Before we leave Atyrau, we run into another Mongol Rally team from New York called Bugs Meany. We last saw them in Prague, wandering toward a bar at 3 a.m. We make a pact to caravan to Mongolia, then put Atyrau in our rear-view mirrors.

We stop for gas 50 miles from town. Beside the station there’s a tiny blue hut. Shirtless men shuffle in and out, returning with small plastic bags filled with fried, oblong shapes. Inside the café I meet two heavily made-up women selling round, beef-stuffed samsas and potato pirozhki, the treat I enjoyed in Russia days earlier.

I order one of each and wolf them down. They’re light and not overwhelmingly greasy; filling without sinking to the bottom of my stomach. The ladies notice my gusto and take a shine to me. They turn on the radio, pumping out warbly tunes. Andrew, Mims, and the members of the other team enter. Soon we’re cutting a rug and getting intimate.

“You?” a woman with dark hair asks.

“Josh,” I say.

“Joshhhhhhhh,” she says, pinching my cheek and winking.

Blame it on the pirozhki.

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