I had the chance to catch-up with Julie Veloo, who is the Vice President of the Veloo Foundation, and currently riding across Mongolia to raise money for her charity, Children of the Peak.
HO: I know you are somewhere in Mongolia, but tell us exactly where you are, and what the heck the Gobi Gallop and Blue Wolf Totem Expeditions are!
JV: Thanks! I am currently in the northernmost province of Mongolia, Khovsgul, having just ridden 1,800 kms across half of Mongolia on the Blue Wolf Totem Expedition – a 3,600 km / 84-day adventure that I am 41 days into. This is a charity ride supporting the children and families who scavenge to survive whom we help with Veloo Foundation’s work here in Mongolia. The Blue Wolf Totem is likely the longest charity expedition in history and is the result of holding the 700 km / 10-day Gobi Gallop Charity ride every year for the past 10 years.
HO: Truly a historical undertaking, so glad that you are able to make time for us halfway through Julie…we can hear how it is going, and what lies ahead. Speaking of the road ahead, how did you go about determining the route?
JV: This is always an excruciatingly beautiful process – we work hard to combine cultural, historical, and geographical variety, and to showcase the Mongolian horses and horsemen as the oldest unbroken horse culture on the planet. The route planning for this expedition took 3 years and 9 different scouting runs to locate the hidden gems of Mongolia and to put it all together in a cohesive way that would not only make sense to those on the expedition, but also be possible for the support vehicles, have adequate feed and water for the horses, and be doable in the timeframe we have.
HO: Of course, it’s not just about managing the needs of the humans – you need to think about the horses and what they need to get through the 3600km. I’m used to cycle touring, and the only thing that bikes eat are chains! You must have seen some amazing parts of the country so far, what have some of the highlights been?
JV: The top four were / will be:
- Shambala – at Khamariin Khid Monastery where we were to begin the trip, but the route was dramatically altered at the last minute by an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease in the country.
- Largest site of deer stones in the world…a truly magical place in Arkhangai province.
- Riding camels across huge, majestic sand dunes.
- Upcoming highlight…visiting the very remote Tsaatan – the reindeer people who still live their nomadic life following the reindeer herds this week.
HO: So, you are really getting a chance to see the country and interact with people in such a unique manner…everyday must be such a rich experience. I really enjoyed on your Blue Wolf Totem Expedition FB feed, the video of Percy the Pit Viper slithering away from the bathroom! So, Percy today…what do you have to look forward to tomorrow?
JV: Tomorrow, we are changing horses – always a chaotic, exciting, astonishingly wonderful day. Watching the Mongolian horsemen manage the loading and unloading of over 40 horses from different trucks is a circus in itself, and fascinating to watch. We will be using local horses for the terrain here in Khovsgul as it is very rocky and local free-range horses are best adapted to it.
HO: So, you have multiple steeds during the trip, and can change out if needed to match horse to terrain…but you haven’t told me about interchangeable Potato Head parts; only have one body. I have to ask…how is the body holding up?
JV: Feeling really great! All of the riders found that after 30 or so days of riding about 50 kms / day they are just getting stronger and stronger. There was a TON of chafe at the beginning for many of the riders but mostly my issue was the knees. II wouldn’t say I am leaping onto the horse yet but definitely getting on is smooth and much easier now than at the beginning. It is really inspiring to see how even at 61, the body is capable of amazing things.
HO: In Canada, we talk about Terry Fox and his 143 consecutive marathons. He ran every day, no matter how much pain he was in, and what the weather was like. We have a saying in my family when one of us doesn’t want to exercise because of aches, pains, weather…we say, “what would Terry do”? I guess we have to change it to “What would Julie do?”. Just as with Terry Fox, there is more than just the stunning scenery and sense of adventure driving you and many people will have connected your ride to the cause – Children of the Peak. Tell us more about your charity.
JV: I can talk all day about this. In a nutshell, the charity is about stopping scavenging to survive before it becomes generational here in Mongolia. It is a relatively new issue here and with winter temperatures dropping regularly into the minus 40 category it really is a brutal way to survive. We have undertaken the following initiatives to address the problem:
- 2 kindergartens serving approximately 350 children from families living on or around the largest garbage dump in Mongolia
- Gandy’s Kids Campus Community Library & Community Centre
- Soaring Crane Summer Camp
- Fran London Centre for the Fabric Arts
- A variety of community outreach programs
HO: It is amazing that you are able to make a difference to these families in so many ways. How can our listeners help out?
JV: Please just visit www.veloofoundation.com or @VelooFoundation on Facebook and see what we are up to. Lots of links there for donations in cash or in kind and of course, you can always donate to a rider page for the Blue Wolf Totem rider.
HO: Logan HR will be making a donation and we certainly encourage others to do so. Is there anything else that you want to share before we let you go?
JV: Just thank you for doing the interview, glad the timing worked out. Seeing as I had never ridden before I was 50 and am now leading this record-setting expedition, I would just like to challenge folks to go for their dreams. If your dream is to come and ride Mongolia, just message me at www.horsetrekmongolia.com and I can let you know about all the treks (most of which are just wonderful treks for regular people) that we have …all of which support our work at Veloo Foundation.
HO: Thank-you again, Julie, for joining me from the road. All of us wish you the very best on your trip and thank-you for the difference you are making.
For more information about Julie’s work, the trek, or how to donate to Children of the Peak, visit www.veloofoundation.com. To hear the podcast of this interview, visit the Logan HR Library at www.LoganHR.com/library.