Sunday, December 27, 2009
On our way back from Whale Valley, the chitchat was all about our upcoming offroading adventure and sandboarding experiment. We flew down the dirt track until suddenly, the driver swerved off the track and into the desert. The ride was still smooth--so smooth, in fact, that the driver started angling the vehicle to catch a few humps and allow us to feel like it actually was an adventure. Every time we hit a bump, most of us groaned as we jerked unceremoniously into the air. The exception was my mom--she loved it. I'm convinced she encouraged the driver to keep it up, but that's okay.
Before too long, we pulled up in front of a large dune and stopped. The drivers and tour guide got out and took a good long look at it, and a couple of us tourists got out and snapped some pictures. Then the drivers and tour guide all returned to the vehicle, rounding up their errant charges along the way, and we were off again. It wasn't until we stopped again that I realized what was wrong with the first dune--it wasn't large enough!
When we stopped again, we all piled out of the vehicles without waiting for permission. I looked in awe at the huge dune. We were supposed to climb that and then race down it on boards?
I wasn't too sure about that ... but there was no way I was going to not sandboard, either, so I compromised. I grabbed a board and headed up the dune, but I only went halfway up. I looked at those crazy people who were going all the way to the top. I may have muttered something along the lines of "I'd break my neck!"
I wasn't the only one who was hesitant to try full-fledged sandboarding from the get-go. A friend and her husband also went only halfway up, and it turned out to be a very good thing for me. We watched from our perches halfway up the dune as our guide showed those brave souls at the top how it was done. About the only thing we could make out was that you sit in the sand, put your feet in the straps on the board, then stand up and go. So I sat in the sand and tried to put my feet in the straps. Much easier said than done! The slippery board kept sliding away from my feet. Finally, my friend's husband stood in front of me and propped my board up with his foot. After that, getting my feet in was easy. But I quickly realized that I would not be standing up on my own. Luckily, the kind man who had just helped me with the board was willing to help again. Offering his hand, he hauled me to my feet and then prepared to send me on my way down the dune. Much to his surprise, I had developed a case of the jitters and didn't actually let go of his arm. As his wife laughed--and Jeff took pictures from the bottom of the dune--he helped me steady myself and eventually convinced me to let go of him.
I started sliding down the mountain ... and suddenly stopped. The front half of my oh-so-slippery sandboard was buried in the sand! Being unable to bend over to wipe it off without tumbling, I hopped around a bit and tried to lift it out of the sand. I slid a few more inches down the dune. Good enough. I stepped out of the straps, picked up the board, and turned to climb back up the dune, not quite sure what I had done wrong.
I went a little higher this time than I had the last time. I sat back down in the sand and tried--unsuccessfully--to put my feet back in the straps. I had no help this time, as my assistant was busy helping his own wife. About that time, I saw the guide fly past me from the top of the dune on his way to the bottom--and he was lying down on his board this time. Facefirst down the huge dune--I don't think so! He was followed by one of the kids, sitting on her board. Hmm ... now that looked like a position I could get myself into. So I positioned the board on the sand and plopped myself onto it.
As soon as my feet came off the sand and onto the board, I started sliding, faster than I had when I was on my feet. Excited, I leaned forward in an attempt to go even faster. The tip of my board promptly buried itself into the sand. Aha! That was the problem--if the weight is on the back of the board, the tip rises out of the sand; if the weight is redistributed to the front, the tip gets buried and the board comes to an inglorious stop, no matter how steep the dune. Armed with this new knowledge, I tried it again, starting from my highest position yet. It worked much better this time, and I got a good fast ride all the way down to where the dune started leveling out.
About this time, Jeff got tired of taking pictures. He grabbed his own board and started up the dune. After a couple of practice runs from halfway up, it became obvious that he was going to the top. I decided that it was time, and I was going all the way up too.
The going was easy enough for the first half of the dune. Then it got steep, and the sand fell away under my feet, preventing me from making upward progress. I had to use the board as a brace, shoving it into the sand ahead of me, then climbing to it. After several minutes of hard work--how did the others make it look so easy?--I made it to the top. I sat down beside Jeff and rested while he prepared for his run. I looked over my shoulder at the other side of the dune, just inches away from me--it was a vertical drop. I wished I had my camera, but it was at the bottom with Mom, who was happily documenting our adventures. Then Jeff was ready to go, and I cheered for him as I watched his ride.
Finally, I felt ready to make my own run. I carefully positioned myself on the board, making sure to keep as much weight as possible toward the back. I lifted my feet from the sand, and I was off! The board followed a path chosen by the contours of the dune, as I never did figure out how to steer. I looked ahead and saw the young daughter of Jeff's coworker, climbing the dune directly ahead of me. "Look out!" I shouted. "I can't steer this thing!" I'm honestly not sure if she managed to get out of the way or if the dune's contours altered my path or if both factors came into play, but I missed her by a good two feet, much to my relief. She just cackled like a madwoman as I passed her, so I knew she was fine. I sped on down the hill, gradually slowing and stopping at the bottom.
I decided that it was a good run to end on, especially since I was still a little out of breath from the climb. (I didn't know yet that I was pregnant, although I wondered why I was having a more difficult time physically than I expected based on my admittedly not-great physical condition.) I joined Mom and took over some of the responsibility for the pictures, watching as the kids in our group quickly became expert sandboarders. A few of the adults learned quickly as well, but most of the adults ended up coming down the same way I did--sitting on the board.
As the sun made its way toward the horizon, we realized that we were still many kilometers from Cairo. Because we were supposed to be back before dark--a goal we already knew we would miss--we decided to head back. Happy, exhausted, and incredibly sandy, we climbed back into the vehicles, wondering whether we'd find the opportunity again to participate in this fun, surprisingly painless (even when falling) sport.