Like a slow-curdling bowl of milk, the Mongol Derby field has a tendency to accumulate some lumps as the race wears on. Flying solo has its perks, but when challenges and fatigue escalate there’s massive reward in forming rider allegiances -- “steppe-families,” you might say -- to help disperse the burden.
(Also like curdling milk, the unshowered Derby field begins to take on a sour odor after a few days.)
It took us a nerve-wracking moment to get our bearings on Prac heroine Jocelyn Pierce this morning, who appears to be holed up overnight with a group of riders at horse station #19, as per this cryptic Derby tweet: “At HS 19 is MT ARCHIBELLJOP. Named after a famous peak somewhere in the South Pacific, known for being super fun, insisting on 'polo' attire and really just charming everyone, everywhere. A few good legs and a mistake or two ahead and they'd be right up amongst it.”
The Derby’s Twitter feed, which is at turns manic, cheeky and surprisingly poignant, is simultaneously the best and most mystifying sports reporting I’ve ever witnessed, and a harrowing means to keep track of a human life you care about. To their credit, HQ has quite a lot on its plate--just 40-something frayed-at-the-edges lives on the line, NBD--and delivering full reports on riders or even knowing what day it is (4? 5? 6?) is small fry relative to the task of making sure everyone is safe and accounted for out there. Thank you for your service, HQ.
That Jocelyn’s call sign, JP, seems to have been clumped into a happy-go-lucky meta-acronym seems like a positive sign to us, and bonus points that some of those call signs belong to swarthy bros with sexy accents. Always helps to have a few pretty, shiny objects to chase, Jocelyn!
On other fronts: Drama at the top of the field! Texas bottle rocket Devan Horn has lost her lead at the end of the day, having been forced to sit out another vet penalty at horse station #21. Vet penalties work on a four-strikes-and-you’re-out system, and Devan is pushing the envelope on that front. Meanwhile the Aussies Adrian Corboy and Annabel Neasham have stolen the lead and are camping out in a small holding just a few kilometers away from horse station #21.
The rest of the field is spread out over the previous six horse stations, spanning some 250 kilometers. By all accounts riders have been pushing their SOS buttons left and right, with several begging carry-forwards in the so-called “Blood Wagon” from one station to the next. Hitching a ride comes at the expense of a time penalty but sometimes--after, say, the same horse has thrice bucked you off--the wisest decision is just to cut your losses. Kudos, however, to those who remain determined to ride every kilometer in the tack.
We have a few more retirees and one un-retired retiree in Pakistani rider Saif Noon (the youngest in the field at just 18 years old), who quit last night then slept on it and changed his mind. It sounds like a couple injured riders were taken to Ulaanbaatar to get checked out at the hospital and, having been given a doctor’s blessing (“you can ride again, IF YOU MUST”), they decided they must and have re-entered the fray. The number of riders who actually remain in the race is a hazy number that I cannot, even with all the power of the Internet, decipher.
“No rules, just right” could be the Derby’s seat-o’-the-pants slogan -- truly, it is a bloomin’ onion of chaos with many more layers still to be peeled back. To be continued!
Missed out on the earlier stories? Get caught up on all the action!
Practical Horseman Associate Editor Jocelyn Pierce is competing in the Mongol Derby, a 600-mile expedition considered the longest and toughest horse race in the world, Aug. 8-27. Here’s how to follow the action, sponsored by Mane 'n Tail and SmartPak:
• Visit Practical Horseman for daily race recaps and Jocelyn updates from 2017 Derby finisher Leslie Wylie
• Follow Jocelyn’s progress live via her GPS tracker, read official reports via the Derby website, and follow @mongolderbylive on Twitter
• Tune in for Derby Dot Watch Party podcasts presented by Horse Radio Network in partnership with Practical Horseman, broadcast live nightly at 8 p.m. EST