By Barbara Smith
Day-One, Time-Zero, The Start! Foxhunters, race riders, and racehorse trainers were the frontrunners by Day-Three. / Richard Dunwoody photo
I am bent over at the waist, hands on knees, gulping air as the vet checks my pony. His heart rate is seventy-two and will come down to the required sixty-four in about five minutes. Mine is about two hundred beats per minute and no one cares. I used to watch my basketball player son stand like this during timeouts, trying to recover, and now I completely understand. I am exhausted and have only twenty minutes to recover before leaving on the next jet-fueled pony! This is Day-Six of the Mongol Derby and the urtuus (horse stations) are starting to blend into one.
I imagined myself romantically naming each pony and remembering everything about the rides between stations. As it happened, I not only forgot to name them—as half the time I was hanging on for dear life as they rocketed out of the stations and bolted for the next ten to fifteen kilometers—but I do not remember individual urtuus. I remember moments of complete panic as I thought I was going to die, or moments when I feared my comrades-in-saddle were going to die. Interspersed are memories of lovely meadows and fragrant pine forests, incredible views across mountains, and long, long rides when we wondered if we would ever get there.