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A Day in the Life of a Desert Explorer

by Globetrooper Lauren | 14 Responses
Gobi Desert Mongolia

A zipper opening, that’s my wake-up call. No, please, not yet, just ten minutes more.

Mornings have never been my strong point. And when you’re faced with walking for 8+ long hours every day for two months, the effort to get up is so, SO much greater. The only thing that really unzips my sleeping bag is the familiar jolt of a full bladder and the fear of missing out on breakfast at 7.

The clothes I’ve been wearing for 10 days straight don’t smell appealing, they almost walk themselves. The muscles in my legs protest in harmony with every movement. And my feet… oh my poor, swollen feet; I promise to pamper you forever if you can just get me through these 1,000 miles.

1,000 miles of walking, 1,600 kms on foot, a 60-day crossing, 30+ kms trekking every single day for 2 months. But words really can’t describe the enormity of the Gobi 2011 Expedition. To stay sane, I must take it one mile at a time, one river crossing at a time, and one day at a time.

Gobi Desert Mongolia Maps

The Girls, scouting out the course for tomorrow.

The camels, they know what they’re in for too. I can see it in their eyes through lashes any beauty queen would kill for. By 8am, we load them up with 40 to 80 kilos each, and they squirm and shuffle in revolt.

It’s camel hour first; we have to keep on our toes. This is the time we’re most likely to get stomped or side-kicked. They’re very temperamental creatures, camels, if something isn’t right with their load (too big, too small, dangling rope, odd noise, etc) they completely freak out. This in turn, freaks ALL the other camels out, creating a stampede in seconds. Whatever happens, NEVER let go of the rope.

The following two hours of the morning are irritatingly slow because I know there’s still so far to go. My legs shut down, but I force them against their will. My arms become numb too. When I look down, all I see is a pair of those inflatable hands people wave at sports stadiums. Like a chubby baby, I’m unable to make a fist.

By the time 11 comes ’round, I’m glad the majority of the morning’s 5-hour walk is over, but then the familiar growl of hunger starts up. If I can’t occupy my mind, the walk until lunch is the worst. It can lead to a big, bad world of hate. “Who’s stupid idea was this?” “How come HE gets to ride a camel?” “Why are they laughing?!”

Gobi Desert Mongolia Mask

Tough life in the desert, the Girls treat themselves to face masks.

My saviour arrives in a tupperware container accompanied by half an hour of rest. After this, the 3-hour walk to camp in the peak heat of the day sounds easy-peasy. I get a second wind and power on at the front of the group, until… all the suffering from the morning returns tenfold. Pain radiates from my feet and my legs decide not to move without a new fight.

Even the lizards are against me; every ten steps I see one zig-zagging in front, only to reverse and stop suddenly right under my boot. The marmot holes too, they’re everywhere connecting circuitous cities underground. With each step I imagine falling helplessly into their tunnels. And with that, I drop to the back of the pack.

The only thing now that threatens to break me is if our support van on the horizon suddenly starts up and drives away. It does this to help get a few more miles under our belts for the day.

Some days my ipod can alleviate the pain; I get pumped up by songs with lyrics like, “Thanks for making me a fighter” and “I’m that star up in the sky, I’m that mountain peak up high, hey I made it, I’m the World’s Greatest”. But other days, music can make it worse, much worse.

When camp finally surfaces, it’s time to unload the camels and rejoice; it’s my favourite time of the day. The balloon feet are freed from the confines of sweaty boots and we dive into the cookies and tea. Operation Feet (managing blisters) then becomes the priority, followed closely by the Wet Wipe Tent Party (to clean the dirt and dust).

Gobi Desert Mongolia

Lauren sitting in twilight, preparing for much needed sleep.

The sun sets around 10pm and soon after I’m horizontal, thinking I should’ve been in this position hours ago. It feels so good, until I remember it’ll be short-lived and tomorrow’s another walking day. My eyes close with a blink and then I’m off to the land of slumber.

I know what you’re thinking…”Why?”

An expedition is about the team, the landscapes, the locals, the adventure and testing your mettle to remind yourself what you’re made of. What I described, of our average day, is the price of admission. It’s what it takes to rewind the clock and get a taste of old-world exploration. There is so much that’s painful, but so much that’s magical too. But if I just described the magic, well, you’d be in for a real shock. This is tough, really tough, but what doesn’t kill you… yes, I feel much much stronger.

All pictures by Emmanuel Berthier

Posted in Adventure Travel, Featured, Gobi 2011 | June 27th, 2011

14 Responses to A Day in the Life of a Desert Explorer

  1. Hi Lauren,
    that is such a good story of what you are doing every day – even I feel sorry for your poor little feet just hearing about them and what it must be like every night. I really admire your determination – I’m sure I would have packed it in a long time ago. But as you say you are on an adventure and its about other things not just how hard it is. I’m guessing you wont want a camel for a pet – thank heavens! Hope the rest of the journey is not too long for you now love mum

  2. You made me feel as if I were there. Fantastic blog Lauren!

  3. Hi Lauren x x x

    Wow, that was fantastic.
    You really did make it feel like I am right there with you, of course aside from the lack of sleep, puffy fingers and swollen feet and then there is the prospect of having to walk eight hours a day – so maybe not ;) – but you did inspire me to get out there and do something different to do something to challenge myself.

    The journey you’re taking seems mind numbing as a sit behind my computer at my desk in my safe well-known little office and to think that you are investigating the desert everyday you wake up – unreal!

    Family wise everyone one is doing really well here and Freddie sends a big wet kiss!

    Love you lots and we are always thinking of you!

    It was great to have a sneak peak into your world x x x x x xx x x x
    Can’t wait for your next post!

    x Love Hollie x

  4. Hi Lauren,

    I have every faith in you that you can keep going! Reading about your daily batte of wills with camels and your feet really brings it home how incredible a thing it is that you’re doing. Remember how impressed everyone is reading this and how much money you’re raising for charity too. Really looking forward to seeing you in a few months. Looking forward to your next blog too!

    Take care and good luck,

    Cath. x

  5. Hi Lauren

    Nothing can describe what you and your team mates are experiencing. I think you have to experience yourself and then undertand what you’re talking about. You should not ask yourself, why you are doing it? You should ask yourself, I have a great story to tell, maybe book to write and the experience that average people (probably millions of them) would ever had the same understanding of what you just experienced. Experiences – that’s what make us stronger and wiser.

    Really proud of you!

    Laura D

  6. I wonder if the little mammals making the walking difficult aren’t actually one of the many ground squirrels common in Mongolia, instead of marmots. Marmots tend to have their burrows on sloping areas and in areas where there is sub surface talus that protect them from being dug out by predators.

  7. “zuram” is the generic name for those ground squirrels. What kind of a reference library for plants, animals is the team carrying along?

  8. Thank you Lauren, for this honest insight in to one of your days in the desert. I have only been able to speak with Christopher twice since 21 May 2011 when he graduated from school and left Hong Kong for UB and it is so good to hear the stories and updates that come through from the different corners of the Gobi 2011 Team. Hang in there and keep your eyes, your heart and your mind focussed on that finish line, knowing that with every step of your way you are giving so much of yourself to the children of Mongolia. Warmly, Pascale

  9. Lauren,
    Yes, you and entire Gobi team are really strong. Lot of respect !!
    You guys an inspiration.

    Somesh

  10. Hi dearest tentmate!!
    Do I recognise this!! Let me tell you this: the chubby hands go normal again… but they will start peeling, big time. As for the feet:the numbness seems to go away so thats good news. What’s worse though is that the legs, in my case, decided to go granny: stiff, stiff and stiff!! And I did more than a 1000km?!! Hard to believe now. So, just keep walking till you hit Mile 1000 and then get the hell to Thailand and don’t move for at least a week! Enjoy those chocolate milkshakes, bananasmoothies and other lovely food!! Lekker lekker!! And be proud, you’ re great!!!! love, Flo

  11. Hello,

    Waking up in the morning to a ZIPPER is what will be on my Iphone alarm clock from now on. I can’t relate to what you and the team must be feeling as you approach the last phase on your GPS units. I do that what you are enduring is every adventurers seekers dream.

    My best wishes!

    John C. Zamojcin

  12. I am still so very impressed you’re doing this. I’m not sure I could do that, day after day. Hang in there, stay strong, and when it’s over you are going to feel such a sense of accomplishment. This is an amazing journey you’re on.

  13. Such a treat to read about your inspiring, amazing and immensely challenging journey. So many wow thoughts.

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