I reevaluated my options and chose to turn south toward the mountains of the Chinese border. There was no road or path through them, they were too steep, too rocky, and too unfriendly were the soldiers on the other side. But I wanted to get closer to the base and away from being in the dead center of this large wide plateau. It took some doing but soon I had those peaks tightly off the starboard side as I trundled along in a generally northeast direction.
I plodded on for another hour, the heavy rain and fading light only further contributing to my turtle pace. The lightning became more frequent, my heart rate followed suit.
I had been carrying on in the vague hope that I would find an abandoned structure or settlement that would provide some shelter. My decades of backpacking have taught me not to despair when the situation deteriorates. I’ll grumble incessantly, sure, but I’m a terrier when it comes to solving a problem. Keep moving, keep trying, make your own luck.
Another half hour went by. Peering ahead through the rain and gloom I noticed a slight dip in the plateau, usually a sign of a stream or river. Five hundred meters more of riding and I confirmed, it was indeed a river, and better yet, upon its banks sat a sizable farmhouse with a large ger right next to it. My heart soared!
I quickly closed the distance to the farmhouse, reminding myself to temper expectations. No guarantee of accommodations, but given that this was the first sign of humanity since morning, I couldn’t help but be a little hopeful.
Having pulled up and killed the engine, a young man in his early twenties hesitantly approached. I humbly greeted him and then unleashed a fine version of my best silent movie “Food? Sleep?” pantomime, combined with a topping of irresistible soggy puppy dog eyes. I needn’t have bothered.
He immediately looked over his shoulder at the door to the farmhouse, turned back embarrassingly, and shook his head in the negative. I repeated my routine; there could be no chance of misunderstanding on a night like this. Again he looked at the door, back at me, and shook his head.
I sighed and nodded my assent. Crestfallen but dutiful, I reached for the ignition to resume my trail to the east. But before I could switch the key, an enormously pregnant woman came striding out of the farmhouse. She cast a curious eye upon me and then queried the young man who’d delivered my marching orders. He hadn’t said ten words before she angrily cut him off, barking in Mongolian to the point that he sheepishly retreated away as she simultaneously came forth. I removed my hand from the ignition.
She walked to within just a few feet of me, cocked her head to examine my Idaho license plate, and emitted a small gasp. She turned back to me and we gazed at each other as the rain pattered around us. I again got my pantomime at the ready, and again, I needn’t have bothered.
Because here on a high desolate plateau in Mongolia, the country with the lowest population density on earth, at a remote farmhouse in the mountains, just 20 miles from the Chinese border, she then spoke.
“And how are you this night?”
My mind, so focused on preparing to make myself understood through hand gestures and exaggerated facial expressions, was shocked into a stupor upon hearing her speak English. Out HERE?!?! My mind wouldn’t, couldn’t register it. As her face started to show confusion from my lack of response, the brain engine finally found a stammering first gear.
“Errr, I’m seeking food and a place to sleep for tonight. Is that possible here?”
Thunder boomed disrespectfully right at that moment. Neither of us winced. There was more staring at each other.
Then enchantedly, her confused face transformed into the unreservedly most kind, welcoming smile I have ever or will ever encounter in another human being. She spoke again.
“Yes, yes, of course. Please come inside now, the lightning comes soon.” She motioned to a side of the home where I should wheel the DRZ.
My brain continued its struggle against these developments, from the weariness of the initial rejection to the jubilation of suddenly being rescued. But I had no sooner pushed the bike toward the farmhouse when a man’s voice, rising well above the noise of the storm, came bellowing from behind the door. There was no mistaking the patriarchal authority in his tone, and I didn’t need to understand a word of Mongolian to get his meaning:
I was not welcome here.
And just like that, my mind switched back to the realization that I may not yet be safe for the night.