An Icy Proposal
Mongol 100 Race Report
I have two Mastiffs. Individually, neither is a brilliant beast full of terrific decision making. Together, they become half as smart. Both could be said about me and my friend Kerry Robinson. Kerry and I have traveled together for 35 straight years, often finding ourselves in dangerous adventures that inevitably end with one of us saying to the other, “You’re an idiot”. Since I am writing this, I point to the time we were sea kayaking off Nova Scotia (with my wife eight months pregnant and Kerry feeling it appropriate to drop off his two Rhodesian Ridgebacks for her to take care of along with our two very large dogs). Kerry launched first into a sea where, unlike the day before, we could no longer see any boats, ships or vessels. He was promptly returned to the shore after the water spit both him and his kayak out. As Kerry finally was able to paddle out of the protective cove, I foolishly followed in my 20” x 17’ kayak. As soon as we left the roiling bay and into monstrous 10-15 foot curling swells, I commented, “I think this is over our skill level”. Kerry, trying to keep his boat from performing a crocodilian death roll, wisely retorted, “We can do it”. The next several hours saw us rise up on the sideways rolling swells only to rapidly race down into the trough as the waves dramatically smashed against the 1000 foot cliffs not far in the distance. While the storm did make sure to flip my kayak, snap my rudder and send me violently tumbling into the sea, we are obviously still here. And, more surprisingly, my wife is still with me. Anyway, last year when I was scanning some of my social media racing feeds, Rat Race’s Bucket List Mongol 100 event instantly caught my attention. Skating/running 100 miles on Lake Khovsgol in northern Mongolia in -40 temps while sleeping just off the ice in gers? Yes, said I, and promptly called Kerry with my newfound brilliance. Within 24 hours we signed up, agreeing to also skate across the world’s largest freshwater lake, Baikal, before descending into Mongolia.
Fast forward over a year and we met in Moscow before flying off to Irkutsk and down to Lake Baikal. My adventure started in the Azores (King Kong habitat with boiling hot springs), to Lisbon (warm, sunny and hip), Moscow (surprisingly modern, bright and nuanced), Irkutsk (80 mph in a van with no seat belts and a smoking tire that brought us to Lake Baikal) and Ulaanbaatar (terrific people, sites and horrendous air quality). While we had a wholly enjoyable adventure during this phase, it is the amazing Mongol 100 event that I will give my greater thoughts.
Rat Race Adventures introduces the event as “This is the Mongol 100 – the most surreal, audacious and hauntingly beautiful adventure challenge known to Man. The objective is to traverse the entirety of the lake from north to south, by any means: Foot, skate or bike.”
One of the areas seldom mentioned in multi-stage or overnight endurance events is that you will be spending 24/7 (literally) with everyone who signs up. This important detail hit home at the Chinggis Khan Airport as roughly 30 people each with a massive kit bag loitered around waiting for the charter plane. The sincere and ready greetings that were done by all showed what would be a key element of the adventure: a great group of diverse people interested in enjoying one another’s company and supporting each other throughout. I also happen to love hearing adventure tales from others so every night seemed to bring on another amazing story.
The initial gathering of the Mongol 100 Horde
A second element of every great endurance race is the good-natured competition that should arise. The Mongol 100 also provided that. While not the primary focus of the event, the positive taunting that occurred around the campfire only enhanced an already stellar experience. (Dan: Good luck. I had you there yesterday and looks to be tough ice today. Me: I look forward to seeing you later on the ice. Dan: I’ll put the tea kettle on for you). While such talk, I must now admit, does and did provide some nice racing fuel, by the end we all knew that we faced the same week of challenges (well, maybe Pete with his lost kit a bit more so) and the congratulatory hugs at the end of each day were heartfelt. And there’s something brilliant about being in a ger with six Aussie gals who care little for any political correctness as they were there to gut it out with the rest of us.
The Rat Race crew, along with the Mongolian support staff were first-rate. Uniformly they all were positive, professional and engaging no matter what obstacle the day (or ice - right J.P?)) may bring. The local crew was up by 3 a.m. to get a roaring fire going, disassemble the 8 person gers, pack the vehicles up and move the entire setup to the next island or coastal camp. After seeing all was set up, water brought up from the lake (our only source all week), they somehow managed to find the energy to face off in multiple wrestling matches; it should be noted that every throwdown ended with a smile from both participants. The Rat Race staff, as well as the volunteers made all the day-to-day pieces fit into a seamless positive experience. Their daily efforts, always done with outward joy, were seen from the starting line, checkpoints on the ice and around the campfire at night.
Ah, a chainsaw, motorcycle and ice. What could possibly go wrong?
Ready to wrestle. Actually, I was unable to move him.
Lastly, as the people who know me best rightfully make fun of my obsession with wild ice, I found large segments of Khovsgol ice stunning and hypnotic. Having my blades hit smooth, hard black ice with an otherworldly clarity made me smile every time. Being able to glide on 5-6 feet of clear ice with constant ever changing patterns was a true joy. Inevitably there was a slog through parts that were unskateable, sections needing intensive use of poles or the path suddenly blocked due to enormous new ice fissures but those obstacles only highlighted the most beautiful ice I’ve ever seen. The cold harsh wind that hit all racers 10 miles or so from the end also served as a reminder of just how superb overall conditions were the previous days. And I can think of no more a majestic backdrop than the ancient snow capped peaks that followed the entire western shore.
While I will find another big adventure and plan on enjoying more endurance racing (and skating some amazing ice), it is the larger group camaraderie of the Mongol 100 that will be difficult to replicate. While I like to think the inaugural cohort set the bar fairly high all the way around, I would strongly encourage anyone interested in a culturally immersive and highly challenging event to take advantage of this most unusual opportunity.