Being free of this sand pit lasted roughly five minutes. While we were able to maintain humor and perspective the first time, this is too much for both of us. Composure is lost. Curses fly. We are exhausted and upset but it doesn't matter. There is only one thing to do. Start digging.
As I survey the situation, my heart feels like it is in a vise. The bank of the hill and the angle of our car dictate that each time we try to reverse ourselves out of this mess, we're going to slide further and further down the slope towards the road.
We just dug ourselves out of that godforsaken pit. If we can't get free before we drift down there, we'll be stuck in the middle of it. Instead of a few meters, we'll have fifty plus behind us. Assuming that happens, we may as well just make camp and wait for the team.
As it is, we're probably going to need help. This time, I stay and dig while Tara marches off to visit ger number two. There's a huge truck parked out front, maybe they'll bring it over and haul us out? My exasperation with this predicament is reaching the level where I just want to go to sleep and pretend it isn't happening. Of course, this isn't really an option. I keep digging.
I am making very little progress, and what progress I am making is extremely difficult to earn. The sand on the road below was easy to move, but up here on the slope, it is covered in tenacious desert shrubs. I can't break them up with the shovel, I can't seem to dig deep enough to uproot them, and I may as well be unearthing a boulder with my bare hands when I try to pull them up.
I take a moment to breathe, watching as Tara becomes a speck in the distance. Why am I weeding the Gobi desert!? For every foot I move the backwards, we slip three downwards, ever closer to being hopelessly trapped. I am sweaty and exhausted. My arms feel like jello, and my back aches. Who's idea was this anyway!?
I dig some more.
It is some time later when Tara appears. I eagerly make the thumb's up gesture in her direction, hoping she'll do the same, assuring me of a positive outcome. She doesn't.
I dig some more.
When she arrives, she tells me the news: yes, there is a truck, but it is broken. There are two men out front tinkering with what looks suspiciously like a fuel pump. They've assured her that once they're through fixing it, they'll come over and help us out. In the meantime, they suggest we make camp. Apparently it is going to take them awhile.
I dig some more.
And, though I can't believe it, I'm actually making progress. We're getting dangerously close to the road, but hearteningly close to hard packed ground. Another round of digging later, Tara gets in front of the car to lift and push once more. One last round of spinning tires, one last heaving push, and we're rolling!
"Go, go, go!" Tara shouts, jumping in the air as I finally clear the sand.
This time, we scout the area on foot, looking carefully for a safe route to cross. Tara takes a walk while I pack the car. Ten minutes later, she returns and tells me that the only way to go is straight up to the top of the steep hill and back down again, re-joining the well-worn tracks on the other side.
Before we do that, we need to eat. I collapse on the ground while Tara prepares us each an "emergency ramen" Just as we're about to set off, the two men Tara met at the ger come riding up on their motorcycle, wondering if we need food. Though we politely decline their offer, it is a relief to know that out here, people are always willing to help one another.
We thank the men, and they take their leave, but not before pointing up the hill, showing us the route Tara has just deemed the safest. Things that would have been good to know thee hours ago! When they are certain we are OK, they ride off, back towards the truck that still needs repairing.
Before we leave, we decide to leave a note for our friends (or anyone, really). It is our hope that we can help at least one person passing this way avoid a similar fate. I start by building a big arrow out of rocks, large enough to block the road, but small enough for anyone in a vehicle capable of crossing the path not to be hindered by it:
…and then, Tara leaves a warning note on one of our postcards, stuck in the middle:
Three hours after we arrived here, we are finally ready to go.