Wylie vs. The Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak Day 3: No-Stirrup Mongolia

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.

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

LW on Day 1. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

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.

While this might have been exactly the kind of scenario that Leslie experienced today, watching her pony and her kit vanish over the horizon, her spirit remains resilient, she covered about 80 km today (half of that without stirrups) and her smile still beams over the steppe. Read on for the details.

Day Three Recap:

Decent weather (compared to Day Two) and a noted lack of drama was the order of the day… for awhile. But just after 1:00:

There’s no official penalty assessed for losing possession of a steed, though obviously a rider loses time in attempting to locate said steed. As the local herders were dispatched to search for Leslie’s wayward horse, she hiked back to Urtuu 8 — and in true gritty Leslie Wylie form, took right off on another horse.

Since the Mongol Derby is a BYOS (that’s Bring Your Own Stirrups) event, and her stirrups were still careening around the steppe evading capture, LW rode the next 40km leg without. Badass. According to vet Cozy at Urtuu 9, Leslie came in “f—king beaming.” That’s our girl.

Unfortunately, her horse was never found — meaning that until he’s located, her kit is essentially gone. Until it’s found, that means she’ll be riding without any of her additional layers, sleeping bag and any other gear she had stored in her saddle bags. All she has with her is the gear that’s on her person.

Fortunately, her tenacity, overall horsemanship and ridiculously good attitude did not go unrewarded:

Rebecca Pumphrey, another lauded horsewomen from Day 2 who traveled briefly with Leslie, also lost her horse in a similar incident when she dismounted for a tack adjustment. In the ensuing chaos, Rebecca lost not only her horse but her bridle; however, a local family managed to recapture her horse and she purchased a bridle from them to carry on. That’s some true Derby ingenuity.

41-year-old South African Jakkie Mellet 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 Mellet 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.

Jakkie Mellet. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby 2017.

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 the neighborhood when the sun rises.

Injury and Accident Assessment

Unfortunately, Day Three saw two riders retire from the Derby. Rick Helson, age 58 from the US, retired at Urtuu Three and was treated for dehydration and hypothermia; he is now back in Ulaanbaatar after being discharged and is reportedly feeling well. Jane Boxhall, age 51 and originally from the UK, called it a day at Urtuu Four 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 F — 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 her own stirrups tomorrow.

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!