Let's rewind a bit. Yesterday I asked Cory what his plan was for today... "I think go hard right off the start, hard all day, it's going to be a hard day and maybe some guys have jet lag". Roger that. Not my plan.
Start goes off, we ride out of parking lot, then turn onto 40m of highway, then left into dirt. About 10 minutes in, group is strung out, I'm say 20th, I see Cory's national marathon champ red maple leaf up front. I look down and we're doing 40. This is gonna cause carnage.
We get into the first set of climbs. I feel good, the 34 is a bit hard up front, but it's workable. The terrain is just amazing - I had the word amazing in my head a million times today. I thought I was in Lord of the Rings scenes. Just beautiful and awe inspiring. I rode with Thomas and Joao for a bunch, both started slow as they weren't feeling great.
We get to aid 1 and I lose the group I'm with as my bottles aren't there. I start questioning if I did the drop off right. Damn. Eventually a guy says to make a bad situation better and gives me coke and water. Better than nothing. I start chasing on to the group - 3 minutes up from little landmarks. Feel good still.
90k mark has serious climb and sugar and water without electrolytes the cramps started. Sonya went by on the climb and I really started going backwards. Limped into aid 2, had bottles. Drank a full one, took two with. Good descent, really amazing how fast the vans drive across the terrain. Like 50kph in the rough without even tracks.
We drop into valley after valley of open terrain with barely anything in it. Natural earth and animals. Just spectacular. Vast ran through my mind like a million times. Here's where I felt salt and regular bonking until the end, if my fuel supply was a fireman's bucket chain gang, my stomach was like the guy in the middle having no arms to pitch in with. Typical first day suffer.
I get into spiritual feel holding off the gut rot from the excess sugar. I feel the vastness. It's amazing. I think it's so dry here you can see forever - Calgary is dry, but here I have hangnails on every finger because its so dry (or as Thomas' fashion jacket brand - "superdry". The crests of these hills you can see range over range with uninhibited land - like 10's and 50's of kilometers in the distance. You couldn't create a wide angle lens that could capture the feeling - we're just so insignificant out there. I probably said "it's just so vast" to myself a thousand times - if I fell and hit my head, they'd put me in the asylum and I'd be stammering "just so vast" for the rest of my days. I've never seen anything like it, and Mongolia has redefined my definition of vast.
I'm cresting one hill and hear an engine, sounds familiar. I see to my left a Subaru and it clicks - just sounds like the Baja buggies. Motoring over a hill with a lady driving and kids in the back. The closest I can describe it is like the Moose Mountain crest where it's grassy right at the top, going 50kph, not even on track. Blows the mind. Kids wave.
Down in a flat valley I'm chugging along and the tall giant say 6'5" Malaysian national road champ comes up to me. He says he's not feeling well. I was about to ask him if he had water, but he asked me first. So we're screwed together. But he's kind and always checks to make sure I'm drafting. We ride a ways together then 2 other guys come up. They blaze by and we follow them. After a while I feel like I'm not on the right track. I start to try to see on my gps, but everyone keeps hammering along. All of a sudden I hear a thunderous sound behind me - I shoulder check and a Mongolian horseman is just blazing up a few meters away. I think the wind made it so I couldn't hear it sooner, plus I'm in a spacey mind set. He's yelling at his horse, they move like one. It's amazing to see - but point is he's pointing over to the other hill and we're off. Backtrack time. Ugh.
Other guys blow by, I'm in no mans land, flat course down the valley. Huge. Came on a group of horses, tame I'm sure, in the Mongolian lesser definition of tame anyway. Two of them I presume are playing. I'm on a slight downhill, going 35, and they run right along side me for a hundred meters. Again, just beautiful. I'm feeling rough, but I don't care. This place is incredible, and I'm savouring that over riding feel right now. It's everything I wanted and more.
We cross a highway and get into valley after valley of what looks like hobbit country, complete with repeat climbs. I'm having to walk some, it's rough. Today was 2900m of climbing and it didn't relent - last crest was like 4k out from Ghengis. I had to sit at the top of the third last hill and just settle my innards a bit with a time out. Ended up rolling in with Dutchman Leon that I met at Portugal years ago, about 6.5 hours.
One guy came in with his saddle broken off the rails. It was his birthday. Ouch.
Headed over to the little solo shower tents. Very good design. Cold water. We'll call it "refreshing" at the end of a day like this.
Cory won by 7 minutes. Apparently solo'd away at 90k. Look, I'm fully a legend of Cory fan, but now seeing this and thinking back to when he won the 9 day version where they weren't based out of a place with sit down dinner for days? That is mind boggling hard man shit. Even this as it is just crushes.
I'm making a strong effort to recover. Dinner was great. Then it was massage time.
On the way to massage, some Mongolians were wrestling in front of their trucks. It looked intense. Then I stepped into the massage tent - it was a olive drab military looking unit. The massage was run by a Spanish guy, but there were two Mongolian masseurs. Nobody would mistake them for Cindy and Tania. I was thinking it was too bad I couldn't book more than a half hour... boy was that ever wrong. I came out of there looser than I've ever been. I didn't "get" a massage, I submitted to one. I went to a guy in Calgary for a while named Greg, whom I shortly thereafter referred to as Greg the Gorilla. This guy ate Greg the Gorilla for breakfast. Two minutes in I was worried if I could relax, then my body found some emergency stash of a morphine strength endorphin to get me through. Wow. It was like tightness was wrestled out of me - it was great, especially after it was done.
Got back to the tent, and the guys had rescued my mattress from the field where it served as a lounger for three teenage girls who were singing songs on it all afternoon.
I'm on cloud nine. Sleeping in cool fresh air in a ger, hearing tall tales from amazing adventurers, getting clobbered with 6.5 hours of riding in absolutely amazing landscapes, great food, intense massage. Taking away complexity makes life richer. This has delivered more than I imagined possible in just the short time so far.