March 6, 2020

Category: Gaucho Derby

It was fast and furious from the start line this morning as the Pioneers began their epic trek across 500 km of Patagonia. A number of riders, including Zsofia (ZH), Roberta (RM), Annie (AA) and Warren (WS) hit the gas pedal on the way to vet station 1 (VS1) topping out at over 25km/hr with a pack horse alongside. Other riders chose a more moderate pace, adopting the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” type of mentality which can often yield great results, ensuring there’s something left in the tank to finish the race. After all, it’s a long old haul to the finish line just a stone’s throw from El Chalten. A few riders – Shirley (SH), Nichole (NM) – chose an alternate route around some hilly topography; a plucky gamble which could have put them towards the front had it not been for that awkward impassable boggy canyon floor which forced a detour back towards where they had originated. 100 points to them for giving it a go. (No, the points don’t count.) While we’re at it, let’s give extra pretend points to Julie (JY) who hit the deck not far out of the start camp when her bridle parted ways with her horse and her horse parted ways with its human. The horse then bolted back to the start line for Derby Start Take Two. Don’t count Julie out just yet; a firefighter by trade and a Mongol Derby veteran, she’s as tough as they come and will be back in the thick of it in no time.


Photographer: Richard Dunwoody 


It was another hot day out there and the Pioneers are all wondering why they packed those four layers of thermals, but anyone familiar with mountains will know that it can go from +30C to -10C in a blink of a horse’s eye. The riders will get the chance to huddle inside a puesto (a bare-bones gaucho shelter) with snow falling down to tickle their derby-weathered faces before this thing is over. As a matter of fact, our gaucho-on-the-ground Rama says that the temperature in the coming days is going to be hovering around zero, with a chance of rain or snow. If you don’t like the weather in the mountains, wait five minutes, and wait till that 60mph wind starts sand-blasting your face. They call the wind “La Escoba de Dios” which roughly translates to “The broom of God” and it will be sweeping our competitors across the steppe whether they like it or not.

The hot weather has played havoc with a few riders’ plans: Zsofia (ZH) picked up the first heart rate vet penalty of this first edition of this amazing race – not the way she’d like to go down in history but that’s the way the way the boina bounces. Chris Peterson’s (CP) pack horse gave up the ghost somewhere between the start line and VS1, making his very first leg something of a misery-fest. Tough luck Chris – for the next 10 days, #GauchoUp is our motto here in HQ.

Gaucho DerbyPhotographer: Richard Dunwoody 

The leg between vet station 1 and 2 gave the competitors a good run for their navigational money, with Roberta (RM) doing a crack navigation down the river valley to be first into VS2 and out the other side part way to VS3 where she parked it for the night. Warren(WS), Dylan (DD), Stevie (SD), Hannah (HB), and the Ledbury Ladies (LD, LR) opted for a truly scenic route which took them down an alternate valley to a dead end, whereupon they backtracked to find a better option – a move that easily cost them an extra 10km and the chance to overnight at VS2 instead of under the stars with the armadillos. Charles (CW), being a bit of a rogue, followed the wayward group down the valley but did a navigational cross-country correction to meetup with the river valley got him close to VS2 tonight. The rest of the pack is spread out between VS1&2 and will be up at the crack of dawn to be on their way.

The scenery on this first day of racing has been epic: majestic mountains, galloping guanacos, and a flamboyance of flamingos on the azure-blue lake near VS1. The crew has hustled hard to stay ahead of the riders, popping tires and falling in bogs as they sweep up the steppe keeping the race rolling and the riders riding. They’ll do it all again tomorrow, starting at 07:30 Argentina time.

Photographer: Richard Dunwoody