This summer, brothers Seb and Ollie Engelhart (13D & E) set off for an action packed tour of Mongolia. They share Part One of their experience with us below:
The Gobi Desert, Altai Mountains & Rural China
Summer 2013, written by Sebastian Engelhart, videos by Oliver Engelhart
There was absolutely no way we could top our adventures of July 2012 on the Africa expedition, but this summer Ollie and I laid out an itinerary for own version of explore, learn and act. We began July by competing in a 100k ultra-marathon in the Gobi Desert. From Ulaanbaatar we travelled to the far western corner of Mongolia and spent two weeks trekking with local nomads in the Altai Mountains. The Trans Siberian railway conveyed us from Ulaanbaatar to Beijing, where we checked in at Tsinghua for a community service program in association with the University and then headed in opposite directions to the far reaches of China. Six weeks and thousands of kilometers covered!
It was our second ultra-marathon this year and I was finding this dessert challenge required a new mental and physical approach, which was in stark contrast to the strategy I used while pounding up and down mountains and stumbling through the terraced rice paddies of the Tiger Leaping Gorge in Yunnan Province, China back in April.
I finished the 43km day, spent under the baking sun plowing up and down sand dunes and through prickly nettles, in a solid time and was happy to be back into the ‘game’ despite some pretty sore legs and numerous blisters to tend to. While refueling on Mongolian mutton and chatting with the other runners from around Asia a late afternoon storm rolled in and showed us how cruel and volatile weather on the Siberian prairie can be. With little warning, a sand and hailstorm blew into camp and the temperature dropped from a sweltering 30 degrees down to just 5 degrees! Day two for another 42k was much the same except brighter blue skies, bigger dunes and a 10km stretch through what I’ve affectionately nicknamed Death Valley – the only objects of any interest down there were carcasses and a far flung Ger or two. My legs were seizing up with cramps constantly and it took everything I had to keep going at the speed I wanted to achieve, it didn’t help that I was eating Ollie’s dust through most of the day. I kept hoping for a mountain to appear so I could catch up.
The Gobi’s lack of landscape punctuation meant I was more acutely aware of my body’s highs and lows; all the aches and pains, an out of line hip joint and the needs for sustenance to continue running. Despite being in a completely different environment I was in an all too familiar mental place. Immersed in nature and pushing at the edges of my physical limits. After a blissful sleep in our ger, by day 3 I was fired up- never before have I considered 18km a short run, but that morning everyone was looking forward to this little ‘sprint’. Ollie endured to finish the 100k in a cumulative time of 12:52. I straggled in after him in 13:15. Not bad given the level of training we went in with and the fact that we were by far the youngest runners there.