Katy Willings’ Mongol Derby blog: outward bound

  • Monday, 6pm. Seoul airport. One flight down, one to go.

    I have already succumbed to the most pedestrian, least pioneering, least lion-hearted food substance on offer in this gargantuan terminal. After coming a cropper in a game of rice-roulette on Korean Airways, I am loathe to try anything else with a name I don’t recognize (or in the case of my porridge this morning, a name, but no other features I recognize) and am currently nursing a bagel filled with processed cheese, processed meat and melancholy salad. It’s a triumph.

    Actually last night’s Korean delights were very good and, best of all, yielded a little tube of red pepper paste with which to season your rice and seaweed. I have craftily harvested this for use in the field as an emergency condiment, when presented with my first bowl of sheep parts. I am not sure whether this will cause offence – it might be a case of storing a bit in the lower gums while untacking the horses. I’ve also stolen a spoon. Other riders have gleefully advised me that they would be bringing a titanium ‘spork’. I couldn’t bring myself to spend money on such a thing. Sorry….

    Have so far avoided all impulses to panic buy, although after picking them up and putting them down again about 15 times I have bought a massive pack of cigarettes. Hopefully more than I will get through in a lifetime. It would be a disaster to rely on them in civilian life….

    Midnight. Zaluuchuud Hotel, Ulaan Baatar

    Clever Annelie, with whom I am sharing a room in UB and will no doubt cover much of the 1000kms with in the coming days, had come to meet me at the airport and we spent a happy hour or two comparing kit, strategy and, critically, wardrobe.

    I envy her stirrup leathers, she’s pretty taken with my stirrups. She has real actual army ration food. I have a pot of peanut butter. Actually I think we know who’s winning on that front.

    Our hotel is brilliantly Eastern bloc chic, and we sit out on the windowsill sampling our duty free fags and admiring the derelict housing block opposite. I then pass out…

    Tuesday, 6pm. Internet cafe, UB

    We’ve had a very productive day running various errands. The most important of these was getting the course downloaded onto our GPS units, which seems to have worked a charm. My unit found the satellites promptly and is a bit like a Nokia phone to operate, and with a six hour drive in a truck tomorrow during which to read the instruction manual, I should have it under control and bending to my iron will by the time we reach the start line.

    We met quite a few of the other riders over the course of the day – it’s really not hard to spot us (generally the ones in stupid hats/firking around the camping department in the State Department Store – literal translation “Big Shop” – or just generally looking a bit nervous).

    Annelie and I spend a good few minutes admiring a pair of children’s tents complete with cute little tunnel running between them, in style of Fun House circa 1990. Obviously, we strip down and time each other through the tunnels, which causes some confusion among the shop assistants.

    We also manage to buy real tea, some tinned tuna, and other camping goodies. I think purchase of the day might be some powdered cordial (I think that’s the best description I can come up with). It turns water into Ribena-coloured rocket fuel, is 96% sugar, with added B, C and A Vitamins and iron. Basically with that in my camelback I won’t taste the iodine, and I can probably pick up the horse and carry him if necessary.

    I have rather bullishly bought some fake tan too, and with all the writing in Cyrillic it’s anybody’s guess as to what colour I will end up. But having heard last week that there is a film crew here to catch our moments of glory, panic, stoicism, etc, I can’t risk being the pasty doughnut of the horde.

    Have successfully bought a Mongolian SIM card but it appears my phone is network locked, so further reconnaissance required on that front. The password is not my birthday, or Tango’s birthday, and I think I only get three guesses. Should probably call Vodafone rather than do anything rash…

    We are rolling out of the Red Hero city at 10.30am tomorrow, after a princely curry in the city tonight with all of the riders, vets, Adventurists and film crew. So Annelie and I are suitably glammed, have packed everything into our saddle bags, and are scrubbed and ready to travel in the morning.

    Things I miss: hot water

    Apparently there is one room in the Hotel Zaluuchuud which does have hot water, and guests can go to reception and ask to use the shower should the ore glacial facilities in their own rooms not meet with their approval.

    After quite a lot of swearing I did get right under the shower head just now, and experienced a head rush which felt like a stroke. In fact I do seem to have a strange bruise on the side of my head which wasn’t there yesterday, and can’t help thinking I have suffered some sort of brain bleed in the shampooing process. Look like Gorbachev, or similar. Hope it won’t affect my riding or camping skills, I have spent ages on them!

    Gingerly, (no- probably tango-orangely)

    Katy xx

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