Morning Stroll with the Desert Dwellers

Boredom is my arch nemesis, the bane of an existence I’ve otherwise grown rather fond of, all things considered. I go well out of my way to wage war on this foul, wretched beast — most days, I lose a man or two. On some days, however, the forces of Good, fun and adventure triumph over the scourge of tedium, routines and the unholy mundane.

Today was one of them.

2 January 2015

South Sinai, Egypt

Before sunrise

Standard procedure for an adventure is to pack a bag, throw on some clothes and a good pair of boots, then step out into the Badlands. Mornings in the desert are a particularly breathtaking affair; they have a way of reminding you that there’s desperate, unfathomable beauty to be found in even the most barren and lifeless of Earth’s more desolate corners.

I have spent the majority of my time in the desert during the winter months. As such, my abiding memories of the Sahara and Sinai are ones of wind — brisk, rippling wind. This morning is no different. The gust is sweeping and dusty and forceful and very much the sort that reminds you there are forces at work in this world which are far greater than men or money or power.

The Road is empty and winding, just the way I like it. I have with me a full bottle of water, an empty notebook, and half a pouch of tobacco — in theory, life doesn’t get much better for me. Though it turns out rolling cigarettes in a North African high wind proves to be something of a fickle bitch. The tobacco shudders and the paper is damn near impossible to shape properly and it is overall a very frustrating ordeal…however, some occasions simply do call for a smoke. Matches aren’t ideal for lighting one in these conditions, but I make due.

Cut to strolling along, enjoying the harshness of the landscape when I happen upon a body of water — no shit, a real oasis. My first instinct is to indulge my curiosity by drinking the water, which instinct I am happy to report was one of the few in my history that I have ever suppressed. Then I’m just hanging out by the pool and listening to music. Being alone in the desert encourages you to crank the volume up all the way and sing along as loud as you can — but just as I’m really rocking out with my eyes closed, I start to feel sort of weird, like someone is watching me.

Looking up, I meet eyes with a very ragged and hungry looking wild dog. My assumption is that this is his drinking spot and I am intruding on his territory. He’s got two different colored eyes — both of which are awesome — but I don’t get much time to look at them before he gets to growling. I slowly pick up a stick nearby and throw it, but rather than going after it he starts growling louder, and it becomes apparent that this dog probably has more interest in eating my kidneys than he does in playing fetch.

Even the most ragged and hungry looking of wild dogs can run faster and longer than smokers, so making a break for it is out. My options for self defense are limited, consisting of a mid-sized rock and what looks to be a 2×4 with rusty nails in it (this was a very popular weapon during my time in the Revolution). So I figure stick beats wild dog, pick it up, and it’s not as much fear that grips me at this point so much as genuine curiosity with regard to what will happen next.

This is the closest thing to a Mexican standoff that I’ve ever experienced (and probably ever will), so I’m enjoying it while it lasts. The alpha male in me isn’t breaking eye contact, while the boy in me is acutely aware of the reality that I am not Liam Neeson and this is not a movie. If this thing comes after me, it’s not going to be pretty. But a sense of silliness overcomes me, and I tell him (in my sternest of redneck voices):

“Gon’ now”.

He barks.

Once more (this time in my reassuring redneck voice):

“Gon’ now…”

He turns slowly, walks over to the pool of water and drinks some, then walks away.

Right, time to keep moving. I start making my way in some direction and the going starts to get a bit rougher. The dunes have given way to rockier terrain, and I’m increasingly thankful to have on a solid pair of boots (some things in life are all too underrated).

I am completely lost and very, very happy about it. Many feel uncomfortable or out of control when they don’t know where they are, but I realized some time ago that lost is not just the best but really the only way to be for me. I say that because there is a comfort in not knowing where you’re going, so long as you can maintain a confidence in knowing that you will always get where you need to be.

But the desert is a staggeringly huge place, somewhere most things are not meant to exist. Plus, I’ve got a flight to catch in a few hours, so it’s time to make my way back home. I walk as the crow flies in what I’m guessing to be the direction of where I’m staying, which seems half a lifetime away now. The landscape is lifeless in a way that’s beautiful; it’s the same kind of beauty that’s discernible in tears of the bereaving at funerals.

I walk by the decaying skull of a camel — just the skull. Good, fuck camels.

There’s a rocky cliff face between myself and the road home. It’s been a while since I’ve done any real climbing, but now feels like a good time to start up again, and the drop looks to be less than twenty feet. I tighten the strap on my bag to keep my weight close, put on The Strokes, and get to business.

It turns out my climbing muscles are a great deal weaker than they used to be, and this time I’ve got the weight of my bag to carry in addition. The rock is loose in most places and the sand makes it harder to know where you’ve got a decent grip. No matter — if you buy the ticket, you must take the ride.

About two-thirds of the way down, I get stumped by a tough move looking to require more strength than sense (neither of which I am presently endowed with). My hesitation triggers the nerves, making my hands sweat. Panicking is never the answer — especially when free climbing — but certain situations make it very hard not to do.

One of those is coming face-to-face with a snake, in this case not a large one. Though it’s still sort of hidden in this hole of the rock face, so I don’t know how big it really is. I am not an outdoorsman by any stretch of imaginations most wild, and my knowledge of snakes is pretty limited, but I am positive this is not one I want to be hanging out with.

Which turns out not to matter in the slightest to this reptilian fucker, because it’s slithering out of its hole and towards me in a way I am not at all fond of. By now my body has been swaying too long and my arms are tired, so making it to the next hold is out of the question. Some part of my brain tells me to “just let go”, and for once in my life, I actually listen to it.

Falling is a strange sensation, especially when it’s not happening in a dream. There’s a conflict you’re faced with between feeling compelled to grab something in the interest of staying alive, and just letting the experience happen to you. It’s a test of your ability to accept the truly inevitable, more than anything else.

I scored better on this test than I do on most, and end up enjoying the fall in the same perverse way I enjoy hydroplaning. What I enjoy less is the impact, as I imagine is true of most people put in this position. I feel the bones shake something awful in my torso, and the relief of not being anywhere near that snake is quickly replaced by the inkling that I may have cracked a rib or three.

‘Tis but a scratch! (I say to myself in an effort to shut my pain receptors the fuck up).

I see the Road and give it the same crooked, wistful smile I would a lover who’s been gone a little longer than I’d like. Keep walking, moving forward — that’s always been the trick — and so I do. The flight to Cyprus awaits, and I cannot wait to see what sort of trouble beckons me over there. For now, though, it’s safe to say that the Tyranny of Boredom has been kept at bay. I live to fight it another day.

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