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May 22, 2009 5:06 AM   Subscribe

I am looking to be doing a charity trek across the Sahara desert in support of MacMillan Cancer Support next year and have several questions for the hive mind before I go ahead.

I've read through the MacMillan site and read the FAQs but they are surprisingly light on several details about the trek. MacMillan say they will provide you with various bits of info when you sign up to do the walk but I would like to put out feelers before I take the plunge. £295 is a third of my monthly pay cheque and it's non-refundable. I want to make sure it's something I can achieve before I go ahead.

I have several questions for the hive mind which would be better placed in alternate categories but in the interests of brevity I shall summarise here :

1) Have you ever done a desert trek? What sort of fitness regime did you instigate? Any training tips? I have between 6 to 8 months for training and don't live near any sort of sandy beaches. I do live near some monstrous hills however and will be doing lots of hillwalking with a 35-50lb rucksack.

2) Above and beyond general fitness training, is there any other training and research that would be useful? I will be reading up on the locale and basic desert survival before I go (more than just re-reading Dune in other words).

3) What sort of kit would be useful and what sort of extras would you recommend? i.e. taking a camera - additional battery packs et al. Recommendations for lightweight, low volume but high calorie foodstuffs. Emergency gear (i.e. personal survival/medical kit), boots, clothing, carrying equipment. There will be camels helping to carry supplies (i.e. food, water) but I'd like to be as self sufficient as is humanly possible to allow for all contingencies without loading myself down with tat.

4) Fundraising ideas. MacMillan obviously suggest several avenues for this and I may be able to get donation matching from my employer up to a certain amount. I still have to raise somewhere in the region of £2300 overall. Any MeFites who raise money for charity have any handy hints or suggestions? This is perhaps my weakest area, whilst I have donated on an individual basis here and there, I wouldn't have time to go shaking a charity tin around town etc.

I have to admit I was drawn to the trek initially as it ends on my birthday and in a classical "mid-life-crisis" fashion have decided that I would like to say I have actually achieved something. Whilst there is certainly an element of personal ego satisfaction involved I believe that the charity is absolutely worthwhile and the challenge something that I can achieve given preperation and determination.

For those that haven't read the link, to summarise

Location : Moroccan Sahara
Terrain : Soft sand dunes to hard stony desert and salt pans
Duration : 7 days
Distance : 100km (60 miles)
Time of Year : Feb 27th - March 7th 2010
Temperature : 0C - 30C degrees
Walking time/day : 3 - 12 hours

Any other suggestions and helpful hints gratefully received. I am a newbie to the world of charity fundraising and haven't done long distance walking for nearly a decade. I average maybe 2.5 miles a day walking at the moment and am hoping to increase this figure considerably over the next couple of months to help get more in shape.

Finally and as an afterthought - I am in the UK which may make a difference to several suggestions for kit etc.

Thanks in advance folks :)
posted by longbaugh to Health & Fitness (3 answers total)
I have never done anything quite like your trip - but I have done some off the beaten path trip. One suggestion I would have is to take seriously any pre-trip health pre-cautions. I have seen people get very sick when they travel off the beaten path - and 90% of the time, it could have been avoided.

The US Center for Disease Control publishes a page for health issues for travellers to every country. Here is the page for Morocco. It is worth reading, worth taking to your doctor to up-date those vaccines. I mean, all it takes it one shot from your doctor, and you don't have to be concerned about about Dengue Fever.
posted by Flood at 5:24 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

That looks like you could be going a relatively comfortable pace. I train with a charity marathon organization. Our walkers cover 26.2 miles in 5-8 hours with most being between 6-7 hours. Of course, that's on good roads and without a heavy rucksack. Another pace benchmark is the Breast Cancer 3-day walk. Their walkers do 60 miles in 3 days. It seems that 60 miles in 7 days should be within reason for a fit, appropriately trained person.

How comfortable the hike is will depend on how much time you'll be spending on soft sand. That surface will exhaust your leg and core muscles quickly. I'd suggest you do a lot of core training - both abs and back. You'll need those stabilizer muscles. If you do most of your training on firm surfaces, your core isn't going to get the preparation it needs. Also, that temperature will likely be quite warm for you. Every once in awhile I end up running a race in 32-35C. I'm very, very unhappy when that happens. Consider that the average high temp here is 22C and in Sheffield it's 13C. I still suffer once it's over 30C. People who do the desert runs here in Southern California swear by preparing with lots of hot saunas. I have no idea if it would help, but it's worth a shot.

Regarding fundraising - it's been a challenging time to fund raise. However, plenty of my teammates have raised $5000 to $10,000 in the last 4 months. People are donating, but the average donation is much, much lower. In the past, there were a fair number of $100-500 dollar donations. This year, it's more like $25-50. That means you need to start fundraising very early and ask every single person you know. I can't stress that enough. Ask everyone. You don't know who's life has been touched by cancer. You'll be stunned at who donates (and who doesn't).

Last point - you are embarking on an endurance event. Endurance events can be exhilarating. However, they are very often a grind that you must, well, endure. You need to build not only your physical strength, but also the mental toughness. You need to be mentally tough enough to stay with it even when you really don't want to. Sometimes endurance sports are simply an exercise in sucking it up and toughing out the rough spots. Learning how strong you are is a huge gift to yourself. Don't give up on yourself or your goal.
posted by 26.2 at 8:03 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

I always hate doing one-on-one fundraising so a few years ago (when I was asked to raise money for a charity cricket match) I wrote to several dozen companies asking for a donation. Given that I didn't put too much effort in, I was pleased to receive £250 for my trouble. You could make it more tempting for them with the offer of a photo opportunity for when the cash is handed over, which is what I did.
posted by BrokenEnglish at 8:33 AM on May 22, 2009 [1 favorite]

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