I am barreling over the sandy terrain as fast as I possibly can. I am so pissed about being separated from Tyler in the middle of Mongolia, him having no idea where I am, that I secretly hope some of the bumps will cause Freddie to hit his head.
Now I am trying to erase this thought from my mind, reminding myself that I am a nice person. I'm not actually mad at Freddie so much as Tyler, for being engrossed to the point of being absent, and myself, for simultaneously lacking the balls to say no while also lacking the generosity to do this with an open heart.
As we blast down the road in silence, the Mongolian man beside me smiles widely and begins to sing. I'm a fairly competent off-road driver now, and I swell with pride when he gives me the thumbs up and makes a steering wheel motion.
The pride quickly fades, however. I'm still heading into the middle of nowhere, even further away from our friends who have no idea where we are, and further from my husband who, by now, is sure to be worried. We've been gone for at least an hour, and by the looks of it, we won't be returning anytime soon.
Twenty kilometers in Mongolia is a very long way. It seems like we've been driving forever; it shouldn't be this far, should it? I try to communicate to the man next to me, where, where is this place? He still has his calculator; he punches in a "6" and shows it to me. Six more kilometers and then we'll be there. Then we can go back. Then we can drive the thirty five kilometer return trip to the group. The sun is going to set soon.
Our Mongolian passenger strikes up a conversation, pointing at Freddie and me, and then making the "sleeping" gesture, followed by a "wink-wink-nudge-nudge" sort of grin. Are we sleeping together? My initial reaction is an emphatic no, but I quickly change my tune.
I look at Freddie in the rear-view mirror and tell him he's my honorary boyfriend for the remainder of the ride. I'd much rather lie than deal with this shifty, singing guy hitting on me. The man smiles and nods his head, giving Freddie the thumb's up, perhaps for choosing a good driver as a mate?
At long last, we arrive in another not-quite-village. Like before, it is nothing more than a few gers in the steppe. The Mongolian man motions for me to slow down. I think we're going to find the truck, but I don't see one. Instead, he wants to talk to his neighbors. He is smiling and laughing, now the center of attention, pointing at us, as if to say, "Hey look, everybody! I've come with tourists!
Eventually, the man points to a distant ger. Sure enough, there is a gigantic truck parked out front. As we approach, we're greeted by a ferocious, barking dog. I cringe as the man hurls a rock at it. Then, we get out of the car to inspect the situation. A herd of nearby camels are wailing in the most unearthly way imaginable. An elderly couple emerges from the ger.
Now, we get a chance to examine the massive truck. It doesn't exactly inspire confidence. Freddie is doubtful we'll even be able to get the Jimny onto it. Not wanting this massive ordeal to be for naught, I tell him that the Mongolian guy will find a way. I'm sure he's as resourceful as all of the others seem to be. Besides, it's in his best interest. If he doesn't drive, he doesn't get paid.
We turn our gaze from the truck, to the Mongolian man. To our horror, he appears to be haggling with the elderly couple. It's not even his truck. He's made a deal without even asking the owners of this vehicle. They agree, but there is one small hitch: they want even more money.
The skies are starting to get dark. Freddie is pacing around saying "I just don't know what to do, I just don't know what to do." This time, I think he really is getting ripped off, but again, what choice do we have? He reluctantly agrees to the $270 asking price – the Mongolian man and the elderly couple get to work preparing the truck.
Light is fading fast. I'm looking at the clock and thinking "hurry up, hurry up, hurry up, the sun is going to set!" The truck preparations are no small affair. I am horrified again when the old man slowly walks over, carrying a car battery in his hand. He attaches it to the outside of the truck. Then, the old woman grabs some rope and wraps it around the vehicle as if she is trying to hold it together. This does not bode well.
I find the picture in the Point-It Book of a sun setting so Freddie can explain the situation to them. They don't seem to mind about driving at night. At this point, there's no way around it: we'll be driving home in the dark.
I know that by this time, Tyler is freaking out. I try to send him messages with my mind, willing my brain to be connected to his, urging him to receive them. "I'm okay, I'm okay," I'm saying over and over in my head. "I am safe, everything is okay. I am really pissed off right now, but I'm okay."
We've now been gone for a good two hours at least when we were supposed to be making a quick trip, there and back. It is almost dark. We're thirty five kilometers away from everyone else, and we're somewhere off of the main set of tracks. I am tired, and I don't want to be here, in the middle of Mongolia, dealing with this situation. I hate that I have no way of communicating with Tyler.
In a dramatic, romantic sort of way, I fantasize about him somehow coming to rescue me. And then, as if on cue, a pair of headlights cut through the dusk air. It is the Suzuki Swift. Tyler is inside, eyes fierce and determined; Matt Souls with his curly hair is behind the wheel, heading towards us. I cannot even describe the waves of relief washing over me.