One of the reasons I traveled to Tanzania to spend time on the Serengeti over the past few weeks was to celebrate a milestone birthday. It seems that every time you reach one of those birthdays that ends in zero you start to assess where you’re at in life and look for inspiration that there are still plenty of adventures to come. Thankfully, I received just such a reminder thanks to a story posted to the Adventure Journal recently, which taels the tale of Bob Long, a 70-year old from Idaho who recently one the Mongol Derby – the self proclaimed “toughest horse race on the planet.”
What makes the Mongol Derby so difficult you ask? For starters, it tasks participants to travel more than 1000 km (620 miles) across the open steppe in Mongolia on horseback. Along the way, they must pass through a series of 28 checkpoints, where they will drop off their current mount and select another to continue riding. While out in the field, the riders must be self sufficient and capable of taking care of themselves, although they can receive assistance from the locals should they choose. The person who is able to complete the course the fastest is the winner, navigating the route with a GPS to help them find the way. This year, there were 42 riders who entered the Derby, although nearly a third of them dropped out, with some suffering injuries a severe as broken ribs, broken collarbones, and a punctured lung.
Last fall, Bob Long had never even heard of the Mongol Derby, but while attending a gathering with friends someone mentioned a documentary about the race that they had recently seen. The film is called All the Wild Horses and it immediately sparked Long’s attention. It wasn’t long before someone brought up the film on a laptop and the group was watching it and 20 minutes after that the 70-year old proclaimed that he was ready to give it a go. Born and raised in Wyoming, Long had been a rancher and horseman his entire life and has a great deal of experience racing in similar, albeit shorter and less difficult events.
Fast forward to this summer, after jumping through some hops with the organizers of the Mongol Derby, Long found himself in Mongolia and taking to the starting line. Before long, he and the other competitors were off and running, with the course taking them across the vast Mongolia grasslands. Bob’s strategy was a simple one, ride as a sure and steady pace, befriend the locals to get information on the landscape that lay ahead, and use them as a resource along the way. He often slept with the nomadic horse herders that still roam the region and received assistance from them on just about every stage.
In the end, Long was able to finish the Derby in just seven and a half days, riding 28 different horses while en route. In fact, he led the event from nearly start to finish and reportedly ran a flawless race, right down to picking the best horses at each of the way stations along the course.
Long told the Adventure Journal, “Preparation trumps youth, Long said. “I’d done all my research. I had all my nutrition organized. I had all my gear tested and ready. I don’t know how to do it any better. I had prepared as good as I knew how to prepare for a mission such as this. It was a great experience for me.”
Seems like a great experience for just about anyone. Great work and congratulations Bob!
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