have to say, it was NOT an easy peak to get up, there were some straight up cliffs that I had to climb, and the best handholds were being blocked by the spiders in their homesteads… the webs these things were so large and strong, I was best just to risk life and limb on a different route.

There!  I want to go there next!
There! I want to go there next!
View of camp from peak #2
View of camp from peak #2

The descent, of course proved to be much more difficult, so I took the liberty of filming the view at a particularly difficult spot that I climbed both up and down.

Thankfully, all the training I had been doing through the program devised by Heather Sansom of Equifitt meant that I was strong and capable of climbing the mountain easily.  Only a few slips and a few bruises to take home with me.  I guess one could consider the ability to climb mountains as the upside of my early withdrawal.

I came back feeling a new sense of accomplishment, and although I was still disappointed that I wasn’t riding across the finish line, I could cheer on the finishers with a smile. Much to my surprise, Luke was also there –  not riding.  I guess one of his teammates had lost a horse not once, but twice, and Luke gave up his last opportunity to ride so his friend could finish.  Very proud of him, I admitted and apologized for my jealousy.

The ceremonies that night were less heartbreaking than before.  We weren’t left on the steps this time, all us party vanners were invited up to receive the ceremonial Deel and share a bonfire and recovery beers with our friends, reunited.

 

 

Day 9 – More finish, and more camel riding

I had a nice sleep in, and this time had a real breakfast (not puree mutton soup) which I think had some sort of eggs, toast, and bacon (though closer to ham than our bacon at home). We heard that there would be riders coming in pretty early, so I decided to take a walk down to the wishing rock and cheer them on there.

The wishing part of the wishing rock
The wishing part of the wishing rock
Lisa, Madison and Courtney on their final steeds
Lisa, Madison and Courtney on their final steeds

In came a group of 3 ladies: Madison and Lisa, whom I had shared a ger with at start camp, and the Kiwi Courtney. I greeted them and cheered, explained the wishing rock and held their horses while they went to the wishing rock themselves and sent them on their way.

Once again within close proximity of horses, these guys were so sweet!
Once again within close proximity of horses, these guys were so sweet!

One of the Derby vans came by, and picked me up (I guess they had been following the riders) and we passed them to cheer them on at the finish. Sometime between when I saw them and the finish, the ditched their shirts and came in only wearing their bras!

However, before they finished, we were all waiting with a pack of goats, just in front of the finish line. All of a sudden, one goat breaks from the herd and starts trotting towards us and the finish line – we all got really excited and started to cheer on the goat. He trotted right through the finish flags, and graciously accepted his finish gift of airag from Chloe. Breaking News: Goat wins the Mongol Derby! Delightful!

There was to be a bit of a break in the riders, so I went off with Erik and Anna (who had been brought back to finish line from UB) in search of activity. I was hoping we would go to the lake I was told wasn’t far, but we ended up in the dunes and on camels instead. Erik, being the free spirit, snatched his lead rope and rode his camel without help, his camel was not so keen on being made to work, but that didn’t stop him!

Umm, are these stirrups set for children?
Umm, are these stirrups set for children?
Erik the rebel
Erik the rebel
Happy to be riding SOMETHING!
Happy to be riding SOMETHING!
Uhh, guys, I think this horse is tied to our car
Uhh, guys, I think this horse is tied to our car
Party van take 2 (Me Erik and Anna)
Party van take 2 (Me Erik and Anna)

We came back, had showers, naps, and bummed around camp for a while and made some new animal friends. At one point, we were all napping, and a bunch of riders came in without our knowledge! Oops! They had to come get us and ride through the finish line again! To be fair, the Derby organizers did warn us that the faster you come in, the smaller the welcoming party ha-ha.

Friendly calves kept trying to eat Jamie's laundry soap
Friendly calves kept trying to eat Jamie’s laundry soap

 

We did, however catch Chris and Heather ride through the finish line.

Chris and Heather
Chris and Heather
Heather wrangles her mount which is clearly not too tired after the last leg
Heather wrangles her mount which is clearly not too tired after the last leg

We had the first set of awards that night, it was pretty rough for us party vanners as they called everyone up, and we were literally “left on the steppes.” Just kind of rubbed it in even more. Jess and I went back to the ger, no so eager to party – we were happy for the finishers, but it was very VERY sad for us, and we didn’t want to bring down their mood. Later, Luke came into the ger with a saddle and a grin. Turns out he was offered to ride the last leg of the derby across the finish line tomorrow with the other members of the cavalry. Everything in me dropped. I tried very hard to say nice words, but I was devastated. I was really hoping I would be able to ride again and I had not been afforded the same opportunity. It felt very unfair to me – I just wanted to ride. I don’t know why I didn’t get an offer, I have some ideas, but I was more disappointed then than I was when I withdrew.

Despite having taken a sleeping pill, I couldn’t sleep. I walked around a little bit and retired to my bed again, getting woken up once through the night by a spider dropping from the ceiling onto my face. I didn’t even care (though the spider DID still have to die). I was broken.

Day 8 – Finish Camp, and an unwelcome passenger.

We had to be up extra early on day 8, because we had to get to finish camp and help set up the finish line before Sam got there, and she was moving so fast, we risked her passing the finish with nobody to cheer her on!

We sped off in the van, skipping the last horse station. We did stop at the wishing rock, where we spun the gold spinners and walked around it. Generally you leave a piece of food as an offering at the rock, I didn’t have any food on me, but I did leave a saddle-charm piece of jewellery that my friend Sarah had made me before the Derby. I thought it was appropriate. I wont say what I wished for (not sure if its bad luck to tell in Mongolia, but I will stick to North American wish laws here!), but I am sure you can guess what my wish was.

Walking around the wishing rock
Walking around the wishing rock

Tess kept us excited for our drive to the finish with the promise of a real western breakfast when we got there. Thank goodness! Despite me starting the trip loving the mutton and noodles, mutton and rice, mutton dumplings and mutton soup and mutton soup and mutton soup that we were being served, I had fallen out of love with it a day or two before. I am not sure WHAT happened, whether I just hit the wall of mutton enjoyment, or if it was a particularly “sheepy” piece I struggled to choke down for one meal that ruined it for me, but a real breakfast sounded wonderful and I was hungry from mutton abstinence for at least 24 hours.

We sat down for breakfast at quarter to ten, and what was placed in front of us? It was mutton soup! Not even regular mutton soup, no this was fancy! It was if you took mutton soup, and blended it until it was creamy. I’m sure if it was day 1, it would have been well received, but GAG ME NOW! YOU CANT HIDE THE FACT ITS MUTTON SOUP BY BLENDING IT! We ate as much as we could stomach to try and be polite, and went off still hungry.

Finish camp, nestled in mountains
Finish camp, nestled in mountains

However, our gers were fantastic. Real beds with mattresses, pillows, a light bulb, and even little face towels. Over our breakfast, we met Erik Cooper who was filling in as Derby Chief for the time being and he asked “what are you guys going to do until Sam comes in?” I had no hesitation when I said “I’m going to go climb those mountains! Seriously, one can not just leave those mountains unclimbed, look how wonderful they are! Plus, I had 6 days of stall rest… enough to make me batty.

Obligatory pre-mountain hike selfie
Obligatory pre-mountain hike selfie

Luke decided to join me for the trek up the mountain, and we did our best to estimate how long it would take. He thought all day, I think I said 2 hours (I was much closer). It was getting to be the hot part of the day, but we brought water and lollipops, and stopped in the shade of one of the very few trees, and even found a trickle of stream to cool us off.

The shady spot.  Nice mid point relaxation - its hard to climb a mountain in that heat and altitude!
The shady spot. Nice mid point relaxation – its hard to climb a mountain in that heat and altitude!
I found pride rock, of course, I had to do my best Lion King impression (with another rock as Simba, which Luke tossed down the mountain as I screamed "Simbaaa")
I found pride rock 3/4 of the way up, of course, I had to do my best Lion King impression (with another rock as Simba, which Luke tossed down the mountain as I screamed “Simbaaa”)

I had been leading eagerly the whole time, but halfway up the mountain, I felt something on my (bare) thigh that felt something like a gloved hand gripping around it. I looked down and saw THE BIGGEST SPIDER I have ever seen. Seriously, it was the size of my hand! I batted it off with some sort of “blearghhha!” utterance, and all of a sudden, I was 50 metres up the mountain, with Luke struggling way down below. He saw the spider too, and can vouch for its size. If you don’t know me personally, I should mention that spiders are my biggest fear.

After that, I made Luke lead the adventure and with a stick he kept the other large (but not THAT large) spiders out of my way. I got to enjoy being Princess Sarah with my very own Royal Guard.

We reached the top (or at least as far as we could get without climbing equipment) shortly after, and paused for a while to play in the rocks and take photos. I don’t know what the mountain is actually called, but I decided to call it Marmot Mountain and did my best Marmot impression.

 

 

View from the top of Marmot Mountain
View from the top of Marmot Mountain

 

Of course, after we came back, we got to enjoy cheering on Sam, then Chris, Robert and Jamie at the finish line, and had a SHOWER back at finish camp. The food was much improved for lunch and dinner – some sort of pot roast with mashed potatoes and salads. We also treated ourselves to Beer and potato chip and chocolate which were available at the restaurant (PS if you are thinking about doing the Derby, bring plenty of money to the finish line to pay for snacks, and also we had to pay for our own water – which were at least available in bottles, bring enough $ for several days in case you win!). Of course, we had a lovely sleep that night in our comfy beds.

The goons are knocking!

 

Eek, its easy to forget about the charity aspects after the race is over!  I received an email yesterday reminding me to send the details of my fundraising to the race organizers, and I hate to say it, but while my LongRun campaign was pretty successful, my CoolEarth one is pitiable.

I am supposed to raise 500 GBP for CoolEarth, but I am at a meager 12% of the goal.  I am going to have to make the difference up out of my own pocket.

So I am begging you, if you are enjoying reading about my adventures (for free!), please visit my CoolEarth fundraising page and toss a few bucks their way.  Don’t be put off that its listed in GBP, you can donate in pretty much any currency you may use.  It just does the math and adds to my goal.

Anything you can spare is appreciated, and the more you keep off my credit card, the less ramen noodles I have to eat, which gives me better nutrition and energy to keep writing the posts you love. Ok, that might be a stretch, but at least the money goes right to saving the rainforest, which both I AND you need to breathe happily.

Go for it now!

Day 7: Catching the Front-Runners & Jess’s Cat Friend

When we awoke on Day 7, we were told we were going to try and catch up with the leaders – none of whom we had seen since we crossed the start line. It sounded like Sam was still in the front and of course we were cheering her on!

We went through another mountain pass, this one had tons of beautiful wildflowers which stood out beautifully from the greenery. The butterflies and bumblebees also loved the flowers and were particularly friendly to me. It felt pretty Disney I admit, and of course picked a bouquet of flowers for my hair and for Jess as we had been exchanging bouquets throughout.

DSCF8609 DSCF8615 DSCF8617 DSCF8622

 

We skipped ahead to… I believe it was Station 26? We managed to beat Sam there, and were delighted to learn that there was another (very lovely) cabin which would host us that night. We set about exploring the cabin, and the enormous pack of goats at the station. There was one particularly small goat (I think the smallest we had seen all derby) that Jess adored who seemed to be exiled from the herd, and followed us for a while. It was hard not to pet him, he was so cute, but he clearly had mega diarrhea evidenced by his disgusting backside.

We set up our stuff in the cabin, and by the time we came back out, we had learned that Sam had been and gone! We didn’t even get to say hi and cheer her on! Apparently he had mastered the horse station routine and was in and out in 10 minutes tops. Wow, no wonder she is winning!

Our blankets all lined up and ready for bed
Our blankets all lined up and ready for bed

We knew that Chris, Jamie and Robert were coming up next and would likely stay the night, and as you can see from the photo, there was a very lovely futon couch in the cabin. We were SO excited for the riders to arrive and show them the couch, so we graciously took the floor.

Then the cat appeared. It wanted in the cabin… but Jess is severely allergic. For a while, I guarded the door so we could enjoy the breeze but the cat wouldn’t seek refuge in Jess’s sleeping bag. Then the riders came in, we eagerly accepted them into the cabin, and for some reason the Mongolians took the couch out of the cabin… and left it in front of the cabin. What?

There was some mumblings and bumblings around, and the phrase “tether the cat” was uttered off and on. We tried to explain that we would just close the door to keep the cat out. So after a while of confusion, we saw it… they had brought the couch outside the cabin in order to tether the cat to it! Does a cat even stay tied? Seriously?!

She looks so sad!
She looks so sad!

DSCF8639

We all bedded down for our last night without beds. The sounds of hundreds of goats nibbling outside our door sounding like raindrops with regular goat farts (damn they are gassy critters) breaking up the serenity, and dreamed of the “western” food we were promised at start camp. Mmmmmm.

DSCF8643

I am fake napping for the photo, but I needed at least one shot of me using a saddle as a pillow!
I am fake napping for the photo, but I needed at least one shot of me using a saddle as a pillow!
Luke is not so good at fake sleeeping as I
Luke is not so good at fake sleeeping as I
Would you believe me if I said she actually sleeps looking like this?  Hmm, I didnt think so
Would you believe me if I said she actually sleeps looking like this? Hmm, I didnt think so

PS, because I know you are wondering, YES the cat did stay tethered throughout the night. She howled quite a lot, but she stayed put. Apparently there was an issue with this cat during horse selection, where she peed on sleeping bags and in peoples hair, and had some adventures with an neighboring cat who also left presents for the Adventurists. So Jess didn’t have to feel so bad that she banished the cat.

Day 6 – Tasty Treats and the Mountain pass

After seeing the riders off, and Per and Anna off, we hit the “road” again. Thankfully, most people were able to nap through the bucking bronc of the party van. We ended up going through a Soum (small village) and outside a shop… Derby Saddles! We stopped the van and surprised the riders who were stuffing their packs with chocolate and cola while their horses stood patiently tied to the fence. Chocolate and cola – this may have been a highlight for many riders at that point!

Refreshing!
Refreshing!
Katja waits with some of the horses
Katja waits with some of the horses
Some were not so patient
Some were not so patient
The inside of a shop in the Soum
The inside of a shop in the Soum

 

 

More riders came in too as we waited there with the horses. We were happy to hold them while they shopped and helped them mount up again (and give face scratches to some itchy horses!)

Riders coming in
Riders coming in
Mr Itchy Face and Jess
Mr Itchy Face and Jess

 

At the next horse station, we had some time to ogle at the horse line. There were a lot of nice looking horses, but this little guy caught my eye.   He seemed so pleasant (seriously, what a cutie!), and his body looked like he was ridden regularly. It was becoming more and more sad that we couldn’t pick these horses for ourselves at this point. The desire to ride was definitely coming back and HARD. Ann-Therese picked him when I mentioned I liked him, I was so happy about that and I hope he was a nice guy for her!

Big cutie!
Big cutie!

Jade picked a stallion who looked angry as anything. The herders had some fun getting the nasties out of him. I did notice at this horse station however, that it seemed like the herders were causing some of the stunts these horses pulled… maybe showing off for the crowd of pretty ladies?

Demon eyes
Demon eyes

From there, we went up the mountain pass. Finally, we see trees! It was beautiful and we chugged up the hairpin turns to the top of the mountain. I admit, I was feeling a little watery eyed, wishing I could be riding it on a horse instead of in a van. It was so beautiful! Its not the same, not at all. At the top, we had some time to stretch our legs, and take a look out very quickly.

Looking out at the valleys
Looking out at the valleys
Posing at the top of the mountain
Posing at the top of the mountain

Up in the mountains, we found the next horse station. We weren’t planning on staying long, we saw Heather there and she picked a fantastic looking grey. Chloe told us there were tasty dumplings inside and we couldn’t resist. We sat down and each had a dumpling – and they were by far the best tasting meal we had had the entire trip. It wasn’t the usual mutton dumplings, it was soft and tiny pieces. Jess and I pondered what it was, and out loud decided that it must have been mushroom (as we had seen some mushrooms in the forest) What a treat!

Then halfway through our dumplings we were told “uhh, its not mushroom…. Its INTESTINE” Both Jess and I looked down at our dumplings in disgust. “well, we have already eaten half of them” “lets just pretend its still mushroom.” I am still in a bit of disbelief over it, it was so tasty. Rule of thumb – don’t ask what you are eating.

Once again we moved on, and when we got to the next horse station (I think we were up to 18 at this point) we were informed there was a race hold as the field had spread out so far that medical/veterinary assistance wouldn’t be available if they didn’t wait for some to catch up. There were several riders there already, some were taking it better than others. Heather showed up on that lovely gray, and it was looking fantastic. One of the best horses I saw throughout the race! As is her nature, she was smiling ear to ear. Since nobody was going anywhere, I got to hear a lot of stories that night. We also had a surprise in the ger, a pull out couch!

Rose models the bed
Rose models the bed

Yes, 2 of the riders had a much needed good sleep that night!

Day 5.5 – The Cabin and My Good Sleep

Now excuse some inaccuracy here, I have been going based on the dates of my photos (digitally stamped) which I thought was the best method, but oops! I forgot about the time difference which my camera (and me) was not smart enough to understand. Maybe that’s why day 5 seemed so bland last I wrote it out? So I am guessing now that what I had pegged as day 6 was actually evening of day 5, so here are those stories! Hopefully by the end of this I am back on track.

Somewhere in the evening on our way to the horse station, we came across Mikael hand walking a very lame horse. He was still many miles away from the horse station, he would for sure incur time penalties at the rate they were going (as it was nearing dark), as well as any veterinary penalties that would likely be added on. There was some discussion and eventually it was decided that he would walk the horse to a ger we saw on the horizon.

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We met him there and Chloe worked her magic to figure out how to get the vets there, and the horse to his owners. In the meantime, Jess had brought balloons as gifts for the children, and boy were they ever a hit!

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Oh, and about this time, we were entering in Yak Country!

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After everything had been sorted out, Mikael hopped in the party van with us and continued on to the horse station. Darkness was falling so fast when we got there, and we found out that Anna and Per were there, and going to withdraw from the competition, they would occupy another vehicle headed back to the city the following morning. This horse station had a small one room cabin where the riders were eating and bedding down, upon inspection of it, it was very clear that we would not fit in – 18 riders sharing one bitty cabin (bigger than a ger, but all the floorspace was taken shoulder to shoulder).

Jess, Luke and I started setting up a tent that was given to us from a crew vehicle. Although we tried our best, it was very apparent that the tent was missing 75% of its poles. It was almost completely dark and we were running out of sleeping options – trying every balancing act we could think of to make shelter. Thankfully, another (much smaller) tent was found for us, Anna and Luke found their way into the cabin, and Jess and I shared the 2 man tent.

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Poor Jess had the most terrible sleep that night – and it was all my fault. I slept fantastically of course, my sleeping pill knocking me out completely. I guess with the shortness of the tent, I found my way to sleep diagonally on top of Jess, snoring and snuggling away as seems to be my MO. To add insult to injury, apparently we had a huge thunderstorm overnight, which pretty much flattened our tent on top of us, nearly blowing us away. I was happily oblivious to all this. Poor Jess was in rough shape the next morning (so sorry!) but managed to not kill me, so thank you Jess for putting up with me!

 

Day 5: Return to the steppes

I wasn’t interested in staying in the city too long.  I had just enough time overnight to shower, sleep and send out a quick email to close friends and family , who had flooded my inbox thinking I had an ankle injury as thats what the official site said my reason for withdrawal was.  Having set the record straight, I eagerly accepted the offer to go back to the steppes upon sunrise.

Joining Chloe, Tess and I was Jess who had recovered well from her illness, and Luke, who received a free helicopter ride as part of his Mongolian adventure, but was well enough to return in the party van!

I think our driver was a little relieved to have another male presence in the van.  Along our route back to the steppes, he offered Luke a drink from his Airag as in the back seat, Jess and I gagged and giggled.  Let me explain.

You have probably heard me mention it before, and perhaps I have mentioned what it is and what it tastes like, but let me recap.  It is mares milk, which has been fermented in a big vat to make it alcoholic.  It tastes like a very tart yogurt mixed with blue cheese.  Our driver kept a jug beside him (usually a used pop or water bottle, about 1.5-2L) and would sample from it throughout the day.  The sun would beat in the windshield and heat up this stinky sour milky drink, and as he opened the bottle each time, it would hiss like if you shook up a bottle of pop.  The thought of this steaming sour milk just made all our insides wrench.  So you can imagine our reaction as Luke tried his best to be polite, and accept this friendly offer from our driver.

Blech!

Riding along in the party van, notice the padded ceilings?
Riding along in the party van, notice the padded ceilings?

 

At one point, we were driving along a paved road, and the GPS said we had to go somewhere left (to get to the horse station).  Usually we would look for a dirt track heading in generally the right direction, and follow it until we had some reason to believe it was not going to take us to our destination.  This particular time, the driver just chose to drive off into the middle of nothing.

No big deal, we would come across a track soon enough right?  Well no, time goes on and we havent seen any tracks.  We just keep bumping across the grass, over hills, in the direction the compass is pointing.  We start to get a bit uneasy that there were no tracks to be seen.  Then, as we crest the top of the largest hill around… (now listen to the song below, skip to 3 minutes)

We could see for miles and not a single track to be seen.  Yes, the music was playing at that exact spot, and we all erupted in giddy laughter.   How perfect.

For some reason I am having a difficult time remembering what else happened this day, I think it was mostly  time spent on the road… after all it did take us about 10 hours just to get from UB to a horse station (which were much farther from the main roads than the start and finish camps were).  Sorry, those 2 stories will have to do!