In October 2016, team riders Sarah and Rose rode in the inaugural Race the Wild Coast from Port Edward to Kei Mouth in South Africa. Throughout the race, they and ten other riders were filmed on their journey… the product of which will be coming soon to your screens! Stay tuned here and at the Rockethorse site and we will keep you informed of the release date as it becomes available!
What was it like to be filmed while riding this epic race?
“I am not going to lie, I avoided the film crew at first. I was worried that taking time to interview with them on my holds would slow down my vet checks – and having efficient vet checks and horse changes was my strategy for the race. Any time I saw them approaching I would make myself busy… fussing over my horse or my pack. Once I had my routine down later in the race, I took some time to let them in.”
“We would be riding on a goat track the edge of a cliff with a hundred metre drop straight to the ocean. Then we would hear the whip whip whip sound of the helicopter approaching and just think ‘oh crap, what is coming next?’ ‘don’t spook, don’t spook, don’t spook’ and of course ‘don’t look at it you fool, they told you not to and wave at the cameras. Slap a smile on your face and pretend that your chafed damp legs aren’t stinging like a thousand wasps got in your pants. You are having fun remember?’ Later in the race when I was alone fighting to keep Asad moving, the familiar sound of the chopper told me that Sam and Monde were closing in. It was a telltale sign that something exciting was about to happen.”
“My headlamp turned out to be water resistant, not ‘swim rivers’ water proof. The second morning, getting ready in the dark, I was quite happy to have the camera crew following me around with their bright lights.”
“At a certain point, I found myself looking for the camera crew when something hilarious or frustrating was happening. It started to feel like a natural extension of whatever it is that drives me to blog in the first place. Sometimes when I’m trying to write a blog and reconstruct an event and find the right pictures, I think how much more convenient it would be if I just had a camera crew. That said, I don’t like seeing myself in photos or on video. Seeing myself on video, I can’t help wondering if I look that goofy all the time.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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Thanks to a recommendation from her sponsor, Mad Barn, Sarah was invited to speak at Horse Day during the 51st Grey Bruce Farmers’ Week on the topic of travel and horses.
Our drive up was not at all bad, despite what the radio station was telling everyone. The event suffered unusually low turnout for the event but those who attended were very engaged.
Sarah shared stories and her experiences from travelling to Mongolia for the Mongol Derby, herding horses in Iceland and recently competing in South Africa for Race the Wild Coast. Attendees were treated to some never before seen helmet cam footage which we will be sharing here and on our Facebook page in the coming weeks.
Sarah’s talk received many compliments and there was never a quiet moment at the Eat Sleep Ride Repeat booth as people were excited to hear more about her adventures in Mongolia, Iceland and South Africa and what the next plans were.
The only suggestion we have to improve the event is that we would have loved to have more time to talk with visitors to our booth. The trade show and speaker area were in the same room so while it was great to be able to man the booth and listen to the presentations, many great conversations were cut short because the next speaker was about to begin.
It was great to see familiar faces and make new friends and especially nice to see so many people not only interested in the travel stories but wanting to know more about how to get into endurance and distance riding.
We would like to thank the organizers, staff, volunteers, and anyone else who made this event possible. The Eat Sleep Ride Repeat team would love to be back next year, hopefully with some more fantastic stories, this time from our adventure from Shore to Shore!
Sarah’s mount for the last leg of the race was Asad. Today of all days, he earned his nickname “Asshat”. Sarah was one of the leaders of the race, along with Sam and Monde. Unfortunately Sam and Monde each lost a front shoe off of their horses at one of the checks, leaving Sarah to continue out on her own. If she had been on any other horse, she could have very well gained a huge lead over them and had gone on to win the race. However, young Asad had a “baby brain” day. He had a tendency to be herd bound so was not too impressed when he had to go out by himself. Add in a ton of spooking and Sarah was having probably one of the worst rides of her life. If she could even get Asad to go forward, he did so with his head up in the air like a giraffe and moved at most 5 miles per hour. This continued for about 15km before Sam and Monde caught up.
Despite the trackers showing them quite far apart, the three rode together for most of the last day. Sarah said she didn’t know what she would have done if she had been out there all by herself. The team approach to the end of the race proved very helpful in getting all three across the finish line as each rider brought something to the table. Monde had a touch screen gps, which proved quite useless when wet, so Sarah was able to help them navigate. Sam provided the encouragement and motivation for them to pick up the pace and keep going. Asad quite liked Monde’s horse and was happy to keep up with the group. At times when the trail looked like it reached a dead end or it seemed like there was no way around, the three minds working together problem solved to get them through.
When they neared the end of the race, all three decided to have a gallop-off for the winner, partly for fun and partly to add a little excitement for the cameras all around. (*Side note* If you weren’t aware already, the organizers of this race were filming every aspect in order to create a documentary when all is said and done. There is going to be some amazing footage and we can’t wait for it to be completed!) Even though Asad was happy to go forward to follow his buddies, he wasn’t quite fast enough to win, coming in third only a few seconds behind Sam in second and Monde in first.
Sarah is feeling pretty good (now that she’s had a bath and is relaxing in a gorgeous guest house with a view of the beach!). We’ll have to wait for her to return to civilization to get her recollection of the events but one thing she mentioned is that for anyone thinking about trying this race next year, go in with no expectations. This is more a horse race than a rider race; your ride is completely dependent on the horses you are given. Part of the reason she was getting frustrated with Asad today was that she had ridden two superb endurance horses before him and had expected more out of Asad, forgetting he was the youngster of her bunch. Had she received three different horses, her ride would have been completely different.
Two of her memorable moments from the race are seeing dolphins playing in the water while she was riding down the beach and riding along the cliffs with Monde with very steep, long drop-offs and the helicopter right beside them filming. She was quite surprised at how close the helicopters got and how quickly the horses adapted to them.
She will be enjoying a party tomorrow, then relaxing on a day off and visiting old friends in South Africa from the last time she was there and then she’ll be on a plane back to Canada.
I hadn’t received my daily call/text from Sarah but from following the tracker and the RocketHorse Racing Facebook page, she has successfully completed Day 2. It was a little worrisome for a while as her tracker had stopped but the one on her horse was still going. Coupled with the fact that I didn’t get my daily call/text, I was concerned that something had happened but all was well. The tracker had just stopped working but the issues have been fixed. Rain was in the forecast today so riders were already wet heading into a day of swimming. The temperature today is around 20 degrees Celsius.
Today’s big challenge was swimming across the Umgazana River. Due to long periods of riding in wet clothes, Sarah said she was having a rough go from chafing, plus she had sand in her pants for the whole 75km. Hills were also a challenge this day as they seemed to just go on and on forever. You would think that you were at the top but over a crest and there was still more. Her horse, Ramkat, took them like a champ. Even though she could tell it tired him, he still had a ton of gas in the tank.
They are down to 11 riders as competitor Damyan has retired due to knee issues.
Sarah currently tied for first with Monde and Sam Jones (winner of the 2014 Mongol Derby, the year Sarah competed). The way the timing works with this race is that the time you come in is the time you leave. Since Sarah finished at 3:51pm today, she will head out at 3:51am tomorrow.
Day 3 of Race the Wild Coast
Day 3 consisted of a beach ride along the coast to Agate Terrace where there will be the last horse change of the race. Sarah will switch from her superstar Ramkat to the young gun Asad (who she has been calling Asshat due to his antics). The next leg of the race will include a swim across the Mngazana to the Kraal where they will be another vet check, then it is on to Hluleka, where the overnight camp will be.
Since the frontrunners got to start Day 3 so early, they made it to the reserve where the horses were kept before race staff, only to find the entrance padlocked. After some calls and rushing around, they were able to start on time. Asad gave Sarah some troubles throughout the day with spooking, bucking, and running full tilt with his head in the air. He refused to leave one vet check due to a pig in his sights. Not one to quit, Sarah convinced him that it was not a horse-eating pig and they took off. Despite Asad’s asshattery, he proved to be a very good swimmer.
Day 4 should be the last day of racing for the frontrunners (some of the slower riders may take an extra day to cross the finish line). Sarah is currently sitting in third and will go out at 5:09AM South African time. Some of the slower riders will have a 3 hour hold to avoid the high tide at the Mbashe River.
Only 90km left to the finish at Kei Mouth! Go Sarah Go!!
The weather for the first day of the race was overcast and fairly uneventful. Sarah started off riding Gerber, her nice steady eddy, which was a very good strategic move as although Gerber is not the fastest horse, he is very surefooted and reliable, which came in handy when traversing the incredibly rocky terrain. While other horses were leaping off of the rock ledges, Gerber carefully manoeuvred himself and Sarah quickly, comfortably, and safely and were able to keep up with the other horses. We’ll have to see if she ends up bringing this one back on the plane with her!
There wasn’t much swimming to do today; just some wading, which Sarah wasn’t complaining about as it was not the warmest day. Day 2, however, will have more swimming as competitors will have to cross the Umgazana River.
75 kilometers of the course is complete and Sarah is in good spirits. She starts off Day 2 with Gerber and will switch to Ramkat part way through (who, hopefully, is having a better day than he was during pre-race training and keeps his spooking/bucking to a minimum!) 12 of the 13 competitors will continue on to Day 2 as rider Anthony has withdrawn from the race. Sarah currently sits in 3rd heading into the second day. I will post Day 2 updates as soon as I hear from Sarah.