Week 3: Wolves in the night, and a four legged friend…
December 15, 2020. By Tim Cope
In a remote forested valley I tied up my horses, set up my tent, and began to prepare my evening meal. It had been a long, hard day of riding through a tall mist-covered mountain pass somewhere in the middle of Mongolia.
But just as the sun dipped over the mountains I heard it: a long, blood-curdling howl. It came echoing up the valley sides. Was this a dream? Had I imagined it? Perhaps it was just a dog?
But then it came again – many of them.
My horses stood to attention, ears pointed up. There was no mistaking it: wolves.
There was no time to lose.
Axe in hand I raced into the forest. I had been told in Australia that there were two things that I needed to do to keep wolves away at night:
- Make a fire.
- Wee around the campsite (apparently the scent would warn the wolves to stay away).
First I chopped at trees and fallen branches like a madman and came running back with firewood. Then, after a long drink from my water bottle, I took the second suggested course of action. By that time it was dark and the stars were blinking on above.
Ok, for those who are catching up, let’s back up for a moment.
A month earlier I had bought three horses and set off on my dream: to ride horses on the trail of nomads and their 13th century leader Genghis Khan, 10,000km to Hungary in Europe.
There were a few challenges to start with…for example I couldn’t ride a horse before this trip began, and on just the fifth night my horses had been stolen. Since then I had managed to get them back and learned how important it was to make friends (check the challenge from the last blog), but things were tough. I had been so exhausted at the end of each day with all I had to learn that sometimes I fell asleep fully clothed, half in the tent, half out, with my toothbrush in my hand and toothpaste dribbling down my chin…
And now, it was looking a lot worse…
I brought the horses in close to my tent, and sat down on watch next to the fire. For the first few hours all was still. I kept imagining their eyes looking at me, creeping towards me from the forest.
I had been told a lot about wolves since I arrived in Mongolia. Mongolians believe that the wolf is their ancestor, and that it is the wisest of all the animals. Traditionally, when people die their bodies are taken to the mountains to be offered to the wolves. This is because they believe that wolves can fly and can take a person’s spirit back up to the sky after they have passed away. The word ‘tengri’ which means ‘sky’ also means ‘god.’
And yet, the wolf is also a constant danger for Mongolian nomads. In winter especially they roam in packs and often attack the animals – sheep, horses, camels, and even yaks.
So how can the wolf be so respected and worshipped but also feared like an enemy?
I had only just begun to think about this question when a howl rang out. It was CLOSE! Maybe only fifty metres away! I leapt to my feet and held onto the horses. I was terrified that they might run away in fright and leave me stranded.
But then all was silent.
I sat next to the fire hoping my firewood would keep burning till sunrise.
When finally the light began to lift I was alive, and the horses had relaxed and returned to eating grass. But as a reminder of the danger, there were wolf paw prints in the mud on the riverbank nearby.
Until now I had not taken threats of wolves seriously. I did not carry a gun, and didn’t want to. But now I realised that I had to come up with a way to protect me from wolves if I was to survive the journey ahead.
There would be many solutions for wolves, including throwing firecrackers out in the night from my tent to scare them. But one of the best protections from thieves as well as wolves, would also be a very unexpected friend who would change my life….
A four legged friend to the rescue…
Fast forward three months, and I found myself in Kazakhstan. The winter snows were beginning to fall. In fact that year the temperature would drop to minus 50 degrees Celsius.
I travelled with a Kazakh man named Aset for two weeks. He helped me through my first blizzards but was very worried about me when we said goodbye.
“Tim you need a friend on this long road, someone to keep you warm at night, and protect you from the wolves.”
That is when he turned to me and gave me ‘Tigon’ – a tiny, scrawny little black dog with funny big ears, and long, long legs. He was only six months old and looked like he might blow over in the wind. How was he going to protect me from the wolves I wondered?
I gave Aset a quizzical look, but he glared back:
“Tim, in our country dogs choose their owners, and Tigon has chosen you.”
I wasn’t sure that Tigon would survive more than a couple of weeks…but I turned out to be totally wrong.
Within days I could not live without him. True, in those early times Tigon fell asleep next to me at night in the tent thinking to himself ‘well thank goodness Tim is protecting me from the wolves.’
But at least with Tigon by my side I had a friend on this adventure, and I could sleep much more calmly. And eventually he would grow into a big, and brave animal who indeed would help me with wolves, thieves, and so many other things…
In my next blog you will find out much more about Tigon….