The Hero stepped from the ger and strode directly toward the Mongolian river, while I struggled to keep up in my soaked clothing and soggy boots. He reached the bank ahead of me, gazed across at the DRZ, and then took a very long minute to study the angry water. We walked downstream to the exact point where I’d completed my swimming expedition, and together we waded to the other side, only after going chest-high in a reasonably tranquil but very deep side pool.
Trudging back up to the bike, he looked at it closely and, turning to me while pointing, he inhaled and made a whooshing noise. I got it immediately; he wanted to know where the air intake was located. Having sealed up the side access panel, I knew the breach point was just under the seat, and showed him where. He nodded his approval.
Motioning for me to stay put, he walked a bit farther upstream, waded in until the water was up to his crotch, almost lost his balance, caught himself, then came back ashore shaking his head in the negative. He went another 20 meters upstream, waded in again, with the same result.
Returning to me, he now went back downstream a full 100 meters, again waded in, and then he motioned for me to ride to him. I dutifully complied and stopped the bike right on the shoreline. I could see the challenge immediately: the water was fast-moving and its depth was probably just under the bike’s breach point; those factors alone would make this a difficult crossing. Worse, entering the river itself would be the real obstacle, as the bank was a meter-high ledge that dropped straight into the water.
Looking at each other and pantomiming our ideas, we apparently agreed that we would have to roll the DRZ off the edge, catch it in the water at the bottom, keep it from falling over, then get it across the powerful current that spanned this 20 meter wide section of river.
Standing in the waist-deep water, The Hero nodded and then motioned to me. With the bike running, I carefully rolled the front wheel just off the edge, which he propped against his chest and supported it upright. I quickly climbed down to position myself on the upstream left side of the bike, while he shifted over to the downstream right side.
I secured my footing on the large slippery rocks that comprised the river bottom, and we eased the bike down into the water. The current instantly did its best to topple the three of us, but I followed The Hero’s example and grunted my defiance. Standing alongside the bike, I popped the bike into first, revved the DRZ to the moon, and slowly let out the clutch. Together we started to power walk across the river.
The current was obstinate and strong, pushing against me and the profile of the bike. Tasked with the downstream side, The Hero leaned sharply to keep the bike straight while I continued to provide propulsion via the clutch and first gear. I glanced down at the water’s depth, it couldn’t have been more than a couple centimeters away from rising over the seat and therefore into the airbox.
Halfway across and we were both struggling, me far more than him. I was still acclimating (elevation: 8300ft/2500m) while battling a powerful river doing its damnedest to topple me, while he was taking the brunt of the abuse with the bike being pushed into him by the current. My muscles were beginning to quiver as I struggled to find good footing with each tentative step.
Smirking, I quietly mouthed, “I chose to do this.” My words were drowned in the roar of the rushing river.
Undeservedly, providence selected that moment to mercifully intervene. We reached a section that was just a few centimeters shallower, and that made all the difference in reducing the pressure from the current. With one big rev from the motor, it was to hell with our uncertain footing as we rapidly walked toward the other side, which blissfully had a low edge. Another gun of the engine and the DRZ rolled up onto the muddy bank, pulling us along with it. With the ground so utterly saturated and incapable of supporting a kickstand, I leaned onto the handlebars, panting, while The Hero exhaustedly sprawled across the seat, and we combined to keep the bike upright.
In between gasps for air, we looked at each other, beaming unreservedly.
We’d done it.
As I continued my breathless search for oxygen, I used those moments to take inventory. I began to compose my “thank you” pantomime routine that The Hero so completely deserved, but I also glanced at the time. It wasn’t even noon yet. I was soaked all over again, I was really starting to get cold, temps were still in the mid-40s F/7 C, it was now raining harder, but I still needed to make some miles.
“The rest of the day HAS to get easier,” I muttered to myself with equal portions optimism and naiveté.
Predictably, I would be punished for such insolent thoughts.