‘There are still cannibals out there, you know.’
That was one of the first melodramatic responses from my family when I told them I was joining a two-month desert expedition. I’ll never forgot that comment, nor forget to bring it up at each and every Christmas gathering. Though in truth, the reaction was somewhat warranted.
Risk-taking is a part of every day life, even crossing the street (especially here in India). But unlike crossing the street, at some point we have to take the risk of adventure seriously. And it’s only with my latest expedition, the Gobi 2011, that I’ve had to seriously consider the consequences of tramping into the unknown.
At first, I didn’t really see the big fuss; I see it more as a personal challenge and a chance to troop the globe with like-minded people. But, the tables have turned… somewhat.
I’m not even a quarter of the way through reading Helen Thayer’s travelogue, Walking the Gobi, and already I’m dreaming of harrowing sandstorms with sharp rocks flying more than 100kph in the thrashing wind.
I haven’t really thought of this impending trek as ‘deathly’ before. Yet now I’m thinking a helmet might be a necessity.
Can you imagine a desert thunderstorm? I would have laughed at that question a day ago, ‘Yeah right, a desert is a desert because it gets no rain, OBVIOUSLY.’ But, my cockiness has now shyly subsided.
Only a few days into 63 year-old, Helen’s Gobi walk with her 74 year-old husband, Bill, they were hit by a storm lasting over 3 hours. Darting rocks bruised their backs, wind picked them up and brutally slammed them back to the ground, and sand attacked their eyes making them swollen and sensitive to the sun.
Besides the acts of mother nature in the Gobi, there are also scorpions, snakes and wild wolves, who regularly come out to play. Play with you like a dinner, that is.
Whenever I let myself really ponder over something that scares me, I think of all the extreme and over-dramatised possibilities I could be faced with:
- A leopard attacking me while I’m alone and in the most vulnerable position, taking a midnight pee
- A big fat snake lying in wait at the bottom of my sleeping bag with fangs bared
- A pack of wolves descending on the Gobi team, only to pounce on me because I didn’t practice the ‘I’m not afraid of you’ stare-down
- An infestation in my tent (while I’m sleeping) of the three-tailed Apoc scorpion, therefore 3 potential weapons each
- A rogue camel flying through a sandstorm only to land directly on me, hence the need for a helmet
And I haven’t even started on the mysterious Mongolian death worm that’s up to 5 feet long, sprays acid and can kill at a distance by means of electric discharge!
In all seriousness though, there’s a high probability that at least one of the team on this trek will be injured. Yet we all furiously waved our hands to be a part of it. Why? Because it’s DIFFERENT. And in a world where different is becoming harder to come by, “different” is what gets me up in the morning.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t seek out unnecessary risks. I guess it’s just part-and-parcel of travelling the world. But these expeditions aren’t blackjack either. I’m not just betting the house on a random outcome. It’s about calculating the risks and making an informed decision, or at least that’s what I keep telling myself. Of course, annual holiday insurance also helps me travel without focusing too much on the risks.
Haven’t you ever relished in doing something that you didn’t know what the outcome would be?