A 200+km all-female self-supported trek across the Jordan desert
I had never hiked more than 8 miles in one go in my life. So when I was asked by Bex Band to join her and Mollie Hughes on an all female 200+km desert crossing in Jordan, carrying all our own kit, my initial response was “there’s no way I can do that”. I'm so glad they talked me into it.
I had no faith in the strength of my hips after years of struggling with hip dysplasia and finally having an operation which I never fully rehabilitated from. I knew this expedition would make or break them.
I was unable to train for the expedition as just before going I had also started trying to run again, and a little too excited by the downhill bits, had given myself runners knee. So I went to Jordan underprepared, unsure of what to expect and completely unaware of what hiking up to 30km in a day in sweltering heat with a heavy pack and variable terrain would feel like. I was so grateful to have Bex and Mollie there too, and we set off for Jordan excited and a little apprehensive.
The route was 200+km from Dana to Wadi Rum along the Jordan trail which in some places is more of a theoretical trail than an actual path. We were to navigate by GPS to very specific locations where we would receive a water drop every night and wild camp.
I was blown away by Jordan from the day we arrived. The people were so welcoming, the scenery was absolutely spectacular, and the hummus was out of this world. We began with a night in Dana to acclimatise and eat every last morsel that was put in front of us before beginning 10 days of expedition rations. We started the hike by walking through a deep valley with incredible red cliffs either side, and sat for tea with bedouins grazing their sheep. The trail continued over mountains, often using bedouin trails, from grassy land to deep dry wadis; from tall cliffs and hills to flat arid desert plains. The sights were immense, and I felt so fortunate to be able to see these places that so few people experience.
One of the reasons for choosing this trip was to challenge gender stereotypes in the Middle East. We came across several bedouins along our journey, and almost every one asked where our man was, or where our guide was. The women we met seemed particularly taken aback by our lack of male guide. Having Mollie with us, who had summited Everest twice, was a great trump card to be able to play when our abilities were brought into question; I stayed quiet about my minimal hiking experience! Despite the shock at seeing three women alone in the desert, almost every person we met was welcoming, generous and respectful; “Welcome to Jordan!” was yelled at us with genuine joy by several people we passed. There was a day when we were hiking through arid plain with nobody in sight, when a pair of bedouins on their camels appeared from seemingly nowhere singing songs, dismounted to have lunch with us and showed off their camels to us, one of whom was Jordan’s second fastest!
I suffered heat stroke one afternoon, the sun blazing down on us all day. We came across a small group of tents and animals, and an ancient looking man with about 3 teeth approached us and offered us a tent for the night, food, water and somewhere to recuperate. He made us tea and settled us in before telling us about all of his children. His name was Abu Sabah, and he was gentle, kind, helpful, generous and welcoming: After a night staying at his family’s camp witnessing a stunning desert sunset, we were refreshed to set off again the next morning.
We were chased by camels, cuddled goats and shook scorpions out of our tents. We were hungry, happy, sad, exhausted, exhilarated; we laughed, cried, napped and rose before dawn every day.
I discovered that I COULD walk 200km in the desert heat, and not only that, I could enjoy it, immensely. I found quiet resilience and joy in the mindful monotony of planting one foot in front of the other for what seemed like endless hours each day. I realised I had written myself and my body’s ability off too soon - I considered myself a water baby, but realised I loved exploring on land too, marvelling at the massive cliffs and the incredible wadis. I learnt about the desert, about navigating on land, and I learnt so much from my companions. I harnessed the ability to remain calm and compassionate and found that kindness and positivity can overcome even the toughest of days hiking.
I learnt that opening our world to new experiences can empower us in ways we hadn’t imagined. I believed in strength of mind, and considered this to override perceived physical ability, but this stopped at anything involving my hips. To be released from that cage was the most wonderful and freeing feeling.