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.
One of the running themes of the Mongol Derby is the unpredictable nature of the horses. As Leslie Wylie detailed earlier this spring, the semi-feral Mongolian horses can range from poky plodders to near-suicidal bolters and everything in between. Mounting and dismounting in particular can be dangerous, as the native horses are prone to taking advantage of that vulnerable moment and can thunder right off to parts unknown without their riders.
Leslie’s pony ditched her today when she dismounted to adjust her tack, galloping away with her kit and vanishing over the horizon, but her spirit remains resilient. She covered about 80 kilometers today, half of that without stirrups, as her original pair are still strapped to the wayward pony, who continues to play cat and mouse with the Mongolian herders.
Day 3 Recap
The day started with decent weather (in comparison to yesterday’s icy, hurricane-like rain) and a noted lack of drama. But just after 1 p.m. local time:
1302 First lost horse of the day: LW on way back to U8 now; local herders enlisted to track down naughty steed.
— Mongol Derby (@mongolderbylive) August 11, 2017
There’s no penalty assessed if a pony gets away from a rider, though obviously the rider loses time in attempting to locate the pony. As the local herders were dispatched to search for Leslie’s pony, she hiked back to Urtuu 8 on foot, and in true gritty Leslie Wylie form took right off on another horse.
Since the Mongol Derby is a BYOS (Bring Your Own Stirrups) event, and her stirrups were still careening around the steppe evading capture, LW rode the next 40 kilometer leg without stirrups. That’s about 24 miles. According to vet Cozy at Urtuu 9, Leslie came in “f—king beaming.” That’s our girl!
Unfortunately, Leslie’s horse has not yet been found. Until he’s located, her kit is gone. She’ll be riding without any of her additional protective layers, sleeping bag and other gear she had stored in her saddle bags. All she has with her is the gear in her backpack. We hope that includes her electrolytes!
Fortunately, Leslie’s tenacity, overall horsemanship and ridiculously good attitude did not go unrewarded.
HughCozy purchased camel stirrups for LW: “Mongolian steel forged w hammer and sickle.” Rachet straps for leathers too. Nice one, boys.
— Mongol Derby (@mongolderbylive) August 11, 2017
Rebecca Pumphrey, another lauded horsewomen from Day 2 who traveled briefly with Leslie, also faced an escaped horse in a similar incident when she dismounted for a tack adjustment. In the ensuing chaos, Rebecca also lost her bridle. However, a local family managed to recapture her horse, and she purchased a bridle from them to carry on in the race. That’s some true derby ingenuity.
South African Jakkie Mellet, 41, has taken over the lead, aided in part by early leaders Ed Fernon and Marie Palzer serving penalty time at Urduu 11 for heart-rate violations. Organizers report that Jakkie displayed “cool as a cucumber” horsemanship at his Urtuu changeover and is clearly riding to win. All three are currently camped with herders in gers between Urtuus 11 and 12 with only five kilometers separating the top trio.
Three riders — Barry Armitage, Warren Sutton and Will Comiskey — are staying in Urtuu 11 tonight, though all three will serve time penalties before being allowed to leave in the morning. Another three riders — Ceri Putnam, Sally Toye and Roberta MacLeod — have opted to hobble their horses and camp on the open steppe between Urtuus 9 and 10. Stay tuned to see if the hobbled horses are in fact still in anywhere in sight when the sun rises.
Injury and Accident Assessment
Unfortunately, Day 3 saw two riders retire from the Derby. American Rick Helson, 58, retired at Urtuu 3 and was treated for dehydration and hypothermia; he is now back in Ulaanbaatar after being discharged and is reportedly feeling well. Jane Boxhall, 51 and originally from the UK, retired at Urtuu 4 after a hard fall; fortunately, she too has been discharged and is doing fine. We send these riders our best wishes!
At the moment, the weather forecast for tomorrow looks relatively warm — around 70 degrees Fahrenheit — but also wet. (Naturally, this is all subject to change according to the whims of Mother Mongolia.) Keep your fingers crossed that Leslie’s missing kit turns up so she can enjoy the luxuries of additional layers, sleeping bag and other essentials she’ll need in the coming days.
Keep watching those dots and sending your good thoughts for a safe trip for all, including race crew and organizers, who have done a masterful job so far.
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!
Jenni Autry contributed to this report.