It seems like a while ago, but it was just last Saturday (25th Feb) that we did our dune training day. Unfortunately Owen couldn’t make it, so it was me and Nick driving up from Sydney, meeting Gary there.
As we all had other commitments over the weekend, we decided to go up just for the day, it meant an early start. I was up just after 4 to get the 5am train to Hornsby, Nick was chauffeur for the day and picked me up from the station for the two and a half hour drive up to Stockton. We left the car at Des and Rachel’s and were greeted by Gary on the sand at 9.
Wanting to make the weight a bit more realistic than before, I’d copied Nick and loaded my pack up with about 15kg. A whole new ball game! I actually found it pretty hard just standing up with a 15kg pack, never mind running. We had big ideas about bounding through the dunes, but it didn’t really happen. We managed a rather pathetic shuffle for a while but the combination of the weight on our backs, the soft sand and the steep inclines meant that walking was the best we could do for most of the day.
On the uphill stretches, depending on how loose the sand was, I often had to use my hands to scrabble up and over the crest of each dune. Downhill was a lot more fun. While it wasn’t too warm (less than 30°C), the wind was pretty fierce and whipped sand into our faces – that was tough. In the Sahara, it’s very possible that we’ll get caught in a sandstorm or two. On my optional kit list, is an all-in-one painter suit; made of light fabric, which keeps you from getting sandblasted. After some consideration, I’ve decided not to take one. Aside from the extra cost (they’re not expensive but all the small things add up), there’s also the extra weight and packing space required. I think they’re a luxury item…I can tell you next month whether this was a wise decision!
As we were travelling back the same day, we were off the sand by a very civilized 5pm. After grabbing a quick cold shower on the beach, we limped back for a beer with Des and Rachel before heading back to Sydney.
Des and Rachel are hospitality personified! Greeted with 3 sour-smelling chaps who’d spent the day playing in the sand and eating walnuts, they invited us to cool down in their pool, freshen-up in their shower and then proceeded to cook us steaks! Rachel had prepared made a couple of side salads and also baked a cake. All delicious and much needed. How lucky were we? I must have done some good stuff in a past life…
We hit the road again just as the sun was going down. Nick had borrowed his mum-in-law’s car, a flashy convertible, so we camped it up with the roof down for an hour or so until we hit the freeway. I got to Hornsby a little after 9 and was home before 10:30.
While it was a long day, it was certainly worth it to build some confidence in how to handle the dunes. If I could sum up the best approach in three words, ‘slow and steady’. It’s very easy to lose gear in the dunes, especially when the wind is up. Even worse, you can lose your footing and maybe turn an ankle; as ‘Dune Day’ is normally near the beginning of the MDS, you’d be suffering badly all week for any mistakes made on that day. While you could crawl the last few kilometres to the finish, I reckon the sharp rocks mean that you crawling for much more than that would be out of the question. Take it easy!