Racing 1,000 km through the Mongolian desert, riding wild horses in blazing heat — with a chance she’ll have to fight off packs of feral dogs — is everything Langley’s Heidi Telstad signed up for.
Lawyer by day and daredevil by night, 43-year-old Telstad is taking her love of extreme sports to the next level this August as the only Canadian accepted into the Mongol Derby.
“My family is used to me doing crazy things, often coming back with a broken hand, ribs, but I got some strange looks from my colleagues, some saying ‘I hope you make it back,’,” said the self-described “adventure junkie.”
The Mongol Derby spans 1,000 kilometers, tracking the postal route created by Genghis Khan in the 13th century. It’s billed as the most difficult horse race of its kind, taking riders through desert and high mountain terrain.
Only 44 riders from around the world are chosen each year to compete.
The actual course is kept secret until just before the race.
The riders change horses every 40 km and either live with herders or camp under the stars each night. The riders have 10 days to complete the race and can spend up to 13 hours a day in the saddle.
Not all racers make it the whole way, with many dropping out after suffering intestinal illness, hyperthermia, dehydration or injury, Telstad said.
“I have spoken to as many past racers as I can, so I can know what I’m up for. One racer I spoke to said it can go down to zero degrees at night and the next day temperatures soar to over 40 degrees and you can get heat exhaustion,” she said.
Along with the entry fee, she is required to donate £225 ($430) to the race’s charity of choice — Cool Earth. But she is taking on this endurance race for another important reason — to raise money and awareness for her five-year-old nephew Chase, who has epilepsy.
“Nothing I’ve done, or am going to do, compares to what Chase goes through,” said Telstad. Chase was born with the disorder and began having seizures shortly after birth.
“It’s heart wrenching. A seizure takes so much out of him,” she said.
“They are controlling some of it with medication, but it’s hard on him and also it’s a lot of trial and error.”
Telstad has described the race to Chase, who wants to hear all about the horses involved.
So far, Telstad has raised $1,300 for the BC Epilepsy Society through her Chase The Endurance Race web page and blog she has created. But she is hoping the community will come out for a final push toward her goal.
Telstad is hosting a burger and beer night with live music on Saturday, May 28 at 7 p.m. at the Artful Dodger — an appropriate pub for a horse-related event.
“I’ve ridden my horse there many times,” she said.
Telstad has lined up door and raffle prizes. There will be live music, silent auction and dancing.
As a lead-up to the big race, Telstad has spent pretty much every weekend competing in endurance races throughout North America, putting in 40 to 50 km of riding during each race.
Last year, she was injured while participating in a 50-km race with her horse. While climbing a mountain, she fell off her horse and it stepped on her, breaking her rib and puncturing her lung.
“It was too steep to get help, but luckily a nurse was riding behind me and was able to wrap me up. She asked me, ‘Do you want to finish the race?’ and I got back on my horse and finished it. It was a good learning experience of what the human body can endure.”
Telstad has been riding horses her whole life and emphasizes that the organizers of the race only accept participants who love horses and will treat them with care during the race.
The horses only cover a distance of 40 km a day and then are checked over by a veterinarian daily. They won’t be used if they are under any distress, she said.
She said the biggest challenges for her will be culture shock, and food.
“I’m learning some Mongolian words like, ‘Can I stay with you?’” The riders can only ride until dusk, with the goal to reach a station where a yurt is provided to sleep. But if you don’t make it to the station, you sleep wherever you are.”
As for the wild dogs, they apparently stalk the riders, so she won’t see them coming.
“I’ve been told, when you see them, whatever you do, don’t stop riding.”
The riders are permitted to carry only 11 lbs. in their packs, which doesn’t allow for a lot.
She will bring a purifier for the water, which she has heard smells like goat. Food options are limited, to say the least.
“There is a lot of goat and lamb boiled in fat, and a hard, dry cheese and fermented horse milk that is kind of like a yogurt,” she said. She’s hoping to bring some power gel and peanut butter with her. A sleeping bag is also a must.
Tickets to the May 28 Chase Endurance fundraiser are $30. Email: email@example.com or call 604-838-5586. Or donate directly to BC Epilepsy Society.
To read her blog go to horse-canada.com/chase-endurance.