Todd and Lauren from Globetrooper, a blog / website that helps travelers find travel partners, have been on the road for more than 12 months. This is by far the longest they've been away from home and, while they're still having a blast, they were losing interest in the type of travel that just involves visiting attractions. So, when Lauren heard about the Gobi Expedition she decided to try it solo. I'll let her tell the story… The photos are by Emmanuel Berthier.
When I heard about the Gobi 2011 Expedition, my ears immediately pricked up. I'd already become somewhat despondent with taking the road supposedly less travelled, and I'd certainly become jaded with tours claiming to go off the beaten track, so the Gobi 2011 seemed the perfect panacea.
In retrospect, I signed up forgetting the seriousness of travelling such a remote places.
Last year, we ventured more than 500kms into the Peruvian wilderness, then hiked another 50kms into the jungle to visit tribes who'd never seen foreigners. At one point we became lost with locals who couldn't even speak Spanish, let alone English. My feet were destroyed, Todd's hands had swollen to twice their original size, and we were both severely dehydrated and utterly exhausted. I'll never forget this one particular look we gave each other under flashlight. Actually, no words can do it justice; let's just say we were seriously worried.
A few months before I departed for the Gobi 2011, this all came back to me. I remembered that life in remote places is fickle. The simplest injury or illness can spell the end of a trip in a flash. Sure, for the Gobi 2011 we have evacuation helicopters on standby, but I didn't want to be the one slowing the team down, or heaven forbid, the only one who quit early.
So I trained like a madwoman and left no stone unturned.
We're now 3 weeks into the expedition and more than 500kms across the desert. There's no doubt about it, this is the toughest experience I've ever endured (I haven't given birth yet though). We're walking on very difficult ground too; there are shrubs, rocks and ditches strewn across our undulating path. So our 30kms+ per day is more akin to 50kms on flat sea-level terrain. We haven't had a single day of rest; it's been hard and fast trekking continuously.
Our typical routine is as follows:
We wake up just after 5am each morning to pack our personal gear, grab some breakfast and spend an hour or more packing up camp. By 8:30am we head off on foot, with camels in tow.
During the day, the view is spectacular. It seems like we're trapped in a life-sized water-coloured landscape painting. We stop briefly for lunch, and sometimes to let the camels drink or adjust their loads, but otherwise we keep walking and chatting and thinking and breathing.
At around 8-9pm we set-up camp, avoid the winds and vicious insects, congregate for dinner, and head off to our tented beds. One benefit of such physical exertion is that sleep is easy to come by; one blink and I'm off to the land of slumber.
This routines continues every day often without washing, without time to write, and without a moment of mental rest. If you think it sounds painful, you're right, it is.
But you know what, I'm getting used to it all. Not just the distance, and not just the heat, but expedition life itself. I'm getting used to going to bed covered in dust, I'm getting used to putting up camp and pulling it down again, and craziest of all, I'm getting used to lancing (i.e. cutting) and cleaning out deep blisters on a daily basis. It would otherwise be an awful routine, but I'm getting used to it AND loving it.
What I particularly love about expeditions like the Gobi 2011, and our jungle trek in Peru, is that they transcend everything normal and send me back hundreds of years to get a taste of what it must have been like exploring places for the first time. From sitting around a together plotting our course, to crying with victory when we reach our destination, we feel camaraderie and a sense of achievement that's mostly absent in day-to-day life. We really test our limits too. But even more, we realise those limits aren't even close to what we're capable of. And that, even through all the pain, is exhilarating.
Don't get me wrong, it's not all strawberries and cream, but it's not the worst way to live either.
Thinking back, we started Globetrooper to help people find travel partners because we saw great value in traveling together. Now, I think there's more to it. I'm realising there's even more value in breaking new ground. I'm not exactly sure where this thought will lead, but I have at least 1,000kms and 5 weeks to think it through more thoroughly. Who knows, maybe I'll instead swear to never leave the beaten path ever again.
Lauren from the Gobi Desert
(You can track the team's daily progress here.)