Monday, August 27, 2012

8 Day Wilderness Ride --- Firsts

First of all I'd like to start with a disclaimer.  This is likely going to be a little schmaltzy...likely a lot schmaltzy truth be told.  The reason for that is that  after struggling with how to put a story to my some 2500 odd photos from my eight day Mongolian  horseback wilderness trek I have decided that the only way that makes it possible for me to both tell the story of what happened and express what it meant to me is to split the blog into two.  One is the adventure (...and there was plenty of that... that will be the next blog!) and this one is a look at some of the  emotional moments and "firsts" for me...and others.

So, let's begin at the you do.  Let me introduce you to the cast of characters ( and I do mean characters!) who were along for the ride!  ( I do love it when a pun just falls out of the ends of my fingers!)  From the left we have Sue, the girl who can do anything and do it really well...from teaching to building to screamin' excellent fire starting.  Next is Ghana our assistant guide, superior wolf guard and expert trail finder - most of the time.  In the red is Robyn ( no Red Robin jokes please people!!) our master equestrienne whose "can do" attitude ( even when it was facing obstacles that, to us relative newbies to the sport looked more like "really bloody well can't do!!") got us through some very tough moments. Then, of course, is our fearless leader Baagii.  He remains, as always, almost entirely  unflappable, even in the face of bog, long days, rain, women coming off horses in rapid succession, paths disappearing, rivers overtaking roads we were supposed to be travelling on, missing cars and so on and so on.  His belief in our ability turned out to be, amazingly, well founded. Beside him is Ronel.  Lovely, lovely Ronel  (Rooo - matter how many times I try it, I screw it up!!)  out on her first every camping trip - when this girl goes big, she really goes big!  I don't think very many people could ( or would!!) take on such an adventure with absolutely no  previous experience....and I'm sure no one could do it with such grace.    And then there's me - ten months after the first time I climbed onto a Mongolian horse ( and it bolted at full gallop about a kilometer across the steppe!!) I find myself not only accompanying, but organizing an 8 day trek off into the wilds ( literally!) of Mongolia to seek out and find my personal Shangri-la, the top of a snow capped peak that we can see from the hills around the ger.  I have  been entranced by it and have wanted to go there since the first time I saw it.
  It turned out to be much more of an adventure than I supposed it would be which, of course, means that the stories are more epic, the special moments more poignant and the lessons I learned that much more valuable and cherished.  See...told you it was going to be schmaltzy!  And we're just getting started!

So now that you've met the main players...well, most of them...still the valiant photographer to meet -- it's time to start with a look at some of the special moments from the trek.  These were all "firsts" and, as such, marked indelibly in memory.  Doesn't hurt that there's a picture too though!

First first....first ride in a dell, the traditional Mongolian coat.  It took .. delicate instruction as to how to manoeuvre all of that fabric under your butt and around your legs.. but eventually we figured it out.  Turns out that Mongolians know a bit about what kind of clothes suit riding a horse for long periods of time ( who knew??!!) as it turns out to be a perfectly comfortable and safe and utilitarian article of clothing for the purpose.  Oh, and to be fair and accurate, this was also the world's first look at a new fashion as's called "The Delmet"...and just so you know, fashionistas everywhere...not everyone can pull off the look of the Dell with a Helmet...but you're welcome to try!

Trying to pull of that look brought about my second first ....learning how to tie the darned belt.  It turns out that our fearless leader was not going to let me get away with just wrapping it around and stuffing in the ends.  Many many many many lessons on the subject  followed - it's more difficult than it looks! Really! Or...I'm just a slow learner??  Nope...not possible.  It must be tough.

Time to meet our intrepid photographer, 12 year old Caihnaa, Baagii's son out on his first long ride with his Dad.  And yes, this is his first fish!  First time fishing, and first fish!  This was one happy kid!  7 grayling he caught that day - not a bad start to an angling career!
And it looked like so much fun that his Dad thought he'd have a go as well - his first time fishing.  Not as successful as his son though.  The attempt only lasted a couple of casts and the rod was handed back to the hands of the little master.

Anyone who fishes know that after you catch your first fish there is another corresponding your first fish! Lucky for him he had an international angling expert on hand to give him world class instruction on the technique.

And the day that we crossed the Tuul flood...SEVEN times!!  And yes, this is the first ( but not the last!!) time I got my feet wet...

And had to wait 3 hours or so until we stopped so I could empty them out!  Turns out that gortex keeps water in just as well as it keeps it out!

....Speaking of water, one of the most amazing first was in the water....
This was a particularly ELATED first ...bareback ( my first time!) and swimming with a horse ( yes, the horse is actually swimming in this photo!)...and at one of the few lakes in Mongolia!!  It was incredible!   Such a very cool thing, and I nearly missed it because I thought everyone was going bareback riding up the hill and I opted not to go thinking that it would be silly to injure myself when we were so far out in the wilderness when I could always try it when we got back to the ger.  Then I saw them heading into the lake...... Me too !  Me too!  I can do that!!! And I could!

Everyone was exhilarated!!

Robyn was the only one who had done it before and was very happy to give us pointers....but I don't think I have ever seen this much joy on any one's face before!  It was a truly magical moment!

Sue took "swimming with the horse" literally ...don't they look to speak?

I don't think there are words that  express her joy better than the photo.  Thanks Ronel, for asking to ride bare back which got us all to this spectacular moment!

Sue did eventually get back on her horse....providing our youngest guide with a first...gorgeous expat in a bikini riding by!

And who could have expected that Ronel would get the chance to have her first hit of snuff??

....and maybe her last?
Two Canadian girls together so, of course, had to do a demonstration round of Indian leg wrestling!! Yes, I won...another first!

And while we were waiting for the return of the car on the 7th day, for some reason, Sue decided to torture me with a french braid...having said that, I might have asked for it as by this stage my hair was just a little weeee bit like straw and bugging the heck out of me...I don't think I have ever had flowers in my hair before.  Weird isn't it?  Guess it just proves that it is never too late!
First time charging a phone on a pack horse...which was actually very cool!  Didn't last long though as we started having doubts about its ability to survive falls into mud caverns and downpouring rain!  Still..worked while it was there!

And this, of course is the first time I have ever drank champagne in a river!  And it was spectacular!! Even with our fisherman splashing about behind us looking for fish with his bare hands....or trying to splash us.  One of the two.

My first in-a-tent dinner party.  Complete with champagne and live ( wonderful!) Mongolian songs as the rain poured down!  Followed, of course, by an outdoor disco complete with Mongolian horse songs and 70's disco music blaring from the car speakers.  Dancing and pictures.  Now that's a shame....

And this.  The most special first, I think.  Galloping (really galloping..and for a long way!) across the steppe and experiencing unfettered freedom.  Perfect that it was with Baagii who has been there since the beginning!! I think he felt a little like a proud papa watching me finally get it all together!  It has been what I have wanted to experience every since I took up this crazy, amazing, spectacular horseback riding hobby / addiction.  And to pull it off after 7 of the hardest days of riding was a moment that will never be me, at least!

We rode through so many stunning fields of wild flowers and on the third day we stopped for lunch in the middle of one....providing me ( finally!!) with a chance to roll around in a carpet of flowers and get some  photos....not really the first time that I've done that, but this was such a truly magical hour for me that I thought I'd include in the firsts....first floral field rapture.  One of the many moments on this trip when my cup runneth over..and how lovely that it was running over with wild flowers!!

And then there was the day that we made it to the top of the mountain that inspired this whole crazy adventure!!  I have never felt  like that before.  Trite, but true, words don't express it.  It was really emotional - and so wonderful to be able to share it with such tremendous women!  They were just AWESOME to trek with. Oh, and what happened to the pine nuts that were collected up there?  Never made it to our dinner table...hmmnn.. I have my suspicion!
Lovely, lovely moment.  First time I've seen an emergency satellite phone used to call your wife...because you miss her that much!

...and then there are those moments that maybe you hope you don't have to ever experience watching a guy pull out his own tooth!!!  And then smile!!  He was so much happier after it was out.  Mongolian men are tough guys I tell you!

Mind you, we were pretty tough too!  This is us just minutes after three of us  ( Sue, Ronel & myself) came off our muddy, mucky, boulder strewn mayhem. No injuries ... in fact, quite a bit of levity and no shortage of mud on the dell and muck in the boots!  The guys couldn't believe it when we had a quick coffee and then said, well if we are making the lake tonight, we'd better get back on and head off! Ok...schmaltz was so wonderful to see them readjusting their understanding of our capabilities and, when we finally made the lake that night at 9:00 or so ...and in the rain...they told us (with fervent admiration in their eyes, I might add!) that they had thought it impossible for women of our ( sorry Ronel!) to make that trip through those amazingly difficult conditions and arrive at the lake on the same day.  Very chuffed we all were to prove that we had more tenacity and endurance than they thought possible.  Please note..I didn't include "skill" on that list....(sorry Robyn)
That day included our first bog riding experience.  Before the trip was over we would have our 2nd ...and 3rd...and....24th..48th...and so on.  Suffice it to say that as we left the last bog, all of us trotting happily and confidently through, our guide smiled back at me and said "See, now you guys know how to ride bog!".  Hopefully not a skill I will have to use very often!

First bushwhacking...riding the brush without a trail to follow.  Brave, stalwart horses I'll tell you.  On and on and on through this stuff!  As you can see, the horses really couldn't see much but they carried on without any quibbles.

And coming home to the ger at the end of eight amazing days of riding is a first not to be forgotten either....

Shared experiences really do build bonds and we sure built a few that week.  Ronel, Robyn, Sue and I will likely all  get together somewhere 30 years from now and  talk about all the crazy, wonderful, difficult times on this trip...I sure hope so, anyway. 

 Oh, yes, and just for the record...this trip saw Sue's first (ever!!!) cup of tea, and her first time wearing a dell ...which would also make it her first time stealing a dell.  But that is another story.....