Ripley Davenport is a desert explorer, originally from the UK, and I was fortunate enough to have the chance to meet him recently, in Ulaanbatar.
We started following Ripley’s adventures in 2010 when he walked across the Gobi for 52 days, with no support whatsoever, pulling all his supplies and equipment on ‘Molly Brown’ – his purposed built trailer.
Molly weighed in at 250 kgs and Ripley hauled this huge weight across the Eastern Steppes and through the desert, breaking the world record for the longest solo, unassisted crossing. Having got our attention, we continued following him. Thinking of Ripley pulling molly, provided me with inspiration during the hard times, as we cycled or pushed our bikes through the Gobi.
In May this year, Ripley undertook a second Gobi expedition, this time leading a team of 12 people and 12 Bactrian camels, walking west to east across the desert for 1000 miles. They passed through the north of the Khongoryn Els, the largest and most spectacular sand dunes in Mongolia, from Bulgan a sum district of Khovd Province in the west, to Sainshand the capital city in Dornogovi province in the east. The camels took the weight of the kit and the team were free to walk, and they went at a pretty swift pace too, covering over 30km a day, for 51 days! (That’s more than we managed on our bikes some days!)
On July 15th, 7 of the team made it, and arrived in Sainshand having completed the 1000 mile trek. I managed to meet with Ripley a few days later before he flew home to Ireland.
I asked Ripley about the differences between a solo expedition and leading a team. He said that the solo expedition in 2010 has been considerably more challenging physically and was one of the hardest things he has ever done. However this year was also ‘tough’ and leading a team of people of different ages, levels of experience and a variety of nationalities comes with its own set of challenges. Some team members withdrew due to injury, whilst others struggled with the pace and distance, or had different expectations, and were sadly asked to leave the expedition. I sensed that Ripley had found this decision a difficult one to make, but ultimately he had to put the rest of the team first.
However, he had great admiration for many of his team members. When I asked Ripley to tell me about some of the highlights of the expedition, he told me of a day when they had stopped for lunch and he looked up to see Christopher, the youngest member of the group at 18 years old, galloping up on his camel with such confidence and ability that he looked as if he had been riding camels for years.
In a short space of time Christopher had learnt to ride and manage the camels, helping look after them, alongside Mongolian camel expert, Alvek. Chris threw himself into this with relish, although not always without risk (see Christopher’s blog entry). For Ripley, that was a pretty special moment seeing him galloping like that, and he couldn’t help but feel proud.
The desert presents a unique set of conditions, from sand storms, electrical storms, heat stoke to bolting camels and of course dust that gets everywhere. Ripley’s team also encountered a lot of rain which was most unexpected and unwelcome, believe it or not. Dust combined with rain equals sludge, and damp heavy, kit is a pain to dry out. We swapped stories about seeing storms looming on the horizon and the vulnerability that you feel, seeing this huge weather coming towards you with nothing standing in the way. Like us, they also had nights inside tents wondering if they would stand up to the force of the winds.
Walking anywhere for long enough will give you blisters, but in the desert heat, it seems that blisters can be especially painful and as I sat chatting to Ripley, as if on cue, one of his blisters began weeping and I heard about some of the more painful and gruesome blisters that the team had endured. Ripley’s ankle was also swollen and having carried him 10000 miles, it seems that once you stop to rest your body goes into recovery mode and says ‘enough!’.
One of the team members was Emmanuel Berthier, a fantastic photographer and filmmaker, who captured the journey on film, with some amazing shots of the team and the camels walking through the Gobi. To see some of the photos and learn more about the Gobi crossing visit: www.gobi2011.com/
The expedition was a great success, raising several thousand pounds for Edurelief and giving the team an amazing experience in Mongolia. The desert is harsh place to be for 51 days, and walking for 1000 miles is a huge achievement by anyones standards; combining the two is not to be underestimated!.
I was delighted to meet Ripley, and he, unlike me, genuinely likes the desert, and plans to continue going to deserts around the world for many years to come, hopefully with more beasts of burden in tow.
Ripley’s next expedition will be to the Namib desert in 2012. Watch this space.