Leaving the camp at Eric on the Wednesday morning felt strange as we knew we were on our way back to M’Hamid from there so past the halfway point. In some ways I wanted it to last longer.
We still had 50km to cover, which is a considerable distance and by now my right foot was very sore and requiring regular painkillers and voltarol gel. The number of blisters on my feet had reached around 12-14 and one covered the whole of the underside of my heel, thankfully though quite deep and intact. I was starting to ration my zinc oxide tape and Compeed as I realised I had to make it all the way back to Leeds with what I had. I hadn’t factored in the time after the desert with blisters, I had only planned as far as getting through the trek.
Yes, that is a blister bulging out from tape on my left big toe, not rubbing on anything, just appearing from the pressure of walking. I was getting a matching one on the other side too. My heels were fully taped and quite a few of my toes. By now we were all spending about an hour a day on foot-care, it was a Saharan ritual of baby wipes, scissors and tape removal, Compeed, more tape, more covering up, all the while trying not to vomit at the state of our own feet. The white hue is a PANDAS girls’ favourite treat of baby talcum powder poured over our feet periodically, which felt almost like having a £1000 foot spa – soft, cool, and clean, which provided a complete contrast to how we felt!
Despite the feet, I was enjoying the walking and found it to be deeply meditative. As a typical over-thinker, I thought my mind would be in overdrive in the desert space, but I actually found the opposite to be true. I spent a lot of time just silently walking. Sometimes with music but mostly not, sometimes chatting but again mostly not, just quietly walking with an empty mind. We walked fast but there was no rush, we had time frames but no rigid schedule, nothing on the to-do list except walk, eat, and sleep. The basic simplicity of this desert life was truly restorative.
The afternoon was tough again, with the heat and feet being the main causes of discomfort. As a group we tended to be quite spread out in the afternoons. I was more often found at the rear just doing my best, but my best I did, and always kept going, albeit with 5 minute sit-downs where needed and several requests for taxis (funnily enough they never turned up).
We were in for a real treat at Wednesday night’s camp – fresh bread baked in a sand oven! We watched in fascination:
The bread didn’t last long enough to take a photo of the finished product, to prioritise photos over eating would just have been plain bonkers. Let me assure you though, it tasted divine!!!
Unfortunately Wednesday evening brought my lowest point of the trek, after borrowing a satellite phone and making the mistake of phoning home just before bedtime. I don’t know who started it (probably me) but there were tears and more crying from the boys and mummy. I felt so far away from them, and ached in my heart to be able to hug and kiss them. It had been 6 days since I’d left and another 5 to go before I’d see them again. They were desperately sad and saying how much they loved me and missed me. The big one said he wanted to wish me home from the desert whilst the little one wanted to wish himself to the desert (the little daredevil!). I declared I was never going away again and came off the phone worse for wear. The PANDAS girls rallied and a pep talk from 10 year old Freddie brought me back into the Sahara zone, what an amazing kid. In the grand scheme of things we were all very lucky, including the boys, despite missing each other.
By Thursday morning to be perfectly honest, I was physically weary and tearful. The call home had sent me into a negative spiral and my aches and pains were getting to me. I was day 20 in my menstrual cycle which never bodes well despite the fluoxetine (anything between days 18-25, just don’t bother talking to me, I am a horror). It was agony to bear weight on my right foot and did not know how I was going to find the energy to walk another 12-14 miles in the heat. It was time for Card Therapy! This time however, not crafting, but reading all my good luck cards that I’d brought with me, in case of emergency, and this was it. Pharrell went on the iPod and best foot forward (not the right, that’s for sure). I thought (hoped) I might die around the point Jamal said we had another 40 minutes till camp, but I didn’t. Probably an hour later, at my snail’s pace, camp appeared like a mirage just on the other side of yet another enormous dune. My exact thoughts were f*** that, I’m walking round!!! We all crashed in the communal tent, literally lay flat in the shade, unable to move or speak for quite some time. One of our PANDAS girls had heat exhaustion. That afternoon, the sight of us all trying to pitch our tents for the final time was comical, it was as if several million brain cells had been fried in the Saharan heat. Probably had. Do not underestimate the difficulty of this trek! But at the same time, the enormity of our achievement was starting to sink in and we were almost there. We could see M’Hamid again from this camp but our final leg of the journey was reserved for Friday morning.
My favourite moment came when Jamal took me to one side pointing to two palm trees in the distance – “You see there? That’s where you stopped on the first day [saying I couldn’t do it]”. We had come full circle and here I was at the end of our trek. Vix and I made our way over to those palm trees and had a little moment with the Sahara.
We talked about our best moments that night at dinner and Jamal praised what we had done for our chosen charities. We were all on a high.
A few of us got up at 5:30am on Friday to watch our final desert sunrise.
Before setting off trekking for the last time, we had the chance for a 5 minute camel ride. I couldn’t possibly say no, especially as this one was for fun and not because I couldn’t walk any further.
When mine decided to start having a fight with the one behind, I got off sharpish. There had been a camel fight one night during the trek and the losing camel hadn’t been able to carry anything the next day because of his injuries!
A few miles later we reached M’Hamid again where a fellow trekker and I came across three school girls with whom we exchanged our best French and spare dirhams.
Our finish line, PANDAS girls did great!
The two minibuses marked our finish line and before we knew it we were once again flying along on wheels away from the peace and tranquility of the desert.
Now, four months after our return, I have to say the hardest moments of the trek have really diminished in my memory! Sat here in cloudy Yorkshire, I can wistfully recall the warmth of the sun (crazy hot), the soft sand (burns/ stings your blisters something terrible), the peaceful camp (the snoring was known as night music), and the meditative walking (please tell me the camp is over this next dune or I’m going to have a toddler tantrum).
Two PANDAS ladies have already signed up to do it all again next March!
I’m thrilled with how much I was able to raise for PANDAS, and hope that it helps many, many more families suffering antenatal & postnatal depression in the future. I am proud of myself for being able to do it, when only four years ago I was suicidal for many months. If you are reading this from the same boat, let me tell you, there is a way out other than suicide. Granted it is never going to be easy, but my goodness it will be worth it. The smiles on my boys faces when I got back told me that.
Thank you for reading, hope you enjoyed my Sahara tale!