Hole #18: Mission Accomplished
The 18th hole at Augusta, Georgia where the Master's golf tournament is held rises slowly uphill to a two-tiered green. The best golfers in the world have marched up that fairway on the final day of the tournament, the crowd of thousands cheering as they tip their caps. As a boy, I dreamed that some day I'd be the one they were cheering for as I sank my birdie putt on that 18th hole to win the premiere event in all of golf. And now the 18th hole of my Mongolian golf course also slowly rises in elevation to the finish line in the city of Khovd. But Mongolia wasn't going to let me get off the hook this easily.
The 18th hole began the way that the 1st hole did; with a mighty wind. It was a calm evening when I climbed into my tent, but after a couple hours, the wind started to pick up. I woke in the night with my tent wildly shaking and flapping and I began to get worried. Then the wind really began to blow. I rolled onto the side of the tent that was upwind to help anchor it. By this time, sand and dust were whipping around inside the tent, blasting around the rain fly and through the mesh lining of the inner wall. And then the wind blew harder. Sierra Designs claims that this tent can withstand a 60 mph (100 km/h) wind. This wind would test that limit and then surpass it. I struggled to hold down the tent with my arms as I slid my backpack up with my feet to provide more weight on the upwind side. Khatanbaatar had woken up in his jeep and sensing something disastrous was happening, pulled the jeep around to help block some of the wind, but it was too late. As one of the stakes pulled up, a tent pole snapped and the tent began to cave in on itself.
I yelled to Khatanbaatar to stand on the tent as I gathered what I could to shove into the jeep. When I opened the tent flap, things began to fly off like bullets into the darkness. There would be no chasing anything that got caught in this fury. Outside was a maelstrom of blowing sand. We stood only a few feet apart but had to yell at each other to be heard above the wind and blasting sand. I consider it miraculous that we managed to somehow dismantle the tent without it blowing away and being lost forever. It would be conservative to say that this wind was gusting at 80 mph (130 km/h) with the sand biting into our eyes and faces as we labored to make it to the jeep.
The damage assessment in the morning revealed that I had lost the stuff sack to my sleeping bag, the pouch for my therm-a-rest, and a pair of socks. With a hammer and some nuts and bolts, we managed to do a classic Mongolian fixit job on the tent to get it back into functional shape. I was uninjured. I could have been a lot worse.
Mongolia has thrown a lot of challenges my way and this certainly hasn't been easy. But as I look back at every day and night I've spent in this country, I feel an enormous sense of satisfaction and joy. I know this country. I've walked every step across the length of it. I know the customs and traditions, the weather, the geography, and most importantly how the Mongolian people live and how easily they offer warmth and hospitality to those who are passing by.
The 18th hole passes by the wall of Chinggis Khan. It's not much of a wall anymore nor was it built by Chinggis Khan (he was expanding his empire not walling himself in), but nevertheless it serves as a reminder of the great history that this country possesses. The Mongolian Empire of the 13th and 14th centuries still remains the largest empire that the world has ever known.
As I crest on a mountain pass, I see ahead the city of Khovd spread out in the valley below. This is the finish line for a 2000 km golf adventure. This is my 18th green at Augusta. I know I'll never be a good enough golfer to add my name to the list of those who have triumphed at The Master's. Nicklaus, Palmer, Woods. But I know another thing. The list of those who have golfed across Mongolia is a very short list. As of now, there is only one name.
read all of Andre's Progress Reports from Mongolia