x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

1,000km trek across the Empty Quarter comes to an end in Dubai

When the three friends arrive at the Park Hyatt hotel in Dubai they will become the first people to have crossed the Empty Quarter, a vast expanse of sand between Oman and the UAE, unaided.

(From left) David Joyce, Marco Broccardo and Alex Harris trek southeast of Dubai on their way to setting a world record by being the first men to cross the Empty Quarter unsupported. Christopher Pike / The National
(From left) David Joyce, Marco Broccardo and Alex Harris trek southeast of Dubai on their way to setting a world record by being the first men to cross the Empty Quarter unsupported. Christopher Pike / The National

DUBAI // A month-long 1,000-kilometre trek across the desert will finally come to an end today for three intrepid adventurers.

When the friends arrive at the Park Hyatt hotel in Dubai they will become the first people to have crossed the Empty Quarter (Rub’ Al Khali), a vast expanse of sand between Oman and the UAE, unaided.

Alex Harris, David Joyce and Marco Broccardo, all from South Africa, have had to endure energy sapping daytime temperatures upwards of 45°C while taking turns to drag a 350-kilogram sledge packed with enough food and water to last them for 40 days.

“Although we have a GPS to track our location, all of our navigation has been done the old fashioned way,” said Alex Harris, a mountaineer and extreme athlete who spoke to The National during the trek via satellite phone.

“Our aim was to average about 25km per day and, for the most part, we have kept to that plan.”

The challenge has been eight years in the planning, with the team spending the last three years training by taking part in endurance events in Oman and across the region.

“We have had to plan very carefully to make sure we had everything we needed to complete the journey,” said Mr Harris.

“Although the sledge has been getting lighter since we set off from Salalah in Oman, we needed to make sure we had enough food and especially water to last us.”

The men were careful to plot the most direct route to the finish line but admitted negotiating the sand dunes was a problem.

“Going over dunes really saps your energy levels, so where possible we have tried to go around,” said Mr Harris. “Unfortunately, that also makes the route longer,  so we’ve had to strike a balance.”

As the team got closer to Dubai they also had to negotiate fences and roads, as well as politely turning down offers of food and water from villagers and people they met during the trek.

“Although this has been a really tough challenge, it has also been really rewarding on a personal level,” said Mr Joyce, who runs an IT company.

“The biggest thing has been to tell people that we couldn’t accept their offers of hospitality because our aim has been to do this unsupported.”

They walked for eight hours a day on average but took regular breaks.

“We did consider resting during the hottest part of the day but the problem is that there is no shade,” Mr Joyce said.

“It has been more a case of just trying to put one foot in front of the other and to get the challenge complete.

“We have been trying to keep each other motivated during the course of this trek because everyone has bad days and it’s important to be positive.”

Mr Joyce said he was looking forward to sleeping in a proper bed and enjoying a nice cooked meal when the challenge was finally over.

For Mr Broccardo, a former drug addict who is now the chief executive of a technology company, the challenge the trek presented was an intensely personal one.

“As someone who has overcome problems with drugs, I want to show people that no matter what obstacles you face you can come through them,” he said.

Through his Mountain Heights charity he aims to raise awareness about the scale of drug problems in South Africa.

“Everyone thought doing the Empty Quarter unaided was impossible but we are going to prove them wrong.

“As the old saying goes, even a journey of a 1,000 miles starts with a single step, and that’s a good way of looking at life in general.”

The team is expected to arrive in Dubai at about 11am today.

nhanif@thenational.ae