originally posted by Katherine at 23rd August 2012 at 18:29
Race Day 2:
Up and at ‘em at 5:30am! With the intention of being on a horse at 7am, the mornings tended to start pretty early. It looked another cool rainy day, so after doing a quick recce of my bodily needs - no physical complaints so far, just a bit of a rub spot on one shin from the buckle under my fender, tended to with the ubiquitous duct tape and my secret weapon – raw lamb’s wool; some nice milky tea and noodles for breakfast, I was ready to saddle up and carry on.
Ronald and I were ready to go about the same time, so off we went on that morning’s candidates, two horses that started out as perky but quickly wore down the further we went past 20 km. We had passed Erik, Anne, Alya, George and Jess earlier along the line. George was on the ground, hunched over his saddle attempting to repair a broken girth strap with his leatherman and some rope.
“You okay?” we asked as we passed them by.
Except for some bumps and bruises, he was fine, but cursing the saddle that had let him down (literally). Fortunately, some of the Derby crew happened along with another saddle and they were up and running before long.
Our horses ran out of steam on a cross-country leg we had the misfortune to navigate onto. We had been passed on the road by Unenburen (the head of the Derby horse department) and a translator earlier who shouted out “GPS it from here!” so we did – which turned out to be a mistake as we lost great amounts of time and tired out our horses from slogging up and down mountainous hills. At one point I asked Ronald what his GPS was saying; it had became a common cross-check for all of us to compare GPS readings for accuracy, and he replied “Don’t have one.” Oh well, I thought, a purist! “Nope, lost it yesterday” he replied. “What does your map say?” I asked. “Don’t have one. Got wet. That’s why I’m with you” he replied. So it was that our riding experiences together became one of me navigating and Ronald entertaining me with his incredible skill of being able to smoke at a walk, trot or canter. He had been in the Derby the year before, so he was a wealth of info about many things, not the least of which was “Always follow the road. It’s the fastest way.”
Hmmm…but why were we on some cross country trek then? Bad, if well-intentioned advice, that’s all I have to say. Or maybe it was a translation issue – poor Unenburen later on in the race had a laugh with us, as he was pointing to the right side of a river, with his translator repeatedly saying “Follow the left side, follow the left side…”
A quick change at HS3, and we cantered on our way to HS4 with a grey companion horse that ran most of the way with us. He only veered off around Bayan Onjuul (a soum, or village) to run around with some other buddies, and we were reminded once again how wild and free this land really was. It was not uncommon to pass huge herds of horses, goats and sheep, all milling around with no boundaries whatsoever. It was only by virtue of the fact that the herd tended to stick together that they didn’t stray too far.
Tag along horse following Ivo
We navigated successfully around what appeared to be a lake on our (my) GPS, when in actual fact the lake was dry. At one point a young Mongolian boy joined us on horseback to point out the way, ran circles around us, probably laughed at our comparatively feeble riding skills, and disappeared…
We caught up to Erin and Ivo, who were moving very slowly. Erin had a knee injury from day 1 that was not getting any better; she would end up withdrawing from the race as the medics determined she may have a fracture. Ouch! We promised to see them at HS4 and kept moving.
Erin pushing on in spite of the pain
HS4 appeared around the edge of a hill. It became one of our essential truths about the race: if you see gers in the distance, the horse station will be the one furthest away; if you don’t see any gers in the distance they have hidden the horse station behind something – it never failed! But we were finally into HS4 at around 6pm, lots of time to change horses and keep moving. But what was this? It was Anne, stretched out on the floor of one of the gers – she had parted ways with Alya, had been a bit lost, walked in the last few kilometers and was feeling so wretched she was considering not carrying on. The people who owned the ger had been extremely kind to her, albeit lacking the English necessary to converse.
As fellow competitors with the idea that we weren’t in it to win it, we decided to call it a night, wait for Ivo and Erin to catch up, boost Anne’s spirits with our incredibly funny stories about life and move on in the morning. Through the one family member who spoke English we learned that the ger family had been planning on moving camp and were a bit put out to be honest. They also said they had been caught off-guard by the sheer number of people passing through their camp, expecting the 34 riders but unprepared for the extra amount of staff milling about. We felt a bit sheepish about imposing ourselves on them for one more night, but at that point there was not enough daylight to continue.
Medics Kate and Deb attend to Erin's knee: "If it was any worse we'd have to amputate". Not really.
Evening found us curled up in the one ger which housed the satellite TV, watching a rebroadcast of the Olympic boxing match in which a Mongolian competitor had done really well. We crashed on their floor, and it was the first night of many when the Mongolians were quite fascinated with my sleeping bag – a fluffy down-filled bag of an electric blue colour. I finally realized by the end of the race that this colour is very significant for the Mongolian people, and learned that it is the most sacred colour in their culture, representing the eternal blue sky. It is the same colour found in their “hadag” silk scarves, which are the highest symbol of honorary greeting. You can find these scarves all over the place – tied in trees, to monuments, on temple doors. Apparently they thought I was sleeping in one giant blue hadag – lucky me! This didn’t stop them from staring at us, however, and I awoke at one point early into my sleep, sat up, and found a whole line of Mongolian men just watching us sleep…
The lucky blue sleeping bag -and what's that in the bowls - coffee?!