Humbled by Mongolia

Mongolia Stage 1

Inevitably some days are more memorable than others and Stage 1 is going to be an experience I will never forget. The first day of any race is usually a combination of nerves and everyone trying to exert their dominance over the other riders. This day was exactly that; we started out insanely fast on some pavement and onto a sandy double track, which was slightly downhill. The field split under the immense weight of the Mongolians at the front. We were moving at well over 30mph and I was almost spun out on my 32x10 drivetrain. Rob missed the split in the field, but he was not to be denied and forced his way back up. I have no idea how he was able to bridge back; sheer will, I imagine.

We had a nice chat when he arrived to the group, then it got real again. As the sand intensified, the speed picked up. Our first water crossing for the trip was upon us. I dismounted jumped across and preceded onward. Rob, usually the cautious one between us, was going to teach that crossing what he was all about and went at it full speed. The water was so deep that none of us could see the bottom. Rob went full super man and flew over the front of his bike. Unhurt, but humbled by Mongolia. My humbling experience was yet to come that day.

As the day continued, we baked alone in the sun as we rode because the course became a series of super steep climbs. Mongolia is known as” The Land of the Blue Sky” because there is very little shade anywhere and the sun just hangs above you with a motionless sky. As I rode alone I consumed what I believed to be sufficient water to keep me going. This was not to be the case. I had dug such a hole in the first two hours of riding my body started to shut down.

All systems failure happened with about six miles to go for me. I started to throw up from heat exhaustion and knew I could not move on if I wanted to finish this race out. I threw up all three bottles of water I had consumed and now was dehydrated. The worst part was that the finish was so close. Albeit two super steep hike-a-bikes in front of me. I had to be smart, this moment would dictate the rest of the week for me. With no shade and lots of sun I had to find shelter. Off in a field I spotted a rock pile with flags. I made a dash off the course to what turned out to be a shrine made of rocks. If I was to survive I needed to bring my heart rate down and rest. I repositioned some of the rocks and set the alarm on my phone. Then I did my best to sleep for an hour. Yep, in the middle of the race, with only six miles to go, I took a nap; best decision I made the entire event.

Upon waking I started walking with my head down because I did not wish to know where the top was. Eventually I made it to the finish. The last 6 miles took me almost two hours, but I was alive to fight another day.

At camp I was greeted with a super cold shower. Since my arrival time was so late, lunch was over. So I just sat in the showers for 45 minutes to bring down my body temperature. Also, to add to comic relief, our Yurt was up a hill. I was so over going up any incline, but alas I gave in.

I was humbled by Mongolia to say the least. In the days to come I would give more respect that’s for sure.


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Rob Burnett

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Coach Rob resides in Ann Arbor, MI

Coach John resides in Boulder, CO

Andrew Hemesath resides in Pennsylvania

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