Meghan M. Hicks May 14, 2013 TWEET COMMENTS 0

Sahara Survival - Page 6


A bird's eye view of Stage 4's massive sand dune shows how steep it is. Photo by Carolyn Schaffer.

We just endured a 12-hour sandstorm and a one-hour thunderstorm. This is the second afternoon of the long stage, which has a day-and-a-half cutoff. Folks who finish the 50-miler in a day are afforded the luxury of a rest day. Many other runners and I have completed the long stage and are recovering in the bivouac. One must use a liberal interpretation of the term “rest day” if we are to describe waiting out this weather as rest, though.

My tentmates and I lie on the ground with our collapsed, wet tent on top of us. I use the Indiglo feature on my watch to see that it’s 2 p.m. on the dot. Storm clouds now yield to a turquoise sky, so we work together to raise our tent. I place my belongings in the sun to dry. I survey the bivouac, which looks like a nuclear weapon detonated in it.

Chloë stands next to her tent. Her body is visibly swollen, edema engulfing her toned musculature. She must be retaining five or seven pounds of liquid. Chloë and I spoke at the final water checkpoint last night. She was leaving it at a steady clip and in fine spirits, but said she had struggled with nausea for much of the day.

“You look good now,” I told her as we parted ways in the night.

We compare notes on yesterday and, with her eyes wandering among the mess that is the bivouac post-storm, she says, “My mind can make this race harder or easier than it inherently is. I choose to make it easy.”

The 2012 Marathon des Sables ends with a crossing of Morocco’s largest dunescape, the Merzouga Dunes. This field of cantaloupe-colored sand stretches 15 miles long, north-to-south, and five miles wide, east-to-west. Around the edge of the dunefield, the sand makes 20-foot-tall swells, like those of the high seas. The tallest dunes—more than 1000 feet in height—are located in the center of the dunefield and their crests cut curved lines across today’s azure sky.

There is not one thing that is sustainable about these dunes. In fact, the dunes could be one of Earth’s most uninhabitable spots. As for the rest of the Sahara Desert, intermittent water, food and shade make surviving a primitive existence. The Berber people who reside in small clusters out here—or Mauro for that matter—could probably articulate this better.

I love these dunes and our ribbon of colorful runners—the intermixing of a wilderness that is harsh, gritty and hot; the gregarious, quirky and loving people who race the MdS and the manner in which this race makes us bigger, bad-er, rad-er versions of ourselves—with every inch of my being. I suppose it is fortuitous, then, that the dunes are tough traveling and this 5.5-mile crossing takes me 68 minutes.

Hundreds of spectators, a combination of locals, foreign tourists and competitors’ family and friends, line the last half-mile to the finish. They are the first clean people we’ve interacted with in seven days and I smell their soaps and perfumes more than I see them. They shake big cowbells with deep-pitched rings and shout, “C’est une femme!”

Patrick waits, just under the finishing banner, to greet every runner who completes his race. When it is my turn, he bear hugs me, kisses my salty cheeks and lowers the finisher’s medal over my head. His voice is hoarse from so many days of hard work when he exclaims, “Meghan, again you finish! You still love the Sahara?”

Meghan Hicks is a Contributing Editor for Trail Runner.

This article is from our December 2012 issue.


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