MIT undergraduate Scott Berdahl spent a year traveling the world to see what all the fuss was about. Over seven months, he traveled from Moscow to Delhi by train, bus, horseback, and on foot, having his share of adventure along the way.
It was the middle of the night. I was sitting up, awake in my tent after having fended off an intruder with a solid kick through the front flap. I listened nervously; the unearthly howls that had echoed through the forest had long since faded away to the sound of the breeze rushing up the side of Bogdkhan Uul Mountain and through the needles of its trees. I thought briefly about heading back to Ulaanbaatar, but it was miles away through the pitch black forest filled with these … things. After that, getting through the outskirts of Mongolia’s capital city at this hour would be no picnic either.
A sound caught my attention, something different from the wind. Sort of a whoosh — BAM! Something hit my tent, bowing the poles to the ground and tearing a hole through the fabric. I sat for a second, stunned, and then got my head about me. I was okay. Then another whoosh — BAM! Yelling wildly, I grabbed my flashlight and pocketknife and jumped out the door, ready for a fight. Nothing was there. I looked around and strained my ears for the slightest shuffle of leaves or snap of a twig, but again, only the wind was to be heard.
For lack of a better plan, I returned at last to my tent. I could only hope that whatever was out there had gotten its revenge and would be satisfied with what it had done. Whoosh — BAM! No such luck. This time I was out of the tent by the time the second projectile, a large stump of sorts, came whooshing through the air. It impacted the ground next to the tent and rolled harmlessly to a stop. Turning my flashlight uphill, I saw the surprised expression of a small boy, caught momentarily like a deer in headlights. He dropped the rock in his hand and began running frantically down the mountainside, past me, past the tent, crashing off into the night long after I’d lost sight of him with the flashlight.
He was gone, if only for the time being. I looked back at the tent, a torn mess buckling down now under the pressure of the rising wind. I knew I couldn’t stay, so I packed the tent as best I could and headed off through the woods. Gaining the summit of a small ridge, I found the Buddhist monument I’d seen the night before, and I wrapped myself in my tarp before lying down in the dirt near its base for some sleep. Perhaps I’d be safe there.
I awoke again, this time shivering violently. It was still dark, but now it was pouring and the rain had infiltrated my tarpaulin cocoon. For warmth, I packed once more and started walking down the mountain and towards the city, my flashlight off so as not to draw any attention to myself. I left what food I had on a stump near the monument, hoping that the boy or another one of the mountain children might make use of it in the morning. After a few hours of blindly stumbling through the forest and slipping on the wet roots of trees that sprawled out through the rocky ground, the sky turned gray, and I carefully picked my way through the sleeping outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.
It was light out by the time I met Will at the market. We arrived early in hopes of securing a spot in one of the private vehicles leaving from there to Tsetsterleg, the next town to the west, where we were hoping to buy horses. Will was grinning ear to ear. “You wouldn’t believe the night that I had,” he began. Apparently, after we had gone our separate ways the day before, he’d met a beautiful Mongolian woman, the daughter of a wealthy copper mining tycoon, and they’d fallen strongly for one another. After an evening spent in luxury, he now had her phone number and her promises to meet again after he returned from our equestrian odyssey.
After spilling all this, Will looked around the parking lot at the vehicles headed to various towns across the county. He then turned back to me. “How’d your night go?”
“Well,” I replied, somewhat hesitantly, “have you ever been in a knife fight with a twelve year old?”
“Oh, no, well me neither technically, I guess.” I paused and spotted an old Soviet van with the Cyrillic text for Tsetserleg written on a sheet of paper hanging inside the windshield. “My tent has a hole in it now though.”