Gobi March Blogs 2019

View All Posts 2019 From : Simon Melanson

Day 6 - Crossing Muddy Waters into the Orkhon Valley

04 August 2019 08:44 am (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

The weather here in the Gobi is completely unpredictable.  Last night, when I went to sleep (at 7PM), it was a quiet, sunny evening with a light breeze.  When I stumbled out of my sleeping bag for a pee (at 11PM), there was a crazy energetic wind, swirling in small circles, with ribbons of lightning dancing all around and overhead.  A lightshow of hundreds of flashbulbs going off in succession.  It was beautiful!  And , it felt pretty unsafe.  But, I really had to go!  And, so I did. I prayed I wasn’t going to receive a nasty surprise.  I made it safely back into my tent.  A few moments later, it poured rain. The wind shook the tent like a bouncy castle for the next couple hours as I tried to go back to sleep.

Day 6 was no walk in the park.  The sun came out with a vengeance again. It was even hotter than the Long March. Our feud was back on.  Every time I threw an insult at the sun, she sent more open terrain and dialled up the radiation.  The first 15 kms were open and mostly flat. Zero shade.  My exposed skin was sizzling slowly like bacon in a pan.  More encounters with bulls, yaks, goats, sheep.  Today, I was close enough to jab a bull with my trekking pole, as it boldly ran straight into /split the small group of competitors I was running with.  Another competitor nearly got a horn in the bum.  I love animals, but my patience for bos taurus has been exhausted.

There were multiple river crossings today.  The water was cold and refreshing.  However, running in wet clothes and shoes is never ideal. Just when I got mostly dried off, I would go for another plunge.  (Fortunately, aLloyd of my kit was in a dry bag, inside my pack). 

CP 2 marked the entrance to the Orkhon Valley.  I was looking forward to finally seeing some trees, finding some shade, and hopefully, getting a breeze.  I was sorely disappointed.  Instead of a wide, forested valley, it was a very narrow (width of a soccer pitch),  strip of marsh with high Alp-like peeks on either side, and scant pine trees at the summits.   A swampy, upward “psycho path” of chest-high grasses and wild flowers that steadily climbed upward from 1km to 2kms above sea level.    The sun was positively giddy.  She had had ambushed me in greenhouse at elevation, and used it to maximum effect.    I really suffered for the next 10 kms.  The air was still and humid.  Like hot soup.  I had to keep telling myself “there IS air Simon, just keep breathing.”  I was in a semi-sleep state for a long time, flickering in and out of consciousness. I lost a few seconds and landed face first in some nasty black mud.  It felt good to just lie there on the cold ground.  I took a few seconds to reorient before getting back to my feet.  Thank goodness, I didn’t fall on a rock! I pressed on.  I couldn’t put any solid food in.  My throat was constricted and I choked everytime I tried to get something down.  So I pushed more powder into my remaining water.  After couple of hours, I reached, the peak of the green ramp and ran down the slope at speed.  The semi-treed valley gave way to hot dusty canyons leading to Camp 7.  

One final, very deep river crossing just before camp (on an island).  Race organizers offered to take me across in a Zodiac.  I declined. I had been been cooking sous-vide for three days.  I had  sun stroke.  I needed to get my core body temp down from +40C to a normal 37C or I would be vomitting.  So, I went into the frigid, fast-moving water, clinging clumsily to a rope strung between the two banks of the river.  The water took my breath away instantly.  So damn good!  Once, I made it to the other side, I stumbled across the finish line for the day.  And, then I stripped off my pack and shirt and jumped back in the river.  The water was cold and fast.  I let it take me a half kilometre downstream from camp, swam into an eddy and repeated this process two more times.  It was glorious! 

Comments: Total (2) comments

Yvon Carriere

Posted On: 04 Aug 2019 03:08 am

Wow, just another day in the Gobi!! I am so amazed with what you can push yourself through. So very impressive!

Edith Richard

Posted On: 04 Aug 2019 01:10 am

Wow Simon, Another intense day! Job well done!! So pleased to hear it ended on a high note! Love you! Mom
Day 6 - Crossing Muddy Waters into the Orkhon Valley

04 August 2019 07:55 am (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

The weather here in the Gobi is completely unpredictable.  Last night, when I went to sleep (at 7PM), it was a quiet, sunny evening with a light breeze.  When I stumbled out of my sleeping bag for a pee (at 11PM), there was a crazy energetic wind, swirling in small circles, with ribbons of lightning dancing all around and overhead.  A lightshow of hundreds of flashbulbs going off in succession.  It was beautiful!  And , it felt pretty unsafe.  But, I really had to go!  And, so I did. I prayed I wasn’t going to receive a nasty surprise.  I made it safely back into my tent.  A few moments later, it poured rain. The wind shook the tent like a bouncy castle for the next couple hours as I tried to go back to sleep.

Day 6 was no walk in the park.  The sun came out with a vengeance again. It was even hotter than the Long March. Our feud was back on.  Every time I threw an insult at the sun, she sent more open terrain and dialled up the radiation.  The first 15 kms were open and mostly flat. Zero shade.  My exposed skin was sizzling slowly like bacon in a pan.  More encounters with bulls, yaks, goats, sheep.  Today, I was close enough to jab a bull with my trekking pole, as it boldly ran straight into /split the small group of competitors I was running with.  Another competitor nearly got a horn in the bum.  I love animals, but my patience for bos taurus has been exhausted.

There were multiple river crossings today.  The water was cold and refreshing.  However, running in wet clothes and shoes is never ideal. Just when I got mostly dried off, I would go for another plunge.  (Fortunately, aLloyd of my kit was in a dry bag, inside my pack). 

CP 2 marked the entrance to the Orkhon Valley.  I was looking forward to finally seeing some trees, finding some shade, and hopefully, getting a breeze.  I was sorely disappointed.  Instead of a wide, forested valley, it was a very narrow (width of a soccer pitch),  strip of marsh with high Alp-like peeks on either side, and scant pine trees at the summits.   A swampy, upward “psycho path” of chest-high grasses and wild flowers that steadily climbed upward from 1km to 2kms above sea level.    The sun was positively giddy.  She had had ambushed me in greenhouse at elevation, and used it to maximum effect.    I really suffered for the next 10 kms.  The air was still and humid.  Like hot soup.  I had to keep telling myself “there IS air Simon, just keep breathing.”  I was in a semi-sleep state for a long time, flickering in and out of consciousness. I lost a few seconds and landed face first in some nasty black mud.  It felt good to just lie there on the cold ground.  I took a few seconds to reorient before getting back to my feet.  Thank goodness, I didn’t fall on a rock! I pressed on.  I couldn’t put any solid food in.  My throat was constricted and I choked everytime I tried to get something down.  So I pushed more powder into my remaining water.  After couple of hours, I reached, the peak of the green ramp and ran down the slope at speed.  The semi-treed valley gave way to hot dusty canyons leading to Camp 7.  

One final, very deep river crossing just before camp (on an island).  Race organizers offered to take me across in a Zodiac.  I declined. I had been been cooking sous-vide for three days.  I had  sun stroke.  I needed to get my core body temp down from +40C to a normal 37C or I would be vomitting.  So, I went into the frigid, fast-moving water, clinging clumsily to a rope strung between the two banks of the river.  The water took my breath away instantly.  So damn good!  Once, I made it to the other side, I stumbled across the finish line for the day.  And, then I stripped off my pack and shirt and jumped back in the river.  The water was cold and fast.  I let it take me a half kilometre downstream from camp, swam into an eddy and repeated this process two more times.  It was glorious! 

Comments: Total (0) comments

Day 6 - Crossing Muddy Waters into the Orkhon Valley

04 August 2019 07:55 am (GMT+08:00) Beijing, Chongqing, Hong Kong, Urumqi

The weather here in the Gobi is completely unpredictable.  Last night, when I went to sleep (at 7PM), it was a quiet, sunny evening with a light breeze.  When I stumbled out of my sleeping bag for a pee (at 11PM), there was a crazy energetic wind, swirling in small circles, with ribbons of lightning dancing all around and overhead.  A lightshow of hundreds of flashbulbs going off in succession.  It was beautiful!  And , it felt pretty unsafe.  But, I really had to go!  And, so I did. I prayed I wasn’t going to receive a nasty surprise.  I made it safely back into my tent.  A few moments later, it poured rain. The wind shook the tent like a bouncy castle for the next couple hours as I tried to go back to sleep.

Day 6 was no walk in the park.  The sun came out with a vengeance again. It was even hotter than the Long March. Our feud was back on.  Every time I threw an insult at the sun, she sent more open terrain and dialled up the radiation.  The first 15 kms were open and mostly flat. Zero shade.  My exposed skin was sizzling slowly like bacon in a pan.  More encounters with bulls, yaks, goats, sheep.  Today, I was close enough to jab a bull with my trekking pole, as it boldly ran straight into /split the small group of competitors I was running with.  Another competitor nearly got a horn in the bum.  I love animals, but my patience for bos taurus has been exhausted.

There were multiple river crossings today.  The water was cold and refreshing.  However, running in wet clothes and shoes is never ideal. Just when I got mostly dried off, I would go for another plunge.  (Fortunately, aLloyd of my kit was in a dry bag, inside my pack). 

CP 2 marked the entrance to the Orkhon Valley.  I was looking forward to finally seeing some trees, finding some shade, and hopefully, getting a breeze.  I was sorely disappointed.  Instead of a wide, forested valley, it was a very narrow (width of a soccer pitch),  strip of marsh with high Alp-like peeks on either side, and scant pine trees at the summits.   A swampy, upward “psycho path” of chest-high grasses and wild flowers that steadily climbed upward from 1km to 2kms above sea level.    The sun was positively giddy.  She had had ambushed me in greenhouse at elevation, and used it to maximum effect.    I really suffered for the next 10 kms.  The air was still and humid.  Like hot soup.  I had to keep telling myself “there IS air Simon, just keep breathing.”  I was in a semi-sleep state for a long time, flickering in and out of consciousness. I lost a few seconds and landed face first in some nasty black mud.  It felt good to just lie there on the cold ground.  I took a few seconds to reorient before getting back to my feet.  Thank goodness, I didn’t fall on a rock! I pressed on.  I couldn’t put any solid food in.  My throat was constricted and I choked everytime I tried to get something down.  So I pushed more powder into my remaining water.  After couple of hours, I reached, the peak of the green ramp and ran down the slope at speed.  The semi-treed valley gave way to hot dusty canyons leading to Camp 7.  

One final, very deep river crossing just before camp (on an island).  Race organizers offered to take me across in a Zodiac.  I declined. I had been been cooking sous-vide for three days.  I had  sun stroke.  I needed to get my core body temp down from +40C to a normal 37C or I would be vomitting.  So, I went into the frigid, fast-moving water, clinging clumsily to a rope strung between the two banks of the river.  The water took my breath away instantly.  So damn good!  Once, I made it to the other side, I stumbled across the finish line for the day.  And, then I stripped off my pack and shirt and jumped back in the river.  The water was cold and fast.  I let it take me a half kilometre downstream from camp, swam into an eddy and repeated this process two more times.  It was glorious! 

Comments: Total (1) comments

Katie McDonald

Posted On: 10 Aug 2019 07:32 pm

I loved reading your blog. 166th person in the whole planet to race through the four deserts. What a life you live. It’s incredibly inspiring. Congratulations on finishing the Gobi March and the 4 Deserts. My only question is... what’s next?!
Day 7 - Masterpiece in Kharkorin

03 August 2019 09:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

Morning came quickly. I didn’t get much sleep. No matter. Start time for the final leg of the race was at 7AM. There was no time to waste.  I ate my final meal of ramen and packed my backpack. My girls ate dehydrated porridge in a bag. (For once, they were complimentary about my cooking at home!).  Dawn and Grace got a head start on the pack at 0640.  Olivia and I set off together for the final 10kms of the race at 0700.  A river crossing, dusty hills, and into the ancient city of Kharkhorin.

Olivia was keeping up with the fast pack and was quick to respond to coaching about strategy and tactics as we went along.  Dawn and Grace were incredibly fleet, as they were already waiting at the gates of the ancient city walls when Olivia and I arrived with the cavalry. The four of us strode across the finish line together as a family.

I received my Gobi medal with its bright red ribbon. The weight felt good around my neck. And then, the elusive 4 Deserts medal, with the black ribbon.  I had only seen it once before, in Antarctica.  To rousing applause, in the living room of the Mongol Empire, I became the 166th person on the Planet to join the 4 Deserts Club.

I expected to feel overjoyed and gush with uncontrollable emotion.  Instead, I felt something very different.  A profound sense of perspective, inner peace, and alignment.  The bright morning sunlight dimmed to evening twilight.  All of the ambient noise of the finish line fell silent. I was in moving in slow motion.  My shoulders dropped and my breathing and heart rate slowed to a near stop.  All the restlessness, time, money, training, injuries, challenges, frustrations, and failures that I had endured in getting here were no longer just random happenings.  They were all individual brush strokes on the canvas of my long journey to this very moment.   For the first time, I could step back and see the whole painting.  It was a perfectly imperfect masterpiece, and done.

Simon

Comments: Total (3) comments

Roch Barrette

Posted On: 09 Aug 2019 01:03 am

Was with you at every step. Would follow you in the dark. Thanks for being you.

Ichel Cecire

Posted On: 04 Aug 2019 11:57 pm

Félicitations Simon, what an amazing story, love the blogs, love that the race organizer provided such a great experience for your “girls” as well.

Hannah Melanson

Posted On: 04 Aug 2019 10:02 pm

CONGRATULATIONS!!! An incredible accomplishment in its own right and all the more special to tackle those final kilometres with your girls. No words to describe this achievement other than BLOODY WELL DONE! Love you, love you and can't wait to see all of you very soon! xx Squiddy
Camp 7 - My girls join the circus

03 August 2019 07:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

Camp 7 was set on an island in the middle of a fast moving river at the base of steep dusty mountain.  Competitors trickled across the finish line throughout the afternoon and into the evening, each according to their abilities (and injuries). The mood was generally positive.  We were nearly done; just 10 Kms remaining to the finish line in the ancient ruins of Kharkhorin.

My mind was turning from the days’s aches and pains to Dawn, Olivia, and Grace (aka “my girls”).  They have been at the finish line of every race in this series : Sahara, Atacama, and Antarctica.  Racing the Planet had graciously made arrangements for my girls to join me at Camp 7 (a first for a competitor).  My girls were long overdue.  As the sun got low, I suddenly heard “Dadda!” over my shoulder.  Olivia and Grace sprinted toward me through the centre of camp and jumped into my arms. Most of my fellow competitors wore a stunned look on their faces as they attempted to process ‘why’ and ‘how’ there were two children in this remote camp.  When I asked where Dawn was, Olivia and Grace explained that their mini bus from UB had got lost and stuck in the river crossing about a mile away. Selfishly, I thought “Ahh crap, I am going to be hearing about this for a while.”  In the distance I could see Dawn, coming across the steppe in her neon Hokas. She was surprisingly good about her 8.5 hour drive on difficult roads and mile long walk in the mud.  She just gave me a knowing look and a raised eyebrow.  No words. (I felt like I got off pretty easy!)

I introduced my girls to my tent mates and helped them get settled into a special tent for them. For the rest of the evening, Olivia and Grace immersed themselves in their surroundings with no thought of Dawn or I. They cheered in the remaining competitors (many of whom were enduring significant discomfort). They made the rounds to all the tents/ competitors in camp.  “Hi! We are Olivia and Grace!  You are doing so great!  Can we help you with your stuff?”  I caught up with them shortly before sundown, lounging on the ground with an Italian competitor. He had carried candied nuts 240 km across the Gobi Desert in his backpack, only to feed them to my daughters on finish eve!  Another, French competitor was offering up his last meal of dehydrated homemade tomato soup to ensure they had enough to eat.

A few things struck me in this moment.  First, great people are the cornerstone of success, happiness, and a life well-lived.  And yet, so many of us make in-life settlements about the company we keep. (Never settle). Second, I was reminded of a compliment given to Dawn and I by a friend, (Lord) Leon Clarence, when we ran across Antarctica together. He said “Your daughters are truly a testament to your characters and how you live your lives.”  I did not fully appreciate these words until observing  Olivia and Grace, just 7 and 10, laughing and joking with their new European friends like they had known one another for a lifetime.


Third, girls, stop eating the last rations of these hungry, tired people!! You have your own food!

Simon

Comments: Total (1) comments

Hannah Melanson

Posted On: 04 Aug 2019 09:59 pm

I'm not crying, you're crying!!! The opportunities you have afforded Olivia and Grace are truly next to none and will follow them for a lifetime. You're a beautiful family - now go finish this thing together! xx
Gobi - Day 5

02 August 2019 10:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

For many competitors, the Long March (75 kms) extended from Day 4, overnight, into Day 5.

 

I was one of the competitors that made it in before sundown on Day 4.  It came at a price.  I spent most of Day 5 in a broken heap, trying to overcome nausea and putting calories into my body ever so carefully. 

 

Camp was set alongside a small creek in the middle of the green steppe.  A combination of frigid snow melt, recent rain, and runoff from the many beasts.  Most competitors were so overheated from the Long March that they took the plunge.  I was one of them.  I also took the opportunity to wash my race shirt, which smelled far worse than anything in that water!

 

Most of my strength had returned by the end of Day 5. Good thing.  The Orkhon Valley not going to be easy.  Need to stay frosty.  Still 50 kms of Mongolian wilderness to go.

Comments: Total (5) comments

Ellen Brown

Posted On: 03 Aug 2019 01:46 am

Woohoo! Go Simon :) only the crazies have great stories to tell. I'm sure you'll have plenty to share on your return. Best of luck, and try to keep cool !

Jeffrey Schubert

Posted On: 02 Aug 2019 11:29 pm

You are my hero.

Dom Parent

Posted On: 02 Aug 2019 09:49 pm

Keep it up Simon, you’re killing it. Sounds like a pretty insane day. Thinking of you and putting positive energy in the universe for you to stay strong and healthy. Looking forward to hearing the stories.

Hannah Melanson

Posted On: 02 Aug 2019 08:29 pm

AMAZING completing the Long March before sundown! You're getting so close. Think about your beautiful girls meeting you on that finish line. You've got this! xx Squid

Michel Cecire

Posted On: 02 Aug 2019 08:19 pm

Sending positive waves as I’m sitting on my couch reading your blogs and feeling crapy about the shape I’m in. You are an inspiration and model to follow.
Day 6: Crossing Muddy Waters into the Orkhon Valley

02 August 2019 09:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

The weather here in the Gobi is completely unpredictable.  Last night (Camp 6), when I went to sleep (at 7PM), it was a quiet, sunny evening with a light breeze.  When I stumbled out of my sleeping bag for a pee (at 11PM), there was a crazy energetic wind, swirling in small circles, with ribbons of lightning dancing all around and overhead.  A lightshow of hundreds of flashbulbs going off in succession.  It was beautiful!  And , it felt pretty unsafe.  But, I really had to go!  And, so I did. I prayed I wasn’t going to receive a nasty surprise.  I made it safely back into my tent.  A few moments later, it poured rain. The wind shook the tent like a bouncy castle for the next couple hours as I tried to go back to sleep.

Day 6 was no walk in the park.  The sun came out with a vengeance again. It was even hotter than the Long March. Our feud was back on.  Every time I threw an insult at the sun, she sent more open terrain and dialled up the radiation.  The first 15 kms were open and mostly flat. Zero shade.  My exposed skin was sizzling slowly like bacon in a pan.  More encounters with bulls, yaks, goats, sheep.  Today, I was close enough to jab a bull with my trekking pole, as it boldly ran straight into /split the small group of competitors I was running with.  Another competitor nearly got a horn in the bum.  I love animals, but my patience for bos taurus has been exhausted.

There were multiple river crossings today.  The water was cold and refreshing.  However, running in wet clothes and shoes is never ideal. Just when I got mostly dried off, I would go for another plunge.  (Fortunately, all of my kit was in a dry bag, inside my pack).  

CP 2 marked the entrance to the Orkhon Valley.  I was looking forward to finally seeing some trees, finding some shade, and hopefully, getting a breeze.  I was sorely disappointed.  Instead of a wide, forested valley, it was a very narrow (width of a soccer pitch),  strip of marsh with high Alp-like peeks on either side, and scant pine trees at the summits.   A swampy, upward “psycho path” of chest-high grasses and wild flowers that steadily climbed upward from 1km to 2kms above sea level.    The sun was positively giddy.  She had had ambushed me in greenhouse at elevation, and used it to maximum effect.    I really suffered for the next 10 kms.  The air was still and humid.  Like hot soup.  I had to keep telling myself “there IS air Simon, just keep breathing.”  I was in a semi-sleep state for a long time, flickering in and out of consciousness. I lost a few seconds and landed face first in some nasty black mud.  It felt good to just lie there on the cold ground.  I took a few seconds to reorient before getting back to my feet.  Thank goodness, I didn’t fall on a rock! I pressed on.  I couldn’t put any solid food in.  My throat was constricted and I choked everytime I tried to get something down.  So I pushed more powder into my remaining water.  After couple of hours, I reached, the peak of the green ramp and ran down the slope at speed.  The semi-treed valley gave way to hot dusty canyons leading to Camp 7.  

One final, very deep river crossing just before camp (on an island).  Race organizers offered to take me across in a Zodiac.  I declined. I had been been cooking sous-vide for three days.  I had  sun stroke.  I needed to get my core body temp down from +40C to a normal 37C or I would be vomitting.  So, I went into the frigid, fast-moving water, clinging clumsily to a rope strung between the two banks of the river.  The water took my breath away instantly.  So damn good!  Once, I made it to the other side, I stumbled across the finish line for the day.  And, then I stripped off my pack and shirt and jumped back in the river.  The water was cold and fast.  I let it take me a half kilometre downstream from camp, swam into an eddy and repeated this process two more times.  It was glorious!

Comments: Total (0) comments

Tentmates

01 August 2019 09:59 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

“Surround yourself with great people” is an often quoted (and little followed) axiom.  The reason is simple: you are the “average” of the people you spend time with.  

 

 

My game went up the instant I set foot in my tent at Camp 1.  Amanda, from South Africa, the women’s Leader.  A serious, prepared, and truly tremendous athlete.  Angeles, from Spain, brimming with personality, athleticism, culture, and generosity.  Tom, from the UK.  Among his many achievements to date, he has rowed across the Atlantic Ocean and swam across the English Channel, for fun.  Consuelo, from Switzerland.  The elder statesman in our tent.  A perfect gentleman, and quiet, fierce competitor gunning for top spot in the race.

 

We have the reputation in camp as the “serious tent.” Early to bed.  Meticulous pre and post-race routines.

 

And, then, there’s me.  The laggard of the group!  Rolling in last in the tent, huffing and puffing.

 

Let there be no doubt.  I would not be doing as well in this race if I were in another tent.  I hit the jackpot with this crew. 

 

A poignant reminder to surround yourself with people that push you to strive your best.  It makes all the difference.

Comments: Total (6) comments

Grace Di Cesare

Posted On: 02 Aug 2019 10:33 am

Beautifully put, Simon! Keep pushing - you inspire the rest of us more than you know!

Shane McEniry

Posted On: 01 Aug 2019 09:59 pm

Hi Simon.....we are following your progress with great interest....keep on doing your best . Hope Dawn and the girls give you some added inspiration Best Wishes ! Linda and Shane

Hannah Melanson

Posted On: 01 Aug 2019 08:57 pm

You are an absolute machine Si-Bones!!! YOU are the person in our circle who brings us up and drives us to be better. Keep going. We love you. And we are going to celebrate the hell out of this accomplishment in Canada! xx Squid

Sam Melanson

Posted On: 01 Aug 2019 06:28 pm

14th!?! You are a constant inspiration to us all and an absolute beast! Looking forward to celebrating your immense achievement on Canadian soil! Nearly there big bro!!

Jean-François Bégin

Posted On: 01 Aug 2019 05:02 pm

Hey!!! Dude!!! 14th overall my friend! You got this!!! Long March behind! Stroll in the park from here! Welcome to the 4 Desert Club Simon....Not a lot of Canadians on that very selective list!! Cheers!!!

Yvon Carriere

Posted On: 01 Aug 2019 01:35 pm

A terrific reminder, Simon, makes me appreciate my wife's presence in my life in general. Following your progress is also helpful in this regard, to keep me striving to do hard things the smart way. Keep up the effort, you are doing so well!
Welcome to the Mongolian Grill

01 August 2019 09:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

Day 4 didn’t get off to a great start.  Breakfast in a bag didn’t sit well in my stomach.  I (involuntarily) purged everything in my system about 25 mins before start time.  I couldn’t keep anything in my system.  My tentmates were giving me that concerned look…”Simon, you look pale, mate. Feeling alright?” “Never better.” (The first part of accomplishing anything in life  is that YOU have to believe it first). 

 

I started off slowly in the first few kms and picked up speed as my stomach settled down.  My race strategy was to travel 7.5km/hour until CP4 (50km) and 6km/hour thereafter.  This is not fast on flat road.  However, I would submit that is rather brisk in the punishing sun, loose stones, steep hills and valleys of Mongolia, carrying a 20lb pack and 8 lbs of water.

 

The sun was having its day.  I could “feel” my skin being grilled.  I would liken it to when you burn your arms and face when you open the lid of a hot BBQ that has been left on high for too long.  Except, the sensation didn’t last for just a moment. It was constant, uncomfortable, and incredibly distracting.  The heat had come to the Gobi.

 

Somehow, I kept my pace/promise to myself until CP4 (50 kms).  I was beyond pleased with my progress given the conditions.

 

However, I started coming unglued as I filled up my water bottles and headed back into the Mongolian steppe.  The sun was still so high.  I was travelling alone (buddy system is a real thing).  So many more encounters with bulls, dogs, and wild horses.  I was zig-zagging all over the countryside to avoid confrontations, adding kilometres and time to an already long day. (In hindsight, I would have happily carried the additional weight of a 12 gauge and heavy buckshot).  The sun just wouldn’t go down.  My clothing and skin were caked in layer of white salt from all the sweat that the sun baked onto me.  I looked like I was covered in snow (If only!).  I was losing my fine motor skill and cognitive function (Why can’t I open/close this simple Ziploc bag? When did I last take my electrolytes again?  Am I going the right way?) Dizzy. Vision was getting fuzzy.  I was reciting dates of birth of family members to test my mental baseline.   I pumped in calories in the form of Ultragen.  The sweet powder mixed with 40C  water held for a while but started bouncing back up and spilling onto the vast Mongolian Steppe as I shuffled along. 

 

Somewhere, around 60km, I threw an epic Samuel Jackson rant at the sun.  (You know you’re really losing it when you’re in a one-sided argument with a star).  A waste of energy.  The question that came to mind shortly afterward was “If a man swears into the vast Mongolian Steppe with no one around, does his wife still hear it half a world away?”  My question was answered by a gust of wind that seemed to whisper “I can hear you. Stop swearing.”

 

The last 15 kms was a slog.  The sun was bright as ever.  But, I was in dark tunnel with a faint light at the end.  Every hill was followed by another.  The landcape reminded me of Dunvegan, Alberta, in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.  As a kid, I thought it was such an accomplishment to get to the top of the Dunvegan escarpment and look down at the bridge and mighty, fast-flowing Peace River.  Now, I was faced with Dunvegan on a conveyer belt.  One giant hill after another.  About five kilometres from the finish line, I buddied up with my tent mate, Angeles, from Spain (the daughter of a Spanish Marine, and a force of nature in her own right!).  She got me home by distracting me with all her favourite Spanish seafood and tapas recipes. Reckon I’ll be moving to Spain shortly!

 

Sitrep: Overdid it. Pushed too hard in the sun. Body was radiating heat. Genghis took his revenge. Doctor was monitoring me for the night.  Got some calories in, finally.  Hunger coming back.  When I commented to one of the docs that I was “happy to no longer be under surveillance,” she said “we’re always watching…” and “…you’re all elite athletes, you always pull through.”  A positive thought I will keep front of mind for the last two days of the race.

Comments: Total (1) comments

Hannah Melanson

Posted On: 01 Aug 2019 09:02 pm

Sounds like a tough day big bro, but you powered through as always. Keep pushing. (By the way, I had a dream two nights ago that we were standing in the old kitchen at Dad's house smashing spring rolls from the House of Lam. It was great. Not long until we can do this for real with a couple of tall cans of Sapporo. You've got this!!!) xx Squid
Missing Blog Posts

01 August 2019 08:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

I gather that some of my blog posts are MIA.  I have written everyday.  I am hopeful that RacingThePlanet will be able to find my Camp 3 and Day 3 posts, as these were arguably the most entertaining of all.  

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Day 2: Mist-ical Mountain Valleys

29 July 2019 09:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

First, I want to say “thank you” to those of you that posted on my blog.  I would like to encourage ALL of you reading it to do the same.  The reasons are simple and selfish: it keeps me going.  So, don’t be shy!

 

Second, a special thanks to Isabelle & Bruno for their e-mail, and to J-F Begin for his blog post (all 4 Deserts Club members and incredible people that I have learned so much from).  Thank you as well to Ron Granich from Montreal.  We have never met.  Your encouraging e-mail was most appreciated!

 

Weather here in the northern Gobi is windy, wet, and cold.  I am never dry.  Huge rainstorm that lasted 7 hours last the night.  It was insane.  I was grateful for the tents provided by Racing The Planet; they stood up to the weather admirably.  Nonetheless, water found a way in.  And, it is so damp, nothing dries.  I was glad that I went with synthetic over down for my jacket and sleeping bag (synthetic provides warmth when wet; down does not).

 

I ran for most of today; just in a racing t-shirt and shorts.  Steady on, up and down, through the cold, rain, and constant wind.  It was in a word “uncomfortable”. It is raining still a I type this.  My racing clothes are totally soaked and disgusting.  And, will not dry.  Tomorrow morning when I put them on, I will smile (read “grimace” like an ape) when I get dressed …just to keep me from swearing.

 

Today was tough.  Up and down endless mountains and valleys (fortunately, not as steep as Day 1).  There is an endless supply of mountains here in Mongolia.  They should really export some.  The Netherlands, Qatar, Singapore, Australia.  Saskatchewan!  They could turn them into tourist attractions and slip their reputations for being flat as pancakes.

 

I pushed hard again today, in a very competitive/ fast field (Honestly, I am not sure why I am such an idiot sometimes).  I was happy to see Racing The Planet rounding up the bulls and cows with Land Rovers today (thanks guys!).  So, I just had to deal with all the bull crap in the valleys.  My Spanish tentmate tells me that stepping in bull crap is good luck in her culture.  If that’s true, I am the luckiest man alive because I marched for miles through it.  Ran past stupas, a sacred rock / temple with some prayer wheels.

 

Sitrep: Wet, cold, 1 blister on baby toe on left foot (the toe has become a blister) from constant sliding of foot/cramming of toes on steep descents. Back is pummelled.  Shorts cutting through my waistline.  Leg muscles are defiant  Walking around camp like stork. 

 

Tomorrow is rated as “very difficult.”  Starts with—you guessed it--a climb up the mountain overlooking camp.  I will need to take it slow tomorrow.  Long march is Wednesday.  

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Camp 2

28 July 2019 09:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

Camp was set among this crazy rock formation/ outcrop over a valley.  One of the formations looked like “Pride Rock” from the Lion King.  A stone slab/diving board overlooking a grand valley with mountains all around.  There were also ancient petroglyphs underneath.  Very cool!  What impressed me most of all was the five year old on horseback and driving a motorcycle (Grace, Olivia – don’t get any ideas!)

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Day 1 Delirium

28 July 2019 08:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

If you’re not doing things outside your comfort zone, then consider that you may be just “existing”.  If so, try “living”.  It’s amazing.  And, it comes with hefty price. 

I came out of the gate way too fast today.  I was on fire for the first 20 km, in tenth place. I knew immediately when I looked at my GPS watch that I was waaay outside my race plan.  I didn’t care, I took the governor off and went for it.  It was ridiculous.  I was borderline delirious.  I almost ran into an open well (just a 5ft square hole, in ground,  40 ft straight down, with no sides, just randomly in the midst of some bushes).  I danced to “tonight” (feat. “Mr. Worldwide”) with four kids outside a Ger, just for fun.  I carried on. Did a river crossing.  My heart was bursting (physically and emotionally) from the elevation and the incredible landscape.  At km 21 I hit the wall: an 800M steep mountain face.  No way around.  Only up.  My calves locked up/ were cramping out of control within the first few minutes of my ascent.  It was terrible.  What followed was a pathetic site.  Me crawling up a mountain on my hands and knees, while I waited for the lactic acid to clear.  Eventually I got back on my feet and was able to ever so slowly navigate the thick thorn bushes and boulders relying on my quads.  It seemed like an eternity to the top.  Every foot placement had to be just right (if not, possibly race-ending).  Eventually, I reached the summit and was instantly hit with forceful wind that smelled of wildflowers.  The view from the top was one of the most stunning vistas I have ever seen.  I left a part of my soul up there.  Or maybe the mountain became part of me.  I am not sure.  What I know is that I will be different the next time we meet.  I am richer for having made it to the top.  The old me would have said that I “conquered” that mountain.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  That mountain gave every helping hand possible.  Long, strong grasses and thorn bushes to cling to.  The occasional small open spot to stop and rest.  She loved me all the way to the top and down the steep descent into the gorge on and valley on the other side.  And, I was grateful.

The run through the valleys to Camp 2 was simply epic.  I was small spec in an oversized alien landscape.  I couldn’t see anyone behind or ahead of me.  It seemed implausible to have it all to myself.   I ran past several bleached bull skulls with horns still intact.  I smiled to myself as I ran past and thought about my dad’s love of artist Geogia O’Keefe.  I couldn’t help but think he was right there with me.

Then came an encounter with a real bull.  Beautiful oxblood/rust colour with large, twisting, long white polished horns. He was not happy that I was striding through his territory, with cows behind.  He kept walking directly toward me.  I tried to give him a wide berth and go around.  But he kept cutting the angle and hemmed me close to base of mountain.  I thought “OK, I am going to get gored by a bull.  That’s cool.  …Umm.  Nope, fight back!”  I starting channeling my Alberta heritage and said out loud “OK Uncle Chris and Nick, stop laughing you rednecks, and tell me what to do here!”  Next thing I know, I grabbed 12-15 lb rock and start walking toward the bull.  He just kept staring at me, perfectly still, like a statue.  I kept walking straight at hm.  Then, I hit him square in the forehead with the rock with a sickening “smack.”  I couldn’t believe it.  Normally, I can’t hit the broad side of a barn with a baseball! )  Crazier still, the bull didn’t react.  So, we just stood there staring at each other like a couple idiots.  I just nodded and said “well then, have you had enough?”, and backed away slowly.  And, then I turned and ran for my life, looking over my shoulder for a kilometre. The whole way, I was picturing Nick and Chris making fun of me and laughing so hard tears were streaming down the face.  And then I started laughing too.  J

Last bit of run was a crazy clay marsh to Camp 2. Pretty messy and slippery.

Sitrep.  No blisters, seriously smashed toes from steep descent. Very sore.  Going to lose two toe nails imminently.  Back is pulverized from pack.  Real bad. 

Picture this: typing this message at a small card table, in an in a cold, gusting wind wearing a micropuff jacket, boxer briefs, a backward baseball cap, pumping tunes surrounded by mountains on every side.  My legs are frozen stiff.

Today was simply one of the weirdest and most wonderful days I have spent on the Planet.  Describe it?  I tried.  But somehow, it falls short of the real thing.

Here’s hoping tomorrow is  slower, and more normal (or, not J)

 

Comments: Total (10) comments

Nadine Hogan

Posted On: 30 Jul 2019 01:07 pm

Speechless (and you know that doesn't happen easily with me!). KEEP GOING KEEP GOING KEEP GOING (& keep writing!) :D

Hannah Melanson

Posted On: 30 Jul 2019 06:30 am

OMG! What an unforgettable day. SO proud of you. Keep going. Everyone is watching and cheering you on - even Dad, Uncle Chris and Uncle Nick. ;)

Grace Di Cesare

Posted On: 29 Jul 2019 12:57 pm

WOW - what an amazing day... and let's be honest, that bull never stood a chance!

Riley Kirkpatrick

Posted On: 29 Jul 2019 09:52 am

You had me laughing out loud mate! Amazing stuff. Keep trekking on and we're watching closely from Aus!

Jean François Bégin

Posted On: 29 Jul 2019 03:41 am

Dude! Great read! Funny but I feel your pain and your feeling of beeing alive! Keep it Up, suck it all in....it's all good my Friend! Cheers!!! Jeff B.

Rachel Fabich

Posted On: 29 Jul 2019 02:11 am

Wow! I can’t believe you lived that! A-mazing!!

Michel Cecire

Posted On: 29 Jul 2019 12:58 am

Thank you for putting the energy into writing such great blogs after a gruelling day of bull fighting, you rock Man.

Jeff Schubert

Posted On: 29 Jul 2019 12:13 am

Great bull tale!’

Dawn Melanson

Posted On: 28 Jul 2019 11:18 pm

Hi sweetheart. Unbelievable about the bull! The girls were dying. I hope your back is manageable- power through :) Keep going! You can lean on us when we see you.

Yvon Carriere

Posted On: 28 Jul 2019 09:07 pm

Phenomenal. Thank you for sharing, sounds like you are loving every excruciating moment. And thank you for the inspiration!
Getting to Camp 1

27 July 2019 08:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

Ride from UB to Camp 1 felt long.  I cannot understand, let alone explain, how a paved road can be so bumpy!  Fortunately, my butt went numb after about an hour. 

The camp was set among ancient ruins of Khar Bhukiin Balgas Palace, dating from 900-1100 AD. The stone laying for the walls was positively unique, beautiful (and evidently, built to last).  I brought a hamburger and fries from UB for dinner.  Side of ketchup  It was cold.  Still better than powdered calories and water.  Best part was the envious faces of other competitors eating rations J

Comments: Total (2) comments

Jim and Moira Kirkpatrick

Posted On: 30 Jul 2019 02:57 am

Hey Simon, keep up the good work and interesting blog. We look forward to meeting you in a couple of weeks. Regards Jim and Moira from downunder

Joanna Schubert

Posted On: 29 Jul 2019 10:56 pm

I can only imagine but your words make it real. Stay strong you got this.
People and Nature - Better Together

27 July 2019 01:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

6. Great People!

I am humbled.  Surrounded by such authentic, accomplished people.  Competitors from 44 countries.   Familiar, all-star lineup from RacingThePlanet (Riitta, Zeanna, Sam, Thiago- I love you guys!). Tremendous volunteers (Benji! First impression: a cooler version of Tom Sizemore in fluorescent yellow Hokas and camo pants. Where have you been all my life?).  Team of emergency and remote/wilderness medical docs. I have no choice but to bring my best.



7.  Conditions

The open wilderness of Mongolia.  No cell phone reception on course.  Nomadic families.  Horses, camels, dogs, sheep. Wolves. “Watch the bushes. Don’t pee on a snake” (Sensible advice). Anticipate temperatures between 0 C and 35 C.  High UV index.  Altitude.  Rain, snow, hail, and lightning storms are distinct possibility.  “We have had lightning injuries before.”  “Get low and into fetal position.  Ditch your metal trekking poles.” (Again, sensible. I would have perhaps added “pray to a higher power”).  Fatigue; emotions; kidney injury/failure; blisters; sunburn; viral, bacterial, and parasitic infections the most likely adversaries.  Hydration, electrolytes, hygiene, taping/prevention, focus, and preparedness the antidotes. And, of course, sheer determination and some luck.



8. Equipment, Food, and Medical Inspection

My bag weighed in at 9.8 kgs (21.6 lbs), with trekking poles, and without water (add another 2 kgs/4.4 lbs-3kgs/7lbs for H2O).  Heavier than I would like. May need to ditch a few optional items at Camp 1 tonight to get the weight down.  Now on bus into the heart of Mongolia.

Comments: Total (3) comments

lucy caverly

Posted On: 30 Jul 2019 05:17 pm

omg!!!!! what an amazing adventure... your tots one strong human 😁😁😁

Nadine Hogan

Posted On: 27 Jul 2019 12:23 pm

GO SIMON GO! I am in awe!!!!!!!

Dawn Melanson

Posted On: 27 Jul 2019 12:16 pm

Simon!! We are so proud of you!! We can’t wait to run with you to the finish line. We are all packed and ready to go. We love you!
Final Prep

26 July 2019 04:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

It’s getting real!  Competitors are rolling into UB today from across the globe.  I reviewed my equipment and food supply again this morning, stripping more weight and calories to keep things as light as possible.  I have 15,000 calories for 7 days.  That’s roughly what “the Rock” (Dwayne Johnson) consumes in a single day.  Given our similar physiques, (dashing good looks and charm ;), I think it likely I will shed a few extra pounds this week.  I will sidle up to my fellow competitors carrying extra food.  A trick learned from and perfected by ultra legends Ash Mokhtari and Paul Borlinha.  They charmed me out of my calories with a smile after I carried them across the Atacama Desert.  Boys, if you’re reading this, “thanks for the lesson” and “please send a pizza and a tallboy to the finish line of the Long March on Wednesday!”  

Competitor briefing is tomorrow at 0800, followed by equipment, food, and medical checks.  Then, it’s on the buses into the Orkhon Valley.  

I will be going for it.  In the words of author and coach, Jen Sincero, "There's nothing as unstoppable as a freight train of f*@k -yeah!"

Comments: Total (7) comments

lucy Caverly

Posted On: 30 Jul 2019 05:20 pm

you got this ... Mr. Rock JR lol have a great finish

Michel Cecire

Posted On: 27 Jul 2019 12:58 am

You rock man, Be safe and have fun out there...

Angela Singhal

Posted On: 26 Jul 2019 02:55 pm

Absolutely amazing, best wishes!!!

Angela Singhal

Posted On: 26 Jul 2019 02:55 pm

Absolutely amazing, best wishes!!!

Jeff Schubert

Posted On: 26 Jul 2019 02:23 pm

This might be tougher then a Kara Kitts 75!!!

Kara Kitts

Posted On: 26 Jul 2019 02:17 pm

Will be following you the whole way through! Go get it!

Grace Di Cesare

Posted On: 26 Jul 2019 01:35 pm

Incredible, Simon!! Cheering you on, you’ve got this!!
Pre-Race Struggles, Doubt & Ulaanbaatar

25 July 2019 11:00 pm (GMT+08:00) Irkutsk, Ulaan Bataar

1. Caveat Lector.

This blog is for fun!  It’s a rabbit hole about the struggle of preparing for and competing in a 7-day, 250 km, self-supported run across the largest and most inhospitable desert in Asia.  An unapologetic, personal blend of the three branches of literary studies that doesn’t quite meet of the standards of journalistic, anthropological, or scientific integrity.  I hope you enjoy it!

 

2. The Trail Less Travelled

Once upon a time, I had this crazy goal that I would become part of the elite group of people to complete the toughest footrace series on the Planet.  For five years, this goal has given me a powerful sense of purpose and connections with high performers around the world.  Yet, somehow this race, and the prospect of joining the 4 Deserts Club, snuck up on me. Life has been full these last months.  This week, I find myself working through a  chaotic jumble of memories, emotions, and thoughts as I head into the Gobi.  I actually had to say “Stop!” and ask myself: “What is happening right now…?”  Aha!  “Doubt.”  It sneaks in before every race.   It was so subtle this time that I almost missed it, as it tried to quietly sabotage me from within.  Only one cure I know of: Action!  Let’s get this race started already. (Comments /boosts of optimism on my blog are also welcome :)

  

3. Packing like a Clown

I have never been able to fit all of my mandatory equipment and food for 7 days into my 20 liter race pack on the first attempt for any ultra stage race.  Until today!  It usually takes at least three rounds of careful deliberation, cutting, and repacking.  No trick or add-ons to my pack this time.  I just stuffed everything into the bag, pack-avant, and hip pouches until they were completely full.  Then rushed to the airport to catch my flight.  Somehow it all fit; like 40 clowns packed into a Ford Focus.  Appears that going with more minimalist gear has helped on the front end (Though, I will soon see how well it performs in the field).  It also helps that I didn’t bring any wacky props like beach balls, and two-person giraffe outfits. 

 

4. Ulaanbaatar (UB)

 UB is a city of roughly 1.5M (almost half of Mongolia’s total population), set in a picturesque plateau surrounded by rolling green mountainsides (it reminds me a bit of Guatemala City).  The landscape surrounding the city is wild and the sky is that beautiful “alpine blue” that kept me repeatedly craning my neck upward in awe.  The city itself appears mostly unplanned, unkempt, and chaotic.  Cars drive on the side of the road.  Yet, there is a healthy mix of right and left hand drive cars.  The buildings are a mishmash of Chinese, Russian, and “other” architecture; haphazardly placed, both in location and exposure.  New buildings are going up quickly alongside old, unfinished, and abandoned ones.  Similarly, the streets / intersections are rarely perpendicular.  A power plant belching smoke.  New apartment building in the middle of a grassy highway median.  New playground in an old abandoned brownfield with rusting rail cars. A man using a brushcutter with a saw blade, wearing a suit and tie.  Three male peacocks in a cage at the gas station down the street from my hotel.  Sharp metal protruding from sidewalks (Yup! I almost bailed just walking, without my pack).  In short, UB reminds me of Jackson Pollock’s famous “No5” painting.  A bird’s nest with the greatest number of angles.  Things splashed, smeared, splattered, dripped, and flung independently from one another, in layers, through time, with no correlation.

 

Notwithstanding, the city does have a few charms.  I can see Sukhbaatar Square and the Parliament Building from my hotel room windows.  I also visited the Tuul River and Buddha Garden today; home to a magnificent +30m gold Buddha statue.  My favourite was the Museum of the Bogd Khaan: a WONDERFUL respite from the constant honking car horns.  Built between 1893 and 1903, this palace is where Mongolia’s eighth Living Buddha, and last king, Jebtzun Damba Hutagt VIII (often called the “Bogd Khan”), lived for 20 years.  Beautiful! While there, I discovered an interesting antique map of UB in the time before skyscrapers. A beautifully organized village with three palaces.  A sign of good things/ the countryside to come.   After all, the Mongols were nomads that went on to create the largest land empire in history in a relatively short period of time.  I am planning to channel that kind of ambition, adeptness, mobility, and mental game in the week ahead. Failing that, maybe I will rent a couple of horses!  (How many Togrogs for that fast-looking mare with the sparks in her eyes? Is the saddle included?)

Comments: Total (5) comments

Yvon Carrière

Posted On: 31 Jul 2019 09:43 pm

Hey Simon, just read this post now. I completely appreciate your bit about doubt. Confidence is a fragile thing, especially with this sort of thing. The good news is that you are out there and making it happen. Awesome. Living at its best.

Rachel Fabich

Posted On: 26 Jul 2019 02:57 am

Have a great race, Simon!!! You will be amazing! Can’t wait to read about your many adventures.

Hannah Melanson

Posted On: 25 Jul 2019 10:54 pm

And so begins another race. And with it, another reminder that you will always be a better writer (and, quite obviously, athlete) than your little sister. Goddamn you and your diverse set of aptitudes and talents! Go on then, show us all what you're made of! You've got this! Sending all our love from the land of Oz. Squiddy, Rudy and Riley xx

Pat TINGLEY

Posted On: 25 Jul 2019 10:39 pm

The Mongolian Grill must be super legit. Good luck Simon! Cheers from Cedar Point.

Sam Fanshawe

Posted On: 25 Jul 2019 02:53 pm

Great blog Simon! Did you really carry a two-man giraffe outfit at one of the races? Who did you share it with? Very excited to see you join the 4 Deserts Club!