|Hole #6: One
I've always wondered what kind of people talked to themselves. We all think to ourselves but to actually say things out loud, I thought this practice was reserved for those with some kind of mental abnormality. But lately I've been talking to myself. Sometimes I direct it toward the animals around me but, who's kidding whom? This is just as bad as talking to yourself. Maybe worse.
I don't know if it's some kind of subconscious psychological defense mechanism to combat the lack of social contact or if I'm really losing my mind. And, that's the thing when you're alone, you really don't know. There's no second opinion. It's like when drug addicts convince themselves that what they're doing is acceptable. The person's own mind is the suspect, the judge, and jury all rolled into one. Who in their right mind would convict themself? Never mind those who are not in their right mind.
It's tough being alone every night out on the steppe. Last night I heard some strange noises while I was in my tent and I thought to myself (maybe I actually said it out loud) "What if I were abducted by aliens, given the full panel of tests, and then beamed back down to earth?" Who could I possibly tell this story to? The answer is no one. "Man golfing across Mongolia gets abducted by aliens." I don't think too many people would take me seriously after that. Thus, an incredible experience such as this, I would have to keep bottled up inside to keep people from thinking I'm nuts. Ironically, keeping such an experience to myself probably would drive me nuts. It's a classic no-win situation and I've decided it would probably be best if the aliens don't spot me after all.
This solitude is one of the hidden challenges of this expedition that I couldn't have predicted. I've grown to have a lot more respect for those adventurers who make solo journeys to places like Antarctica. It's tough for me some mornings trying to get enough motivation to pack up the tent and head out for another day's journey. But to do this at -40 degrees with the wind blowing; to those people, I give my admiration.
My solitude was interrupted in quite an amazing way last week, however. I sat quietly having some lunch and a rest in the middle of nowhere when I heard an incredible roar that vibrated the ground. Then I saw the dust cloud rising on the horizon. You know those Akira Kurasawa films where thousands of Chinese soldiers come riding over the hill? I felt like I was in one of these movies when I saw hundreds of riders on horses pouring over the hill, racing directly toward me. The thunder of the hooves grew louder and the dust got thicker. Luckily I didn't need to use my 3-iron for self defense because they were children dressed in traditional Mongolian costume in the midst of a long-distance horse race. I somehow had placed myself in the middle of the race course (I thought it was a golf course) and the kids were hootin' and hollerin' as they rode past me on all sides. Five minutes later, the dust began to settle, and again I was alone, contemplating what a bizarre experience that was.
I'll have all the social contact I can handle now, because my quick progress has put me back in Ulaan Baatar for the start of the Naadam festival, Mongolia's annual 3-day extravaganza featuring horse racing, archery, and wrestling competitions. It's the biggest holiday of the year and Mongolians come from all over the country to view and participate in the events. It's the extreme opposite of the solitude that I've been experiencing on my expedition for the last few weeks, and there are some familiar faces here in U.B. that I can share a beer with. But best of all, I can talk out loud as much as I want, without having to worry about the state of my mental health.
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