Ifs and Doubts
You'll never escape them. Don't even try.
Namib Desert. May 3, 2022.
They're pulling my shoes off.
Ripping, really. One is stuck, and Dudu, the Israeli special forces guy, gives it a hard pull. Both it and the stubborn sock finally give way.
I look up and recognize Reinhold from Switzerland, who had also just finished ahead of me. As I start moving my lips to say something, a pitcher of water coats my face and obscures my vision. The water’s warm, but the air is hotter. A race official says it’s 131 degrees Fahrenheit (55 degrees Celsius). My skin scorches. Like a frog, I’m the last to figure out that I’m in a boiling pot.
I try to reorient, steady myself, but the heat has me woozy. My hands feel weird. My feet tingle. I can’t stand. I mostly give in to the people who took my shoes and drowned me, because at this point I’m not so far gone that I can’t recognize who knows best. My lone objection is for them to let me sit upright. They keep trying to get me to lie with my back flat on the ground and incline my legs onto a stool. But that legs-up position makes me sick every time, so I frown and wave for them to leave me be.
It was the third day of Racing the Planet’s Namib Race, a 155-mile run across the Namib Desert in six stages, self-supported. “Self-supported” really means you carry everything you need, including food, with you in a backpack. That too-heavy pack, more than anything, was why I was forced to sit and rest for the next six hours on a tarp in middle of the world’s oldest desert.
I was there to demonstrate that a full physical life follows kidney donation. I had donated my kidney 7 months prior, in September 2021, and wanted to show others that there’s no ceiling on life with one kidney. My strategy for doing so was to be the first living kidney donor to finish the 4 Deserts Grand Slam—four total events, like the Namib Race—in under a single year.
But I’d never done an event like Namib. It showed. On arrival, I met some other competitors and dumped my gear in front of them for some pointers. They had to work to hold back a laugh. My pack was chock full of additional, unnecessary items, which made it heavier than most. Upwards of 26 pounds, while the top contenders sported packs closer to 13-14 pounds.
When I look back on the experience, I was unsure the whole way through. Like I’d stepped into real-world Jurassic Park or Jaws, and I was an expendable extra waiting to get chewed and chomped.