Stage 4 ~ The Long March to the Orkhon Valley
Drum roll….the anxiously anticipated day of the Long March began with a later start time of 10am. Initially, the course had us traversing a lot of ups and downs through the stunning steppe landscape of limitless grassy terrain.
Buddy system was in place after the first check point. This was a key element to surviving the long march. Not just for safety reasons but as a total experience enhancer of the attitude, sense of humor, and conversations over the many miles we trekked. Comfort with those who at some point suffer along with you. 42ish miles created quite a bubble of bonding time.
photo credit to Racing the Planet
Mid way through the Long March and we reached checkpoint four. We arrived around 6 pm just in time for dinner.
Nomnomnom thoroughly enjoying my Vegan Rice and Beans ~ Thank you Sasquatch Fuel
Fueled up we choose not to stay and rest in the sleeping tents but decided to push on after watching the darkening skies, anticipation of nightfall, and the storm we would need to trek through to get to the finish.
Twilight came as we followed the flags and made our way down and along a dry river bed. Once it was nighttime, I noticed my headlamp was extremely dim. Of course my extra batteries and other headlamp were at the bottom of my pack. F*&Ck. I borrowed a headlamp instead of digging through my pack. A little unnerved, as we questioned “do we ditch the trekking poles?” we watched spectacular lightning flashes across the sky. The dreaded storm moved in and it started to rain. Saving my butt once again, I busted out my 99cent rain poncho. Initially the rain was a welcome relief from the swarms of giant white winged creatures that were flying at us towards the focused beam of light coming from our head lamps. Between the Marsh moths, the rain, lightning flashes, and some really cheesy 80s ballads playing in the background, we were extremely motivated to get to the next check point. We figured we clocked our fastest 10k time. HA! The ipod music was on shuffle and I swear every song that played had something to do with rain. As we soggily approached check point 6, “Box of Rain” by the Grateful Dead was serendipitously playing:
We debated for a split second to wait out the storm or to go on. Thankfully we decided to go on as the pouring rain showed no indication of easing up. No way was the last bit of the trail to the finish 11km from check point six. Fortunately my watch died which saved me from f&*%cking swearing every time another mile clicked off and yet optically the finish line was still no closer with lights and the reality of the camp inexplicably still far, far away. It was so dark there was no way I would have been able to I tell you where we were or what the area looked like. I assumed green grassy fields much like day one and day two. Perhaps… but what we experienced were mud bogged fields with streams of water runoff crisscrossing the black, uneven landscape. I had been wish thinking to myself, “now this would be a really great night for sleeping in a ger.” And that’s where and when my happy thoughts ended.
The very early morning thigh high deep river crossing was Complete BS. The guy’s estimate of another 2.2km left to go at the deep river crossing was Complete BS. Slogging from one fading green glow stick to another one marking the course was Complete BS. My poncho (still keeping me fairly dry) was plastered against my body and annoyed the shit out of me. Complete BS. The fact that I turned off my music after mistakenly thinking the finish was much closer than the additional hour(s) it took for us to reach it. Complete BS. Trekking for hours in the pouring rain. Complete BS. We persevered and continued to suck up the Complete BS and approximately 17 hours from the time we started, we crossed the finish line for the conclusion of our long march sometime after 3 am. Please note that BS also stands for Buddy System. A huge hug of gratitude to Vicky :) I completely LOVE you!
Once I finally crossed the Long March finish line, I experienced stunned feelings of joy as I was directed to a GER with a fire stove to warm and “dry” off with other late arriving athletes, gear, and piles of soggy, steaming shoes. I was so f&*%cking grateful. I changed into some dry clothes, elevated my feet, and tried to rest. Ugh. I started contemplating my full bladder situation and the rainy logistics involved with putting on wet rain gear, leaving the comfort of the warm ger, and finding the camp toilets and the return trip. Bladder was denied. I couldn’t face another minute in the rain. Hours later, I heard the early morning drumming announcing the finish of another arriving (surviving) athlete. My heart went out to them, as they had spent many more hours on the course….in the early morning, dark, pouring rain. Now THAT’s a really Long March.
Motivated by the diminishing rain and lite sprinkles and primarily by that point, I really had to pee, I ventured outside to the toilets and to try to find my tent. Easier said than done, as due to the rains, all the tents had been covered by blue tarps. No identifying tent numbers. Fortunately, the camp was leisurely starting to stir (this was our rest day) and I caught a glimpse of fellow tent mates coming out of our tent. I grabbed my pack and headed across the wet grass to the tent. I was feeling pretty gnarly, hungry, and exhausted which had devolved me into a head spinning, Kraken super bitch.
I am Kraken hear me roar
I snarled my responses to my tent mates’ kind concern and questions as I angrily focused what little energy and air I had left on blowing up my f&%cking sleeping pad. All I wanted was some f&*%cking personal space, to f&*%cking stretch out, f&*%cking sleep, and dream f&*%cking happy dreams for a bit. I crawled into the sleeping bag and it was lights out for me.
Not much later, there was a loud ZIPPING of the zipper and the tent door was flung open with the announcement of “We are being moved because of the rain, threat of lightning, and flooding in the camp/tents. We are being evacuated to a nearby sports complex. We have ½ hour until the buses leave.” F&*%cking WTF. My mood setting was not even close to being reset to “happy.”
Turns out the bus ride to the sports complex was the most terrifying part of the whole MonGOlia adventure. The buses drove through the rain soaked fields of grass, speeding up and over berms, maneuvering, quick turning to avoid the thick mud tracks. “Rational” fears of a bus turn/flip over scenario accelerated my anxiety. The magenta colored ball fringe decorating the windows was swaying with the movement of the bus and keeping tempo with the Mongolian music video playing loudly through the speakers and on the front display screen. Talking on his cell phone, our bus driver seemed like he was pretty much racing the other buses. Last one into town buys the beer? I don’t know. I do know that the bus stalled going up one of the berms and with its forward momentum cut off, the bus rolled quietly backwards and promptly got stuck in the mud up to its hubcaps. Seriously dude. WTF.
We disembarked off our bus to lighten the load and eventually got a tow out of the mud from a sympathetic fellow bus driver. The remainder of the bus ride was quiet as our now subdued bus driver concentrated intently with both hands on the steering wheel, cell phone holstered, and the on board entertainment shut off.
What a welcome relief to be staying in the sports complex.
There was plenty of room to spread wet gear to dry out, relax, eat, power nap, play some cards, eat more, and appreciate plumbed toilets and running water from the sink taps. I was also able to seek out and apologize to my tent mates for my earlier snarly behavior. We even experienced a bit of culture and a mini Naadam festival with performances of traditional song and dance, wrestling, and archery. The horsemanship portion of the program was cancelled due to the weather :(.
Stage Five ~ The Battle Grounds of Ghenghis Khan"