The DRZ and I were now on the same side of the river, an important bit of progress if I hoped to get any farther on the Sibirsky Extreme. Other than the way I’d come, there was only one route out of this valley, a mountain pass to the southeast about twenty miles from where The Hero and I stood next to his ger. Just like the other side, the terrain here was a flooded, muddy, saturated bog.
The Hero saw me checking navigation while I looked up at the pass, so he came and glanced over my shoulder at the GPS. He called out in the direction of the ger, and a moment later his daughter (she of the limited but far better than nothing English skills) came outside into the steady rain that had dogged me for weeks now.
The Hero began to speak then pointed to his small work truck, shaking his head emphatically. He pointed to my motorcycle and again shook his head in the negative. He pointed to his corral where three horses were grazing, and nodded as he pointed in the direction of the pass.
Before the daughter could begin her translation, I knew what was coming. No trucks, no bikes, nothing but horses had been making it out of the valley.
The daughter went on to confirm my suspicion, plus a couple more details. Nothing motorized had made it in or out of this region in almost three weeks, such was the recent rain, flooding and saturation of the valley floor. Horses, camels, or feet, nothing else was feasible. If I hadn’t been self-centered with my own situation, I would’ve taken a long minute to celebrate the occasion in which the ancient ways of these nomads were superior to any mechanized transportation.
When his daughter had finished speaking, The Hero again pointed to the pass, made an X with his arms, again gestured to my bike, and then exhausted the entirety of his English vocabulary. “No.”
I served up my best false grin while nodding my understanding, but behind the smile I was devastated. It had been a massive challenge just to traverse the valley and reach the shore of the river, let alone what I’d put myself through to get across it. I could of course go back the way I’d come, but if I’m honest, I never even considered it.
Sensing my dismay, The Hero spoke to his daughter, who stated, “My father says, do not try. Stay with us for few days. Maybe weather change.”
Oh my. The coziness of their ger. The huggable warmth of their stove. The sweetness of their milk tea. The tastiness of their shashlik. I was still drenched from the neck down, temps were very cold, and I was occasionally shivering. It was absolutely too good to pass up.
Except I did.
Unsurprisingly, there was no logic in my decision. These people had already been incredibly hospitable, and I just didn’t want to take advantage of their benevolence, even though I’m certainly the only one who might’ve felt that way.
Furthermore, so far it had taken me four hours to go less than 25 km/15 miles, that just wasn’t enough for a day’s effort. And the elephant in the room of my mind was undeniable; now that they’d told me it was impossible to get out of this boggy valley on the bike, a cocktail of stubbornness, arrogance and persistence demanded that I give it a try.
Speaking to the daughter, I stated my intent to reach the village about 40 miles away. I assured her that if I couldn’t make it, I would be back by evening to accept their generosity. After her translation, The Hero nodded his assent. He understood: no one came to this staggeringly remote corner of Mongolia without a backpack of heavy determination.
Checking the navigation once more, I reckoned it would take three hours to slog the twenty miles up to the pass. Who knew what was beyond that. Knowing I’d be working hard for the next few hours, I chose to postpone the switching out of my soaked baselayers for a bit longer yet. A little body warmth from constant exertion could only help dry them out.
I looked at the daughter, bowed my thanks, and one final time asked her to convey my appreciation to her father. Turning to The Hero, I bowed and shook his hand with both of mine. He smiled warmly in return. Mounting up, firing up, I chugged away through the mud, stealing a glance at them in my mirrors.
Just as with Lady Preggers about twelve hours earlier, a large swell of melancholy collapsed upon me. If I did indeed make it out of the valley, this would be the last time I’d ever see The Hero. And it could never sit well in my heart that I’d be unable to repay his lovely, beautiful humanity.