Katy Willings’ Mongol Derby blog: D-Day minus four

  • So, I am nearly there. In a week I will be in Mongolia. Crumbs. My final weekend in the Shire was spent in one continuous kit-test. Here is a quick run-down of the contestants and their performance.

    Icebreaker ultrafine merino wool tops – 5/5. These are going to be my base layer, being both very light whilst still covering my poor pasty arms, and naturally stink-free. While I can’t claim I have trekked across the Andes between washes, I did two stonking bike rides and a sprightly hack on Tucker, all of which generated an ample amount of sweat, and am pleased to confirm that I did not smell like a giant armpit, or a sheep for that matter, at any point.

    I have a couple of other Icebreaker layers for the severe drop in temperature after sun-down, and my very generous housemate Peter has also lent me his merino tights to sleep in. Long-johns… I never thought I’d see the day. So well done Icebreaker and all your delightful sheep, I am a total convert

    GPS – 4/5. I finally got it out of the box, turned it over, pressed all the buttons. It is not as complicated as I had feared. Thanks to our absurd gender stereotyping (and the fact that I was a late-bloomer in matters adventurous) I have never been in charge of the map and compass, or any technical gadgets which substitute for them, and having confused cause and effect I thought this was because I couldn’t do it. Obviously I can, I just haven’t. My Garmin is a robust and chunky little thing in a nice yellow, which apparently can float and probably withstand a wolf attack too.

    Solar charger – 5/5. I deliberately went home with my phone and iPod only half charged, with a view to finding all the right leads and plug attachments for my solar panel and juicing my gadgets. Again, this is remarkably straightforward as long as I don’t lose the plug knick-knacks, or the lead, or the battery conversion casing so I can recharge AAA batteries for headtorch, and AA for GPS. Both items will burn through several sets of batteries, and my inner nerd calculated that a battery recharger unit would weigh less than multiple sets of spare batteries.

    I should be able to soak the solar panel with sun whilst riding (it will be attached to my camelback), then attach it to its little hub and plug my gadgets during a quiet hour. And if I can get all my batteries charged before the sun goes down, I can use the sun-juice in the batteries to fuel the hub to recharge my non-battery powered items (phone, iPod maybe) during the evening. A virtuous circle.

    Saddle bags – 4/5. I haven’t managed to get these on a horse yet, but they are currently astride my rocking horse, and I am delighted with them. Weighing in at just over 1kg, they have capacity for all my camping equipment behind the cantle, and medical, food and clothing supplies on either side.

    They even came with a handy guide to “loading your mount”, the most important principles being equal load on each side, and weight over the horse’s strongest points, so in front of the saddle not behind. Not that I am taking anything that weighs more than a kilo anyway, and I still need to work out how to attach them to the saddle. I’m taking baler twine, but I’d love to hear from you if you have any better ideas?

    Tent/roll mat/sleeping bag- 4/5. An excellent time was had by all in brother Tom’s garden on Sunday morning. Supervised by two toddlers in full ‘rabid dog’ style marauding cry, I managed to erect my tent, inflate the thermarest, unpack and get in the sleeping bag, within about six minutes.

    Observers commented that this really wasn’t very fast at all, and if it were raining/getting dark/plague-ridden marmots were circling, I’d be in a pickle. I am hoping to avert pickles by always having a light-source attached to my person, so that I should at least be able to locate my head torch, and go from there. Can’t be losing tent pegs or tripping over my guy ropes now.

    After solemnly explaining how precious and high-tech all my kit was to nephew George, we had a good old game of “how many gingers can you fit in an ultralite one-man tent”, and the answer, apparently, is “as many as you have to hand”- 3, in this instance.

    Firelighting equipment – 2/5. Housemate Peter was keen to give me a fire-making masterclass before my departure, and we assembled in the garden with twigs, tampons and lighters on Monday night. We artfully fluffed the tampons to their fullest volume, and created little wigwams of twigs around the cotton wool, the idea being that the tampons would light easily and burn hot enough for the wood to catch. The wood did not catch. But the tampons burned quite well so I’ll just take a few of them and eat by tampon-light if there’s nothing that I can burn out on the steppe.

    Making the wigwam was quite therapeutic anyway so not a pointless exercise by any stretch of the imagination. Research suggests that dried dung, which will be much more plentiful than wood anyway, burns quite efficiently, so am just going to keep my fingers crossed on that one.

    Leatherman knife – 3/5. It has taken me a while to work out how to get the blades tucked back in once you have snapped them out. Have a few cuts on my fingers as testimony to this, but now I have got the hang of this it should be plain sailing.

    Compass – 5/5 Located, fiddled with, understood. I actually did plenty of navigating in India on the Rickshaw Run, but had a useful refresher on Sunday afternoon

    Purchase of the week?That would be a toss-up between

    1. The 500g of biltong I bought in the South African Store near Embankment Station on Monday night. The saffer behind the counter looked quite startled at the contents of my basket but duly took my money. When I explained what it was for he nodded sagely, and said “well in that case I guess flavour’s secondary to nutrition content. Yeah, this’ll keep you going.” So God knows what it is going to taste like. I have also bought a tub of peanut butter in a plastic pot- 454g, about 4000 calories. I reckon that’s a pretty good power to weight ratio.

    2. The outfit I impulsively bought from H&M for the start line party on August 21st, because nothing shouts “I’m ready for action” like a silk playsuit… Kate Willings, bringing a little glamour to proceedings. Fact!

    In great trepidation,

    Katy x

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