We've heard reports that a paved highway begins four hundred kilometers from the capital. Some say its smooth all the way to Ulaan Bataar, while others say the surface is patchy, potholed, and intermittent at best. We're not sure which of the rumors to believe, but if our estimates are right, we should be able to find out for ourselves in thirty kilometers or so.
So far, there's nothing but dirt tracks as far as the eye can see. We drive into the dusk, holding out hope for the promise of pavement. If we can make it there, we can make it to Ulaan Baatar. As usual, the taxi must stop frequently to cool down. At this rate, we will never make it to that mythical tarmac tonight!
Charlie and Tim tell us to go on ahead without them, resigned to their fate. Not wanting to abandon even more members of the team, Tyler offers to tow the taxi when they overheat. Moving, the car will cool faster, and then we can all continue on together. They're a little doubtful we'll be able to, but like a tough little tugboat, our LRC carries the cab onwards, reaching speeds of 50km with them in tow!
We freaking love our car.
We perform the towing routine three or four times with great success, hopping out to detach our cars when the taxi is ready for another run. The moon rises and night falls, and still we drive.
And then, out of nowhere, a bit of pavement reveals itself ahead. We roll over the last bit of dirt, our bumpy track ending as our road begins, and all four tires kiss the smooth tarmac. Looks like we're going to make it!
We've forgotten what it's like to be able to drive without 100% complete and total rapt attention to the road ahead. Everything feels so smooth and ludicrously easy. It is comfortable and yet strange, and it feels almost like we're cheating. Where are all the bumps and twists and turns and what happened to that giant cloud of dust blowing in our faces?
To celebrate, I unearth a computer and begin to write, reveling in the concept of typing without the computer screen smacking dangerously against the glove box, without my fingers uncontrollably leaping up and down on the keys. The fact that I can even tap out coherent words while riding in the car is amazing!
The sudden loss of grand and daring and slightly dangerous adventure is a little sad, but the knowledge that we will, for certain, get where we need to go, is priceless. The thought leads us to emit wonderously obvious statements like "Wow, so this is how the rest of the world is. You can just go… from place to place… from point A to point B… and it's so easy!"
We will never take pavement for granted again.
I'm in my pavement reverie, typing the words above, when Tyler slams on the breaks and lights our four-way flashers to alert the cars behind us. For there, in the middle of the road, decorated with one small, pathetic triangle and no lights whatsoever, is this gigantic backhoe, blocking the way, a disaster waiting to happen.
Well, scratch what I just wrote. It looks like the crazy roads of Mongolia aren't done with us yet!
We arrive in Arvayheer around 11:00 PM, tired, hungry, and in need of a plan. We've got friends out there in the desert, and while they seem dead-set on muscling through with their broken car, we're not just going to leave them out there. We'll find food, make camp, and try to find them a truck in the morning. Maybe a night of starting and stopping, putting the wheel on and off, will finally alert them to the fact that they need help.
Though the plight of the Jimny is weighing on our minds, we're all too hungry to make any concrete plans at the moment. We need food. After a frustrating round of driving around in search of somewhere open, we find what looks to be a dodgy restaurant.
Then, with low blood-sugar and freak-out levels rising, we try to orchestrate a way of parking that will place the Saxo's open, exposed roof rack and duct-taped rear window in the protective barrier of all of our cars. This attempt fails miserably, and eventually we leave our vehicles out there, hoping no one will steal anything. We've attracted quite a bit of attention already with all of this faffing around.
Walking into the restaurant, we are given our own wonky little room that seems askew no matter where we sit. As we slouch into the cushy brown benches, a very friendly, flirty, drunken woman takes our orders. With the help of Gem's journal and her cute drawings of sheep, goats, cows, and chickens, we're able to determine what's on the menu. Some fantastic animal noises help as well, and Gem sends our host into fits of laughter with her chicken wing elbows and clucking.
After a surprisingly good meal, we're stuffed and tired. It's late and everyone is getting sleepy, and the thought of trekking back out of town to camp is looking pretty unappealing. Here in the restaurant, it's another bizarre night in Mongolia.
There's some poor girl behind the bar, talking on her phone, bawling her eyes out. The woman who took our orders is yelling at her, and then the two of them break into an honest to goodness fight, throwing punches and slaps. What the hell?
Everyone is tired, past the point of realizing that this is strange. Practically catatonic, people decide to just call it a night and sleep right here in this weird restaurant, sprawled out on the brown benches. No one will probably care, and if everyone is passed out, how are they going to kick us out?
This idea is pretty much my worst nightmare, so I advocate strongly for leaving. Eventually, the camping contingency wins over, and we clear out of the restaurant, leaving in search of a field to erect our homes once more.