“Can I swim with just one arm and use the other to turn on the helmet cam? Think of the YouTube potential, I could finally become one of those ‘influencers’. Nope, that’s out, jacket and arms waterlogged and heavy, safety first, Jeff. I wonder if Gore-Tex will honor the warranty, Guaranteed To Keep You Dry™ after all. Wow it’s hard to tread water with motocross boots on. Did I put my phone and wallet in the tank bag? Sure hope I did. Wallet has identification though, how will they ID my body next spring? Am I in trouble? No, I saw that shallow spot downstream, but shouldn’t I be there by now? Getting harder to stay afloat. Christ this water is cold. Christ the current is strong. Not as strong as the Kern or the Snake mind you, good times! How am I gonna get the bike across? Gonna suck when I get out, no sunshine just rain and butt cold wind. Oh hey, here’s that shallow part! Feet are under me, woohoo!”
Elapsed time: eight seconds.
My feet skidded along a pebbly bottom and I stood up, the current loath to release its mastery over me. The water was waist deep and I was just a couple of meters from shore. I waded over, hopped up and rolled prone onto the river bank, an utter casualty sprawled upon the grass. The bike, about 40 meters upstream, was of course on the opposite side. I didn’t really care.
Obviously I was completely drenched from the neck downward; both baselayers beneath my Klim Carlsbad jacket, the jacket itself, my Carlsbad pants, underwear, socks, Forma boots, all as saturated as this quagmire of a valley.
I thought about immediately wading back across and getting into the nice dry clothes nestled in my panniers. It was raining steadily, the temps were in the mid-40s, the wind was blowing enthusiastically, so I had all the key ingredients for hypothermia.
But I thought better of it. Since I was already soaked, I was determined to ford the bike while still in my wet clothes, then change into the dry warm stuff once the DRZ was across. Not if, but when.
Prior to my backstroke performance, I’d noticed there was a solitary ger on this side of the river about 200 meters away. Knowing the movement would create some body warmth, I squooshed and squished across the lumpy muddy terrain. I was almost there when the door opened and a kindly faced man stepped out.
It took a significant effort not to laugh as I imagined what he must be thinking. “Just another dumb motorcyclist from the western world, out here trying to find adventure in the harsh land where I carve out a daily existence. Looks like he went swimming. Hah!”
If those were his thoughts, he concealed them as well as a poker champion. With the quickest of glances, he ascertained what had just happened and what had to happen next: he motioned for me to come inside and have some tea. I protested, trying to indicate my desire to get the bike across as soon as possible, but he wasn’t having it. He took my arm and gently guided me inside what was a truly majestic home.
Like the ger I’d slept in the night before, this one was ornate, lovingly decorated, but with one key difference: it had a marvelous wood burning stove that was radiating more heat than an air-cooled Ducati on a hot summer day. I thought about hugging it. On the far side of the ger there were five seated women, I guessed them to be the man’s mother, his wife, and three daughters.
I halted just one step inside the doorway, horrified as I dripped a gallon of water onto their floor. My reluctance was obvious. While I tried to pantomime my dilemma, the wife quickly approached, and now she and her husband moved me to a chair right next to the stove, both with smiles of assurance.
All I could think was: I don’t deserve this. Mistakes should be punished, not rewarded.
Hot milk tea laced with sugar was thrust into my hands. No drink will ever be as delicious as that mug, in that moment, in that place. Some shashlik was placed in front of me; I gulped it down. I could sense them all quietly watching me, without judgment or derision, just genuine human concern. The silence should have been uncomfortable, but it wasn’t. I ate more shashlik and started a third mug of tea.
The man (let’s just call him The Hero, shall we?) then spoke to his eldest daughter. Listening intently to her father’s words, she turned to me in very hesitant English.
“River is wide and very strong. Cannot do alone. My father says, finish the tea. Then he help you get the moto across.”
Inaudibly sighing, I managed to conceal my quiet disbelief. By now I shouldn’t have been surprised by Mongolian benevolence, yet once again I found myself awestruck. Looking up at The Hero, I nodded grimly. Quaffing the mug and shaking off the shivers, I determinedly rose to my feet.
“Goddamn right. Let’s go do it.”