DEFYING DESERT DEATH

Life should NOT be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in an attractive and well preserved body, but rather to skid in sideways, chocolate in one hand, Glass of wine in the other, body thoroughly used up, totally worn out and screaming WOO HOO what a ride! A good friend will come and bail you out of jail…but, a true friend will be sitting next to you saying, Damn…that was fun. (thanks 3). And most important, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become. Everything else is secondary.” -Steve Jobs

DEFYING DESERT DEATH

Allan (From 1975)

No, I’m not going to tell you about losing our heat and cooking ability in our first night of freezing desert temperatures  (allowing inexperienced attendants to overfilling your propane tank is a “no no”), nor being “Dead Flat Deep in Death Valley” with a blown tire from too much off-roading in the amazing valley canyons (leave your City tires home and use 6, 8 or 10 ply).  This is about my travels through the Sahara Desert as a young, foolish man, apparently testing out his mortality in the 5thyear of a deadly drought (1975).

The immense size of this Death Valley desert area—the largest national park in the U.S., driest (an inch or 2/yr.), lowest in the world (282 feet below sea level), and hottest in the world (134 degrees in 1923) reminds me of that fateful trip that I’d hoped would take me from the very north to the furthest South of the largest continent on the planet.  I was in a small town in northern Algeria contemplating how I was going to traverse the Sahara when two Brits came in to the restaurant that served as my temporary home.

“Ya speak French?!! Why don’t you come along with us and be our guide!”

“Nah. Thanks though…I only speak a very small amount of French and know absolutely nothing about the desert.”

Their rig looked well outfitted to me, with 7 Jerry Cans of Gas on top the newish Jeep, and the prospect of a ride not only through the desert but all the way to S. Africa was too appealing to overcome their insistence that I join them.  They hoisted my backpack aboard and off we stupidly went.

The Sahara, like Death Valley, is a combination of mostly wind-scrubbed rock “pavement” and  sand traps in various places that gather in dunes or in secret, unexpected flat spots.  To safely traverse, your vehicle must have the capability and clearance to move through both terrains easily.  My seemingly “happy-go-lucky” brothers had that capability, but the Peugeot-driving idiot they teamed up with along the way did not.  And instead of driving only at night (or early morning/late afternoon) and trying to shelter during the regular 115-degree heat of the day, they did the opposite so they could “see their way”.  Wise locals hitch with the date truck drivers who know the terrain, hide from the sun under their trucks, and know where they are going. Numbskulls pick up ignorant hitchhikers like me, team up with a man trying to make a few bucks in Niger from selling his Peugeot, decide to live by the “moral code” of the desert, and thereby risk all of our lives.

We pass abandoned vehicles as we head blindly through the scrubbed gravel, endless unmarked “highway” in a generally southerly direction.   However, every 50 or 100 miles the Peugeot gets stuck in a sand trap, and we all get out and dig, push a few feet, dig, build traction bridges, eat more sand and quickly melt in the mid-day heat.  Then my “brothers” announce that it’s clear we’ll all die at this rate, yet they can’t leave the man alone (according to the “code”).  Therefore the only solution is for me to stay behind and wait for “help” the next time Mr. Peugeot gets stuck.  Meaning my fate would likely be to get picked clean by hungry vultures, and the car to be taken apart by enterprising nomads some months/years later when discovered, and sold in the Tuareg equivalent of “roadside stands”.

There was no convincing the Brits that there must be some moral code that included not tossing me out in the middle of the Sahara!  I rapidly summoned all my will and poorly developed spiritual connections to give extra speed to the Peugeot to literally fly over the sand traps.

That evening at dusk we watched the headlights of the flying Peugeot in the far distance jump over an apparent cliff and disappear.  As we speed ahead to see what happened to him, we of course plunge over the same “cliff”…and smash into a cliff wall about 20 feet across what appeared to be narrow gulch. After recovering from the shock of our “death plunge”, we realized that the flying vehicles dropped into a modern, recently paved street that I thought must be a hallucination.  No, the pavement is real, and I must have died and been reincarnated in another part of the world.  This must be the Lord’s answer to my fervent pleadings for redemption for all the sins that I and the capitalists have ever committed.

As I check out my body for injuries, see that my companions seem alive, and try to make sense of what just happened, up drives several casually dressed, clean jaunty and friendly French guys in a nice, polished, newish sedan…truly an alternative universe I concluded.

But the truth of the matter turns out that we had accidentally, in a quite timely manner for me, discovered a very well developed French-controlled uranium mining operation in the southern part of the Sahara.  The French guys helped us check out the damage to our Jeep.  The hopelessly bent front axle of the Jeep, smashed up Peugeot, and other human beings amounted to a wonderful boon to my chances of survival.  Amazingly, our saviors quickly removed the bent front axle, took it to their fully equipped machine shop, pressed it back to normal, and replaced it.

I bid the Brits a not-so-fond farewell and waited for a more reliable form of transportation South to Niger to continue my year-long adventure.  And I made myself yet another fervent promise not to take on such risky travel in the future.

“There comes a time when one must risk everything or sit forever with ones dreams.”  Anonymous

 

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