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Sahara Desert Trek

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Published: 17 Dec 2012      

Sahara Desert Trek by Vicki Collins
(Running & Challenge Fundraiser Sue Ryder – Nettlebed Hospice)

26 trekkers, aged from 15 to 60 years of age, from across the UK completed Sue Ryder’s first bespoke International Challenge Event in October 2011. The concept was simple; 7 days to walk 100km walking in a Westerly direction. But add in the location, the Sahara Desert, one of the harshest climates in the world; the terrain, consisting of sand dunes reaching up to 590 foot in height and rocky plateaus; the punishing 50-degree heat; battling with sand storms and dust devils, with the risk of sleeping alongside Sand Vipers and Camel Spiders, you will soon realise that this was no simple 100km walk. However, back in October 2011, 26 keen people from across the UK, 9 from across Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire, decided to leave their home comforts behind to raise money for Sue Ryder.

One of the 26 trekkers was Vicki Collins, a Sue Ryder Fundraiser for the Sue Ryder – Nettlebed Hospice.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact reason why I decided to trek the Sahara. There were many reasons which led me into making the decision. Having been incredibly active for the past 8 years, competing in World Adventure races and Triathlons, in August 2009, this way of life for me came to an abrupt end when, during a routine gym session on the tread mill, an indescribable shooting pain shot through my back and down my leg. I quickly realised that I could not lift my leg, walk or stand for any more than a few moments at a time. An MRI scan soon showed that I had discs compacting against my spinal cord which needed surgery urgently.

After the operation, I knew that the only way to regain strength in my back and to get me back to full fitness, I had to take to walking, and knowing myself, I knew that I had to have something to aim for to keep the motivation of going for a walk each day.

I was back in the office when I heard the announcement from our Sue Ryder London Team that we would be launching the first ever International Sue Ryder Challenge, trekking the Sahara Desert. I knew immediately that this was for me. Along with my love of sun and sand, I knew that this trip would be challenging enough for me to keep me excited.
Flying from London Heathrow to Casablanca, with a connecting flight immediately down to Ouzazate, the adrenaline quickly kicked in to make us all feel our adventure holiday was just beginning. Our first night was spent in a luxurious hotel which time did not allow us to enjoy, as we were very quickly packed into our minibuses and taken down to the gateway to the Sahara desert, Zagora.

The moment we waved goodbye to our minibuses and took in the panoramic view of the desert, the reality of the challenge hit us. Everyone stood quietly with their own thoughts about the challenge ahead as we watched the minibuses drive away. Once out of ear shot, there was a quietness that I have never encountered before, if you can imagine not a bird in the sky, not an insect on the ground, no planes, trains, cars, people talking, rustling, banging, there was just nothing…and then the reality sunk in and questions swirled through my mind ‘I’m in a desert, the Sahara Desert, what have I done, we have to walk across this, in the 50c heat! This is madness’.

Many friends, family and supporters during the months of fundraising had called me crazy to even think about signing up to the challenge, some had called me brave, and in the weeks prior to the event, invites for inspirational talks had been offered to me, thoughts of a get away to the sun, flying on a plane, having a break from work, and more importantly, the focus of ‘will I be fit enough’ to trek 100km, along with, can I raise £2500 in time before I go, had occupied my mind, I know I wasn’t alone in having the time to really think about what was in store for us all. 

We then spotted our camels on the horizon, as they neared we could make out 5 strong camels led by the cameleer, who we would soon learn to know as Mohammed. We couldn’t help but smile. Now we were really doing this. Our bags were very quickly and swiftly distributed evenly among the camels and we were away, led by our local Moroccan guide, Larcen, two Discover Adventure Leaders, Jen and Ali, and Doctor Bruce.

Spirits were high as everyone was talking and learning about one another, why they had signed up, how much had they raised, but the 44 degree afternoon heat soon made conversation difficult and the pace began to slow, we quickly realised that we would all have to work as a unit to get through the punishing heat, spurring one another on.

Over the course of the 5 days, the terrain changed dramatically and the views were stunning, one minute you were struggling through the Hamada’s, the largely barren, hard, rocky plateaus, the next we would be surrounded by golden dunes undulating across the valley, then you would be surrounded by trees, shrubs and grasses which soon made our ‘Eye Spy with my little eye’ game more interesting.

Each day we worked to a strict regime to ensure we were all packed and ready to trek by 8am in order to cover the majority of the day’s journey before the brutality of the midday sun arrived. Waking up was easy, most of us had decided to sleep with the elements, finding a comfortable sand dune to sleep upon and would then be awake naturally to the beautiful red sunrise.

Our main bags would then be packed and placed onto a central rug, ready to be loaded onto the camels. Breakfast and blister clinic was ready at 7am, breakfast consisting of freshly baked breads or porridge, and then tents were packed down and arranged neatly for the local Berbers to load upon their vehicles.
After a very simple warm up as the intensity of the sun had already begun, we were away for another day.

As the days progressed, trekking conversations soon turned to games and singing which soon became more and more challenging in themselves as the day neared to midday. Lyrics were forgotten, names were mistaken, but the laughter never stopped, the laughter is the biggest memory which I will cherish.

In a blink of an eye, the final day was upon us, you would think that relief would be the first word that would come to mind, but it was from it, I for one was incredibly sad to know that the trek would soon be over. As a group we had become incredibly close and had shared much laughter and had shed many tears, and we would soon be back on the plane, home bound, and back to the daily stresses and pressures of everyday life.

Our Discovery Leader Jen, always ended each day with a quote to sum up the days events, this is one that I will take with me.

“Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away”

The stillness of the sunrise, the redness of the sunset, the shimmering golden dunes and the incredible brightness of the stars were all breath taking moments which will last me a life time.

In completing the trek and exceeding my fundraising target, my sense of achievement was such that I have signed up to trek the Kalimantan Jungle in Borneo next year. I urge anyone who is reading this to get involved in a Challenge, the feeling you get is truly uplifting. Reach for the stars, you won’t regret it.

To find out about our Challenges in 2013 including the Las Vegas, Death Valley Cycle Challenge, please contact the fundraising team on 01491 641265 or email bbox.fundraising@sueryder.org