The medics are sat in the dining tent playing gin. The riders are trying one last time to shoehorn their season 3 sleeping bag into a twenty litre saddle bag. Prized and pertinent possessions are being jettisoned dolefully across the camp. Last hot showers are being cherished. The evenings entertainment are inbound, a middle-aged mini van groaning with priceless folk instruments and a few sequinned numbers. The horses for the opening leg tomorrow are lined up, tagged, identified, checked by our vet teams, and the first three stations will be coming online by dark fall. Satellite trackers have been out for a pipe opener, comms channels between HQ in Ulaanbaatar and our field crews out on the course have been opened and tested, and response crews have had a practise "scramble", assembling like a lifeboat crew to answer the inevitable calls to action once the battle commences tomorrow.
Oh yes. Battle commences tomorrow. After some tightly choreographed training exercises, a raft of technical, rules based and practical briefings on things like tying your horse's legs together so they cannot run away overnight, and a party tonight that will hopefully help them forget all of the above, 37 riders from 15 countries will launch from a spectacular start camp at 10am tomorrow, embarking on a 1000km journey that will leave them immeasurably changed. Witness the chorus of Mongol Derby veterans clamouring nostalgically from the sidelines. We have five returning riders among the starters, and even two ex-crew members turning customer, the Steppe Sisters, Sian and Sophie, such is the power of this event to capture the imagination.
The contenders have acquitted themselves very well over the two days' riding training at the start camp. After a simple initiation ride on Monday we put the riders through their paces today with a full kit navigation ride. Compounding the challenge of semi-wild horses with the multiple headache of navigating, managing technical equipment, and carrying all your worldly goods in a puny little hydration pack and saddle bag. With just a single decking (a classic flapping roll mat-red-rag-to-bull-rodeo-style) for Catherine Coward across the group, scalps have remained solidly with their owners so far and the full field will start tomorrow, bolstered with confidence from everything they have learned and coped well with so far. This might be the best prepared field we have ever welcomed on the Derby.
No fixed cliques or teams have established themselves, and plenty of riders have expressed a honest and enthusiastic opportunism, that they will ride with anyone who matches their pace and ability on the horses. Certain teams will be bound by ties of loyalty, and possibly precious stones in the case of Brits Daniel Reeds and Sarah Cooksey, who are engaged to be married. I can't think of a more thorough test of a partnership. The pre-race favourites of 2013 runner-up Devan Horn and World Equestrian Games competitor Braden Cameron have both made a strong showing at rider training, but so have plenty of other individuals. There is enough horsemanship and survival expertise, human grit and resourcefulness in this group to make it a wide open contest come 10am.
Good advice to the riders from a medic who had a traumatic 2014 derby:
Katy will be reporting on the race, live on Twitter from 10am local time: @MongolDerbyLive
The Full List of Riders can be found over on the Mongol Derby website.
Applications for 2016 are open. If you prefer to participate than spectate you can apply here.