Wednesday, May 17, 2017

USA's Wylie vs. the Mongol Derby: What If? - Full Article

By Leslie Wylie on May 15, 2017

Part of the fun of survivalist genre books and film is imagining yourself in the characters’ shoes. When life takes a turn toward do-or-die and it’s just you versus the world, how would you fare?

What if?

Personally, I’ve always figured that I’d be the first to go: the Hunger Games tribute who gets wiped out in the opening scene, the first sucker to get eaten by zombies in the Walking Dead, the settler who dies of dysentery in Oregon Trail as soon as you press play. I have the basic survival skills of a 10-year-old Girl Scouts dropout, and yet here I find myself, a soon-to-be-competitor in a horse race wherein just making it out alive and more-or-less intact is an accomplishment in and of itself.

Taking place Aug. 6-19 on the Mongolian steppe, the Mongol Derby is inspired by Genghis Khan’s original “pony express” — there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations spanning some 620-miles. The horses are semi-feral, riders are in the saddle 13 hours a day for 7-10 days straight, and nights are spent with nomadic herding families in yurts.

This is no holiday trail ride. Maybe half who start the race make it to the finish line each year. Last year a couple folks got airlifted to Hong Kong with serious injuries, and one co-winner doesn’t even remember a couple days of the race because she was concussed from being trampled. A couple years before that eight riders were held up by motorcycle bandits. Even the luckiest folks come home with accounts of being bucked off, chapped by the elements, plagued by hypothermia or food poisoning, and chased by dogs.

I’ve followed the Derby in previous years with a mix of horror and awe. Why would anyone in their right mind want to put themselves through that sort of thing? And yet another part of me craved the experience for myself. How would I fare out there?

What if?

One day, on a lark, I filled out an application for the 2017 race. It was a slow news day, I guess, and one does what one must to keep entertained. My own life at that moment, staring at a computer screen in suburban America, felt boring; racing ponies in the wilderness on a mission to stop deforestation, on the other hand — INFINITELY sexier and more noble...

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