The shirt that arrived in the Mongol Derby treasure box.

The shirt that arrived in the Mongol Derby treasure box.

With every little step of preparation I complete, the Mongol Derby becomes a little more real. My treasure chest arrived last week. In it, my rider T-shirt, the saddle bag I’ll use to carry only 11 pounds of gear for 10 days, and a myriad of other little treats like electrolyte tablets and a saddle cushion that the makers promise will save my ass.

As the race draws closer, I’m also getting more attention from media and friends and family, which is a weird feeling, because so much of this preparation so far has been a solo journey. In the winter, I’d wake up in the dark and drive through snow to ride stirrupless circles around an arena before work. On the weekends I’d spend hours alone in the car, driving from one barn to the next, trying to ride as many different horses as possible. I loved all this alone time with the horses because it centres you in the present, inside your own body, and far away from the cerebral, verbal world I inhabit so regularly.

But I’ve realized now this journey is broken into phases and that first, individualistic phase is over and now is the time to draw on the support of others to get me through that final push to Mongolia. I need to raise 1,000 British pounds sterling for charity and I’m having a fundraising party at my mom and dad’s farm on May 23rd. At first, I was nervous to send out the invite, worried that not enough people would show up and it would be a flop. But instead, I’ve been humbled by the response. Friends and acquaintances have stepped forward to offer their time, money and talents to the fundraiser.

My little party of pulled pork and pony rides has turned into the event of the summer with a donated keg of beer from Grand River Brewing and donated items for a silent auction. Anyone who knows me knows I’m no softie, but this generosity I’ve seen from all of the people I love brings me to tears.

Just a few examples:

  • A co-worker approached me a couple of days ago and discreetly handed me an envelope. He isn’t a close friend, but we share laughs and chats at work and sometimes take the subway home together at the end of our shift. Inside was a wad of cash and a scribbled note ‘good luck!’ My heart almost burst from the kindness and in that moment I regretted not being the hugging type, because this co-worker deserved a massive bear hug.
  • My dear friend Jane Southgate has ridden with me every weekend for the last year and supplied me with an endless stream of her wonderful ponies to ride, ranging from professionally trained dressage ponies to the just-backed greenies. She also owns Grand River Brewing and when I mentioned my fundraiser, didn’t hesitate to donate a keg to the event. Through this whole journey her positivity, combined with motherly concern – ‘You better wear a crash vest!!’ – has made a significant impact on my training.
  • My mom and dad, despite holding full-time jobs and managing an 80-acre farm, have offered up their weekend and property to host over 50 people for my fundraiser. Over the last few weekends they’ve been outside toiling on yard work while I continue to ride horses. My mom jokes I’ve turned into a “country squire riding about your estate while your poor serf parents work the land.”
  • A friend of a friend told the CBC about my Mongol Derby journey and helped set up a TV spot interview. They wanted footage of me riding, but I didn’t have a horse close to Toronto and I’d left my boots and half chaps at my mom and dad’s house. My Toronto horse friends Karen Steel and Joanne Chu-Fook stepped forward, supplying me with a cooperative horse who wouldn’t spook at massive camera equipment, and a pair of boots and half chaps, so I could complete the interview. The interview airs on May 16th at noon on CBC’s program Our Toronto.
Me with the CBC cameraman.

Me with the CBC cameraman.

And finally, all my other friends who have supported me by donating things for the silent auction, offering to help with the set up and prep for the fundraiser and also offering words of encouragement when I have the occasional freak out about getting bucked off and breaking a bone in the first 5 km of the Derby.

As I said in the CBC interview, I started this prep and journey with so many doubts and fears, but as I forged ahead and began to get more serious about it, slowly people came forward to offer their support. “It’s been overwhelming,” I told the reporter. “All of these people helping me in so many different ways and then quietly telling me ‘I wish I could do what you’re doing’ or ‘I wish I had done what you’re doing when I was younger.’”

All of this is what is propelling me forward and will keep me going out on the steppe.