ABU DHABI // Adventurer Max Calderan said he left a piece of his soul in the desert after completing what is believed to be the first crossing on foot of the Tropic of Cancer in the UAE.
Dubai resident Mr Calderan, 48, began a planned 340-kilometre journey on March 18 at the UAE’s border with Saudi Arabia, hoping to make it to the Omani border without stopping in four days.
Things did not go as planned.
The accomplished desert explorer finally crossed the “finish line” last Wednesday after encountering tougher conditions then expected.
“This has been the absolutely hardest extreme exploration that I have ever accomplished,” he said.
“I was desperately trying to find the last piece of energy within myself to survive in these conditions.”
Used to being able to cover up to 80 to 100 kilometres a day in treks, from the first day Mr Calderan said he was shocked at the terrain and softness of the dunes – some of which were up to 200 metres high.
“It was like I entered something like hell,” he said. “After one hour I covered no more than 1km.”
By the end of that first day, he said he was “destroyed” by the effort. After sunset, he met up with his team – to have a snack and refill water supplies – before setting off again.
“I was hoping to find moonlight, but the weather became cloudy,” he said. “It was totally dark, going down from these big dunes.”
Then came rain, forcing him to stop.
“My body temperature started to go down very fast,” he said.
He didn’t meet up with his team until 11am the next day. Nevertheless, he said he only drank three litres of his water, after making sure to have enough in case he got into difficulties.
The first 24 treacherous hours would set the tone for the crossing, which ended up requiring 128 hours of trekking.
On the second night, he said once again he had to deal with precipitation – as well as thunder, lightning and sandstorms.
“There were strong winds – the worst weather conditions I have ever experienced,” he said.
He said he would hear strange sounds at night as he trudged through the sand.
The wind created a low humming sound, which he described as a low frequency, sinister howl.
“It was something like a plane or a truck, you wouldn’t know,” he said.
And the rain washed away the footprints of wildlife, hindering his ability to monitor potential threats such as scorpions, spiders, and mice – the latter is a potential food source for venomous snakes. The final night was the hardest, he said.
With his tank running on empty, he checked his GPS unit before putting it in his pocket.
An hour later, he saw his own footprints.
“I started to cry. I was thinking, no, no, no. I’m too tired, maybe I’m hallucinating,” he said. “I started to pray.”
With daylight, he persevered and set his sights on the finish line.
“The last 100 metres I ran like I was in the Olympic Games,” he said.
Albert Mahesh was a member of his support team, which met up with the adventurer at 10 to 20km intervals to replenish his supplies, which included nuts, dried meats and dates.
More than just a test of physical strength, the crew member said Mr Calderan exhibited a “mental fitness beyond explanation”.
He said: “We have four cars, all the safety equipment we require, water, food, warm clothing, and we meet him in the morning after stormy weather and he’s like ‘how are you guys, are you alright?’ Incredible is not the word.”