Day 55 37km Covered I tried desperately all day, hunting through my mind for new day dream material but it seems at this point I've exhausted all my resources. I ended up with a soft fluffy bed rolling through my thoughts inspired by the bruises on my hips and shoulders. My swag has been flattened to beyond an inch of its life and now that my skeletal system is poking through I wake up more sore than I go to sleep. With the busier roads we are getting stopped more and more and personally I'm pretty over the conversations that go nowhere and say nothing. I'm polite and friendly but quickly wave goodbye. So when Matty stopped up ahead at a van, we figured they must speak English because he was held up longer than the usual "hello, ok goodbye." From a distance it looked like a large Caucasian female in shorts shorts with a crop top and 3 other guys. As we approached we got the warning call, "They have vodka!" And I immediately slowed down my steps, delaying the inevitable. Bloody hell. I don't know why this still catches me off guard after all this time. It was 2pm, hot as hell, I hadn't eaten much because of he heat and we still had 15km to go and now I was going to get hit with a shot of voddy. The female in shorts which was actually a really pasty huge Mongolian man who had hitched up his shorts and knotted his shirt, handed me a mug. One of the 4 guys spoke a very small amount of English and while I deliberated whether or not to just throw the shot over my shoulder while they weren't looking they pulled out a bottle of ice cold water. I could forgive the forced vodka for icy water. It didn't take long for the alcohol to hit me. I'm a light weight at the best of times and now in my desert state a single shot had me swerving and stumbling through the corrugations repeating in my head, "I'm sorry body, I promise I will take care of you soon." The end is near, our bodies and minds know it now and it's getting harder to keep them pushing forward, especially when there's vodka involved.
Day 56 38km Covered Matty woke up like a kid at christmas. Today his girlfriend, the woman that we now knew everything (probably more than she’d like) about touched down in Ulaanbataar. We kicked off the day an hour early so Harrie would reach us in time for a civilised celebratory dinner of eggs and salami on bread. I have been walking for the last week without music or podcasts, just thoughts skipping along, from beat to random beat. Partly because I’m over my playlists, partly because my ear phones now produce a small high pitched squeal and partly as another little personal mind challenge. A rumble from the clouds suggested rain, but I didn’t think much of it, most storms we’ve seen were all show no go. But this one had happened to have a goodbye present for us and the clouds opened up and the scramble was on to protect the swag that could now fit in our nearly empty food duffels. The storm brought a better present with it though, minutes later Harries car came cruising over the hills that held our final destination. This beautiful barbie doll bounded out of the car and wrapped herself around Matty. She looked shiny and new compared to us, the dishevelled travellers and the reunion reminded me of when Luke landed from his row. Doing things like this is one thing when you don’t have someone special waiting for you, but as Matty knows now, missing someone adds a whole new element to the world of adventure. She hugged us all then jumped back in the car to meet us 4km down he road. I wanted to nuzzle my face in her hair for an awkward amount of time, it smelt like a dandelions and butterflies and made me instantly crave a shower. One more sleep Elise. As we reached our final ever camp the rain cleared so we could have our feast and of course, a toast, Mongolian style. Before we ate I gave Mum a quick call on the Sat phone to announce we are were just kilometres from the finish line. I was excited, but her tone didn’t match mine and after I finished my rambling she told me Grandma had been taken to hospital. Nothing can make you feel further away from your family than bad news on a bad line. Home soon Elise. It was time for my last vodka shots in the desert. The bottle went around the circle and Tumuro made a little speech which, true to form Orgil translated terribly and we still have no idea what his father actually said, but I’m sure it was something along the lines of “If any other crazy bastards want to do this don’t give them my number!” I never thought alcohol would play such a large role in my first adventure but here it was, Chinggis Gold, the feature. Down the hatch Elise. And now, in a warm drunken haze all that was left was one more sleep. One more night in a nylon cocoon of my husbands gas. One more day of buckling up a harness, squeezing my blistered toes into boots and baby wiping my bits. One more night on my first ever adventure. On this final night the sky hung out a moon so bright that it felt like a spotlight was on us. Like we were on stage and this was our moment. Take it in Elise.
Day 57 - The final day! 16km covered The moons light and the anticipation of the finish line kept me awake and by 3am I was ready to get up and get to the end. We would finish on Lukes birthday, the goal we had set for ourselves in week 3. At 4am with a fruit cake from London and candles Matty entered the tent, “Happy Birthday to you…” “Oh yeah it’s my birthday!” Im no longer offended if he doesn’t remember mine when he doesn’t remember his own. We entered the town through the ruins of an abandoned Soviet military base, I didn’t have high hopes for our little finishing town of Sainshand. And those low hope were affirmed when the ruins finished and the town dump began. The last few kilometres of our 1822km walk were old boots, tyres and animal carcasses and just to be cute, the Gobi through in uphill corrugations with a head wind. But as we reached the top of our final hill we saw the town and the words I’d been wanting to say for so long slipped out of my mouth, “We did it.” With the Australian, British and Mongolian flags waving behind us we descended into the town and finally after 8 weeks crossed the invisible finish line. There were no people cheering, no flashing cameras or loud music. Just us and the knowledge of what we had a achieved. An old man approached us just as we moved off, “Sain uu” I said politely and on cue he ignored me and turned to the wall to take a piss. I had to laugh at the absolute non event for everyone except the 3 of us. Even if we could explained what we just did, I don’t think they would believe me anyway. After a shower and an ice-cream we were in the car. In just 6 hours we covered the 500km back to Ulaanbataar, a distance that had just taken us 2 weeks to walk. The perspective was somewhat devastating but equally incredible. This place looked so harsh through the car window and we had just survived it. We clambered into the hostel, exhausted but still beaming at that memories of the last 2 months. The owner greeted us, “You’re back, where did you go in Mongolia?” “Well we actually just walked from Altay to Sainshand, the entire Gobi Desert.. with carts!” Luke replied energetically and eager to elaborate further. “Oh how nice, I will need your passports and 400,000 for the room.” Aaah, back to reality. But, even if nobody wants to hear them, we will always have in our back pocket the story of the time we crossed the Gobi Desert.
I'm proud to announce that after 56 days, 17hrs and 50 mins the team and I have finally crossed the entire Gobi Desert. We've walked in excess of 1800km and so far raised over £27,000 for the NSPCC's childline service. I'd like to say a huge thanks to all those who have supported this crazy expedition which was planned in under 4months. Finally the charity page is still open for anyone who would like to make a donation. mydonate.bt.com/fundraisers/mathewbennett1... See MoreSee Less
As the sun pierced through my tent I stirred and grabbed my phone. 0500hrs. I went to sit up and I had nothing. My body ached all over, sand has blown into my tent via the ventilation sheet, and my mouth was dryer than Ghandi's flip flops. I realised then that I was now officially over this expedition and I am hanging in there by threads of my determination. Some 45 minutes later I heard Luke and Elise stir and within minutes they were giggling. It was like a massive kick in the balls as I thought I'm broken and these two are on form. I popped out to go to the toilet and on my return Luke was up. "Morning Chief, how did you sleep?" I said. Luke replied "Heavy.....I'm so fucked brother I can't tell you! Me and Elise just had a laugh at how over this expedition we are!" I burst out laughing. We are all hanging on in there...but just! We discussed pains and aches but slowly packed down our camp and prepared to move off. What we needed today was a kind passage. What we got was a soul crushing sandy path that drained every ounce of our energy. At one point I had to laugh. We had to cross a sand pit 15 metres long 5 metres wide and about 50cm deep of sand. Every foot step engulfed your foot and covered your ankle. All that was missing was some Harry Potter or Lord Of The Rings monster to drag you down. Each break was a gathering of broken carcasses that had found the funny side to the Gobi's sense of humour. Our target was to reach a village on route, hit the shops for essentials and get out of town. My phones 3G kicked in 4km outside of the city, I managed to video call my girlfriend, my parents, my head office and a really good friend of mine. This break put me in a amazing mood for the final push. As per the rest of the day the road varied from good solid ground to sand that brought out the most colourful of language. We were pleasantly surprised to find the final road to the village tree lined (no I hadn't been drinking) and the village itself using wind and solar energy, 2 things the Gobi has an abundance of. This meant that the fridges and freezer of the shops were turned to the lowest temps providing us with some real treats. Cans of ice cold cokes and fully frozen ice creams provided us with another sugar rush as we exited the village and seeing as the day had been such a bitch....I'd grabbed 2 cold cans of beer which we hammered whilst putting up our tents.
As much as I ached when I woke, at least I had the comfort in knowing that Luke and Elise were in the same boat. Today was one of my big mile stones. I knew that once I got Wednesday out the way I'd be over half way through the final week and it would be a 3 day count down until my girlfriend Harrie flew out and met us for our final dinner. I'd gotten out of the habit of being optimistic about the days ahead, it is what it is was my approach. Simply keep moving your feet and we'll get there. Much to my delight the mornings walk was incredibly kind. Flat terrain and good solid roads meant we made good distance. I'd stop behind to check on my diminishing harness which is now held together with rope. When I caught up with Luke and Elise they'd asked if I'd seen the snake. Apparently they'd come across one of the few venomous snakes in Mongolia, made signs on the road, and I'd completely missed it. Typical! An hour or so later we were invited in for a tea with a Nomad family who offered us some kind of dried stomach lining food to have with it but all of us were suddenly full! As we were leaving, their dog decided that he'd rather come with us than stay with his owners. He followed us for 20 minutes to our next rest point and we all made a huge fuss of him. He got so excited that we figured he hasn't had this type of attention before. As we set off for the next 90 mins he followed again until Luke decided that we'd have to shoo him back to his owners. We finished with a 5km cardio death hill covered in sand, but smiling knowing we were one day closer to finishing.
With less than 130km left to do, we are now picking up some good Mongolian roads. Back in the UK they wouldn't even be considered as roads but over here they are the main supply routes to China and the Mongolian mines. Several 18 wheel trucks passed us this morning and all but 1 stopped to give us water. I had a great encounter with a Grandfather taking out his 2 Granddaughters for a horse ride. The 2 girls couldn't have been more than 7 or 8 years old approached me first and gave me 2 small slabs of hard goats cheese (a local delicacy) and showed me their little puppy. The Grandfather came over and I gave him my note. He handed it to one of the girls and instructed her to read it aloud. When she finished he smiled at me, patted her on the head and made each little girl shake my hand. We attempted a conversation about my route which included a lot of nodding and then I was on my way. The day flew by and before we knew it we had arrived in our final village check point of our trip. This would be our last chance to grab supplies before we hit our final destination. Essential supplies consisted of 2 ice creams each, several cold soft drinks, crisps and 4 cans of ice cold beers. As we camped up a few km's outside of the village we sat and sipped on our beers watching the sun set.....in 60hrs time it would all be over....we'd have walked the entire Gobi desert! Definitely one to tell the Grandkids!
So guys this is my last blog. Elise will take the last few days and to be fair she has such a beautiful style of writing I know she will will do the wrapping up of this epic trip justice. So far the £27,000 raised will fund the training of 16 councillors to be there, ready to take a call from a little child who's suffering abuse. As we head into the weekend have a look to see if you can spare a few pounds or dollars to help us be there for a child in need. Unfortunately the NSPCC can only answer 3 out of every 4 calls at the moment.
When we arrive at a village we have two things on our minds, fill up the water at the local well and fill our faces with ice cream, chocolate and soft drink from the local store. We arrived at Mongolias tidiest town on Day 49 and did just that. The cute little village was dwarfed by soviet era statues of imposing generals and what look to be wrestlers and when we finally departed we were buzzing with a sugar high waiting for the crash. The tension in the team had been building over the past week and by Day 50 it was time for us to all have a sit down and a chat. Anyone who tells you they have been on a long expedition and that there was no issues in the team are lying. In Elise's words " Some days I want to crash tackle Luke and give him 3 swift elbows to the ribs". Lovely wife I have haha. I can understand where she was coming from though, some days I to wanted to pull Matty's ears off and feed them to the camels, and I'm sure Matty has actually dug a hole somewhere in the desert with the perfect dimensions for Elise and myself. After a good chat and a hot brew the team were back on the same page and ready to crush it. We are pushing our bodies to the absolute limit and are set on reaching our destination on June 11. The bodies can hang on as long as our minds are willing. The desert has been kind the last few days and we are hoping she will grant us an easy exit.
We have currently raised just over £27, 000 for the NSPCC and we are so grateful to everyone who has donated and supported us on this epic journey. We have 6 days to go if all goes to plan and are hoping to hit the £30,000 mark. If anyone wants to send a donation to the NSPCC and the kids they support then please do so this week. Bed time for us, big day tomorrow.