Gaucho Derby - Day 3
Words: Sam Taylor
With Amelio, the vet, having decided that even Tescos might not have a use for Jako's horse, Jako faced the prospect of another long walk. Luckily, Amelio very kindly lent him his, which was a wonderful animal. I am unsure what Amelio ended up doing over the next 50km. Still, it was in keeping with this incredible team of vets and medics who did it all on horseback and gave the finest care to both the horses and the irritating humans that came attached to them.
We were making good time on the hills going at a steady canter when Simon's horse decided for no reason whatsoever to consider a career in pole vaulting. Simon was unwillingly forced to participate in this budding Olympian's self-scheduled audition and cartwheeled face first beside me.
My knee was now in a fair amount of pain, so I performed an unorthodox concussion check by remaining on my horse and yelling, "Holy fuck Simon, are you alive?" Happily, he was alive and demonstrated his vitality by bouncing to his feet and grabbing his horse, which had again taken umbrage with the saddle bags, indelicately undoing Simon's careful cross stitch with its hooves. When we had all calmed ourselves down, including Simon's horse, we began locating the bag's items, which had been liberally spread across Argentina. Once regathered, Simon again began the arduous job of sewing his bags together with a Leatherman and paracord.
Charlotte spent the time on the ground plotting a course on the map and editing datums in her GPS. At one point, she pulled out a sextant and measured the sun's angle to the horizon and cross-referenced it with the drift of the condors flight. (Some or all of this may not be true.) In fact, I don't think she turned on her GPS once, and when as a group, we were at odds on our bearings, she would diplomatically agree with everyone and light a cigarette.
I got off my horse ostensibly to give Simon a few comforting words, but in reality to locate my toothpaste that I'd seen behind a tussock, which had found its way into Simon's gear in our nightly pass-the parcel. It was a mistake. My knee was now quite wobbly, and I now had the indignity of asking the man who had just been tossed like a pancake if he would support my wobbly knee while I tried to mount my horse again. To be fair to Simon, he was born for this and did so with a smile and words of encouragement. (He may even have offered me a cup of coffee, although perhaps my ears were deceiving me at this point). Nonetheless, I marvelled at the natural guides' ability to make sure everyone was OK.
As Simon wandered from horse to horse, checking girths, asking after families, and generally hosting the shit out of Patagonia, I took the opportunity to survey our group. We were an eclectic bunch, to be sure. Antoine was a stockbroker from Paris, living in New York, who was, we had just discovered, a rather well known DJ. I asked him several times if he was, in fact, Daft Punk, and his denial was too assured to be true. Antoine is Daft Punk, and you've heard it here first.
Alphonso "Poncho" Castro was a complete gentleman. Sent back from the kit weigh in multiple times to remove hip flasks from his saddlebags, he is a lawyer from Mexico City who formed a natural leadership partnership with Simon.
We've already mentioned Alejandro's jacket, but the man beneath it, also from Mexico City, is a carpenter and had a stream of mental horses since arriving at base camp. Unlike me, he never complained about a thing and possessed steely determination, as we would learn on an episode near the end.
Jako, now in fine fettle being on rather than wearily alongside a horse, is a horse and cattle breeder from South Africa, whose earlier dejection belied one of the most positive humans I have yet to meet. "Yassus, but this is great!" he would grin as Simon was catapulted over his head for the third time. "What a life!"
That was our little gang, and throughout the ride, we would accumulate more riders, lose them and accumulate them again - but these were the constant.
We made good ground on the other riders and arrived at the next vet check and horse change, where we drew our horses again, caught them and made the most of some meat sizzling on the fire near the estancia. I was now walking around like John Wayne after a prostate exam, perhaps a little high on the cocktail of painkillers I had been taking.
We all drew good horses, and with relatively little drama, we made it to a thick forest where we encountered almost every other competitor in the race (apart from Anna and a few other girls who were now far ahead). These riders had all been going in circles for some time and were looking for leadership. I would love to say they looked to me, but given some rumours had already started about my horsemanship, and the fact that I was slumped over my saddle in a pain-induced daze, would have rendered this a complete lie. Simon took it on himself and was soon the pied piper leading a gang of perhaps 20 riders through the thick forest around a lake.
It was going so well. We had about ten minutes left of riding and enough time to reach a sensible glade by the lake to camp. And then "Sambo fucked up", as a smiling Poncho observed. Trotting through the deep forest, I took a corner a little tight and ripped off my saddle bags. A mountain of (mostly Simon and Charlotte's) gear fell everywhere, and our merry bunch waited behind whilst I swore at trees and gathered my things. We caught up with the rest a little further on where they had all made camp, and being past the 6pm riding curfew, we were forced to do the same. What at first seemed to be a pretty little campsite - when shared with horses, became a fucking dog show.
Having stitched up my bags (and been forced to apologise to my horse by Charlotte for calling him a naughty word), we wandered the campsite like travelling tailors stitching up and fixing other people's gear. To this day, I've no idea why. (Well, in Simon's case, I do - he's a helpful, kind sort of a bloke, but in mine - I can only attribute this momentary consideration for others to the dangerous amounts of painkillers in my system.)
We then surveyed the horses, tied up and hobbled amongst tree stumps, bushes and little ledges. It was clearly going to be a long night for some people - and it turned out that those some people were Simon and Charlotte, who charged around freeing horses that had knotted themselves into webs of their own making. My memory is a little hazy as I'd popped some more pills, but at one point, I remember running (hobbling) aimlessly through the woods with a pair of pliers.
I slept outside in the Bivvy that night, despite the rain. I figured I would watch my horse like a hawk. I had tied him up high and hobbled him, so he couldn't get his rope caught. It seemed to work but meant the poor fella hadn't anything to eat all night.
It was a hell of a day - and the value of teammates became extraordinarily clear. And the value of drugs. That became clear(ish) too.
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