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Attention South Africa and The Kingdom of Lesotho: Ready or Not, Here I Come

Posted on 13 September, 2013 at 22:49 Comments comments (5845)
Attention South Africa and The Kingdom of Lesotho:  Ready or Not, Here I Come
 
Hello, yes, it’s been awhile; not much, how about you?  I’m really not sure why I called (am writing), I guess I really just wanted to talk to you…I’m not talking ‘bout the linen…and I don’t want to change your life…
 
Okay,enough of the wandering down memory lane, complete with misheard lyrics –England Dan!  Yikes, I’ve really gone soft this evening.  Anyways, I was just thinking how long it’s been since I wrote a blog.  I know, all that talk about keeping you up to date with how my training was going – pure baloney, I think we all realize this by now.  My departure to South Africa is only two weeks away and here I am blogging for the first time in over ayear.  Whoops.
 
Rather than give you a blow-by-blow account of what I’ve been up to these past 12-odd months (I can see you yawning from here) let’s just cut to the chase and discuss what’s really on everybody’s mind: Am I Going To Survive This Next Adventure, And If So, What Kinds Of Pain Meds Am I Taking Along This Time?
 
Survive?  Yes indeed. I do believe it will take more than a 40 hour plane ride to the southern hemisphere half a world away, and a horse trek into bandit-infested territory to finish me off.  I’m not even all that concerned about what kinds of food we’ll be ingesting this time, because Mongolia really helped cure any thoughts I may have had about being picky about nourishment.  Nor am I concerned about whether or not I will be getting adequate sleep, because this time, my friends,we are sleeping in real beds – except for maybe those couple of nights with the locals in the mud huts.  But – beds!  Inconceivable!  And as for the pain meds…well, if I survived Mongolia on the minimum, I think the same will suffice in South Africa and Lesotho.  Maybe I’ll throw in a small flask of good quality whisky, just to take the edge off of a long day.
 
To be perfectly honest, I am looking forward to this adventure with an even mix of excitement and trepidation.  I am already in love with the terrain.  The thought of riding up into the Drakensburg Mountains is giving me goosebumps - what a dream come true.  But the reason behind the adventure, the unspeakably inhumane conditions in the pounds we will be visiting…this will be the tough part for me. Last summer, the adventure was all about concentrating on getting to the end of the 1000km, surviving it intact. This time around, it will be about absorbing the heartbreak and coming home to tell the story for the animals that have no voice of their own.
 
Just to give you an idea of where I’m going, who I’m going there with, and what we are going to see, check out this video put together by Sophia McKee.  
 
 
Met die hoop vir 'n goeie reis,
 
With hope for a good journey,
 
 
Outlaw Kate
 
 

Epilogue

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 17:05 Comments comments (567)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 19:28
 
Epilogue:
 
The most popular question at the finish line for a few days after was “So would you do it again?” and as far as I know, most everyone answered “No way!” But perhaps it’s like having a baby – you forget the pain after a while, relishing the good parts and forgetting the bad. I can honestly say it’s one of the most difficult things I have ever done. I will never forget some of the things I experienced, both good and bad, and some of the people I have met (good and bad). I made some incredible new friends; I learned incredible things about myself (I treasured the adventure, disliked the race aspect - yes I realize it was a race but we had 10 days - too much of life speeds by anyways); I surprised myself with how much I honestly liked most of the horses I rode. The ones that you clicked with gave you their heart and soul; the ones you didn’t… gave you something else entirely, but that’s how it goes sometimes eh?
 
I rode the race in the manner I chose, with no regrets other than I would have preferred to ride the race in the 10 days and receive an official placing, as for most of us who were disqualified (and me in particular) it would have been completely doable.
 
I marvelled at the logistics of even attempting to hold a race such as this and wondered if any of the Adventurists had any hair left. I remembered the excellent vet, medic and field staff that I had encountered along the way. 
 
I will never forget the Mongolian people, and their incredible hospitality - putting up with us crazy foreigners, brewing up their wonderful huge cauldrons of tea, breaking out the vodka and the most excellent yogurt I've ever tasted.  I would go back in a minute and spend more time amongst them.  I think I'd take a sleeping pad next time though...
 
I was humbled to be among so many excellent riders; admired a few for their absolute hard-core courage, applauded whole-heartedly those who rode each leg and had an official placing.  I will never forget those who I spent so much time with, who were disqualified along with me but continued on anyways, having the time of their lives.  I have so much respect for each and every one of my fellow "back fielders."
 
And the stories...I laughed at Mattias who found himself on the very last leg with a horse that wouldn't move, ended up walking into Finish Camp at 4:30am (incurring a 7.5 hour penalty for moving past 9pm) - what a story to end on.   And the people who rode into Finish Camp with excruciating injuries - Sonja and Simon, only a couple of who rode many, many kilometres with cracked ribs or other broken bones...And I cringed at some who rolled into Finish Camp and proceeded to party like it was 1999. Oh those were the days...
 
The trip back to UB was something else again. Not being one to linger around when the day is done and the job is over, I headed back to UB with Simon, Eveline and Wendy. If you’ve never experienced driving in Mongolia, perhaps save yourself the grey hair. We seriously thought at one point we were going to die in a rollover in some vintage Russian van; the doors on the thing did not open from the outside and the windows did not close (perhaps to save from inadvertently gassing the passengers – I think the engine exhaust was piped directly into the cab.) “Shoulder check before passing” is not in their vocabulary; nor is “Don’t pass on the outside curve going up a hill.” How wonderful and fortuitous to finally make it to UB and to sleep in a real bed and to shower in hot water! We ate pizza! And fries! And drank alcohol that didn’t originate in a horse! We truly felt blessed.
 
As far as I know, Ronald is doing okay, and last I talked with him was awaiting the permission to leave the hospital and travel back to the Netherlands. He is one lucky man, but I’m not sure even a trooper like him would decide to ride the Derby one more time.
 
I am back in Canada, my lip has healed, I have nothing worse than stinky clothing to deal with, and feel like I am the luckiest woman in the world. I survived the Derby (or most of it), didn't lose my lucky sleeping bag...life is good. That is all.
 
Epilogue-epilogue: Ronald says he has already signed up for the 2013 edition of the Derby - look out folks, third time lucky.
 
 
 
The end...or many ends :P
 

Race Day 9

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 16:49 Comments comments (0)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 19:26
 
Race Day 9:
 
 
 
Rounding up the new-fashioned way
 
 
We were up bright and early – only a bit more than two legs to go! We were on our horses by 7am, having already made sure they were well fed before we set out on our last day. We knew from the day before that quite a number of riders had already crossed the finish line, with Donal Fahey from Ireland winning the race, and we were excited to be within shouting distance of having this odyssey over once and for all. We fantasized about what food we would eat once back in civilization (pizza); what it would feel like to have clean hair (pretty damn nice); and whether or not we would ride immediately in the future (pretty damn unlikely.) It didn’t even matter that we left on our final morning without breakfast – we could get that in a couple of hours at the next horse station.
 
We had ridden approximately 17 km, were only 5km from the next horse station when I decided that my horse was settled enough for me to extract my last known food from my pommel bag – a plastic baggie of dates – mmmm…sweetness and energy all rolled into one. We were all starting to lag a bit by this time from lack of nourishment – seemed like a good idea at the time! (Famous last words.)
 
And just like the very first day of training camp, I could see it happening even as it happened – my horse did a quick 90 degree turn to the right, started bucking, the saddle slipped and before you know it, I had landed directly on the top of my head. Images of Ronald’s accident were rolling before my eyes, and I sat up with my head swimming. “Oh my God! Oh my God!” Lucy, Jess and Eveline were horrified at the turn of events. “Are you okay?” I didn’t really answer, I don’t think, other than to say yes, I think so…my head was still swimming at this point but I could see my horse bucking and running, my saddle hanging off to one side, my saddlebag seemingly going for a long gallop into the wild beyond. The horse got caught in the reins at one point and did a nice forward roll through a bit of a dip. I was thinking “Oh MAN! All this way and to have finally lost a horse…”
 
Lucy and Jess tore off after my horse; I turned and quite determinedly started trudging in the direction the horse had disappeared into – my mission: recover my saddle and saddlebag, even if it meant I had to walk all the way back to the last horse station, 40+ km away. My lucky blue sleeping bag was in there! What else was I supposed to do? At some point I noticed that my hand held the cause of the entire ruckus – the bag of dates. Ha! At least I came out ahead on that one, I thought. I offered some to Eveline, who quite forcefully declined, as she wanted me nowhere near her nearly-spooked horse with the offensive date-bag.
 
As I walked I started to think, “Now why is my ass end getting all wet? I didn’t land on my back…wait a minute!” I realized that I had broken the water reservoir in my backpack – again, all this way with no issues and now this! Suddenly I realized how it had happened and later inspection confirmed it: as I was on the ground with my horse bucking and kicking I remembered thinking “Why am I not being stepped on? He’s actually landing pretty close to me…” and the skidding hoofprint on my backpack confirmed he had gotten me on my backpack instead. Oh well, at least it was padded.
 
I owe Lucy and Jess a huge thank you for their horse-wrangling skills, because as I was making my way down the road they appeared with my wayward horse in tow. They had caught him as he stopped close to a shed, cut the entangled reins, removed what was left of the saddle, and returned him to me. Lucy had pressed her “Help” button, so was obliged to remain with me at the scene of the crime. Soon enough, Dr. Andy arrived with the medic van, determined I had in fact NOT broken my neck, sent Lucy on her way, and we happily discussed surfing (he’s from Australia) while waiting for the vet back-up to arrive. I was a bit concerned about my little date-bag-hating firecracker horse, what with the roll through the ravine and the reins wrapped around his legs; but the vets determined no serious harm done, gave him a shot of bute, attached him to a long lead and proceeded to the next horse station. Dr. Andy gave me an interesting concoction of pain meds with muscle relaxants, and I no longer worried about much of anything for the remainder of the race…
 
We arrived in HS24 the last station before the finish line at HS25, to find a reunion happening. Anne and Erik, George - Nikki had appeared from somewhere down the line - me and Eveline, Ivo, Lucy and Jess…it was like old times once again, with everyone happy to exchange stories, drink whatever was available, eat whatever was given to us. The plan was to wait for the last of the competitors still in the race – Sonja and Wendy – to pass through HS24 and then to ride the last leg together. “Sorry guys, count me out,” I said. I had trashed my (second) saddle, landed on my head, was stoned on some good (legal) meds, and felt like I had pushed it quite far enough.
 
I kept thinking “Jordan would KILL me if I came home dead!” and having ridden most of the race to the best of my ability, in the manner that best suited me; had not injured any horse or brought one in with any issues (except for the last one, stiffness self-inflicted in my opinion); had not incurred any penalties; had not asked for “Help” except at the very last and that was on my horse’s behalf; I already felt like a winner. “We will cheer you as you ride through the finish line!” I told them, as Eveline and I piled into the vet van for a ride to Finish Camp. It was a decision that was tough to make on one hand, but one that felt best and still does. It is a wise woman who knows her limits, or so they say. Besides, with the morning’s ride, I had clocked over 1000km in 9 days - epic ride accomplished – not bad for your average ranch woman from Canada.
 
 
 
 
Waiting to set out from HS24
 
 
 
We did indeed cheer them as they rode past us at the finish line. The relief to be done the race was almost palpable; and although there was considerable celebrating, fatigue and injuries were rife in the riders, keeping the finish line celebrations on somewhat a less exhuberant level than at the start line.
 
 
 
 
It's finally "Beer-o-clock" at the Finish Camp
Eveline tired but happy

Race Day 8

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 16:33 Comments comments (1)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 19:21
 
Race Day 8:
 
I set out with Lucy, Jess and Eveline for what was to be our second last day of riding. Even though we had expected 10 days to finish the race, with the majority of the field nearing the finish line, 9 days was it. Not in a position to argue, we carried on – what else was there to do? It turns out quite a lot, as we later caught up to Erik who said he had spent more than a day at one horse station where he assisted with the milking and the cleaning of pens. What a man! It seems if anyone got his money’s worth out of this whole shebang, it was Erik. We may not have been the fastest group going, but I suspect that our collective experiences were by far the most colourful, eventful, memorable and tragic, all rolled into one.
 
 
 
The star of the movie "Mongol" - no, not me - the horse!
 
 
 
 
And the movie star's owners - the good people who served us beer for breakfast
 
 
But back to the riding – we four ladies made excellent time on what finally seemed like consistently matched horses. We roared into HS21 with plenty of time, and made it to HS22 in record time considering our horses would not move faster than a slow trot. “We got the the pack horses this time” Eveline said. Checking my official horse description sheet it said “Good condition, racey type, quite a young 4, not an idiot’s ride” and I wondered, not for the first time, who had switched my horse’s number with one you had to put up stakes in order to judge its movement? I could have easily run 45km faster on foot myself, I kid you not.
 
Anyways, we made it to 22 and set out for part way between 22 & 23, knowing we could easily do the balance of the course the following day. We were as good as done! We had horses that were willing to move (a few of them had a tendency to bolt as a matter of fact) and had paid a couple of Mongolian men 40,000 tugriks to guide us to a ger before it got dark.
 
Out came the famous blue sleeping bag once again, and as a bedtime story, I counted up the odometer readings on my GPS for the other ladies: I had recorded 915km more or less, with two legs unaccounted for, so was easily looking at 995km so far. It really became apparent that this is not really a 1000km race – you can easily add at least 20% on depending on how you detoured around lakes, rivers or mountains (or vicious dogs, or whether or not you went into soums for a Coca-Cola fix). Those who rode each and every leg had ridden quite a distance indeed, and I was slightly in awe of that fact.
 
We all heaved a weary yet happy sigh – again, even though disqualified, nobody could say we didn’t ride quite a distance. All that was left was to make it to finish camp in one piece. As if our day hadn’t been good enough already, as a final gesture of goodwill, one of the boys in the ger (seeing I was going to cover myself with my crinkly silver survival sheet as an extra layer) came over and tenderly covered me with his deel. I fell asleep almost instantly and dreamed for the first time since beginning the race.
 
 
 
 
Lucy goes for a whirl in a real Mongol saddle

Race Day 7

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 16:20 Comments comments (0)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 19:15
 
Race Day 7:
 
 
Leaving beautiful HS15
 
 
 
 
The "facilities" - pretty basic but the view was fantastic!
 
 
I was excited to be back in the saddle after the disastrous last day of racing, and looked forward to the mountain pass we were to cross later that day. I can honestly say this leg was one of the highlights of my ride. It began as a nice flat build up, alongside a creek with beautiful trees, and I cantered along with Erik and Anne. We were making good time when my horse suddenly stumbled in a hole hidden in the grass, nearly went down, but struggled to keep his footing. I struggled to stay in the saddle, and it was with some relief that I found myself still seated when he pulled himself back into position. Wait a minute though – what was I doing sitting on his neck?! The saddle, with its eternal problems of not staying snug and in place, had slipped forward to the point where I could have easily reached out and poked my horse in the eyeball if I so chose. But no, instead I calmed him down (thinking that him bolting off at this moment would be a very bad thing for both of us), slowly dismounted and was pleased that he allowed me to loosen the girth, reposition the saddle, then remount and carry on. We crossed the high mountain pass in good time, reunited with Lucy and Jess on the other side, and arrived at the next horse station in plenty good time. Although we were all riding for fun at this point, all of us still wanted to cross the finish line before any more curves were thrown our way, and we kept at the pace the best we could while still riding sensibly.
 
 
 
Heading up the pass with Erik and Anne
 
 
 
 
The view from near the top of the pass
 
 
 
The next leg I rode alone. The horses were hot to go; Lucy, Jess and Anne bolted off down one trail by the river; Erik’s horse bolted up the side of the mountain; I maintained control of mine and caught up to Erik who by this time had dismounted and was heading back to the horse station. He had injured his back early on in the race, had struggled through it to this point, but was not willing to push it any further. We said our goodbyes and I set off on my own route. It was surprisingly pleasant and peaceful, even considering the fact my horse was a youngster who was not used to being alone. He whinnied and called to anything within whinnying distance for the next 45km. I was most impressed with him though, as he carried me uncomplainingly through more muskeg, outran another vicious ger guard dog, and we were racing down one set of tracks when I spotted Lucy, Jess and Anne racing up another. Even though they had left before me, I had beat them to the intersection – it was almost like a wild west movie – galloping across the open stretch to rendezvous with the rest of the outlaws! Another stretch of wetlands, where we crossed a river at least three times, played “find the hidden ger” (around the side of a hill) and we pulled into the horse station in good time. Just a few more legs to go – the finish line was beginning to materialize at last!
 
 
 
 
I detoured specifically to get a photo of this yak.  You're welcome.
 

Mongol Vodka!!

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 15:56 Comments comments (3)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 19:07
 
Mongol Vodka!!
 
After our trying day enroute to HS13, getting a ride to the next horse station seemed like kind of an intermission in some ghastly long-drawn out movie from hell. Little did we know that the ride itself would be one of the main acts, and considering the day we had just had, I had no idea it could get any more interesting.
 
There were 7 of us passengers split into two groups – Anne, Erik, Aimee and myself in one vehicle with a Mongolian driver; Lucy, Jess and George in the other vehicle (Ivo had disappeared further up the trail, as he was also filming a documentary of the race and needed to catch his film crew.) Off we went, fording a seriously flooding river, stopping briefly in a soum for junk food (chocolate and Coke figured highly in this scenario) then across the steppe, zigzagging down the trails that pass for roads in those parts.
 
 
 
 
Unenburen negotiates with our guide
 
 
 
 
Who needs bridges?
 
 
Stop number one occurred at a ger camp, where our driver, apparently related to half of the countryside and on good terms with the other half, picked up a one litre bottle of what I thought at first was water…and one coffee cup. Stop number two produced a bowl of dumplings and some dried cheese and curd. Stop number three was a full-out put-it-in-park, gonna-be-here-awhile kind of affair; the driver cracked the bottle and filled the coffee cup. “Mongol vodka!!” he shouted, and insisted we all drink before resuming our journey. Later on we discovered the substance we were all sharing was in fact “arkhi”, distilled airag, the more potent, clear liquid form of the fermented mare’s milk.
 
 
Check out this link for the Mongol Vodka episode, starring Aimee, Erik, Anne and Yours Truly:
 
 
 
And drink we did – what else could we do? We were at his mercy. Bottle partially gone, off we went again, stopping occasionally when he would spot a friend or relative at work herding his animals. “Mongol vodka!!” and the cup would continue to make its rounds.
 
 
 
One of our driver's Mongol Vodka buddies
 
 
And on it went, until the bottle was empty. The driver rolled down the window and threw it away, as we were beetling down the “road” at a decent clip. “He just threw out that bottle!” Anne exclaimed. “I know,” I said, “Didn’t you notice all those vodka and beer bottles alongside of the trails we have been riding?” I asked. It seemed that recycle fever hadn’t hit this part of the world just yet.
 
Mongol vodka all gone, we ended the journey at HS15 after a rousing sing-a-long to the driver’s favourite song, which he played over…and over…and over…We were down a teammate, we may have just been disqualified, but by golly, we had just had the most trying yet interesting day of our lives.
 
 
Check out this link for our new favourite song - Sing-a-long everybody!!  And yes it sounded that bad in real life - maybe even worse:
 
 

Race Day 6

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 15:38 Comments comments (0)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 18:58
 
Race Day 6:
 
We were ready to go bright and early, sad to leave the lake setting, but looking forward to putting in a good day. We were on track to finish in the 10 days, slow going notwithstanding, and it was with this in mind that I set out a bit ahead of the others, giving me and my horse time to warm up. George had started out with one horse, been bucked off, and had taken it back to get a horse a bit more agreeable. Ivo had also been thrown, had his horse run off but had it returned by some herders. It seemed that Ivo, George and Ronald had all chosen challenging horses; mine seemed like a plodder so I kept at my steady pace, only to be passed on the trail by everyone early on.
 
 
 
Crossing that bridge when we got to it
Ivo, George and Ronald
 
“Oh well, may as well enjoy the scenery,” I thought, watching everyone grow smaller in the distance as my horse struggled to keep up. But they slowed at a bridge crossing, allowing me to catch up and we rode on together until we reached a flat stretch of land occasioned with swampy ponds and many insects.
 
What happened next will live forever in my memory: George, Ivo and Ronald, on the faster horses were a bit in front of us; I was headed for a road a bit to the right, along with Erik and Anne. I glanced over to where the three men were stopped, looked away, and then looked back to see a mini rodeo taking place. It was difficult to determine who was off what horse, but when they all came to a stop, we could see one black horse and one piebald running off, one horse still at the scene, and all three men on the ground. I kicked “Plodder” into gear and rode to within 20 feet or so, slowed and dismounted as I didn’t want to spook the remaining horse. It was Ronald on the ground, with George and Ivo attending him.
 
“Don’t come any nearer with your horse,” Ivo warned. We all regrouped, handed off the horses to Anne, and I went to lend my assistance to Ivo and George. As fate would have it, they were both skilled in emergency first aid and it seemed Ronald was already in good hands. Ronald’s horse had bucked him off, and from the looks of his helmet he had landed straight on the top of his head. His “911” button had been activated; until the medics arrived, we did our best for him and I remember thinking that the poor guy not only had an injury, he had one in the most wretched part of the course. There were flying ants and mosquitoes buzzing around, the sun was blistering hot and the wind was sapping the energy out of everything.
 
 
 
Tending to Ronald - the best care this side of UB
 
 
Erik meanwhile had cornered Ronald’s horse which by this time was standing trembling with the saddle under his belly, his foot through a stirrup. He cut the reins, slowly undid the stirrup leathers to allow the stirrup to fall gently, and then undid the girth before jumping out of the way. The horse bolted but came to a standstill next to George’s horse, and the two of them didn’t budge much in the next 5 hours it took for us to deal with the situation.
 
 
 
Patiently waiting...and fending of insects...and waiting...
 
 
 
 
Anne seeks shelter from the sun and bugs in the Mongol Derby-mobile
 
 
I have to commend the medics Kate and Deb who arrived within the hour – they are among two of the most professional people I have ever encountered. We all took turns assisting them whenever possible, and by the end of the incident, they had Ronald professionally packaged, reassured, and in the best care possible considering the remote location and difficult circumstances. Off they all went, Ronald stabilized and in the back of their jeep, for a long trip to UB.
 
We all looked at each other: “Well, off we go again I guess” was the general consensus. By this time, our horses had been standing hobbled for 5 hours in the insect-o-rama (we had the benefit of bug spray, although they had tails and manes and were accustomed to this environment) but it was still an uneasy start for all of us.
 
Ivo had more issues with his horse (he was renamed “The Black Bastard”) and he ended up swapping places with the herder who came along on Unenburen’s motorcycle, allowing the herder to ride his horse while he sped away as a passenger. We all looked at him in envy as he disappeared down the road…
 
And although the herder picked the most direct route to the next horse station, it was through a semi-swampy area, populated with muskeg-type turtle bumps and uncertain footing. I was riding alongside Erik when his horse, evidently having had enough of this day, the insects, and the trying terrain, picked the only flat stretch in 20 feet to try to lie down and roll. “What the - ?” Erik yelled as his horse suddenly did a belly flop, and jumped off before any further harm could come to any of us. The horse ran off, was returned once, but continuing to be uncooperative, would not allow Erik to remount, so off Erik trudged with the horse in tow.
 
It had kind of become a circus, with horses acting all goofy, getting loose – at one point I was beside the herder (who was still riding Ivo’s horse) when I noticed a “What on earth is going on now?” look on his face; I turned in the direction of his gaze and saw Erik, who had tried to remount his horse, doing a “crack-the-whip” imitation on the end of his lead rope. He managed to hang on while running in great leaps behind his horse, but finally lost it and did a face plant as his horse ran away. At this point, considering all that had happened, I think I had become delirious and started to laugh. I laughed so hard I almost peed my pants. The herder was totally disgusted by now, rode back to help capture Erik’s horse while I tried to maintain some dignity and control of my horse. Then he rode away from us, no doubt hoping to ditch the crazy people who had invaded his land.
 
 
 
Erik looking totally disgusted in losing his horse (again)
 
 
It was the longest 20km of the entire 1000 I think. We all ended up remounted one way or another, and limped into HS13 – lucky 13 – to find a ger full of people. Jess and Lucy were there, having been stopped due to some unfortunate gastro bug that Jess had contracted; Aimee was nursing her injured back; with the other 5 of us we made a rag-tag bunch.
 
“That’s it – you’re being moved to HS15” we were told. End of the race, end of the line so to speak, as according to the rules, if you were moved up more than one horse station you were officially disqualified. After the day we had just had, there were mixed feelings all round. On one hand it didn’t seem quite fair, as we could have still ridden the rest of the way, but considering we were the slowest group going and the organizers couldn’t afford to spread out their back up teams and resources any further (the front runners by this time were at least a day ahead of us) it was something we couldn’t argue with, for the greater good of everyone involved. Quite frankly, I had no great desire or energy to spare for another leg; and if it was a question of ride fast or stay as a group, I'm sure none of us would have left the scene with Ronald no matter what the stakes anyways. We were only grateful he was in good hands and hoped and prayed the next few days for good news.

Race Day 5

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 15:16 Comments comments (3)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 18:51
 
Race Day 5:
 
 
 
Good morning, your fresh milk is served
 
We were up and at ‘em by 5am the next morning, having been told by Charles to be at the horse line by 6:30 at the latest. Morning routine finished, bag and saddle packed and ready to go, Anne, Ronald and I were the last to choose our horses as everyone else had chosen the night before. “What do you mean we only get to choose two crazy horses and one that looks like a cross between a cow and a donkey?” we asked. It turned out that there were not enough horses on the line for us, and they had to go over to the neighbour’s to fetch a few more. This put us a good hour behind the others leaving the horse station; we were told that we could use this hour as an extra hour of riding in the future if we chose, kind of like a “reverse penalty”. Not much we could do about it but to ride faster, so off we went in the spirit of “roll with it if there’s nothing else you can do.”
 
 
 
Eveline makes her way to the horseline for another day of fun on the trail
 
 
We caught up to the rest at the next horse station, did a quick turn around, acquired some decent horses and set off with Erik and Ivo in our group once again. It seemed a quick trip to the next station even given the fact I was riding a slow horse (George had actually set out on him earlier, but took him back to the horse station, saying he was one of the worst horses he had been on); another quick turn around, and we were off on the final leg of the day to HS12, rumoured to be situated by a beautiful lake.
 
This leg found me riding “Donkey” from the movie “Shrek”. How did he get to Mongolia? I wondered, but made the best of it anyways. As everyone else cantered/raced most of the way, I plodded along, the frustration of being left behind occasionally interspersed with terror as “Donkey” decided to bolt off into the desert-y type landscape. “Damn you! I hope your dragon girlfriend eats you!” I told him on occasion. It kept the humour going at least, and I arrived at HS12, at the bottom of a steep hill, by a lake, at 8:45pm, a few minutes ahead of the others who had stopped to take photos and video of the scenery. I personally couldn’t wait to dismount the beast, and it was one of the few truly beautiful legs of the race that was negated for me by having to ride an unsavoury horse.
 
 
 
Anne crests the hill above the lake and HS12
 
 
We had fish stew for supper, a nice change from the mutton and/or goat; and wonder of wonders – were treated to a night in actual beds, the first since leaving start camp.

Race Day 4

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 14:53 Comments comments (1)
originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 18:46
 
Race Day 4:
 
The second half of the leg we had begun the night before flashed by in a hurry. We had rested, our horses were good to go, and we found ourselves riding beside cultivated crops for the first time. “Must tell Viterra that they need some good kochia control in this part of the world” I thought, while at the same time experiencing a firm wave of homesickness for the first time. Who’da thought the sight of wheat growing beside a horse track would affect me so much? No time to dwell however, as we neared HS7, passed a soum with its requisite mad snapping dogs; and I picked up speed as my horse seemed as eager to move as I was. What incredible scenery! I cantered up a beautiful mountainside with interesting rock formations, turned a corner (the gers are usually hidden, remember) and there was HS7 like a beautiful mirage.
 
HS7 welcomes us in
 
 
 
 
Ronald navigating
 
 
For the first time I brought in a horse with an elevated heart rate, and walked to cool him down after my first reading of 80bpm. It didn’t take long, as I had not ridden the bejeezus out of him, but only picked up some speed coming up the hill. I was soon inside the ger, grabbing a snack and finding Alya who had decided this was enough for her and was on her way out of the race. We were sad to see her go, but respected her decision; but once invited, fell upon her pack of nuts, cookies and chewing gum like the mad ravenous road dogs that we had become. We were shameless scavengers at this point – can you imagine – cashews!! It was like manna from heaven. Bless you Alya, wherever you are right now.
 
 
 
Maybe this is why we were constantly behind - stopping to help whenever we could
Ronald helps push the truck that got stuck
 
 
The next leg of our race took us to the river bed, and we found ourselves coming into the next horse station a little bit off course. Crap! I thought, as suddenly we were into some amazing yet daunting sand dunes. “Those Dubai girls must have loved this” I thought, as I dismounted and trudged with my poor little horse, up and down sand dunes some 30 feet high, Anne in my wake and Ronald trailing in the distance. Once past them, we spotted the ger camp way off in the distance – not the closest one of course – remounted and rode into HS8 with time and energy to spare, even though we had been sand dune bashing for the better part of an hour.
 
Choosing our next mounts, Ronald, Anne and I got explicit directions from Unenburen on riding down the river. Our course was not the most direct, but would take us most of the way on flatter ground, allowing us to make up some time. An impending thunderstorm had made good on its promise to entertain us, and while the skies opened up with hail and rain, the thunder crashed and lightning lit up the gloom, we crossed the river a couple of times, then found the track and gave it all we had, with the intention of reaching HS9 before 9pm. Around bends and through brush…up and down and around, all at a pretty fast canter for the most part.
 
Being back on navigation duty, I directed us where Unenburen had directed me – most of the way down the river valley, then to where we were to turn off and head up into the mountains. “What do you reckon?” I asked as we passed a couple of “roads”. The problem was deciding which of the dirt tracks actually constituted a road according to our map, and which ones were only tracks leading to another ger camp. “Well, let’s just pick one and go with it” was the general consensus.
 
So it was that we found ourselves on top of a mountain, slogging our way up the steep slope, expecting to see a nice track on the other side leading the rest of the way to HS9…but seeing another mountain in the way instead. And while these horses were very willing to run up the mountains, they had a considerable reluctance to move with any speed going downhill. Sometimes they didn’t want to move at all. At this point, my stubborn “put your head down and just keep moving” side kicked in. I dismounted, grabbed my horse’s lead rope and coerced him down the rocky slope.
 
Anne, notably unimpressed (she didn’t seem to like mountains much, and I felt bad that we were on yet another one) followed Ronald and I at a much slower pace. I found a dry riverbed, jumped down a few feet with my horse still trailing me, made my way down the valley to where we could finally remount and continue on. Anne’s horse was lagging further and further behind – she would later recount this episode as one of those “You know when you have a nightmare or see a scary movie? Where everything’s black and blue and grey and deserted?” types of experiences. We were only 8km from HS9 with night moving in fast; Ronald and I pointed Anne in the right direction, and then rode hell bent for leather to make it before the 9pm curfew.
 
Ronald and I rode into HS9 on a cool rainy evening; I dismounted and told one of the vets they should probably go pick up Anne as I didn’t think she would be making it anytime too soon on her slower horse. However, she had already pressed her “Help” button on her spot tracker, so was in the process of being rescued. She later told us she had wandered into a ger camp, the people were incredibly indifferent to her, and to top it all off, they slaughtered the evening’s goat while she was waiting for her ride into camp! As she is a vegetarian, this was the crowning glory in one wretched leg of racing for her.
 
 
 
Dr. Duct Tape made the rounds that night
Erik's taped-up wound

Race Day 3

Posted on 31 October, 2012 at 14:28 Comments comments (0)
orinially posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 18:35
 
Race Day 3:
 
Day 3 saw the few of us at the back hauling butt to move up the line. At most stations we requested horses that would keep pace with each other, but quite often found one or more who just could not keep up. As Ronald, Ivo, Anne and I rode into HS6 I had just finished riding one poor thing that had given all he had but it just wasn’t enough. Earlier in the day I had been riding “Stumbly” (as I dubbed him for no apparent reason) when he did a bellyflop in the middle of a sandy low-lying area, somersaulting me over his head where I landed with an amazing amount of grace in a nice deep sand pit. This day had been very physically challenging, with heat and slow horses and more slow horses…we had worked very hard for every mile we had ridden and it seemed fitting that I finally dismounted and walked my horse the last 2 or 3 kilometers into HS6. I had a feeling that he was on the verge of becoming lame, and had no intention of limping a horse into any horse station, no matter how urgent it was becoming to us and the organizers that we move a little quicker. Spirits were low, we were all tired, but we were greeted like returning heroes by the vet team and the interpreters. It seemed we were now officially the underdogs and lo and behold, they were rooting for us anyways!
 
 
 
Anne, Ivo and Ronald
 
 
We were treated to delicious meat pastries, doing wonders for our energy levels, picked our next horses and decided to head as far as we could to the next horse station. We contracted the services of a couple of young Mongolian men on a motorcycle to lead us to a ger family where we could spend the night, and as night fell, our horses seemed to pick up speed. I remember cantering through brush, barely able to see the obstacles and trusting my horse to pick the best route as I couldn’t see anything in the deepening dusk. The rules stated no movement past 9pm, and it was with minutes to spare that we pulled up in front of a ger. Horses hobbled, saddle and bag removed, we were ready for the night.
 
“How do we get clean?” Anne asked. “We don’t, silly” was my reply. It had become a fact of life to wipe off with a wet hand wipe at the end of the day – water on this part of the course was precious and the Mongolians didn’t see any wisdom in wasting it for something as minor as washing. Regardless, somehow we negotiated a small bowl of water to share, to dip a banadana in and to use in brushing teeth. As Anne and I were standing in the small puddle of light given off by our headlamps, brushing and washing, a baby goat wandered into the party. He sucked and nibbled on my fingers as I bent over to scratch his head, and I remember thinking that was the cutest thing on which to end the day.
 
 
 
Our hosts for the evening
 
 
Sometime in the night, our horses ran away. Our hosts, for which I will ever be grateful and will disregard the uncharitable feelings I had for not being able to find their latrine hole in the dark (I don’t think there was one to be honest) chased after them and brought them back, and we were ready for our 7am departure once again.

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