Sahara: Nobody Said It Was Easy

“Morning!”. I woke with a start. What time is it? 5:30am. Gosh I have slept the whole night. I hadn’t even heard Rosie leave in the middle of the night and return to the wrong tent. And we were sleeping literally a foot apart. I had had to excuse myself early after supper last night as my migraine had set in. My head was pounding, I felt feverish and sick. All symptoms also associated with dehydration but I knew it wasn’t that, I was drinking lots and taking on supplements, salts etc. No – lack of sleep had finally taken its toll and so it needed to run its course. I popped a couple of Migraleve kindly given by my fellow trekker Elaine and took to my bed. As I lay with my ear plugs in and my travel pillow pulled up over my ears I must have looked a sight. I could hear the rhythmic sound

of the camp team tunefully entertaining themselves with a couple of water containers and a tin tray over the washing up. With the background hum of chatter from the mess tent, the odd grunt and rumble from a nearby camel, it was all very surreal yet remarkably relaxing. I am an extrovert by nature, getting my energy from people. But I think I might be sliding towards introvert as I find having time to re-energise alone is becoming increasingly important. Hence my writing more and more these days.

So It’s Day 3 and today is the day we take to the highest dunes. 7:35 am start. We are getting better at this packing up malarkey. We would head across more river bed initially before entering the next area of dunes. Breakfast done and we are away. My head was easier this morning, though a foggy feeling would remind me the migraine was still coming along for the ride!

As we settle into our respective rhythms I hear about the talk I missed last night. I am still gutted as I love to immerse myself in an area and get to know about it. Rosie is living the dream as she gets to lead the camel. Everyone seems upbeat and in good spirits. We are not long in before I realise some of the group are way back and among them is Claire. She is struggling with knee pain today. I was thrilled to see her up and down those dunes yesterday but overnight she found herself in pain. So today she is trying to manage her pain in order to walk. None of us wants to find ourselves unable to finish. We continue to walk and I silently pray she can get past this. The Doc is walking with her, Mstapha joins them too.

Further on and we stop to for a water break and some shade. A little rearrangement of the camel and it soon becomes clear Claire is going up. It’s an emotional group who leave her to be lifted on. This is no fun ride. Tears are flowing. You kind of feel hopeless. We none of us know how long she will need to be there, or if she will complete the day there. But for now it’s one step at a time, literally and we carry on. She wants to walk. The sun beating down on her shoulders, she plods along. We try a joke or two. “Typical, I lead him all that way and next thing you know he’s another woman on his back” says Rosie. “Put kettle on Claire when you get there” shouts Jennifer. It takes a wee while to eventually get a smile from this lovely brave lady.

And so the scene was set for a very testing day. A day where we would see the real effects of heat and exhaustion. Trekker down and unable to breathe. But the application of a rather genius “cold” cloth applied all over the face, head and neck and she was led down. We all watched anxiously. Elle is our matriarch. Our inspiration! She took this trek by the scruff and has kept us all focussed and loving it. Ten women cajoled and convinced we could do this. And as for all the endless fundraising, well, what can I say. Look at our £££ totals so far. Her inner drive and energy seems to know no bounds. But by the time she reached an anxious and (in some cases) emotional group, Elle declared herself massively improved and the new owner of the magic cloth. Just the tonic we needed. Her humour would see her through. And her magic cloth ;). See, that’s our Elle.

Day 3 was also a day we saw brand new shoulder problems. Countless new blisters. Extreme heat rashes. All of which would affect our pace. With our Guide providing support further back in the group our final ascent would see us led to the top of the second highest dune by our very own Rosie. “Look to the sky Rosie!”. Heads down we trusted and followed her. Stopping every so often to draw breath and drink. Check Rosie, she was doing great. Though she did confess later her legs turned to jelly as she realised he really meant her to take us all the way to the top. And that dune was seriously high. The Doc was behind me, Pauline in front. “Do you want to go by?”. No – I am staying here with you Pauline. With every stop I just held her arms tight. Our recent climb up Ben Rinnes had shown neither of us loved climbing hills. If I’d wanted to cling to the side of a hill I’d have been born a goat. So together we would keep each other right. And yes, we’d likely weep (again) at the top. Onwards we went. It was a deceptive climb. Lulling you into a false sense of security as it levelled out. Time to look up – oh God, there’s more. Or at least I think that was the word Pauline used – it could have been Arabic maybe :D. It looked as if you could fall right off the end. Finally, we were there. Carefully inching side by side along the ridge so we could all fit and take in the most amazing views. By now we can see the border with Algeria. I could stay like this forever.

It had been a weary group who had sat to lunch and rest earlier today. Lying in the heat under a tent canopy, the magic cloth did the rounds, cooling heads and legs as it went, as Ahmed literally flicked cups of water at us to cool us down. A venture outside the canopy would show reveal this to be the hottest we had endured so far so we had known the worst was yet to come.

And so it was an even more weary group who came off that last dune and collapsed on the sand that afternoon, some seeking shade in the camel’s shadow.  Many thankful when Mstapha declared “no more dunes” we had worked hard enough. Some tearful, some quiet, some simply trying to breathe normally again.

Camp was not so far away and we should sleep well tonight. Thankfully my head also seemed to be letting me be now. See – it’s a magic cloth! With a big day tomorrow and potentially 30km to be walked I would need more than a shed load of Compeed to get me through.

So what did happen to Claire? Well an hour or so after putting her on the camel, we stopped for trail mix and a water top-up. Clare comes down from the camel and beams from ear to ear! “I have no pain now. I am not going back on, I am walking”. Two strong painkillers, an anti-inflammatory and resting that knee, it seems, had done the trick. You could literally feel her relief. Claire was going on. And think I speak for many when I say we are immensely proud of what she achieved that day. I struggled with a working pair of legs – so how she managed to do all of that with her naughty knees I will never know! 😀

Thanks Kirsty (Kaj) for a wee steal of a couple of your fabulous images. 

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