Why I Stopped Being a Solo Traveler at the Mongol Derby
Growing up in America, I wad raised with the phrase, “never talk to a stranger.” The rulebook was thrown out the window the day I flew to Mongolia.
As a horse trainer by profession, I had been one of the lucky few selected to take part in the Mongol Derby, a 1,000 kilometer horse race across Mongolia’s steppes. The race would take place over ten days on roughly 30 different semi-wild Mongolian horses. As a rider, we were meant to re-create the Chiggis Khan postal system, changing horses at each new station placed 40 kilometers apart. This race is known as the “longest and toughest horse race,” and I was about to find out why.
I braced myself to tackle the steppes with nothing more than me, myself and a half-crazy horse.
For me, this race was originally meant to be a solo trip. A true test of survival skills, horsemanship and strength as I braced myself to tackle the steppes with nothing more than me, myself and a half-crazy horse. The first two days of the adventure, I did exactly that. I hardly had time to eat as I worked like a machine, riding one horse to the next and galloping wildly from sun up until sundown until my body would collapse in the evening from exhaustion.
And then something inside me changed… I had a revelation. A gut instinct. A feeling within. Hadn’t I already been working and living abroad solo for nearly half of a decade? Hadn’t I already proved my skills and solo prowess while living alone in India, Egypt, Bhutan and more? The answer was yes. So when the opportunity presented itself, I urged my horse to follow several of the other riders. I felt myself relax mentally, putting my natural instincts as a leader on hold and instead switched to cruise control. It was time to travel with someone, even a complete stranger for a change.
Turns out that decision was the greatest one I could have made. I embraced the moment and found myself under the care and wing of nomadic hospitality. It was an odd feeling to ride up to a random Ger (The traditional nomadic tent housing an entire family) and ask for a place to sleep and food for the night. The people of Mongolia were happy to offer total strangers their bed and a hot meal. Although they couldn’t speak a word of English, their curiosity was obvious as they proceeded to inspect my riding helmet and GPS satellite tracker.
What had been a complete stranger not two weeks before grew into a friendship beyond words
My riding companion also amazed and surprised me. What had been a complete stranger not two weeks before grew into a friendship beyond words as we struggled to help one another with difficult horses, rainstorms, marshes, marmot holes, chasing dogs and the occasional detour for a lukewarm bottle of coca cola.
I was able to complete the brutal Mongol Derby race. 1,128 kilometers later and I am a changed woman. The lesson? Follow your instincts, sometimes it’s better to go around the mountains than through them, don’t let a few marmot holes stop you and never underestimate the power of a true friend…even one you haven’t met yet!