Wylie vs. Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak, Day 6: One Steppe At a Time

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates from Leslie as she prepares to embark upon the ride of a lifetime! Click here to read all the stories in the series.

Current leader Jakkie Mellet on the steppe. Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby.

The Mongol Derby is modeled after Genghis Khan’s “pony express” relay system that was used to carry messages across his land. When you think about how many miles Leslie rode on Day 6 — she traveled the distance of four Urtuus, which are spaced roughly 40 kilometers apart, for a total of 160 kilometers or about 99 miles — it’s easy to see how such an express system could be effective.

It’s also a reminder that the Mongols were, and still are, tougher than nails. With more injuries forcing retirement as well as some questionable horsemanship choices, Day 6 proved to be influential.

Day Six Recap

Our Leslie and a pack of fellow riders roared out of Urtuu 14 right on the dot at 7 a.m. local time (7 p.m. EST last night) to start Day 6. We’re happy to report that Leslie’s great attitude and resilient sense of adventure despite losing her kit on Day 3 still appear to be riding high; she’s been described as “in great spirits.”

We’re even happier to report (and so, so grateful to her fellow riders) that Leslie’s been able to assemble a sort of mini-kit (as her original kit has still not been located), consisting of a sock filled with donated odds and ends from other competitors. Since everyone in the race was bound by the 11-pound gear limit, we know that there is very little extra to go around — many thanks to these generous riders!

Leslie is safely checked in at Urtuu 18 for the night, with the field spread from Urtuu 25 back to 16. The frontrunners are expected to complete the Mongol Derby tomorrow on Day 7.

Among the front runners: Jakkie Mellet continues to lead while earning kudos from the field veterinarians for smart riding and good horsemanship. He has incurred one two-hour penalty, which he served today, but is taking good care of his mounts and increasing his lead.

Ed Fernon incurred a stern, official warning and then penalty time for inconsiderate riding. The Mongol Derby takes equine welfare extremely seriously, with every horse undergoing an examination after every 40-kilometer leg. Riders are expected to present their horse to the veterinarian immediately, and every horse has 30 minutes to recover its resting heart rate. This allows the vets to determine if a horse is in metabolic distress and needs additional attention.

Unfortunately, on Day 6 Ed adopted the technique of gallopping his mount all the way to the next Urtuu only to “loiter” outside the station for about half an hour to bring his horse’s heart rate down without veterinary supervision. Ed first received a warning and then a penalty after he repeated the offense. Marie Palzer, who led alongside Ed in the early days of the race, also served six hours of penalty time today for veterinary offenses.

The six riders in the front running pack — Jakkie Mellet, Barry Armitage, Marie Palzer, Ed Fernon, William Comiskey and Warren Sutton — are expected to finish tomorrow. Vodka and airag (the famous Mongol drink of fermented mare’s milk) await them at the finish line.

Jakkie Mellet on the steppe. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Elsewhere on the trail, riders were strongly encouraged to take the bridge over the Kherlen River rather than attempt to ford as water levels were high. Fortunately, everyone made it safely across without incident. Storms moved in and out of the area for the “Adventure pack” (the back half of the field) but again travel appeared to be incident-free.

The family hosting at Urtuu 15 reportedly sent their riders off with packages of dumplings to be eaten on the ride. We love the Derby hospitality!

In other news, we’re trying to find a way to get word to Leslie that we’d like this one brought home for us:

… not so much this one though. He can stay in Mongolia.

Injury and Accident Assessment

We’re sad to report that Liv Wood (OW) has retired after a hard fall on her lower back; yesterday we reported that she was also battling an ankle injury. According to Liv herself via Facebook, she had clean X-rays on both her foot and her back, and she should be cleared to ride after 24 hours. She fully intends to return to the trail after a day’s rest, and she may be the first person in Mongol Derby history to medically retire and then return. All our best to Liv!

Gigi Kay, age 59 from the UK, also retired on Day 6 after cracking two ribs. A late entrant to the Derby, Gigi is an equine veterinarian currently working in Morocco. We’re sending our wishes for a speedy recovery!

One minor injury to report as well:

Jakkie Mellet on the steppe. These beautiful landscapes are too good not to share. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

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