Why I Stopped Being a Solo Traveler at the Mongol Derby

Why I Stopped Being a Solo Traveler at the Mongol Derby

pink pangea foreign correspondentGrowing 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.

mongol derby
Traveling with strangers was exactly what I needed.

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

Mongol derby
The Mongolian people were so hospitable, taking me into their homes for the night with no questions asked.

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!

Mongol Derby
The Mongol Derby–and all of its challenges and highlights along the way–changed me.

 

About Krystal Kelly

Krystal KellyKrystal Kelly is a Californian girl determined to see the world on the back of a horse. She has traveled solo (mostly) to 50 countries and counting and has worked internationally in over a dozen. She promotes women empowerment and encourages women to see the world and follow their dreams. For more information on her travels please check out here. She continues to travel to this day and is on a quest to see every country in the world!

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