originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 18:14
Wow what happened? I blinked and August is three quarters over. I have been half-way around the world and back, met some incredible people, seen some incredible things, survived some incredible challenges and am now faced with the daunting task of putting some of it to paper. Just because I like to do things the hard way, I will begin my chronicle without the assistance of visual cues to remind me of some things, as my luggage (including my cameras and memory cards) has apparently decided that it prefers to take in the sights of Seattle Washington, instead of following me further up the line to Victoria BC. Oh well, that just means that I am spared the horrific task of laundering my “riding clothes” ie. sweat and dirt encrusted socks, tights and shirts – for another day or two. Or maybe I will just surrender these items to the circular file…I honestly don’t know if I can get the stink out.
So where to begin? I last left you (aside from my brief on-the-trail updates regarding beer for breakfast) when I was about to begin day one of pre-race training. Our first day of training took place in Ulaanbaatar at the luxurious Ramada hotel, and was the first time most of us competitors had a chance to meet up face-to-face. In the chaos of map-handing-out, body-weight-weighing-in (remember we had a strict 85 kg weight allowance) and race-course-revealing, we finally had a chance to put faces to names and shake the hands of people we had only met online so far. I did get one comment from Simon from South Africa: “Not OUTLAW Kate?” when we introduced ourselves – I forgot to ask him what he meant by that, but at the time I wondered if he was expecting me to be sporting my six-shooters and buffalo hide chaps, instead of dressed in jean capris and T-shirt? Anyways, I am happy to say everyone passed the weigh-in, graduated from Training Day 1, and we all looked forward to travelling to Start Camp for the next two days of training.
If there is one thing I will forever remember about Mongolia, it is how it is such a land of contrasts. In the middle of chaotic post-communist-occupied rubble-strewn Ulaanbaatar you can find excellent hole-in-the-wall restaurants and stores selling incredible quality jewelry while outside people beg on the streets…no different than any other large city I suppose; but the contrasts were even more significant once you left the city. You began to see the nomadic families living as they have lived for hundreds of years, and then coming into their gers at night to watch the Olympics on satellite TV; or the herders dressed in traditional “deels” roaring around on their (quite nice) motorcycles, rounding up their herds of horses, goats, sheep, or cows.
Heading to catch the bus to the Start Line, photo courtesy Cozy from Down Under
The Magic Derby Bus
It is with this idea of contrasts in mind that I found us on our way to Start Camp, travelling over a dirt track (their idea of “roads”) in a luxury tour bus; the driver was trying to figure out how to jump across a railroad track that seemed to have inconveniently sprung up out of nowhere. I can only imagine what we looked like from a distance – a huge bus just roaring across the steppe – it seemed so random and out of place. Later on in the race, a bus in the middle of nowhere would not have surprised me at all – we would be cantering down the track and someone would yell “Car!” and we would move over to let a late model Toyota Camry or some such drive on past.
But cross the railroad track we did, and arrived at Start Camp, a collection of 6 or 7 gers, a horse line, washrooms (the last I would see until Day 9) and dining tent facilities.
Home for the next couple of days
Christoffer and his famous golden stirrups
I looked around at the bald-ass prairie and thought “Well, this is pretty much what I expected – it looks just like southern Alberta to me”, and I’m sure my travelling companions got tired of me saying over the next number of days “It’s just like Alberta! With no fences! And way more horses and goats and sheep!” At one point I had a surreal moment when I thought I had been transplanted back to the Hand Hills, such was the similarity of the landscape to where I’m from.
After settling into our gers, we were finally introduced to the tack we would become so familiar with (some more than others…details to follow) and once that was accomplished, it was finally time to get on the horses which were the reason we were roaming about in this magical land, after all.
Herders work to get the horses on the line
A contrast of old ways vs. new ways
I will forever remember settling on my first horse, a cooperative-looking dun with a dorsal stripe…and I will forever remember hitting the ground doing around 20km/hr when my saddle slipped up on his withers, then to the side as I tried to correct it and sailed over his right shoulder. I remember thinking “Ground!” as I saw the inevitable happening…the vet crew that witnessed the crash said it was spectacular. In my own (weak) defense, we had cantered/trotted/raced for the better part of an hour, I knew the girth had loosened up somewhat but thought I could get to the end of the first ride without having to stop and tighten it. I didn’t factor in the absolute thirst these horses have for racing (it is what they love most, and what they are encouraged to do by their handlers) and once my horse had begun to run neck and neck with Julie’s, it was impossible to stop him.
I got up from where I had hit the deck, knew I was bleeding from various parts of my face and thought “Great! The first one to have a wreck and I can’t even hide my wounds under some piece of clothing!” Nope – my lip was cut, I had abrasions on the left side of my face, and later on I suspected I had wrenched/bruised one of the ribs on my right side as I couldn’t even hoist myself up from my bed without downing a bunch of T3’s first. Great way to start a race – but in the end, it made me more cautious (a good thing at my advanced age, I reckoned) and gave me a good healthy respect for the ways of these horses. At the end of my 9 days of riding, I had no more injuries (except for the stiff neck muscles from my headstand on day 9 – more details to come) and am happy to say I came home without so much as a chafed ass.
First one to have a wreck, first one to break a saddle – fortunately Campbell Costello followed my horse and saw where he had finally shed the saddle – it came back with the billets ripped off the girth, a little worse for wear for sure. As the days went by, my saddle was not the only one to suffer this fate, so I felt a little better and not just a little sympathetic to the riders who had the same experience.