Over dinner we discussed options. We're not going to leave Richie and Freddie out there in the desert, but the question of what to do for them still remains. For now, we're thinking that one of the teams could go pick them up tomorrow, or at least bring them food and water, while another arranges for a truck to bring in the Jimny.
The situation is depressing to say the least, and we can't imagine what hellish ordeal they must be going through right now. Tyler has calculated that if they travel at five kilometers per hour, and their wheel falls off every two hundred meters, and it takes them just five minutes to replace it each time, and they continue without stopping, they will spend at a minimum fifty exhausting hours to reach us.
We're just leaving the restaurant, making our way back to the cars, when Alex's cell phone rings. Funny for it to be ringing out here this time of night… He picks it up, and suddenly his face turns from confusion into a wide smile. "NO WAY!" Alex shouts, gesticulating wildly with his free hand, pacing back and forth, laughing.
When he's off the phone, he explains what sounds utterly impossible, too good to be true: It was Richie! They've made it to the tarmac. They are on their way, and they are almost here! How in the world is this even possible!? What in the god's name did they do to fix the car?!
We're all ears, suddenly wide awake, sober and excited by this unexpected surprise. How did they make it even eight kilometers, much less eighty? Now in a hurry to make camp so Richie and Freddie will have a place to come home to, we head to the cars and leave town with purpose. They're going to make it! They're really coming!
A short drive down the paved road leads us to turn-off onto a dirt track, which sends us into the familiar Mongolian steppe. We make a giant fire, sending out a bright beacon to our prodigal friends. Tents are assembled, and miraculously, we don't even have much time to wait.
Headlights appear in the distance, and they are approaching slowly. It has to be them. The lights come to a stop when they're in line with the light from our fire, and then they turn carefully off the road. It is the Jimny!
We're all running headlong towards the car, overjoyed to the point of leaping and laughing and whooping and hollering, welcoming our friends back to the team. Sure enough, here they come, windows open, wide smiles, brimming over with sheer excitement and pride at having beaten the odds after all.
Richie and Freddie exit the car in a hurry, and we're all hugging and jumping up and down, ecstatic. And then, utterly dumbfounded, we demand an explanation of their unlikely, nay impossible ride to victory. Around the fire, they tell their tale.
Out in the desert, Richie and Freddie realized the insanity of their plight when they couldn't even cover fifty meters without the wheel falling off. At one point, the drum brakes were rubbing so badly, causing so much friction, that the wheel was glowing hot. They couldn't even touch it!
In a fit a desperation, they tried to knock the wheel back into place with the handle of their shovel. It didn't budge. Despair then turned to horror when it smelled like something else was burning. They soon identified the source: the plastic handle of the shovel had started to melt.
"It was darkness, man", says Freddie, taking a long sip of beer, staring into the flames. "We didn't know what to do; we were rock bottom, man." "It was oppressive", adds Richie with a shake of his head.
After this, it occurred to them that the burning hot metal was a new symptom. If they could only tie back the brakes with something, relieving the friction, they might be able to get rolling. But they had no string, no twine, no rope, nothing. The convoy was gone and their supplies were pretty meager.
…and then Freddie pulled out a last-ditch hope that could never work:
A spare guitar string.
They tied back the brake, and were able to get rolling. It was like sitting on pins and needles, and over every bump they expected the worse, waiting for the other foot to drop. But a kilometer went by, and nothing happened. Two kilometers passed, and still their impossible fix seemed to be working.
Still cautious, they drove on in silence, unwilling to acknowledge the seeming success lest it jinx their journey. Finally, after ten kilometers, they allowed themselves to hope that their fix could actually work.
After twenty kilometers, they started to get excited. They'd done it! They'd bloody done it! They fixed the Jimny! Throwing caution to the wind, they floored it, goofing around, putting their guitar string to the test. They made it to the pavement. They gave us a call. And they rolled triumphantly into camp.
Such an unlikely arrival is cause for celebration, of course. Unfortunately we don't have much beer left, so Tom and Richie head back out to a nearby ger camp in hopes of purchasing some. They come back an hour later with two huge boxes full of Chinggis and Hite and Fusion (the three most popular Mongolian beers), after having gone around to every single ger, buying up the local supply.
And thus we party, late into the night and early into the morning, celebrating Richie and Freddie's epic success. Time to toast to two men's journey out of the steppe and out of the darkness, to the safety of pavement and the welcome of friends…
…All thanks to their mule-like stubbornness, a spark of ingenuity, a lot of luck, and the most unlikely of things: one spare guitar string.