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My Sahara Experience By Marie Smith

It’s been over a year since we “trekked the Sahara”. I was one of ten women from Moray, north-east Scotland, who trekked for Moray Women’s Aid. The emotions still bubble up when I think about it. With 11 months of preparations, training and fundraising had consumed my life. So I knew it would be almost impossible to forget once back on UK soil. The sand, which still falls out of my boots today (yes really), instantly takes me back.

So I sit here reflecting on our Sahara challenge in March 2017.
Morning! There is nothing like a 2:30 am rise to catch the red-eye out of Inverness on a cool March morning to waken the senses. Dressed in matching kilts, walking boots and Tartan Trekker T-shirts we clearly were the entertainment for airport security that day. Noisy and excited – you could literally feel the energy. The buzz of nervous anticipation!

Less than 36 hours later we would find ourselves distributed across three 4x4 vehicles, fanning out across the sand for the final few miles of our transfer into the desert. Awesome! Hearts racing, ten pairs of eyes eagerly searching the horizon for the first glimpse of the camels. I am here – really here – it feels like a dream. Then we were out of the cars, rucksacks on and walking. Two and a bit days would see us climb steadily higher and higher. The temperatures getting hotter and hotter. The high dunes, planned for Day 3, getting nearer and nearer. Mustapha our guide, patiently teaching us how to ascend and descend the dunes to conserve our energy and protect our joints.

Day 3 was by far our hottest, hitting temperatures well into the mid to high 30s. And what a day that was. The highest dunes towered above. I am not going to pretend climbing them is a breeze. After all, it is intended to be a challenge. We raised over £25000 for our charity. That’s in addition to the trip funding as well. So this was never going to be a potter around in the park. Ten women, each dealing with the effort in their own way. Yet supporting each other to get us all to the top. Once there the emotions flowed. Tired, hot, nausea, tears, reflection, pride. They were all in there. Feeling the breath of wind on our faces we could see Algeria from here. “Wow” just isn’t enough.

Day 4, by comparison, was a very different terrain. I am not going to lie. That wasn’t my best day. Or rather not my best morning. Walking before sunrise! Then as the night turns into day, the reality of the distance ahead of us becomes apparent. The dunes are already falling behind us. The new target never seems to get any nearer. The group was noticeably quieter too. One foot in front of the other, we each find a way to focus. We always knew this was the longest distance. Lunch couldn’t come soon enough. And with it came a shift in scenery as the hills and mountains and gorges become our companions. Absolutely stunning! If only I had known that was promised, I might have risen with my happy head on. A sandstorm that night had us holding on to our tents. Early to bed was the only solution, to rise refreshed for our final day. Another day of stunning Moroccan countryside. Ever changing, with surprises around every corner. We were almost there. We had trained as a team. We came as a team. And we would finish as a team. It was almost dusk when we did – crossing the line to be lifted, and hugged, and cheered by our Moroccan ground crew. Then I cried. Like I have never cried before. We had done it. Ten women from Moray, spanning four decades of age, many who declared “I am not a walker” at the start of this challenge. We had walked nearly 110km in north Africa. Friendships made through laughter, tears, pain, exhilaration.

You know, there comes a point on that last day when you suddenly realise it’s all about to come to an end. A year of training. A week of challenges. It ends today. And I found that incredibly hard. So if someone had said, at that moment, I could tag the finish and walk right back I would have said yes - in a heartbeat.

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