September 16, 2012

Stranded in the Gobi Desert. ~ Anthony Actis


It had been over a week since I had last showered in a mountain stream in Western Siberia.

Over 8,000 miles had past before my dusty eyes. I had made it to my final country—Mongolia—after driving through sixteen others.

The car had encountered one of many mechanical troubles, this one most exponentially more severe than the others. It wasn’t a simple repair like having the hood crash into the windshield on a Ukrainian highway. Nor was it a negligible mechanical problem like dislodging and losing a brake pad while swimming through a juicy muddy highway in Kazakhstan. Our entire rear end nearly fell off this time. The Citroën Saxo, which begrudgingly kept pushing forth, was nearing its end it seemed. Two bolts attaching the rear right side of the axle and suspension assembly had vibrated loose, no doubt still lingering just hidden from view on that dusty motorway.









Perhaps more than any point out of the entire drive from London to Ulaanbaatar, I had no greater desire than at that point to be home, to be idle, to take care of myself and nurture my body after so many weeks of being nowhere. Our four-car convoy nearly divided in half at this break down. Without immediate repair, time constraints of others would mandate separating from our support network as they pressed on to the final destination.

The smell of burning rubber permeated one’s lungs as repugnantly as the crrrrsssshhhh noise of grinding metal parts shattered one’s ears. My spirit was lost and it did not want to return. I did not want it to return. I simply wanted to be gone, to leave, to return to the familiar.

As we hobbled our car into Khovd, a transition point between the Altai Mountains and the Gobi, the prospect of failure continually entered my mind. Luckily, replacement pieces were eventually sorted out, allowing the car to press on in some manner until we reached Bayanhonger. Once past here, it was discovered that the same malfunction had occurred-ish… On each side of the car, the rear mounting bolts had dislodged. Only one bolt remained, about to shear off without a moment’s notice. Hundreds of kilometers across bumpy, pothole infested, mud highways remained for the mighty Citroën.

Arvaikheer disappeared into the rear view mirrors and slowly tarmac reappeared before our eyes. Potholes the size of tables and wild horses littered the roadway. Sudden movements were inevitable, causing jarring weight transfers in the car as certain destruction was repeatedly avoided. The car began to drive at an angle, the rear axle sliding further and further on the left side, causing the cabin to point to the right as the wheels continued on straight.









Nearly three weeks have accumulated between my arrival in the Mongolian capital and the writing of this piece. I have begun a new chapter in my life—graduate school. My diet regularly consists of more than 1000 calories per day, a welcome change to scrounging for food across vast deserts. A regular asana practice has returned, slowly rebuilding the strength that five weeks of 14 hours in a car has eroded from my body. I am utterly discontent. Or, at least I am awkwardly saddened and full of ennui.

The return to asana has been blissful, to my body as much as my mind. I have found great joy in reuniting myself with friends and family. Certainly the return to academia from a manic cubicle imprisonment has been pleasant. Yet, I find myself unable to focus. My mind dances constantly. Outside of the restorative meditation of asana I am restless so far with my presence back in Colorado.

I had someone ask me what my great travel revelation was—what the great lesson was for me. Somehow I must have missed the road sign along the way, perhaps after a wrong turn in Russia or something.

The road beckons me. The fleeting nature of movement has engrained itself in my very DNA, not for the sake of a rush or a thrill, but for the exuding calmness and tranquility that arises.

Or at least, I think so.

Everything suddenly seems so stressful. My around the world journey has proven to be one of the most ordinarily magnificent and magnificently ordinary things I have completed in life. Ordinary in the sense that this is my life and all of its amazing nature. Such an adventure is not a once-in-a-lifetime happening, and will always be a priority. Magnificent in the sense that I have completely changed my paradigm upon how I view my lifestyle and surroundings yet again.

My only problem is that the translator to decode this new perception must have fallen out of the car along the way. I suppose this really isn’t a problem and really just requires further contemplation and recognition.

But oh, how I long to be stranded in the Gobi once again.

Anthony Actis is starting up the next chapter of his life as a graduate student in hydrology. He recently spent five weeks driving 8600 miles from London, England to Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia to raise money for The Lotus Children’s Centre in Ulaanbaatar and have himself a proper adventure. He is a scientist, an engineer, a philosopher, a yogi, an adventurer, sometimes a bit of a lush (although increasingly less often) and completely drawn toward everything associated with his native homeland of Colorado. He finished a 200-hour teacher training in Denver, but wants to grow his personal practice and knowledge further before teaching (if he ever does want to teach). As a citizen of the world, he is enamoured with francophile culture, asking difficult questions, people watching, airports, being uncomfortably polite and courteous, early morning asana, existentialism, pain au chocolate, fake mustaches, awkward facial expressions, and Oxford commas.


Editor: Malin Bergman

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