Day 4: Gobi Cold Camel Expedition
23rd Jan 2018
I'm still alive and feeling better, not worse which is always a good sign. The only problem is my lower back is still freezing cold, no matter now many layers I add. I'm a bit cautious about what to wear now as I don't want to sweat, so I exchange my arctic jacket for my Stoney Creek windproof jacket as the outer layer.
I'm determined to get back on the camels, I didn't travel halfway round the world to sit in a truck. Pride is long gone and our groups become quite close knit - I certainly didn't expect to be the first to fall but I'm not the last. Two of our group are too sore or sick to ride and spend the whole day in the support truck - I'm stoked as they're willing to take my camera so I can appear in some of the photos!
It's only -17 with no wind when we wake up, but first I need a shower to wash away the dried sweat from yesterdays antics. A lack of water means wet wipes are my only option and soon Im feeling slightly less feral. I'm stuck in these clothes for the entire trip, so even being clean is pointless when you're pulling back on the same clothes.
I've added extra layers today as my knees were getting quite cold yesterday in the wind. I now have four layers of thermals, one layer of down and my Stoney Creek windproof pants as the outer layer. My boots come up to my knees and the deel covers me completely so I'm hoping that'll keep me warm. On top I have just five layers, but I've strapped on the heat warmer to try and keep my lower back and kidneys warm while I'm riding.
I would have had the perfect clothing if we were trotting like yesterday, but today it's mostly walking in the shadow of towering snowy mountains and I'm slightly cold at times. I make it the 15km to lunch at a family Ger in quite good spirits, and I doze on the bed while waiting for food. I'm a little quiet and withdrawn but it's taking all my energy just to stay on the camels.
By the time we leave it's dropped to -28 with a wind blowing. The herders have warned us (through our translator) that we're about to pass some dangerous terrain. Deep cracks in the desert have filled with snow and we must ride in single file, following exactly in their footfalls to avoid our camels falling into them. Apparently trying to get the camels out of the snowy cracks is quite the challenge!
I'm cold early, with ice blinding my goggles, but when I remove them to see properly my eyelashes are frosted over. Soon we're riding into the sun and I pull the googles down again, zoning out as coldness sets in again. With little to no vision I can't see the scenery and my camel carries me through the desert, following the others.
Today's camel is the best so far so I name him Jackie, after my American Mustang since she was my favourite horse of all time. I've also lengthened my stirrups so my knees aren't killing me and I've found my stride. It might have taken a bit of experimenting but camels really are quite comfortable!
I soon realise my problem; at lunch my thermals got pushed above my deel silk tie and my lower back - the problem area - doesn't have the layers to keep my warm. Soon I'm as chilled as yesterday but it's impossible to rearrange the layers without exposing my skin. Sorting my layers makes me even colder and soon I'm shivering - it's far to cold to dress outside of the warmth of the Ger. We just have 3km to ride of our 28km trip today but I'm far too chilled to continue and I flag down the support truck. Again I am rushed ahead, this time to the Ger where we're spending the night, and I wrap myself with a heat pack, survival blanket and many layers.
By the time the others catch up on the camels (minus the two that spent the entire day in the car) I'm warm again - or at least as warm as I'm going to get. My lower back seems to be permanently cold now and I'm starting to wonder if I'll ever feel warm again! My body simply can't regulate the temperature.
Almost everyone is or has been sick now, even Chloe our fearless leader, and it's interesting watching a few of them push through the pain and keep going - it's inspiring. I'm disappointed I didn't ride the last 3km and hope tomorrow I can have my first full day on the camels. Those final 3km just seemed insurmountable and I realise I'm not as tough as I thought I was. The Gobi has humbled me.
This Ger is in my favourite location so far, in a huge valley named after crows because a battle was once fought here and the plains were black with the crows which feasted on the fallen warriors for days. We play with the goats and sheep, all of which are ridiculously friendly since they are used to grazing in the Gobi by day and returning to the Ger by themselves each night for warmth - they seem more like pet's than livestock and they are surely some of the toughest of their species to be able to survive out here!