Said dune was about the size of a two story house and stretched as far as the eye could see, golden sand giving way to evil looking slate rocks the higher and steeper the dune climbed. A steel coloured four wheel drive reflected the sun painfully back into our eyes even at 9.30am.
I took a moment to consider my response to Emily. I didn't want to get into an argument about abandoning given her current state, but we still had a good 7 kilometres to go the other side of the dune from my mental calculations. We had been on our feet for over 24 hours, going through the heat of the previous day, stumbling through the night, and the new day was already turning into another 50 degree scorcher. We had travelled around 79 of the 86 scheduled kilometres.
"Let's just see what there is to see at the top, and have a rest and a think." I replied. Emily nodded.
"Bienvenue. Welcome. Wilkommen." The always chirpy marshal said, his trademark beige gilet weighed down with pens, medical equipment and water. Emily and I collapsed into what little shade there was. Fortunately the bivouac shimmered in the distance, but in the distance it was.
"It's never going to end." Emily exclaimed miserably.
"It will darling. One step in front of the other." I put my arm around her. She shrugged it off.
Without saying another word she heaved herself to her feet, pack and all, and started shuffling towards the flickering bivouac in the distance.
I introduced myself to Patrick Bauer, the father of the MdS, just before we boarded the bus and made sure he knew Emily was the youngest in the race. He had already had the heads up from Philippe Verdier (No Finish Line, and a friend of Patricks), and we chatted for a few minutes before boarding the bus.
Six hours later we arrived in the first bivouac and reset our watches to UTC (GMT - no real explanation as to why but the MdS runs on UTC time). Steve Gale, the other of the three Monaco entrants, was already installed in tent 101 - closest to the start/finish arch, and firmly in the British section. Steve had made his own way to Morocco having done a RAID in his Land Rover the previous week, and was therefore in the first wave in camp. We had discussed plans ahead of time, and I was keen to minimise in camp mileage therefore convenience to the start finish was high on my list of priorities. The runners' "tents" (a Berber tent is a rug on the floor, and then another rug draped over a couple of poles over the top - no sides to speak of at all) were arranged in a horseshoe, and if we were on the top bow of the horseshoe we would be travelling almost another kilometre to and from the start every day, not to mention any trips for briefings, pre race meals, visits to the infamous Doc Trotters, the email tent to send our one email per day, and so on. Steve had come through with possibly the most convenient tent onsite. He was alone, and had been since 2pm that afternoon. It was nearly 6pm by the time we arrived in the middle of the desert. No army trucks this time around, thank goodness, as the camp was close enough to the road to get there directly by bus.
An hour later and four more people arrived to share our tent. Ryan and Stu who had met at Uni playing football, and James and Sam, two brothers originally from Norwich. I was the only veteran of the MdS, so I spent a lot of time fielding questions, and of course eating food we had brought as well as the meals provided by the organisers.
Our first night was a windy one, and I ended up paying one of the Berbers Eur10 to help us sort out our tent to give us some shelter. The lesson was expensive but well learnt as it would come in useful more or less every night for the rest of the week without the need for Berber interaction. Emily and I also bought a scarf each from the stall onsite to use as shoulder padding for our rucksacks and a pillow at night.
The following day, Saturday and the day before the race began, was spent mainly queuing. Again. Queuing for our water ration in the morning, then again for breakfast. I was looking for tea rather than coffee.
"Tea's over there mate." A thick west country accent emerged from a very impressive beard. "Or as they call it in Morocco, the."
I looked to where he had gesticulated and saw the hand written post it note with the French for tea, on a half broken flask.
We queued for the "boutique" and bought a buff each. Then we had to queue for the technical checks. My executive Samsonite suitcase cut a dash in the desert as I wheeled it through the dust to the army truck where it was labelled and unceremoniously slung on board. Two army trucks for 1200 suitcases. At the end of the day Berbers strolled around on the top of cases stacked 20 feet high, covering them with netting. I was not sure what state it would arrive back to me in Ouarzazate at the finish! For the next 8 days it would just be my backpack and I.
We queued for the technical checks where they glanced at the list of mandatory equipment - 2000 calories per day, signalling mirror, compass, whistle, survival blanket, sleeping bag, and so on. They took our medical forms and ECG print outs. Then weighed our packs. 10.5kg each without water. And then we had to queue for a SPOT GPS tracker which was cable tied to our packs. Then another queue for a photo. Then a queue for lunch.
The afternoon was pretty relaxed. Eating pot noodles, trail mix, and trying to get the weight down in our packs. We had a briefing from Patrick in the afternoon - lots of hanging around in the sun waiting. Patrick mentioned Emily in his address as the youngest member, and the number 4 seed woman came up and had a chat with her, intrigued that someone so young was embarking on this most gruelling of challenges.
There were 1250 some entrants, and only 1170 of those began the race. Whenever asked I would say that our goal was to come in the top 1200 runners. Em and I chatted to people as we jogged a bit, walked a bit, nerves giving way to something else, excitement and familiarity as the training took over. Our packs seemed very heavy, which would come back to haunt us later on.
After a nervous sleep interrupted at points by our neighbours the Hong Kong lot who seemed unable to talk in anything other than a yell, and also partied until 2am! The stage itself was reasonably unremarkable, if spending over 6 hours jogging and walking in 40 degree heat in the Sahara Desert can be called unremakable - in fact Rory Coleman, a veteran of 14 finishes, commented afterwards that this was the easiest first day he had ever experienced. The terrain was quite sandy, lots of small dunes and finished with one small hill. The heat was not too much of a problem, we jogged a bit on the flats, walked a bit particularly on sand and any inclines, and then Emily set the pace with a sprint finish for the last 500 metres. We had glimpsed someone in real trouble at the first Checkpoint, and it later transpired he had had a cardiac arrest, and after he was stabilised with several hours of CPR he and his wife had been airlifted by chopper to Casablanca. He woke from a coma several days later and was chatting to his wife, which was a relief as Patrick thoughtfully updated us in his daily briefing. After we had finished we had plenty of water to rinse ourselves off at the end of the day and to cook our food - when I say cook, I mean cut a water bottle in half, put in the powder, add water, cover with film and leave in the sun to heat up. Because we finished mid afternoon we had plenty of time to do our admin - eat, rehydrate, send our one email for the day. Both of us had a couple of blisters but I managed to pop them with a needle that I'd heated in a cigarette lighter, and then covered with "Second Skin" paint on elastoplast. We also started to slim down the contents of our packs, as they were definitely too heavy and Em was struggling quite a bit with sore and bruised shoulders. This would become a theme through the week. The daily printout of emails was a huge morale boost with news from home, some encouraging messages and plenty of jokes which were recycled through the tent. We then lit a bonfire of sorts as an offering to the running gods using the paper email printouts, as they would have been too heavy to carry on top of everything else.
The roadbook suggested this would have a mixture of terrain - some flat plains, a few small dune fields and then one large climb at the end of the day with a technical descent of 20% gradient. I had hoped that we would have been able to run quite a bit given the flat terrain but as it was I had barely slept that night due to a stomach upset. I took an Immodium in the morning and also got a pill from Doc Trotter which seemed to suppress some of the worst symptoms, although by the time we reached the second checkpoint I was struggling for energy, hydration, and to carry my pack. At each checkpoint the organisers had a couple of berber tents up so that competitors could rest and get some shade. I collapsed into the tent and started going through my pack throwing stuff away - my jumper for the nights went, Emily's leggings, quite a bit of my food and anything else I thought I could get away with. Em made sure I had everything I needed electrolyte wise, and forced me to eat a bar. After about 30 minutes I felt a lot better and was able to move on, feeling better with every step. We saw a big herd of wild camels grazing in the sand next to an ancient fort which was very cool. We did find that we were travelling with a familiar group, however. There was Claire the geologist from Mali who had employed a sort of berber headgear rather than the Legionnaire cap. Julian with the mad 14 year old daughter who had dragged her dad on bikes from London to Paris, and was inspired by Emily's story. We also had a chat to Duncan - the double amputee who was making his way slowly but relentlessly across the Sahara. I asked him for advice when dealing with the press, as Em was being interviewed daily by various press representatives. He merely said "Don't swear". I didn't realise but he had been caught swearing when interrupted by Prince Harry in a training session! The climb at the end was Alpine in its steepness with unforgiving rocks like razor blades. Both Em and I tore our gaiters on the rocks but I managed to bandage them up with duct tape (the one thing that had escaped the dramatic cull at CP2) and also I lost my spare bottle. Given I had a bit more room in my pack I put one of the front packs inside the back which made everything more comfortable, although I still maintain that my pack was defective because I could never seem to get it particularly comfortable all week, compared to others with the same design. We crested the top of the hill and then embarked on a rope assisted descent. After a few metres Em gave up on the rope and slid down the sand on her bum, seeming to enjoy herself! We were able to jog quite a bit after the hill as the sun was descending and it was cooling down again, although I did have to have a last trip into the dunes with my tummy bug. We finished the stage with Em feeling pretty sick due to dehydration and calorie deficit, but Dealer Dave, one of the guys in the next tent, came through with a couple of Diurilites which seemed to help her along. We had reached the bivouac after 6pm, so there was very little time to recover to eat, and both of us ate very little at all. Our tent mates had obviously been in camp for several hours and were ravenous, so were very happy to eat our castoffs! Steve, in our tent, had moaned that the flat terrain had been very boring, and we were too tired to argue as we crashed in our sleeping bags about 8.30pm.
Stage Three - 31.6km, 8 hours 40 minutes
The roadbook suggested that this would be quite a bit harder than the first day, with a shorter stage but still plenty of dunes and some quite savage hills, including the one that we had gone up and down the previous day. After that final hill there would be an exposed 7km plain to get to the next bivouac. Fortunately I had slept quite well, despite some wind blowing sand into my mouth in the night. As a sign of things to come the weather had gradually been getting hotter, both in the day and at night, and I didn't need my spare jumper which was something to be grateful for. The backpacks were still very heavy as we trudged to the start line to listen to Patrick's briefing, including who had abandoned the previous day, and a "Happy Birthday" to anyone who was fortunate enough to be celebrating their birthday with nearly 2000 of their closest friends. The following day was looming - the MdS was/is all about the Long Day. Em was constantly looking for reassurance that "We will finish won't we Dad!" The day kicked off like any other, one foot in front of the other. Some half hearted jogging when we could, and Em was still using Diurilites to stave off the previous day's dehydration, despite us having electrolytes in one of our bottles. Over endless dunes, up and down hills, and even navigating through some dunes using a compass bearing as the wind had covered the tracks of others and we were mostly on our own, although we would periodically meet up with some of our friends and colleagues, which was handy when getting some photos taken of the pair of us! We managed our hydration pretty well, chatting with people when we could, and taking as much water as possible at every checkpoint and making sure we were drinking it. I even did the last jebel (climb) of the day - very technical with ropes and quite a big queue, with a bottle of water in each hand to make sure we had enough. The descent was pretty technical with sharp rocks - in fact the ascent from the previous day, although I never found my water bottle I had lost, and Em went too close to a thorny bush getting her hair caught up in it. As if by magic a ninja arrived (a competitor in full ninja costume) and disentangled her from the bush, which made us chuckle. A decent sized dune field, and then the last 7km across the plain was brutal. We both ran out of water and ended it using Fruit Pastilles to try and take our minds off the dry mouth, and the fact that we could see the bivouac but it did not seem to get any closer! We encountered the Joellettes a few km before the finish. These were amazing people pushing a wheel chair through the race with a 15 year old disabled boy in it. They would not go over the climbs with it, but on the climbs they helped the guy with no arms. They seemed as in awe of Em as we were of them! Eventually we made it to camp to cheers from our tent mates, and again Em was on the Diurilites. I actually visited the Dr's to see if they would oblige but they wouldn't without getting blood pressure etc, which I did not want to queue for, but Dealer Dave seemed to have a never ending supply. We gave two thirds of our day's rations to our tent mates, read our very supportive emails even from people we had never met, laughed at the jokes and crashed again about 8.30pm.
This was it. The Long Day. We had 35 hours to finish, but it was just a question of getting to the finish. Our packs were lighter but still uncomfortable, and we were both very nervous about what the day (and tomorrow) would have in store. Fortunately James in our tent had decided to discard half his Thermarest sleeping mat so I cobbled together some pads with duct tape and sleeping mat for Em's pack so that it would hopefully not bruise her shoulders as much as it had previously. The roadbook suggested several dune fields, including a long one at about 65km with huge dunes which we would doubtless cover at night. There would also be technical ascents and descents, flat plains, and searing heat. Noone had slept terribly well before the long day although our neighbours the Hong Kong lot were noticeably quieter. We set off in long snake of runners and walkers, past an oasis which promised an auberge and free Wifi. There was some sort of rally going on at the same time with a few four wheel drives and a brightly coloured Renault 4 going past us in clouds of dust. Eventually the track gave way to sand, and then a relentless climb up a sandy jebel. As we neared the crest of the jebel, we passed Julian. As everyone had their names and numbers on their back as well as their front, I shouted to Julian as we approached, and he turned to me and with salt stained cracked lips said that he wasn't feeling good. I sent Em on to the next checkpoint which was about 1km in front, and tried to get Julian into some sort of ambulatory state. He had 1.5L of water in his pack as well as two very nearly full front bottles, but he said he did not want to drink yet as he was saving it for when he really needed it. In my view he needed it then so I made him drink half his water and electrolytes. We made it to the CP but he was adamant he was going to abandon. Mentally he never recovered and his daughter confirmed in a very sweet email to Em that he had dropped at that CP, which was a real shame as the CP did not close for over an hour after we arrived. Onwards and upwards. We set off for the next CP - we had decided to just focus on getting to the next CP every time, and take anything up to 30 minutes to rest and recuperate a little at every one. We would also try and eat something at CP2 as that would be "lunchtime" and the hottest part of the day. Just before we reached CP2 the top 50 runners who had started a couple of hours after us thundered past. Ryan from our tent was lying in a top 20 position and cheered us as he went, looking very strong. Tommy Evans, top placed Brit and would finish 3rd overall also cheered us as he passed, and of course we gave him a huge cheer. The terrain had been very tough slowing our progress considerably, with quite a few climbs and some large sand dunes to traverse. Energy and confidence sapped, and the day very hot (we later heard 54 degrees but the official high was 51), we collapsed in the shade of a support vehicle at CP2 to munch on a bar and chat to Simon from Lugarno who was retired but had an MdS tattoo on his calf and 2 stars indicating 2 finishes. He had lived in Gibraltor and made his money from online gambling businesses and retired to Lugarno. After CP2 the terrain just went up and up, and as we crested the hill Em was struggling. We had a Doliprane each to deal with the backpack related back ache, and a little cry. We had only covered something like 30km and at that point it looked like an impossible task to reach the bivouac with another 56km to go. The downhill was a dune field, and as we went up and down the weather started to cool down a bit which made the mood slightly lighter. I knew it would happen, but around 5.30pm as the sun was preparing to go down my body started crying out for a cup of tea, a sit down on the sofa and Eastenders. Knowing it was going to happen and doing something about it were two very different things. I was fighting fatigue and in the end I could do nothing other than lie down in the shade of a tree and eat and try and motivate myself to get going. Another Brit in a similar position was also struggling and he lay with us. I had the idea of a joke to cheer us up but he was too exhausted to think of any so I called out to a runner on the path. Much to my surprise he deviated from his path and came over and told a very long and very dirty joke. Simon from Austria but living in the Ukraine turned out to be a real character, and as he wobbled off he was still repeating the punchline to himself and laughing, which in itself was a boost and just what I needed to get me to the next CP. We got to the next CP, dealt with some admin, admired a runner who was taking time out to enjoy a cigarette, and then set off just before dark with our glo sticks attached to our packs and headlamps at the ready. Using some dunes to ablute on the way, we very quickly found ourselves yomping along in the dark. The moon was not yet up but you could still see without headlamps for a good thirty minutes after dark. This was a magical time - something I had been looking forward to, heading across the Sahara Desert at night with my daughter. It was amazing, with various scary looking bugs and rodents to keep us occupied. We reached CP4 around 10pm ish, and decided to try and make some Tasty Beef Stroganoff (anything with Tasty in the title in our experience wasn't!). There were plenty of people at the CP huddled round a fire, including people that were sleeping. We were well ahead of the cut offs and getting further ahead as the CP's started to allow people to sleep from CP4 onwards. Duncan and Chris came in as we were leaving and cooked up a Chicken Korma. Fed and watered we cracked on to the next CP. We crossed Oueds (rivers), sand, more dunes, more sand and more oueds before we eventually reached the next CP, but this one was awesome. A campfire surrounded by deckchairs, and as we reached it a cup of mint tea. It was pretty cold, and Em was feeling pretty ill with fatigue and all the rest, but the mint tea perked her up and I got her a second cup. We changed the batteries on our headtorches. We did not stop for long due to the cold, but the rest had done us the world of good. Now for the major dunes. And boy were they major. Up and down. Up and down. We travelled for a while with Katie from Australia before letting her pull ahead as we stopped for a 5 minute breather. After another hour we could see the glo stick of what looked like a drunken sailor trudging through the dunes in the wrong direction before looking at us and correcting themselves. Sure enough it was Katie from Australia who was dead on her feet. We accompanied her to the next CP, and then dealt with our own admin. It was a bit like a field hospital with berber tents full to bursting with bodies asleep, and even people asleep on the floor outside. It was about 4.30am and we were both absolutely exhausted, but as it was still very cold we took the view that we would carry on and try and push on through rather than sleep and then struggle to get up or have to travel in the heat of the day. We left the CP and crossed a plain in the company of the Hong Kong lot who actually turned out to be hilarious to watch. They had all put puffa jackets on and were singing, about 300 - 400m ahead of us. All of a sudden they would stop and variously take photos, or do some kung fu, or on one occasion a couple of their number dropped their packs and ran off trailing loo roll behind them as they searched in vain for a bush or a shrub. We marched inexorably forward until Susan from Vancouver ran past us cackling like a woman possessed, and at that point I called breakfast. We collapsed into some dunes and had a bar each, and then set off moving again. Our morale was getting lower and lower. We still had 15km to go, and Em started to say things like "We're never going to get there" and "It's never going to end". I put on my iPod and tried to cheer her up by singing along loudly to Bon Jovi, whilst runners passed us looking at me like I was a nutcase. We reached CP7, and Em was in meltdown mode, but Patrick Bauer gave us both a cuddle and did his best to cheer us up. Just 10km to go. We had managed both food and hydration through the night, but the wheels were starting to fall off. We both had blisters that we could no longer deal with ourselves, and the mind starts playing tricks on you about how bad they really are. We were worried they would be so bad that the Docs would not let us continue. The day was also starting to heat up properly. But the only way to get to the finish was to put one foot in front of the other, so we did. Slowly. Slowly. Passing through some dunes I saw a snake about 5 feet away, curled up but head up. I stopped and called Em forward to look. A Dutch bloke stumbled past us and the snake slowly unfurled itself and slithered off - it was huge, at least two of my armspans. Thankfully that was the only snake we saw. Finally we crested the last big dune, and could see the bivouac in the distance. We wobbled slowly but surely to the finish. Rory passed us, saw that Em was in trouble and gave her a few words of encouragement.
"This will be the best day of your life."
"It will. You'll look back on this day and you'll be so proud of yourself that no matter how much it hurt, you did something mere mortals can only dream about. At 16. You have no idea how proud of you your Dad is right now." And off he went, massive Welsh flag trailing behind him.
Eventually of course we did cross the line. More than 27 hours after starting, and with virtually no rest. We had made it. The relief was fantastic. Our whole tent were there to see us, cheer and clap and grab our packs and water as we hobbled back to the tent. Em arrived in the tent, tried to have a recovery shake and promptly threw up. Dealer Dave came through with some more Diurilites and I put off the press for an hour or two as we tried to get ourselves together. James grabbed us a couple of tickets for Doc Trotters as the queue was over an hour long. We ate what we could, and Em tried to rehydrate. We went to Doc Trotters and queued for an hour or so in the searing heat, albeit under a berber tent, and managed to doze off. Fearful of missing our slots I tried to stay awake. The Dr was very understanding merely popping Em's only blister (it seemed much worse when you couldn't see it), and keeping the cap on which I was adamant about. The Doc was very complementary of both our feet which was actually morale boosting in itself. Mine needed further work though, as they had popped and filled with sand. The caps both came off mine - in fact one of my toes was basically skinned with a scalpel and then dressed ready for the next day's marathon, but any pain I had was put to one side as my mind was on Em as she had been taken away to have her blood pressure taken as she still wasn't feeling well. I found her on a camp bed in the medical tent in the cool and drinking industrial strength Diurilites that the Dr's had given her. I sat with her enjoying the relative cool, and we both snacked on trail mix and bars.
Finally she was given the all clear, her pulse back to normal, and we went back to the tents to await our cans of soda and the day's morale boosting emails. I sent my daily ration with news. We cheered in Duncan, and the last runners followed by the camels. Em was interviewed a couple of times by French and English press and then after we had been given Diet Coke (seriously? Surely we needed sugar! Em had my ration too) at around 7pm she was finally on top of the world having broken the back of the MdS. She asked me to do something and I snapped at her for the first time that week, and demanded to be left alone for a few minutes, as I was physically and emotionally wrecked. A few seconds later I opened my eyes, and realised that I had been asleep. It was gone 10pm and the camp was completely silent. The cold had woken me up so I got in my sleeping bag and went back to sleep.
The top 150 runners would start the day around 8.15am, but the rest, including of course Em and I would start at 7am. The roadbook promised plenty of hills and of course plenty of dunes and sand. After the obligatory Patrick Bauer show briefing, Highway to Hell, and we were off. We knew that there was a medal waiting at the end of the stage, but we still had a desert marathon to go, and that was on top of the sleep deprivation, calorie deficit, dehydration, various illnesses and aches and pains. My back was killing me from the very uncomfortable pack and Em was suffering from ITB and hamstring issues. We were still in much better shape than, for instance, those that had raided the tents for poles to help them along, or the one notable chap in Crocs (although he had fitted his gaiters), who was hobbling right from the off and kept veering off after every couple of hundred metres to rest. We had 12 hours to finish the stage, and that would be the end of the MdS, apart from the compulsory liaison stage the next day which was to be untimed. Any pretence at running had been left on the long day and we were resigned to a very long walk, which was fine. We just concentrated on managing our hydration and putting one foot in front of the other. We chatted amiably with our travelling companions as ever, including Azzam and Tanner, a father and son who were celebrating Azzam's retirement from the US State Department. Tanner was a pastry chef. Azzam was really struggling with his back pack and had cut the waist straps off, although their respective other halves had come for the family day and they were there at every CP to offer a hug and words of encouragement. Em and I concentrated on drinking, eating a bar or two when we could, and putting one foot in front of the other. If we had to stop to stretch we did, with Em lying in the dunes on more than one occasion as I stretched her hammy. The organisers stopped us at one point to tell us to take salt tablets as the wind was dehydrating people quicker than they were used to but we preferred our powders which worked well, although we did notice we were running out of water much quicker than previously. As we crested the last hill we could see the last bivouac in the distance, and we descended through the melted city - an abandoned mine and village that was made of mud and was melting in the elements. There were actually two men there that tried to sell us homemade bowls and jewellery which gave us something to smile about - clearly we weren't amongst the front runners. We chatted to a couple of Hong Kong chaps that said they were very much looking forward to their first whisky and amused us with tales of one of their fathers that had once been thrown out of a Buddhist monastery at night for secretly adding whisky to his mint tea infusion, up a mountain, in the middle of the night. As we got closer and closer to the finish Em was feeling more and more sick due to dehydration, but we made it to be greeted by a grinning and complementary Patrick Bauer who presented us with our medals. Once again the tent had turned out in force to greet us and cheer us. A palpable relief all round. We made it back to the tent to eat and drink and savour in our achievement, although we were still self sufficient so eating bars and dehydrated food. Once again we discarded some more food! Dealer Dave came through with a final batch of Diurilites for us both, and we collapsed on our backs to watch the stars and satellites and drink Orangina as Patrick introduced the new MdS races in Peru, and give out some prizes. Eventually we were allowed to collapse into our sleeping bags, still wearing our medals. The tent had done amazingly well, Ryan coming 17th overall, James 83rd overall, Stu around 170, Sam 336th and Steve around the 700th. Em and I had achieved our stated goal of coming in the top 1200, in fact were just in the top 1000 coming 997th (Em) and 998th (me - Em outsprinted me at all of the finishes!)
This was all dunes, and compulsory yellow charity t shirts. The idea was to have a separate race - so it would be timed separately, but we still had to complete it to qualify for an MdS finish. We decided to walk it as a tent, and this made the time go by all the quicker. Sponsors and family members were also able to complete the stage, and get a taste of the MdS, the tell tale signs of actually being able to walk without painful blisters curtailing any movement, and also being exceptionally clean. The last Patrick Bauer show, Highway to Hell, and we were off. We chatted with our tent mates, finally getting to know them, as there really hadn't been that much time during the race, and this passed the time easily for the 2 hours or so it took us to get to the finish line and buses. We managed to get the back seat which was amazing, and we chatted, listened to Steve chatting to a Dutch girl next to him - he did not run out of energy all week and didn't disappoint for the 6 hour bus journey. After an hour or two we stopped and were given a packed lunch. In direct contrast to the outward journey, discarding anything we did not like the look of, we devoured it all and in record time no matter what it was. It could have been camel sandwich for all we cared, we just liked the fact it was not rehydrated and called "Tasty". Everyone took their shoes off and everyone suffered from some sort of blistering on their feet. One person said they thought they would have preferred to run the journey rather than sit on the bus stiffening up! Eventually we arrived in Ouarzazate where Sal and the kids, and Penny, Steve's wife were waiting with a couple of cold beers. Em said hello and went straight off to have a long shower. I went to the bar, put my feet up, and drained a can of "Flag" lager in record time - that remains the best beer I have ever tasted.