Torturous kilometers driven in the rain and miles at the mercy of the relentless sun. No signs to help you find your way. The finals of the Camel Trophy '97 were held in Mongolia's Gobi Desert, the third largest on the planet.
A Hard Day's Night: The annual race for the Camel Trophy has been through a lot since it began in 1980. It has been to Siberia, Tasmania, Madagascar and the Amazon. The 1997 edition of the Camel Trophy got off to a start on May 13 in Ulan Bator, the capital of Mongolia, and the adventure ended with a ceremony in front of a 400-year-old Buddhist temple in the city of Karakurum, once the capital of the Empire of Genghiz Khan. The 21-day, 64-stage race covered a 2,400-kilometer (1,500-mile) distance across the Gobi Desert - third largest in the world - so big that the portion inside Mongolia is larger than the entire surface area of Turkey. Participants competed at eight locations to test their skills in driving, orientation, mountain biking, and canoeing. This picture was taken around midnight, showing the long hours the members of the media had to put in to capture the race.
The Race in the Desert: The contestants were challenged mostly by the vastly different climates they had to endure during the course of a single day, ranging from snow to unbearable heat. Ulan Bator is said to be the city that is farther away from the sea than any other city on the planet. It was in this cold and mountainous terrain that the Camel Trophy took its start, only to finish in a dramatically different geography and climate. Mongolia had many surprises for the contestants; the weather was just one of them. Camel Trophy '96 in Kalimatan was associated with mud, the one in Gobi will be remembered for the dust, the treacherous dust that would penetrate everyone's lungs, and would be impossible to avoid for a second. Some of the most exciting moments of the Trophy were those that were spent getting from one race location to another. Because the ones lagging behind were forced to drive through a thick cloud of dust, the vehicles preferred to drive side by side as long as the terrain allowed them.
During the course of the race, participants were able to become acquainted with not only the terrain but also the people and lifestyle of Mongolia. Mongolians have retained much of their nomadic heritage. Many make a living from herding livestock. For them, a horse is much more than just an animal used for transportation, it is almost a lifestyle. You can often see an 8 or 10 year old child on his horse, showing off his skills.
Some of the special legs of the race were run in uninhabited areas. Even areas that showed no signs of life otherwise were overrun by Mongolians who had flocked there to see the most colorful event of their life. Old women and mischievous children flocked to the site of the races in trucks, cars, on motorcycles and horseback.