Pack the tail bag with food and water. Change out of my boots and into my shoes. Hike through twelve miles of thick mud and flooded flatlands back to The Hero’s domicile. All told, I estimated that would take me between four and five hours.
I stared at the DR-Z sitting stuck in the bog, looking as sad and sullen as myself. Growling, I owed it one more try, and if that failed, I’d be hoofing it.
There was no magic in what happened next, at least I don’t think there was. Once again I dug through the mud, got some rocks under the rear tire, fired the bike, gave the throttle the business, and popped the clutch.
Except this time, the Suzuki lurched out of the sludge and up onto a tiny island of semi-solid ground.
“Back in the game!!!” I triumphantly proclaimed to an indifferent wilderness. As if in fear that my victory could somehow be taken away, I hopped on the bike as quickly as possible and putted up the hillside.
I was still congratulating myself when, just 500 meters later, what appeared to be a peninsula of dry-ish tundra was in fact a Burmese Tiger Pit of grass and twelve inches of mud. Just like that, I was stranded again. Damn if I wasn’t getting good at this.
My routine was now routine. Knock the bike over, drag it out, get it back up, ride on. Repeat the procedure as necessary, and so I did; I repeated it five more times in the next 90 minutes. Each time I became convinced that the bike was undeniably, irretrievably, irrevocably trapped in the mud and I had no chance of freeing it by myself. Each time, The Hero’s dire warning echoed through my head. Each time, I felt my confidence and determination being eaten away. Each time, I found a way to pull a little harder, grunt a little louder, curse a little more, surrender a little less, and finally get the bike out of the muck.
The ascent up the hillside was less than a mile; it took me the better part of two hours.
When I finally rolled up to the crest of the pass (9300 ft/2800 m) and found some semblance of solid earth, I parked the bike and plopped myself to the ground. Even with all the exertion of the past couple hours, my baselayers were still soaked from the morning swim and I’d been shivering for hours now. I peeled them off, put on a dry long sleeve shirt and then donned my Secret Weapon: a mountaineering midweight down jacket that I’d chosen for its perfect fit beneath my Gore-Tex adventure suit.
With the rain coming down, I broke out my stove and soon had some water heating for tea. Before it could boil, I re-fired the DR-Z and used the Terry Brown Method™ of warming my hands in the toasty exhaust gases.
The down jacket and the hot tea made quick work of eliminating my shivers, and soon my hands were circulating almost normally. Morale restored, I quickly repacked everything into the panniers, checked the GPS, and with less than twenty miles to the next village and the promise of petrol, I headed away from the mountain pass.
I abandoned the trail that began to descend into yet another flooded river valley and instead made decent progress up along a ridgeline, bushwhacking my own way while avoiding the constant boulders and rocks. The rain and murky clouds were ever-present, making it difficult at times to gauge my progress. Finally, after another hour of riding, I peered through the fog and the rain and could just make out the faint outlines of small buildings. At long last, it was the village.
I stopped, killed the bike, and put my head down upon the tank bag. Jubilation and relief overwhelmed me. Against all common sense and local wisdom, I’d made it out of The Valley of The Hero and over the pass. Since leaving The Patriarch’s farmhouse that morning, I’d been stuck in the mud a total of nine times, I’d been inadvertently swimming in an icy Mongolian river, I’d been staving off mild hypothermia, all so that I could ride a paltry 40 miles in an eight hour period.
I will always know exactly what it took out of me, and all that I endured, to reach that moment in time.
I finished my celebration in silence, then trundled into the small village and found the gas station. I walked to a nearby market and ate a quick meal of bread and roasted lamb.
It was now past 5 PM. A smart man would have called it a day at that point, but if nothing else, I feel we’ve conclusively established that I am anything but. Fuel in the bike and food in my belly, my “Bad Choices 2019 World Tour” continued unabated as I set off once more into the pouring rain, this time to the east, perpetually following the Sibirsky Extreme.
Forty-five minutes later and the DR-Z’s rear wheel was completely submerged in a river, wedged securely in a deep hole of rocks. I stood alongside it, thigh-deep in the frigid water, struggling to hold the bike upright to keep it from drowning. My poor decision had paid the expected dividends.
+++++++ (To be continued) +++++++