Words: Sam Taylor
After the night from hell in the woods, we were keen to depart early and get into some open country. In our typically inefficient way, we packed each other's kit, saddled each other's horses, and brushed each other's teeth. How we retained the horses we started on is known only to God; such was our disorganisation.
With our relatively fresh (and familiar) horses, we again made good time. Riding with a number of the other riders in a large group, we had some decent sections on the flat where could trot and canter and felt like we were moving. It was a great opportunity to spend time with the other riders, specifically me, who had exhausted all my best stories on our Franco-Mexican-South African coalition.
There were some incredible characters here. Pam, the oldest (and possibly fittest) contestant, was an American vet who had competed in the Mongol Derby. She was nearly as good a horsewoman as she was at breaking stuff. Her count was a tent, a bag, a tooth and, intriguingly, her trousers. There was the Swiss brother-sister combo, Tobias and Sarah, who, unlike any siblings I had ever met, agreed on nearly everything. With them was Nathalie, a riding guide from Iceland, who seemed determined to smother us in bin liners to keep us warm (or so she said). And Ciara, from Ireland, whose calm skills helped navigate the team around bogs. She also had an unusual effect on Alejandro.
We had specific instructions to keep to a track, and looking about, we could see why. We were surrounded by Beech forest, but unlike the forests from yesterday, this was young woodland, about a meter high, and would have needed a bulldozer to get through.
This section was probably the least scenic part of the race, but we were making good ground, which made up for it (although, in truth, there were simply no places in this wilderness that you couldn't describe as spectacular).
We dismounted about 500m from the vet check, so we could walk in the horses to get their unusual heart warm-down. As we approached, we found a forlorn figure - Hinke, a Dutch girl who had been a little way ahead of us on the race. She was quite upset, and when the story emerged between the sobs, we could see why. It turned out that as she approached the vet check, her horse had been the victim of sexual assault by a wild stallion that had mangled her gear and sent her deep into the grim young beech forest. She was clearly a little shaken, and I offered her some drugs. It was possibly my slurred speech or the crazed look in my eyes, but she politely declined. It was a wake-up call; when a trauma victim declines the drugs you're offering, you know you might have had enough.
The vet check took a while, primarily as Simon had found a long drop behind the Puesto and was busy trying to fill it. Having cleared our vet checks (and Simon's bowels), we started out again. Simon's leisurely pit stop meant that the cosmopolitan group we had been a part of since the forest had moved on without us. But no matter - we had a plan; a navigational piece of genius that would see us through to the next estancia hours, possibly days ahead of the group.
The plan, as it turned out, was shit. So shit that we ended up dismounting and gently persuading our horses to become toboggans as we negotiated a cliff down into a river.
We arrived at the bottom, and seeing it was at least four minutes since I had had some drugs, I dosed up for the trudge over the rocky river bed and up the steep hill towards the never-arriving Estancia. Having pushed through this, Simon put me back on my horse (having apologised to it first), and we bumbled down into the river where we could hear much merriment, arriving some four hours after the rest.
To our amazement, everyone was still there. There had been a race hold due to a blizzard up the mountain, and ironically, we were cheered on by the rest of the riders as we dejectedly trudged in. Suddenly it didn't matter - Jakob and Daisy were there (with leather boots of wine), with their mates Negro and Marito, and so were Anna and Megan. So we settled in. I washed more painkillers down with wine while Charlotte got pally with the estancia's owner's daughter. I'm not sure what Simon did, but I imagine it involved taking his hat off to strangers and showing them interesting flora and fauna. Around the fire, we caught up with what had happened ahead of us. And, as it turned out, what had happened ahead of us was exactly the same as what had happened to us. Only faster.
The team raised over $60,000 to support life and health insurance, emergency rations and welfare support to over 2000 rangers across Africa. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to be felt. Rangers have seen jobs lost, resources slashed, and livelihoods destroyed. All the while, they remain steadfast in protecting what is left of our wilderness. They need our help. Please support them.
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