Donkeys look small in the vast Sahara
Random Musings,  Travel

Memories Made of Sand

I was reminded, today, of something which had a huge impact on my life. Memories which were hard, memories which made me tear up, and memories which had me also incredibly proud.

The benefits of teamwork

A challenging time

Back in the early part of 2016 I pulled my big girl pants up and signed up for a charity trek. In the Sahara! It took me a while to say yes. I did dither – a lot. And faced a few rolled eyes from him indoors too. I even had a false start. But that’s a story for another day.

By the summer I was full on training. Setting myself the challenge of one million boot steps was the only way I was going to get my ass off the couch and get walking. In truth, it was less about measuring the actual steps than it was about blogging it.

We turned our summer holiday over to walking on the west coast of Scotland. Me, Mr Smith and the dog. Poor Keara didn’t know what had hit her. 50 miles clocked and a week that was a game changer. I had huge doubts in the lead up to it. Work stresses, people pressures, uncertainty had all contributed to me believing I would be the weakest link. But now the distance was building and so was my confidence. Or rather, my belief in myself, was getting better.

Two months later I walked the Dava Way with Jennifer. All 24 miles plus a hike back up the hill to her house! I still look back on that day as something incredible. Word of advice. A 30 mile drive, straight after a walk of that magnitude, is not advisable. I almost phone my hubby to come carry me out of my car when I got home. Sitting in the driver’s seat, I literally rolled out of my car, I was so stiff. Literally stuck in the seated position 🙂

Yet I got up the next day and insisted on putting four miles in to loosen off. For purely practical reasons, though. I am not motivated by beating targets or a PB. Just two blisters – now that would become more like my personal best. Or least.

Job Done

Fast forward to mid March 2017 and it was all over. Almost 1.2 million boot steps, including four days in the Sahara – and “a bit” I don’t really count, after our guide Mstafa confessed he was simply weighing us up, sussing out the weaknesses, the vulnerabilities and the team strength and bonds which would get us through the trek.

A trek camp leader makes mint tea

The experiences were immense. From a welcome tea in the desert, to seeing the camels appear over the horizon, to 110km clocked over the four days.

But I am not going to chart the days – that’s already been done. Today I started to think a little more about it all again.

Feeling Small

I know the Sahara is vast. But I don’t think I had truly got my head around just how small I would feel, as I trod the sand, scaled dunes and trudged the stony reg. I remember saying at the start “I don’t want to look too hard for images. I want this to feel like a brand new experience. See it with my own eyes, nobody else’s”.

The biggest thing for me was the sheer scale. Everything looked small. The camel and his leader. The caravan of camels getting a head start to camp. The donkeys. Us! This was massive for us, yet the Sahara could have swallowed us, and our achievement up, without even a hint of indigestion.

It really brings it home, when you see the wee beasties. The stick insect, the lizard, the footprints of the jackal or fox. I remember thinking “how cool is that?”. To see a beetle in a billion trillion grains of sand. To come across something so very tiny, in such a huge space. A chance in a million, billion…okay you get my drift.

Showing how small things live in the Sahara

Know Your Tribe

But today I wasn’t thinking about that. I was really thinking about the team. My tribe. Training days were fun. No pressure, fall in if you can, duck out if you have to. The pace and distance would change to suit the abilities, food stops taken when needed.

And the laughter was just the best tonic. I miss the laughter. I miss my tribe. A lot.

Shadows make great memories

Then there was the trek itself. A trek which would see folk rally. Not just to help with the physical stuff. Taking the weight of a rucksack when a shoulder flares up. Offering plasters and spare socks when you have used yours up. The mental challenge was bigger than most of us imagined, I expect. And that is when your tribe really comes into its own.

If someone was mentally struggling, there was always someone there. “Would a hug help?”. Some days just having someone walk in silent companionship, while you worked through your blocker, was enough.

All moments so easy forgotten as another day, another dune, another 15 km, another “woo hoo” was ticked off.

Yet memories I call to mind, today, as I think about how important these things are in our lives. In my life.

Time moves on

And so too do the memories.

I can recall the feelings, the emotions, in an instant.

The butterflies as three vehicles panned out across the flat landscape, edging ever nearer to the camels and my first, hot, nervous steps. The heart racing, as I lay in my tent on the first night, when woken by animal noises over my right shoulder. The sheer adrenaline which got me through almost three sleep deprived days before finally giving way to a migraine. Shame at peeing yourself (yes, really) from sheer exertion in heat like you cannot imagine. The tears at the top of the highest dune we climbed. And again at the end as our camp team hugged us, lifted us, twirled us in celebration.

Then there is that laughter again. From the fantastic seven hour drive into the desert. Just think carpool karaoke – in Arabic. To the silly one liners, thrown in to lighten a mood, and have you in hysterics. Experiences shared with the funniest, most intuitive, caring, generous hearted, empathetic buddies you could ever wish for.

My memories have not faded, but day to day life has taken over again. This crazy world seeks to distract me. To push my limits. And fights to push my good memories far, far back, when all I want to do is keep them at the front, where they belong.

My mission is to learn how to put my captain back in charge, when the pirates are threatening a takeover, a mutiny to steal my happy memories.

If you would like to read more about the Sahara Trek then you will find the Sahara Series over on One Million Boot Steps. Just don’t tell Pauline about the beasties 😉

Memories of walking in the Sahara