Katy Willings’ Mongal Derby blog: smell-o-vision

  • I survived, but I didn’t win

    “How bad did you smell by the finish?”

    Hmm, it’s all relative. I was racing for 9 days, sweated several litres on the very first leg, and wore the same breeches, and a choice of 2 pants, 2 bras and 2 long-sleeved tops for the entire race.

    I correctly surmised that things stowed in my saddle bags wouldn’t fare much better than those on my person, as the horse would be sweating even more than I would, and once your kit is grubby, exchanging one grubby garment for another has no real comfort value, so you might as well economise on weight and get used to being grubby.

    I got 3 washes, each memorable in its own way. The first was a swim in the River Tuul, on day 3. Annelie, Dave and I had ridden a very clever leg thus far, staying low and going round some quite pernicious hills, and gaining considerable time on the field.

    We squandered that advantage when we reached the glistening water, in the heat of the day, as four or five children were bombing in and splashing around. It was too much. They thronged around us when we dismounted, hobbling our horses with their reins, as if it were the most normal thing in the world, and persuading us with snippets of English and infectious smiles to stop and join them.

    We didn’t need much persuading; a perfunctory wet wipe whilst squashed up against the inner lining of your ludicrous one-man tent is a pretty poor substitute for total immersion in cool, deep water. The horses looked on with an air of faint disapproval — “they always do this! Bloody humans!” — as we stripped to our smalls and bombed in with the children for a massive water fight.

    I had a real shower on day 5, when we reached the half way stage, and a ger conveniently close to a ‘town’ called Bayan, which we rode through en route to the horse station.

    Rumours of a shower in the mysterious, Wild-West-style Bayan started to circulate before we dismounted the horses, and when the vets confirmed that there was indeed running water, and if we were to give the shower-operators enough notice, they would heat us some, we were all a little bit giddy.

    In fact, Bayan turned into one massive party. We got a dilapidated Russian combi van into the town, found the bar and took it in turns to wash, under strict instructions to switch the water off between latherings. The newly scrubbed and scalded (there was no temperature control) got into a singing contest with the Mongolians and inevitably lost.

    On day 8, our assault on the finish line was scuppered when team-mate Jeremy, with whom I had been riding for the previous 3 days, took a crunching fall some 50 kms out. We were only 6 or 7kms on from our last pit-stop and changeover, and I rode back to the ger to get help, first to catch Jeremy’s horse, and second, to switch him on to something quieter.

    I cantered my horse home, and cantered back out again with a Mongolian herdsman and two horses, but Jeremy’s ankle had already doubled in size, and he had pressed his emergency button — we passed each other, him dolefully staring out the vets’ jeep, me with a double handful of horse, and after a conflab turned back to the ger a second time; without medical attention he would not be able to walk, never mind ride.

    So we spent the night at Ger 20, with a full six hours of daylight to kill. This was the afternoon I decided to have a look at my saddle sores, something I had not been able to do in my tent in the dark. I gingerly peeled a big melonin dressing off my left thigh, and winced at the mess underneath. Christian the medic was with us, attending to Jeremy’s ankle (looks like ligament damage ‐ it was a fairly acrobatic rodeo-style decking), and he scrubbed and cleaned the lacerations, while the vets and Mongolian horsemen looked on in amusement. I got a bit of sympathy from Christian, but it really wasn’t that sort of trip.

    It was about then that William, one of the South African vets, mentioned that he had a bag of water warming in the sun, with a shower attachment. I nearly fainted. I had bought a sachet of shampoo several days earlier for just such an occasion.

    In broad daylight, with only a tractor to provide something to hide behind (and this had a massive rabid dog sleeping with one eye open in its shade, so it’s not like you could really tuck yourself away), Emily and I enjoyed a lukewarm wash, and I spent several hours mooching about in my Big Pants, enjoying the sun on my poor pasty legs, before we slaughtered a goat, made a fire, and threw an “almost finished” party.

    “Did you have a favourite horse?”

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