Sahara: The Longest Day

“I wonder if they could just leave me in my sleeping bag and put me over the back of the camel?”.

It was 4:00 am! Last night we had a lovely meal. Pasta and a spicy meat sauce with hand baked flat bread here on camp. The first evening I had really eaten my supper and enjoyed it. Headache gone and ready to enjoy the company. We had a lovely inspiring message from Moray Women’s Aid and then most opened letters/messages of support from family. Then we were given our rise time. Eek! Better get to bed early then. And that was where any thoughts of a good night’s sleep ended. The camels were particularly noisy, the tiring day had snoring from all four corners of the camp. But mainly I was fitful in a way I always am when I know I need to get to sleep and stay asleep when I have to get up early.


Bless you, Pauline. I quietly set about dressing. Setting off before dawn would require another layer, though the camel had been volunteered to take those as the sun came up. I was at sixes and sevens today. I could hear music blaring out again, but couldn’t seem to zone it out so I could find the energy I needed to turn this day into a great memory. It simply wasn’t happening and I really didn’t know why. I wasn’t hungry but knew I would need to eat. I knew psychologically I needed to find a trigger to help me switch or this was going to be one hell of a day. Even my slogan t-shirt wasn’t cutting it.

Meanwhile Kirsty’s “Are we having fun yet” vest was! Or so it seemed. I felt like an outsider looking in at all this energy and positivity. A group so eager to get off I left camp very “not ready”. I forgot to switch my step counter on. My torch was still tucked away, my water was in the wrong place, I couldn’t find my ipod to block out the noise. I fell down the dune as we left camp and was immediately transported back to a skiing trip I did some years ago where I wanted to come home after two days I hated it so much. Today was going to be my biggest mental challenge yet.

I settled in to walk at the rear of the group. I felt so emotional. I distanced myself as I knew if I tried to speak I would blub. Yet I still couldn’t figure out why, so I didn’t try. I simply walked alone as best I could. “How’s your head today?”. Fine. My headache was gone. Ask me how my mental state was though and that would have been a very different answer.

I continued to walk. The region is clearly more commercial with several permanent camps and lots of tyre tracks – evidence of vehicles activity up and over the dunes. I am almost disappointed I think. The solitude has been really quite special. And the unspoilt nature really something I want to bottle forever. But the highest dune, much like Ben Nevis or Mount Snowdon clearly attracts tourists. I could almost imagine a café at the top if it weren’t for the fact the sands shift!  I shudder.

Soon we were out of the dunes entirely and heading out across a Reg. On the way we stop to let the camel drink at the well. The scenery here is changing now, as it reaches the stony plateau. Passing a shepherd herding lots of goats, this is really different countryside. “Are we having fun yet?”. Ask me again in a few more miles, Kirsty. It is stony underfoot and it seems to go on forever. I said early on that when I hit my low point I would get my energy from others. Find laughter. But I look ahead today and all I see is “one foot in front of the other” determination. Energy but not the right kind of energy. I would just need to give it time. Work it through.

As I walk I begin to think about the days before. I think about the day we arrived in our 4x4s. I think about Kirsty who seems to be enjoying every single minute. I think about Rosie and Jennifer who seem focussed on today’s task by putting “one foot in front of the other”. And then it all starts to become clear. I realise I don’t want to just put one foot in front of the other. I don’t want to walk for walking’s sake.

I want to feel it. To love it. Like I have loved the past three days (despite having a migraine). And to love it I need everything to be in tune. I guess you could liken it to an orchestra or a string quartet. You can bring together a bunch of instruments but if they are not playing together in time then it won’t make good music. Once that starts to happen then it’s the addition of the emotion and passion which takes that music to something beautiful.

So I needed more than the simple mechanics of moving my legs if today was going to turn into a memory I would love rather than endure. I could put my music on. I love my music – but only when I am in a sing song mood. And I wasn’t in the mood – so music would just become noise.

I was tired and really not my best version of me. Jennifer came alongside and walked for a while and then asked “are you ok?”. I couldn’t speak. Then she asked “Can I give you a hug?”.  And then the tears came. “You can dribble on my shoulder it will wash off”. And from that point my mood began to shift. I walked a while with the Doc as we talked about his work and how he splits hours to get more blocks of time to do volunteer work like this.

Later on Mstafa came alongside to chat. Here I learned how he assessed our group on the first day to try and understand where our strengths and weaknesses were. Not just pace but how we worked together as a team and functioned as individuals. A very astute man who seems to tune into moods and needs so very easily. He can see who is struggling and who needs help – physically and psychologically.

But for me the biggest most significant thing was when he said his aim was to find our comfort zone. That in itself is so very contrary to how I hear others speak about challenges. About pushing your limits and going outside your comfort zone. As he said this is not a military exercise, this is an experience which he wants everyone to get the most from and in doing so they will go further and take more.

And I think that was when it all began to make sense. This wasn’t about endurance, or stamina anymore. Not for me anyway. It was about absorbing every sound, sight, smell (even the camels) and keeping those memories inside forever. And in doing so those steps would pass almost unnoticed.

And so I stopped and looked back at how far we had come – literally. I could still make out the dunes, so very very far away now. I LOVED the dune days. I especially loved the big dune day and had someone offered me two more hours of free daylight and asked “do you want to climb the big one” I would have done it in a heartbeat.  And I was beginning to love today too.

By the time we reached lunch, Omar was waiting with delicious pans of hot fried eggs sat on top of soft onions, peppers, olives and spices. Served up with noodles. How he got in front I really don’t know, but he does it every day. Today we were joined by two beautiful local children who hand craft items to sell. Speaking not a word of English we needed Mstafa and Omar to help us negotiate. Neela (3) and Niama (8) stayed with us while we rested, mesmerised by our routines. Sun cream to Compeed application they smiled and laughed with us. Gently touching my hand to get my attention when Susan had cream on her nose. We were none of us sure if they were waiting for us to tell them they could leave. We gave them gifts, sweets, fruit, nuts and when it came time for us to begin walking again they collected up all our empty water containers, waved and left for the hills where they lived. A very special experience, and one which will stay with me forever.

As we headed away from our “pit stop” we turned left into the valley. And the sight which greeted us was simply stunning. We followed the dry river bed set within a deep sided gorge. The path snaked through, giving occasional shade, offset by sun. Only now did some of the girls begin to admit the walk across the Reg was not their favourite. This on the other hand was just amazing. Unexpected and truly beautiful.

The steps are still mounting up. Around 18 miles covered today. The final step total will be revealed soon…

Go on ask me again am I having fun yet Kirsty?


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