Running across the Namibian desert has been a long time in the making. Becoming comfortable with the idea of attempting the run unassisted, finding a race organiser that would agree and creating the technology all took time. Despite this the race seemed to rapidly approach.
So a little over two weeks ago I boarded my first flight and the adventure would begin. Before the flight had even taken off someone had pegged me as the blind runner attempting the race alone. It was the wonderful Natasha who just so happened to be the sister of Samantha, who was gracious enough to let me attempt the run.
Fast forward many hours and we boarded our second flight. This was the one that would drop us off in the desert. As the plane approached the airport, Neil turned to me and said “Simon, there is nothing, it is all just desert”. Departing the plane we walked through the desert to the small arrivals area grabbed our luggage and headed for the transfer. Again Neil turned to me and said “Simon, there is nothing, just desert”, I was beginning to get the picture that there was truly nothing but sand.
Thankfully, there did turn out to be a hotel in this desert. In fact it was a rather wonderful hotel. Although Neil and I were slightly deterred when we found out the suite we had booked would see us sharing a bed! A quick negotiation later and we had our own beds, so we decided to quickly top up on tea, it would be at a premium after all once the race began.
We toured the local town over the next couple of days and began to bump into fellow competitors. During these interactions we had found out many people had lost their luggage, thus their kit for the race that would start in a day. In fact during the race briefing there was a request made for anyone that could donate kit, Neil and I donated what we had and headed to our room to put out last few things together before a 4 hour bus ride to the start line.
The bus ride was our first opportunity to read the course notes, sections were rated as easy, moderate or difficult. Reassuringly there were few difficults!
We arrived at our first camp site as the sun was dipping on the horizon. We quickly headed to our tent and unpacked. With military precision, my mat was inflated, sleeping bag rolled out and the ever essential pillow put into position. It was now time to meet fellow competitors around camp fires and have our last real meal before we began the joys of rehydrated food.
We sat down and chatted with a few competitors who had lost all their kit. They had to replace everything in the local town, Neil and I felt very thankful our kit had made it, but did have a small giggle at the competitor who when faced with a lack of signalling mirror, replaced it with a rather large vanity mirror. It would have been better placed as a shaving mirror than something pocketable to signal in emergencies. But on the bright side, at least they could have a good shave if needed.
We finished our meals and headed to bed for the night. I simply couldn’t sleep, I lay awake for hours. I then began to need the toilet, I decided to see if I could just drop off and wait till morning. This predictably didn’t work, so I thought to myself I can just head outside and go for a quick pee.
I planned how I would do this in my head, how I would get out of the tent, use some hotel slippers to save me lacing on my shoes, follow the guide ropes of the tent, walk out a few steps, turn round and head back. It seemed like a flawless plan.
Like a ninja I removed my slippers from the bottom of my bag, silently slipped out of the tent and found the first guide rope. I knew if I followed this down, turned ninety degrees to my right, it would be four steps until I felt another rope at my feet. I found this next rope, stepped over and counted out 10 steps. Ahead of me lay the open desert, behind me the tents, to the left and right even more open desert.
The wind had picked up just as I was about to start, so I rotated as not to be covered by my own pee. I finished then thought, how far did I rotate from the wind? I couldn’t remember, which way did I even rotate? I took my best guess turned back round and walked back, except I didn’t arrive at the guide rope. Shit!
This wasn’t in the plan, if I had thought this through I may have entered the cold night desert with more than a t shirt, or even a torch to signal, or even the emergency whistle for situations like this. However, I had nothing and a sudden rush of dread washed over me, how would I find the tents?
I thought perhaps I could shout? Would I even wake people up? And did I want to be the idiotic blind person who went out alone into the desert in the middle of the night? No. So I decided to get down on my hands and knees and crawl around and see if I could feel a guide rope. After what felt like a few minutes of circling around I found a rope! Yes, I can now find the tents.
I followed the rope, locating the spike acting as a tent peg I knew walking straight would bring me to the guide rope at the tent entrance. I leant into the tent reached over to my spot and was blown away to feel my sleeping mat. Yes! I was back in my tent, I snook in to find some cheeky sod on my mat. Except it wasn’t my mat, they just had the same one as me. Shit!
I contemplated what to do and decided I just had to wake someone up. I gently poked at the first person in the tent and said “Hi, this may sound strange, but I am blind and got a little lost outside, could you take me back to my tent?”. Thankfully, they were ever so gracious, jumping up they began escorting me back, they introduced themselves as Yoji, and I was terribly grateful.
Back in my own tent, I zipped myself back up in my sleeping bag just as everyone else in the tent awoke. We are popping to the toilet Simon do you need it?
If only I had waited ten minutes….