Alright, we have to admit it: the Brits really do have some politicians superior to ours.
Conservative cabinet minister Owen Paterson was keen enough to compete, accompanied by his wife, in this year’s Mongol Derby, a thousand kilometer (621.37 miles) charity race over the Mongol steppes modeled on Genghis Khan’s postal system. Riders have to change semi-wild ponies three times a day in an attempt to cover roughly 40 miles per diem.
The Telegraph reports that the Patersons did successfully complete the race, and survived with quite a story to tell.
Owen and Rose Paterson are competing for words to describe their summer holiday. â€œIt was absolutely awful,â€ says Rose. â€œThe food was beyond terrible,â€ chips in Owen.
This year, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and his wife did not play safe. On a whim â€“ their children called it â€œmidlife crisisâ€ â€“ they took part in a 1,000-kilometre race for charity, across the desolate steppes of Mongolia on semi-wild horses. â€œAnything to avoid security guards,â€ Owen semi-joked when I spoke to him in July for a Weekend article published just before they set off.
â€œAnythingâ€ turned out to be grimmer than their worst imaginings. Injury was likely and death a possibility, warned The Adventurists, organisers of the race. But, as the Patersons left for Ulan Bator to start the Mongol Derby in August, they had only the haziest notion of what lay ahead. â€œIf we had had any idea we would have turned around and gone straight home,â€ says Rose. …
[T]hey arrived in the Mongolian capital in early August with too much equipment and no experience of using a satnav â€“ which was all that stood between them and 10 sub-zero nights in the open air as they hurtled across the wilds, recreating the postal network that had held together Genghis Khanâ€™s vast 13th-century empire.
The start close to Ulan Bator was deceptively luxurious, featuring showers and a relatively benign landscape. â€œWe were all smiles as we set off,â€ remembers Rose. â€œThe views were fantastic. On that first day we thought we might be among the winners.â€
But the race, they discovered, was a deadly mixture of terrifying and dull. Some days they rode for 14 hours through freezing fog, unable to see anything. Guided by a handheld satnav, which Owen set to â€œdirect routeâ€, they found themselves travelling extra miles, on top of the allotted 40 a day, through swamps and over mountains in order to arrive at the pony-swapping stations three times a day.
â€œThe worst leg of each day was the last one,â€ says Rose. â€œIf we missed the ger (Mongolian for yurt) we would have spent the night outside, with no food or drink, taking turns to hold onto the ponies.â€
So prone were the ponies to wander, that they could not even get off to pee between pony swap stops. If the animals had bolted, the couple would have lost everything, including their passports.
Bleached bones dotted the steppes, and the landscape was pitted with marmot holes in which the ponies could break their legs. â€œWe were constantly attacked by packs of dogs. At one point the ponies bolted and we galloped flat out for miles, knowing that if we fell off the dogs would eat us,â€ says Rose.
The most surreal moment occurred during the August riots back home, when Owen received a message that Parliament had been recalled. â€œStanding on the steppes, shouting into the vetâ€™s phone under the stars, I had to tell the whips I would not be able to make it because I was 15 hours from Ulan Bator.â€