Photograph: Werner Schmidt

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Attention: Sable!

The other day, I wrapped up a book review about Carol Lea Clark’s book Clash of Eagles about an 1848 American Naval expedition mapping the Dead Sea in Palestine. Lieutenant William Francis Lynch led a small crew of fourteen officers, sailors and volunteers from Haifa through the desert with two reassembled metal boats to the Sea of Galilee and then travelled down the River Jordan to reach the Dead Sea, where they then spent time measuring. It was quite a hike.

Writing the review, I remembered reading that James Cracknell, Olympic rowing gold medallist, later turned-adventurer, was going to reunite with Ben Fogle for a desert challenge later this year. Cracknell and Fogle, who is another TV-adventurer, rowed across the Atlantic in the beginning of 2006 (49 days, 19 hours and 8 minutes). They also went on a 473.6 mile South Pole Race in December 2008. Though, right now I have a hard time finding which desert they are going to trek, I sort of remembered that it was a desert in Oman, but I might be wrong.

Cracknell has experience taking himself through a desert after having competed in Marathon des Sables, also called the Toughest Race on Earth, which is a 250km walking/running race across The Sahara, the largest and hottest sand desert in the world. Cracknell did this in 2010. Up to this date, he is the fastest British competitor in this race. Here is a video about Marathon des Sables:

I cannot help adding an as-a-matter-of-fact-information to this entry as it is exactly 25 years ago two of my Swedish rowing buddies and I crossed The Sahara, too, however not on foot – although at the time it felt as we were spending most of the time pushing the damn old 1968 VW bus across the desert as it constantly got stuck in the sand. When other travellers got stuck in the sand with their jeeps, they shifted into the ‘terrain gear’, while ‘the crazy Swedes’ had to dig out their VW bus…

From left to right: Peter Kauranen, Patrik Bååth, yours truly and Uli, a fellow from Germany, who hitch-hiked part of the way to Tamanrasset. My dear oar fellows look very tough in this picture, while I muster a smile. 25 years after, I can still smile, but I have to confess there were times when I wondered if we would ever get out of Africa alive: we got struck on the Hoggar Mountains after severe flooding (rare in Sahara!), the VW bus broke down in the middle of the desert, we were lost in the desert, at one border station they took us for mercenaries (as I happened to have my old regiment's insignia on my hat), had green binoculars and Patrik was wearing green Swedish Army trousers…

In 1987, my friends Peter Kauranen, Patrik Bååth and I from Malmö Rowing Club decided to take a different ‘vacation’. The trip started on 9 February, 1988, from Malmö down through Europe. We went through a snow storm in the Swiss Alps before we reached Genoa in Italy. From Genoa we took a ferry to Tunis in Tunisia, and then headed south towards the desert. Looking in my diary from the trip, on 24 February, 1988, we drove into the Algerian oasis town of El Golea, then continued south to the Hoggar Mountains and the desert town of Tamanrasset, then further south to the border town of In Guezzam. The first town we came to in Niger was Assamakka, we were lost in the desert for a while and missed the town of Arlit, but managed with some help to take us to Agadez, then to the capital Niamey, down to Benin and the large city Cotonou on the coast of West Africa. Here we stayed at Hotel Babo which was a cheap, run down hotel just across the street to the beach. The hotel was as if it had been taken from a Graham Greene novel. From there we drove to the capital of Togo, Lomé, where we arrived on 31 March.

Ahh, well, this is just another non-rowing related story….


  1. By chance, I've just finished reading Cracknell and Fogle's book about their 2006 Atlantic adventure, 'The Crossing'. According to that, Ben Fogle also completed the Marathon des Sables, from the sound of it in 2005.

  2. Yes, Duncan, you are right, Ben Fogle has also done the Marathon des Sables, something I overlooked in the entry. Thank you for adding this.