Day 16, August 3rd – In the valley of the goats

Today was our last day of riding – I am really glad of it. My legs have been chafed by being in the saddle, and there’s a spot or two on my leg that’s been rubbed raw and which I have to take care to keep clean and sterilised, using precious plasters. Some of the horses are coming with us, including dear old Aloysius, but we will be carrying most of our necessities, food, parts of tents, with us.

For about 15km per day.


We had an interesting time while riding today; we were all a bit tired and fed up and longing to get to camp so we could ‘relax’, so Kaz suggested we play a riddle game to pass the time. We soon ran out of all the riddles we all remembered from The Hobbit. I asked one that I learned all the way back in Year Two, when I was seven: I fly like a bird and buzz like a bee; got a tail like a fish, got a hop like a flea.

Kaz asked one that puzzled us for the longest time and kept us occupied for at least a few minutes. I finally guessed the answer; would you? Poor men have it, rich men want for it, and you die if you eat it.

We’re staying in a fairly pleasant valley, with a group of gers a little way away from us and an old, tiny wooden Buddhist monastery on a nearby hill. we have to walk quite a way to get the water – always a sore point with us – but at least the ground isn’t too lumpy.20160908_195022

We are sorting out the food we’re going to take with us in the foot trek, since the buses won’t be accompanying us during this time. Leslie, Ellie and Emma have done very good jobs of organising the supplies, considering some of the messes we’ve created in the vehicles. However, we didn’t do so well when it came to fetching water. It took FOUR of us girls to bring back ONE full jerry can of water (taking it in turns) that one of the boys could have lifted easily. Which they did.

We are ashamed.

We had tomato sauce and pasta for dinner – the evening meals switch between this and chilli con carne from a can with sticky rice, with tuna thrown in for those who want it. Haven’t got tired of it yet.

In the hours after dinner, with the sun setting and we were washing our clothes and ourselves (the legs of several female trekkers needed a close shave) the locals turned their livestock loose, and several of the goats came to say hello. One goat ate a dropped biscuit wrapper – sending us into a panic attack about whether we’d poisoned it, would we have to pay for it if it died, before remembering it’s a goat, nothing can poison a goat.

In the meantime, the goat then launched an assault on Manda’s tent and tried to eat the guy ropes. We chased it away by screaming and hitting it with socks.

I haven’t spoken much about Manda. She is our translator and interpreter, about eighteen, or so she tells us. English is her third language, after Mongolian and German, so there’s no trouble in her translations. We all love her, despite her inability to put her tent up without help.

I’m sore in legs and feet from the riding, and though I enjoyed it, at the moment I feel that if I never sat on a horse again, it would be far too soon.

I only hope the remaining horses or the goats don’t eat the tents during the night.

Day 15, August 2nd – Galloping!

Today has been very tiring. We packed up as usual, and managed to get away be ten past eleven.

Today, our riding would be different – today, we had the opportunity to gallop! We’d always kept to trotting before, especially since we would carry items on saddle bags, and if we went into a canter the movement of the bags would frighten the horses. Wearing back packs would also alarm the horses. Everything alarms the horses. We live by their whims. Now, the bags were off and stored in the van, and we were ready.

Well. Everyone else was ready. I was too nervous to attempt it during the first hour,but after a rest break I, and everyone else who been worried, grew bolder. We shed our saddle bags and urged our horses into something far better than a sometimes painful canter.

If you have never galloped across the Monoglian plains, rising up and down in your saddle with loping jolts, your stomach undecided where to go, grasping your reins in one hand, hanging grimly onto the front of the saddle with the other, the wind blowing your shirt out behind you and whipping your face, you haven’t lived.

It chafed. A lot. But it was worth it.

As the horses slowed down and we headed towards out camp site, the clouds grew more dark threatening. Aloysius seemed quite tired from the run, and fell further and further behind, no matter how I dug my heels in or ordered him forwards. I didn’t dare be more forceful, for fear he’d buck me off and hurt me, or just leave me behind. Soon I was very much alone, with everyone else just blips on the horizon. I anticipated being stuck in the middle of a plain when it started pouring.

Then one of the wranglers came back from where he was leading Georgie’s horse, and smacked Aloysius on the flank with his whip. Aloysius sped up again. Aloysius began to run. I began to slide sideways. The rain was just beginning and was splattering my sun glasses. I could barely see. I could barely hang on. I was slipping further, until I was nearly hanging off Aloysius’s side. I could just tell we were now on rocky ground as Aloysius ran up into the hills. I could see rocks flashing past, when I could see at all.

I remember thinking “I’m going to fall off and smash face first into a rock and the helmet’s not going to do any good.” I was very calm about it. There was no room for fear, only for holding on.

But then I could see the camp where everyone was pulling rucksacks out of the van and setting up tents,  and then Aloysius was slowing down and slowing down until at last I could jump off and hold myself and breathe for a moment and be surprised I was still alive.

Working together, we all managed to get our tents set up. We pulled on waterproof trousers and jackets and crammed into the ‘porches’ of our tents. We huddled together and watched the lightning. There was very little in the way, and we were able to see so much of it. We felt very alone and vulnerable, afraid that we’d draw the current down from the sky, with only canvas to protect us.

Once the rain stopped and the sky cleared, we managed to get a fire started and cooked supper. We had one last vodka party with the wranglers, as this was our last night of horse trekking. The vodka tasted like communion wafer gone mad. I only had a small glass; other members of the group drank far more, and were disturbing me long after I went to bed at half eleven.

Georgie later woke me up to ask me for some of my water. I directed her to where it was stored, then actually got up to see what was going on. Georgie had to pour about a litre of my carefully iodized water down Emma’s barely conscious throat, so that she didn’t need a stomach pump or choke on her own vomit in the night. I had to start the iodization process again with my now empty water bottle, prepping the iodine solution to dilute and slogging to the water tanks to get more, then returning to my sleeping bag – where a drunk Emma then proceeded to shove her feet in my face all night long.

Just say no to vodka. It’s not worth it.

Day 14, August 1st – day 2 of horse trek

We spent a great deal of time riding today around more of the lake, before turning up into a large valley to camp. Most of the horses were fairly well behaved (Amit and Georgie’s horses having been traded during the night for more docile creatures) but Chris’s horse almost ran away after it sat down and Chris, in the advice if the wranglers, got off just before it rolled over. Fortunately this was rare. Aloysius is a little badly behaved, but hasn’t done anything really bad while I’ve been riding him. Kaz’s horse was also traded; she got a new one and christened it Attitude Junior.

Was rather drained while setting up. Leadership is been very stressful, even though it’s the last day, still not very organised. I like to think that I made things work.

This fiekd that we have camped in is rater bumpy and full of flies, as cattle graze here when’s it’s not being used and leave their droppings. It’s not very nice to camp here, but it’s only for one night.

For a change, Kaz and Mr. Postle cooked for us, and the menu was consuderably perked up. Though we had a vegetable stir fry and pasta as we always do on alternate days, for starters there was garlic bread, and a delicious fruit salad in pineapple juce fr desert. In addition, the wranglers drove off in the van that’s been accompanying us to carry extra supplies, and broght back and slaughtered the first of their two sheep. they borrowed one of our mixing/washing bowels to catch the blood and various organs (we washed it very thoroughly afterwards!) and as thanks invited us to share in the barbeque.

Mongolian barbeque, made with freshly killed mutton, is sumptuous.

I also practised making flatbread with water, flour and salt, which everyone liked Some people are asking how to make it. We will need it in the days to come, when we run out of shop bought bread.

The evening (or rather night) ended with the group having something of a vodka party with the wranglers for the second time in as many days. I went to bed early, as vodka is not my thing. It was probably just as well that I did – when Will woke me up getting Emma and georgie’s tents so the could sleep in Leslie and Ellie’s tent and ‘not disturb me’, it was 2 o’clock. If I were still leader, I’d put a restriction on them doing that –

– but I’m not any longer. Meh.

Day 13, July 31st – beginning of the horse trek!

This morning was a bit of a disaster. We have worked out a rota where different groups clean and wash up on different days. My tent group were cooking for today, but we were late getting up, late starting the fire, late cooking breakfast, and just generally late. As a result we had to make the wranglers wait more than half an hour before we saddled up and set off.

The rest of the day was gratifying. I am quite fond of my definitively male horse, a grey, spotted creature. I call him Aloysius. He is an animal who seems to know very much what he wants and is determined to get it – he wants to stop dead in the middle of a track to get a mouthful of grass, he does so, unless I yank his head back up again right quick.

I’ve mastered the art of steering him, and have at least worked out how to make him start and stop, but quickening the pace still remains somewhat beyond me. There are only so many times you can say ‘chu’, the sound for encouraging the horse to move faster, before feeling like a hyperactive steam train, but that is how you have to act when you have other horses and riders breathing up your back – literally.

At least Aloysius is fairly well behaved, and doesn’t try to buck my off – like Georgie’s horse, or kick everybody in sight, like Ellie’s, or just be generally skittish like Emma and Amit’s. They all had to be led along by wranglers, to prevent the horses from bolting. Amit in particular is very annoyed, especially since his white horse is so sweet looking and deceptively cute.

Aloysius is very friendly with Kaz’s horse, an Eeyore-lookalike who I called Applejuice, until I learned Kaz had name it Attitude.

We travelled around the edge of the lake for many miles, travelling along the beach and through some tiny streams, until we reached the first campsite.

The place we are staying in for the night is very pleasant, with hot sunshine, though we have to walk up a nearby hill to get dead wood from the trees, around the hill to get to the freshly dug latrine – complete with a privacy screen rigged up from two spare canvas bags and my walking poles – and about half a kilometre to the shore of the lake to get water, sponge bathe or swim. When we iodize the water to drink, we have to sieve off all the detritus from the water – sand, occasional weeds and dead water insects and water fleas Yum.

The wranglers are all very friendly, and they are going to provide two meals for us during the trek – which while consist of killing sheep we purchase and cooking them in a Mongolian style barbecue. I can’t wait – we are getting better at cooking but we are getting tired of scrambled eggs, cucumber sandwiches and pasta.

Today, Will decided on a new way of draining the water out of the rice pot; by putting the lid on and letting the water out of the hole required for steam. The water was drained but since the metal of the lid had expanded, we now couldn’t get the lid off, since it had lost the handle some time ago. We battled with the lid, growing increasingly hungry and terrified of breaking it and getting glass into our rice, plus the fact that the pot was still incredibly hot and heavy. Finally, we managed to lever it off with forks, and no breakages!

Day 12, July 30th – time at the Great White Lake!

Today was a fairly quiet day, sine the head wrangler still hasn’t turned up yet, and we can’t set off until he does.

We rose fairly late for us – those who weren’t cooking at 8.30, those who were a ittle earlier – and enjoyed rather better porridge than we cooked earlier in the week. For one thing, it didn’t burn.

Despite our not setting off, we all had an opportunity to ride upon the troupe of horses that had been arranged for us. The one I rode today was a very temperamental animal – it didn’t start walking for the longest time, and when it finally did so, it strolled along very slowly. However, it did speed up nicely, giving me an opportunity to practise my rising trot – even though i didn’t nee to use it, in the end.

We even galloped for a few moments, but by then my poor bruised pelvic bone had had more than enough, and called a halt. I can’t see that my cycling shorts underneath my trousers made much difference, but I feel happier for knowing they’re there, and I look very smart in my new riding boots – even if I look like a prat in my hat.

I am the leader for the group for this day and the next two. I have to communicate a good deal more, and tell people what to do rather than do it myself, or do as I’m told. Organising what other people do is hard, but Kaz, the team leader, is helping me a good deal by giving me hints at what to do.

We decided not to cook the evening meal in the dusk and wash the dishes by torchlight, for once; we confounded the fates by starting the fire at 5 o’clock, and eating at 7. As a result, we were able to take part in a series of volleyball matches on the beach of the Great White Lake as the sun begins to go down, against the local wranglers – and at the moment we’re winning 8-5.

I feel very happy and contented. Here’s to it lasting.

Day 0, July 17th 2006. It begins.

Preparations at school, and our group is annoyed that the other group who will also be doing the challenge arrived much later than us, when we’d been told we’d have to show up incredibly early in the morning. Unfair.

Having packed our rucksacks last night, we then have to repack them in ways that would actually be feasible for the month ahead, and lessen the chance of things digging into our backs. Several of us had bought rucksack liners, basically toughened plastic bags, but they don’t seal at the top and would be useless in an actual trekking situation. We have to make a quick dash to the local camping store, with the help of a parent, in order to get some much more hardy liners. I decide to re-purpose my old liner as a clothes container. I was grateful for this decision in due course.

A Health & Safety and Hygiene talk about how we will need to wash while out in the country, and what the state of the local plumbing will be like. The prospect is not good. We must remember to rub our hands with hand sanitiser even after washing them, and drink only bottled water or water that has been boiled or sterilised. Remember that.

We also lay out some ground rules as a team. The two most important ones are that none of us must ever go anywhere on our own, but always go in threes, and that each group must have at least one boy in it. Less likely to find trouble.

After teary goodbyes and some clinging to familial units, we set off for London Heathrow by coach at 3.55, 10 minutes late. Arrived at Heathrow who knows when. Checked in and all got little tabs for Air China to put on day rucksacks, packed with essentials.* ‘Hilarity’ ensued, with forgotten wallets, bagels with that smidge too much cream cheese, and chocolate machines that swallowed money but yielded nothing. All the fun of the airport.

Flight for Beijing took off at 8.55, half an hour late. Tucked into in-flight meal of beef and rice, and was careful to drink lots of water. My shoulders are very painful from having been rubbed by the straps of my 70 litre backpack. Far too many bits still sticking out! At the moment, on the tv screen, two lovely Chinese ladies are singing.

Extra thoughts for the day:

  1. When packing a 70 litre rucksack, put all the squashy things at the bottom. Sleeping bag out of its holder, clothes, the odd niffy kipper- you name it.
  2. To ensure a team runs well and is united, share out the camping gear. You’ll find a person is less inclined to be nasty towards another if said another is in the possession of several long, spring and rather hard tent poles, just waiting to be swung.

* That tag remained on that backpack until it finally ‘died’, nearly eight years later. It was buried with full military honours.