Wylie vs. Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak, Day 5: Steppefamily

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 previous stories in the series.

Leslie (center, in the pink jacket) and some fellow riders with the generous local family who fed them all last night at Urtuu 11. Photo courtesy of Mongol Derby.

Did you miss past updates? Catch up on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Another long-running joke on the EN team prior to Leslie Wylie’s departure for Mongolia was the inevitable comparison to the Hunger Games.

With some noted exceptions (such as, you know, the entire premise of the Hunger Games) the parallels become obvious: a whole world watches virtually, tracking their favorite rider with every ping of the GPS, while the riders themselves simply focus on the task at hand, the idea that thousands of people are watching their every move most likely not on their mind whatsoever.

In reality, however, Mongolia is not the Hunger Games — as the race organizers pointed out today, there is no holographic leaderboard equipped with video updates and realtime movement tracking. They did offer this helpful gem:

All this boils down to is that we at home only know as much as we can see about Leslie’s progress — but considering the logistics of tracking 43 riders, not to mention coordinating veterinary, medical and support teams across a thousand kilometers and orchestrating the wrangling of hundreds of horses, herdsmen and local families to help, we’re always happy for a glimpse of Leslie’s smile on the steppe and to know that she’s still kicking on and riding hard.

We’re SO grateful to the race organizers who personally answer our requests for Leslie updates, taking the time out of what we’re sure is a chaotic day to keep us informed. Many thanks to the hardworking Mongol Derby team.

Day Five Recap

Veterinary violations are likely to change the order of the leading pack in the next day or so, as leader Jakkie Mellet has a two-hour penalty to serve at Urtuu 22, while pace stalker Marie Palzer has racked up eight hours with a third penalty today. Ed Fernon has a clean record and will likely be able to take the lead; all three of these leaders are camped between Urtuus 20 and 21.

Barry Armitage, overnighting between Urtuus 19 and 20, is expected to move into second place tomorrow. But as always, this is the Mongol Derby, and everything can change in an instant.

The running order through the rest of the field remained similar to yesterday, with a few riders in the back half of the pack making huge leaps in their progress. Organizers report that today’s group of horses seemed feistier than usual, and several riders had to make use of their “help” buttons to summon assistance and a carry-forward to the next Urtuu, which earned them penalty hours to serve at Urtuu 22.

Leslie is overnighting with a party of 15 riders at Urtuu 14, all being fed by a generous local family. The cooperation with the local herding communities is critical to the Mongol Derby, and we’re so grateful to all of the families who have donated the use of their horses, helped wrangle wild steeds, housed riders overnight in their gers and taken care of the riders spending the night in the various Urtuus.

Leslie appears to have had a fairly uneventful day (which in Mongolia is a very good thing!) with no exceptionally wild ponies or major incidents to report. She progressed from Urtuu 11 to 14, which is an estimated journey of about 120 kilometers. Not bad for a day’s ride!

All along the route, the “steppefamily” continues to welcome what by now is probably a fairly filthy, stinky, unwashed field of riders for overnight stays. The family at Urtuu 19 was described as “awesome,” and Barry Armitage reported that he is staying with “a lovely family” on the steppe between Urtuus 19 and 20. Our hats are off to the hospitable people of Mongolia!

The spread of the field at the end of Day 5. Leslie’s route is highlighted in red.

Injury and Accident Assessment

A sixth rider has retired from the Derby. Marianne Williams, age 54 from the US, retired with a broken collar bone requiring surgery due to falling in “every marmot hole in Mongolia.”

According to Marianne’s biography, “riding the Mongol Derby (her first horse was a wild mustang) is a natural expression of Marianne’s quest ‘to not go gentle into that good night’ but to slide sideways into her grave — laughing like hell — while clutching one last cold beer in her weather worn hand.” She sounds like our kind of gal, and we wish her all the best in her recovery.

James Lester and Lucy Taylor, both from Australia, had made a pact to ride together; yesterday, Lucy was delayed along the route with an injured horse, which she helped treat alongside the vet, earning her big kudos from race organizers.

As a bit of a joke, James decided to hide at Urtuu 11, leading Lucy to believe that he had broken the pact and gone ahead without her. He popped out to surprise her just as she burst into tears, and she reportedly punched him in response.

To make it up to her, James offered to ride the horse that Lucy had originally selected. A particularly wild mount, it had bucked her off when she first tried to mount, and then proceeded to buck James off as well. He got right back on and they took off together, pact intact and earning some respect from the locals and race organizers for wrangling this particularly wild mount.

Liv Wood, whom readers should remember as one of Leslie’s partners in her 100-mile Texas training ride, is soldiering on with an injured ankle, presumably after a fall she took on the morning of Day 5.

Liv is overnighting at Urtuu 14 alongside Leslie, and we’re confident that these two strong-willed ladies will keep each other’s spirits high going into Day 6!

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!