December 1, 2020

Category: Mongol Derby

Not your average definition of fun, but what the heck


The Derby’s Blood Wagon fills a vital role: it scoops up the walking wounded and transports them forward. Just because these riders are no longer in the saddle, it doesn’t mean that they are short of adventure:

Kathy Gabriel ~ “Day five began with me in extreme pain. I saddled up, keen to ignore it, but after the first leg that day I succumbed to the pain and sought out one of Intrepid Medics. Turns out I had a torn muscle in my shoulder.  Devastated as I was to finish racing, my adventure with crew member Louise and the infamous “Blood Wagon” had now begun. Any Derby rider that has had to ride in the Blood Wagon will understand how incredibly rough and painful this mighty van can be, and even more so when you are injured.

As we bounced our way across the steppe, I was thoroughly enjoying myself in good company and soaking up all that was Mongolia, until we reached a river. At this particular river we learned that Blood Wagons cannot swim. The Blood Wagon is a 2WD people van, and although it was impressive at flying across the truly back breaking, ball crushing, tooth shattering steppe, river crossing was not its strong point.  The plan was for us to stop at the river, and crew member Carlos was going to swim across to us to get some stuff from crew member Louise whom we were with.

Instead, we arrived at the river, our driver geared the van down, and before we knew it the Blood Wagon was heroically charging straight into the water.  We made it about 50 feet before the water came. The van stopped and there we were, bobbing in the river. The water kept on rising. I was filming the entire thing and was having a marvelous time. A packet of chips floated past, and Rod (fellow injured rider) grabbed the chips and generously passed the packet around. Meanwhile Louise was moving all the gear from the floor to higher levels; we all had armfuls of stuff, trying to keep everything from getting wet. Meanwhile the driver was making a hell of a racket, shouting orders to fellow Mongolians who were trying to get the stranded Blood Wagon ashore.

The Derby medics were on the far side of the river, sitting in their camp chairs, having some chips, and watching a truly spectacular show. One fortunate side effect of the episode was the beer in the back of the van was totally submerged under water and was getting nice and chilled.  Eventually the van was pulled out of the river, the water subsided, and the van was aired out to dry. After approximately 6 hours and the application of some bush mechanic skills, the van was finally resuscitated & was running again. We rolled into the next horse station at midnight ready for tomorrow’s adventure to begin.”


Elise Stables ~ “I remember how many people got hypothermic in that cold AF rain. We were passing through the mountains; it had been raining for two days straight and our gear never dried.  I had stayed warm with a sip of ceremonial vodka here and there. I got to my third station of the day which was on the lower side of the hill country we had just come over. A kid ran up to me and told me he would help me choose a horse. I tried out my shitty Mongolian (as I tried at every station) “khurdan, khurdan” (meaning fast, fast).  The kid giggled and promised he had a good horse for me.

I didn’t notice the smirks of the herders, because I got on this horse and he took off…downhill. Working in horse racing, I wasn’t worried about having a bolter; but then I realised there was a large dropoff and a stream running in a semi-circle around the horse station and there was no way out to let the horse run out of steam. It was still pissing down and the reins were just rope and slippery. The horse was still bolting, and I did what everyone in pony club growing up tells you not to do: I wrapped each rein around each hand just trying to get a grip. I was losing feeling in my hands, but I managed a grip on one rein, and after going round a few times (laughing and swearing out loud) I managed to steer the bolter in the direction of the horse line. The little bastard pulled himself up in front of the crowd of howling herders and the little kid, who was pissing himself laughing. I changed horses and laughed as well. This kid had pulled it off.”