Friday, February 27, 2009

A smile means friendship to everyone...

On a recent 4x4 trip into the desert we had one of the best experiences one could hope for in the Middle East.

OK, now I know you are thinking, whatever, no way. You've been to the 7 star hotel and on white sand beaches and run through Wadis and ridden camels and been surprised by the Tiffany Diamond within the last what, 5 blog posts? There's no way, right? Can't top those.

Maybe not. But if there was something we could say we'd hoped for when we came out here, well, this would be it.

First of all, we were out in the beautiful desert with friends. That alone qualifies as pretty darned good. We had a picnic out on the sand dunes and ate almost as much sand as food when the winds picked up. Mike drove one of Bird Car's tires right off it's rim (this made a particularly exciting popping sound) which was pushed back on by an Aussie friend with his bare hands and feet. He also taught us the value of carrying a piece of plywood when driving out through the sand...otherwise, there's nothing to brace a car jack upon, and it's rendered essentially useless. Ah, those resourceful Aussies...

But what was truly stand-out about this trip was that on the way out to the dunes we'd been spotted by some Emirati children who raced over the dunes to intercept us. Little boys, full of chatter and sweet smiles, offering us some freshly milked camel's milk (now, trust me, THAT was some good stuff. Camelicious! To heck with pasteurization.) They wanted to know, did we bring the Sheik with us (er, no) could they ride on the top of Bird Car (heck no!) they wouldn't fall off, they promised (still no) and would we come to visit their tent later?

Well, yes, on that last one. Apparently this was a large family get-together, siblings and cousins who had come out camping in Bedouin-style tents on family land where they keep the family herd of about 400 camels. They pointed the huge herd out to us; sure enough, coming slowly over a distant dune, camels. Lots and lots of camels.

Over other dunes we could see another group approaching us, these ones brightly dressed. They hesitated a ways away, and we realised these were the girls of the family. Bethy and I went down to invite them to join us, and the little girls and their Filipina nannies gleefully accepted.

I offered them a package of graham crackers as a thank you for the milk. I knew they hadn't had those before. I had to hunt those suckers down over many weeks of searching. In fact, Graham once said he'd never even heard of them before...imagine, a world without s'mores...eek.

We said good-bye to the kids after a bit, and the other 4x4s in our group headed out. Mike was a darling and drove our family over to the camel herd for a closer look. While I was bummed that neither the batteries in my camera, nor the extras I'd brought were apparently charged enough to take any photos, I can tell you...tall animals, lots of legs, and if you feed one, expect the rest of them to come check you out.

When an entire herd of camels comes looking for a handout they tend to block out the sun. Make sure you have an escape route, manned by a large vehicle to back you up; though this particular crowd was well-behaved, it's always wise to respect things bigger and faster than yourself and prepare accordingly. There were tons of babies, and the overwhelming smell of camel. A bit like a horse, but gamier.

We spent the day as described, driving around, and at the end all in our group agreed that visiting the childrens' camp was something we couldn't miss.

The kids were ecstatic to see us, and led us to an open tent with carpets laid down for sitting. The women of the household were quickly veiling up at our approach, (our guys hung politely back until the flurry was complete), one older woman wearing the burqua mask, the others in various stages of concealment and forward mannerisms. We sat upon the rugs, honored guests.

The oldest two boys, cousins perhaps ten years of age, shared responsibility for being the men of the household and rose to the occasion by, beneath the eye and subtle guidance of one of the ladies, serving us coffee and dates and fruit.

I complimented the most outgoing of the women there on the courtesy and hospitality of the boys, knowing how important that is to Arabs. "We raise our men the right way," she said, with a proud tilt to her chin and flashing eyes. Then she smiled. I had hit the right chord.

One of the other guys in our group leaned over and said to me, "If only my redneck Dad could see me now, what would he think? This is amazing."

The other kids, including Bethy, were running around in their bare feet in the camel yard (good thing camel poo consists of marble-sized dry hard pellets) having a fantastic time. Thomas kept edging further and further away from the guest tent to go join the fun. I excused myself and carried Thomas out to the pens and corrals.

There all the kids were clambering over mostly patient heavily pregnant camels. Climbing on and off, patting. Each camel had a name, and the kids were pleased to perform introductions, telling us which were the "good" and which the "naughty" ones.

Camels, I found out later, are pregnant for some 13 months, yet most of these fine ladies were patient and kind beneath the onslaught of all those little kids, even the rotten little boy who kept whacking the mothers-to-be with a stick and yelling at them in Arabic. This distressed the Filipina nannys who told him repeatedly and exasperatedly not to, with no discernable effect on his behavior.

The camels, the kids told us, are brought in off the desert to give birth. Over in another pen was the "Grandfather" camel, a huge dark male for whom the childen obviously held much reverence. Two of the little girls came over and, taking my hand, "Come see! Come see!" pulled us over to an enclosure separate from the rest of the pens. Inside was a mother camel standing over her newborn baby, just minutes old, all wet and curly.

She exorted her baby to stand with gutteral but somehow gentle mother camel grunts. The poor little creature's spindly legs were all tangled and hardly seemed up to the task that seems awkward for even the practiced adults.

The mama camel laid down carefully on the ground next to her baby and nuzzled and cuddled as any mother might. As I stood there with my children, and the emirati children, I couldn't believe that we were really there, watching this small miracle in the desert.

It was then that Bethy pulled on my shirttails. "Moohm," she whined, "when are we going home?"

"Oh, are you tired, sweetie?" I said sympathetically, still in the glow of the beautiful parenting skills being played out in front of us.

"No," she replied, "I want to go because I haven't gotten to watch TV all day."


I made some sort of comment about throwing the television set in the garbage can when we got home...

When we left, the oldest woman there, the one wearing a burqua mask, said simply, but in a way befitting royalty. "You are welcome here any time."

They gave us a huge container of milk, and another huge package containing dates.

In Bedouin culture, to dine with then in their home means that not only are you accepting their hospitality, but as their guest you are under their protection for three days by that family, no matter how far away you travel. It's an awesome thought.

Shukran we said, and went home to not watch television.

Thomas' hair smelled of camel.

That day was truly a gift.

Special thanks to Shuko for remembering her camera batteries and for the photos used in this post.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Younger than springtime are you...

It must be spring.

Little girls are learning to jump rope:

Date Palms are blooming (see the yellow cluster of flowers?):

It's upwards of 90 degrees...

Ah, spring...

Monday, February 23, 2009

Breakfast at Tiffany's...

Sometimes, even in Dubai, something exquisite happens that catches you off guard and thrills you to your toes. I had no idea, when I went with a friend to the new Dubai Mall late one evening after we both decided we needed a break from our domestic duties, that I would have my second Audrey Hepburn Moment.

Cathy and I had had one of those days and were trying to decided whether to go running or shopping. It was already dark, didn't really feel like hitting the pavement (ususual for us) so we took a little trip to the new Dubai Mall. Cathy had already been there and was willing to play guide for me. Low-maintenance girls, we both agreed that the World's Largest (yeah, yeah, we know) Plexiglass Aquarium and the new large book store were our destinations for the evening, and other than that we'd have some coffee and let the stores fall where they may.

The bookstore was great, picked up a few things, the aquarium hugely wonderful. I loved the stingrays in particular.

We'd wandered and shopped a bit more, and it was edging towards midnight. As we were wandering past the plethora of jewellery stores, the display at Tiffany's caught my eye. I'm pretty immune to such things...Dubai has bling everywhere, so it takes something pretty unusual to get my attention. The necklaces in the window were ususually beautiful and elegant. They looked like something Princess Diana might have worn.

I told Cathy "We have to go in there!" She agreed to be dragged. There were two gorilla security men in dark suits guarding the front. They were serious business, didn't speak or open the doors for us. Okaaay, we thought and went inside. Piece after piece, sparkling beneath the lights, this stuff was undeniably exquisite. The staff, who must have been very bored just before closing time, were watching us, and one struck up a conversation. It turned out that the pieces were part of a private collection and were there to celebrate the shop's opening. After chatting back and forth a little bit about the gemstones we were admiring, he seemed to decide something.

"I'm going to show you something very special." he said. "It's only here for a short time." He escorted us to a small room that I hadn't noticed in the center of the store. Through the door and my hands flew to my face. In the deeply carpeted room there were two chairs, a glass display case and

"It's the Tiffany Diamond!" I gasped, completely awestruck.

It was indeed. In its Bird on a Rock setting, the perfectly cut, enormous diamond gleamed yellowly. More than twice the size of the Hope Diamond, the Tiffany Diamond weighs in at a staggering 128.54 carats. It had been at the Smithsonian, last I'd heard...and now it was here in this little room with us.

The man who cut the diamond in 1878 studied it for a year before cutting it to its dazzling 82 facets, 24 more than is traditional to capitalize on its size and sheer brillance.

It was breathtaking.

Then, another sharp intake of breath. According to the little placard accompanying, the gem had only been worn twice, once by a socialite at the 1957 Tiffany Ball, and once, oh yes, by Audrey Hepburn to promote, of course, Breakfast at Tiffany's.

The jeweller was tickled to see our reaction, I am sure. He even gladly took our photo for us.

Who knew, bumming around a mall after bedtime in jeans and a T-shirt, something like this could happen?


Special thanks to Cathy Ogur ( and for the photographs.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My hump, my hump, my lovely...

There was one last thing that Pat and Colleen wanted to do while they were here in the Middle East. It's the same thing that we have been wanting to do since we got here. Can you guess what that might be?

Riding a camel. We all really wanted to ride a camel.

I knew that there were a pair of camels at Jumeirah Beach Residence (JBR) and I had my friend up in one of the high-rise residences keeping a watchful eye on the beach, ready to call us as soon as the camels showed up. As the days of Pat and Colleen's visit dwindled down to the last day we tried to say oh well, it didn't matter, maybe next time, but I don't think we were fooling anyone.

Mike has a good friend at work, Fred, (short for Fereidoon) who had invited us to his highrise apartment overlooking the beach for an authentic home-cooked Persian meal. Fred is a hilarious man of small stature and great intellect, and as the resident Iranian is known playfully as "The Axis of Evil". He made a delicious meal, including some amazing onion-y garlic-y dark eggplant in a smooth sauce that converted Mike to an eggplant lover at first bite.

After lunch, while we were chatting and hoping the kids wouldn't destroy his house, the rallying cry went out. "Camels on the beach! Camels on the beach!" Fred was a congenial host and escorted us gamely down to where the dromedaries had been spotted. As we walked the sands we couldn't see any sign of the animals, and I wondered if, indeed, we'd missed them again. We'd tried so many times to take Pat and Colleen to places that were closed, missed the camels while we were elsewhere, but this time everything came together and soon negotiations were being performed to get a ride for our guests.

The camel, dressed for the occasion in brightly colored camel rug and tassels, laid down on the sand for Colleen and Pat to climb on. The seats were well-padded with rings to hold on to. A few taps with a stick and encouraging words, and the camel lurched to its feet. Colleen and Pat set off on their slow-seeming swaying transport down the beach toward the Burj al Arab, led by the Arab on the other camel, perched traditionally behind the hump in his bare feet. I chased them with the camera for a bit, but was soon outdistanced by the camels' long strides.

We were all grinning ear to ear when the camels came back. Colleen was so excited after the camel luched and thumped and was finally back down to the sands to let them off. She had wanted to give us something nice as a thank-you present and she'd found a perfect fit.

We convinced the camel driver that the four of us weren't so heavy that we'd cripple his camel, using the cuteness of the children shamelessly, backing it up with dirhams. (I am very glad we couldn't read the driver's private thoughts at this point.) Bethy sat in front with me, Thomas sandwiched in the middle and Mike doing his best to contain him from the back.

Our guide instructed our camel to stand. Now, camels, once up, and camels reclining, are dignified graceful creatures. The process between, however, is a real shenanigans. To stand up the camel first pushes straight her back legs, causing her riders to pitch sharply forward, then heaves their front legs off their knees onto their feet, pitching back to level. The angle, staring down onto the camel's neck during that inital lurch is slightly alarming, but being who we are, well, you never heard such giggling in your life.

Two-thirds of the way up...

Once our camel was up, the guide mounted his camel with ease, and after a couple of fortunately untranslatable grunts from our camel, we set off down the beach. The noise a camel makes is not attractive. They could do a duet with a walrus. We were deeply in love with our camel though, especially her gorgeous dark fuzzy round ears. Their ears are incredibly fuzzy, just as their lashes are very long, to help keep sand out.

Camels are, in fact, about as perfect of a desert animal as they can be. Their humps store all their fat (not water), so that the rest of their bodies aren't insulated by a layer of fat and stay cooler. In fact, during the hot summertime camels huddle together to stay cool, as their body temperatures are lower than the environment. Their toes are spread out and act as a snoeshoe to keep them from sinking into the sand. This also makes them extrememely quiet as they walk, as I can testify to, having been sneaked up upon. Nothing like feeling a presence behind you, tuning, and seeing an extremely large animal towering (albeit politely) above.

As I understand it, all racing camels are female; fortunately our camel was placid and kind to her novice riders and behaved admirably. I had heard rumors of camel handlers in Egypt who would sell you a ride for $10 and then charge you $20 more to help you get off the camel! I had thought at the time, whatever, I'd just jump off. Now atop the camel, I had to reconsider that one. It's a long way down! Thomas kept trying out the "look! no hands!" routine but Mike had a good grip on him and he stayed aloft.

A blissful swaying ride over the white sands, weaving our way around the sunbathers snoozing on their towels (did they wonder what had blocked their sun for a moment?) and other beachgoers, all grinning at us as we plodded by.

Camelcam perspective
(are those not the best ears ever?)

The handler lept from the back of his camel and we went through the reverse rock-and-roll routine of getting the camel down on the sand, dismounted, posed for photographs and thanked our ship of the desert for being so lovely.

Thomas actually kissed our camel good-bye.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Welcome to the hotel...

There is one thing that I have wanted to do since before I even set foot in the United Arab Emirates. Something that probably tells quite a bit about my personality, and embarrassingly so, I suppose. But since you already know all about The Hat, there's no point in hiding it.

I have dreamed of having the highest of High Teas at the Sky Bar here:

At the Burj al Arab. See that bit that sticks out right by the top on the ocean side, opposite the helicopter landing pad?

That's the Sky Bar.

You can't even go into the lobby of the Burj al Arab, formerly the world's tallest hotel at 333 meters (1090 feet) unless you are a guest there. (Of course it has been topped by...two other hotels in Dubai. What else is new?) It calls itself a 7 star hotel. The iconic sail, to resemble that of a Dhow, is our favorite building in Dubai.

So Colleen and I decided we'd "treat" each other to birthday teas there, since neither one of us felt we could justify buying such a thing for ourselves.

We made the reservations, and when the day came we were a bit nervous, a bit keyed up. We tried to be casual about what to wear and such, but it was all an act. Of course we primped and preened and took too long to get ready.

I'd decided to park at the nearby Souk Madinat, and have us arrive in a taxi. The parking spots there are ridiculously tight, and though I wedged Bird Car backwards into one, there was no way I'd be able to open either door to get out. So we tried backing onto another spot. A passing gentleman took pity on us and offered to park it, and for once I stepped on my feminist attitudinal tendencies and accepted. (Mike later teased me a lot about this, but for the moment all I wanted to do was to get us to the tea.)

Car parked, we headed up the escalator, and a disaster of small proportions struck. The escalator wasn't running, though often when you step on a stopped one it starts. Not this one. We both stepped, and stepped again, and Colleen caught her shoe in the mid front of her skirt. The skirt she'd been saving to wear for just this occasion. The skirt that we'd carried around in a shopping bag to try and find the perfect shirt to match, the skirt that we'd emptied out my closet to find a top for. The skirt that ripped quite a bit, dead front and center.

There was no helping it, it was pretty trashed.

I dragged her to the nearest cashmere wrap store in the Souk. "Scissors, we need scissors!" we gasped. Colleen held up her hem while the bemused young man did his quick best to even out the hem once the major hole was cut out. Colleen moaned and groaned but I put us into a taxi to the Burj al Arab.

We made it through the gatehouse and were unceremoniously dumped off at the entrance, despite giving the cabbie a triple-the-fare tip for such a short drive, he was still surly. Usually cabbies and I get along, but not his time. Colleen was still making decidedly unhappy noises about the state of her dress, and I had to snap her out of it for fear she'd be so self-conscious she'd miss the experience.

I am, as you know, a big fan of experiences. Legal ones, anyway.

So, after managing not to have to physically shake her by the shoulders to lighten up, we both relaxed and began to look around as we headed for a grand...escalator. I snatched one of the largest, most delicious dates I've ever had to good fortune to enjoy, and we rode up next to a huge wall of darting salt water fish, swimming playfully over their home of coral.

At the top of the escalator was a view, straight up, of the (yes, yes) world's tallest atrium:

Boarding the nearest elevator, we were whisked up to the top and stepped out to the Sky Bar reception area. Warmly greeted, we were brought in past a man and his party who were most assuredly being turned away, not even being allowed to "take a peek".

It's possible there was a tinge of smugness at this point.

Escorted to "the very best table, madams, the very best" we were overwhelmed by the view. It was splendid...all of Dubai laid out below us, the curve of the Jumeirah Hotel, the dark spire of the Burj Dubai, and to the sea, the barges pumping sand onto the World Islands, the Palm Islands and Atlantis, the white strips of beaches below us and blue stretching away to the horizon. You could sense the curvature of the earth.

A helicopter flew in to land on the helipad. We watched it and then its shadow soaring over the blue waters far below until its shadow merged with the that of the Burj al Arab.

We spent long minutes exclaiming over the view to one another as we sipped flutes of Mo√ęt & Chandon White Star champagne with accompanying berries. If we put down our glasses it was to pick up our cameras.

Our menus arrived. Tall, thin and elegant. It took three pages just to list the gourmet teas. One could have gone the coffee route, but that would have been just plain wrong.

I selected a classic, handpicked "Splendid Earl Grey-Darjeeling Autumn", (these teas had pedigrees like race horses), Colleen chose a fruit tea and still fretting, requested another set of scissors to further doctor her torn skirt. Of course the accommodating hotel staff magicked some for her out of somewhere.

We were each brought our own little teapots with much ceremony. Sadly, these pots were engineered so that the leaves sat in the hot water, oversteeped, and became tannic. A shame of a thing to do to such an excellent tea. Design flaw. Only a tea snob would notice. (How embarassing!)

Accompanying the teas was what they named "Pure Indulgence," an eye-catching Burj ala pastries, handmade chocolates (with edible gold and silver foil), mouth-watering little cakes, tea sandwiches and mignardises. (feel free to look that last one up, I had to.) After we ate the top tier the plate was whisked away and replaced with one bearing scones with incredibly delicious handmade jams and Devonshire clotted cream.


It was a lovely dilemma to be in: what tiny taste sensation to try next. We ate until completely satiated, with delicacies to spare.

Walking all around the deck of the Sky Bar, it was true, the waitstaff had given us the best table in the house. All the tables had magnificent views, and I imagine after dark the city lights and stars must be enchanting.

Several hours of tea-ing, we finally left, rode down the elevator, found another one with glass open to the view and joyrode that one up and back down just for the fun of it, then wandered the exclusive shops and admired the impressive water-percussion fountain beneath the atrium. This consisted of streams of water timed to make a toe-tapping, eye catching spectacle of water pattern and sound, building up to a high finale of crashing water.

A hotel employee whose sole job it was to wipe up and squeegee the water worked endlessly aside the fountain.

Another percussion fountain spanned the entire space between the two grand staircase-escalators, with sound and light to dazzle us. We loitered as long as we could justify in this surreal world, then walked outside and back to Souk Madinat in the afternoon light.

Such a thrilling and indulgent way to spend our birthday celebrations together. Truly memorable.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Run to the hills, run for your lives...

(3 of 3 posts)

The Hajar Mountains during the Wadi Bih Relay Race

This race was truly an endurance challenge. Yet it was fun, too. I was continuously amazed by the athleticism of my teammates. Far, far up, at checkpoint 13, half of the 75 km, Kathy turned it over to Graham, and he set off back along the route we had worked to hard to complete. Fast, no less. Now it was all retracing our steps, literally.

Sara ran down the leg I'd killed myself to get up, and claimed to have loved every step of it. "It was like being a kid," she said, laughing.

It was getting hotter, the dust from the passing vehicles in our nostrils. My teammates were extremely solicitous of me, making sure I was ready to run again. I was, whether I was ready or not. It grieves me that I flat out don't look the part, but, as I said, these were all "real" athletes. Someday I'll give myself that title...for now, I still have to insist to the folks in the shoe stores that no, I'm a runner, not a walker. Yes, yes, that really is my weekly mileage...

Perhaps that's why I've vowed to come back and take on that mountain leg again next year...

Pausing for a quick photo at the bottom of THAT jebel (mountain) leg on our way back.

We continued taking our turns at the portions of the run, now enjoying running past folks still on their way out. Our photograph taking ebbed with our energies, though everyone was still grinning, still having a good time. Back out of the mountains, past the tiny settlements, finally back onto the pavement.

The five of us ran the very last 0.9 km together, leaving behind the car, back to the beach as we chased after Graham, who was still running hard. My lungs ached with the effort, but at a respectable 6 hours,27 minutes, and 47 seconds, we ran across the finish line.

Later, out of curiosity, I worked out that this was an 8:19 minute mile pace. This is similar to how fast I run on the flat around Safa Park.

Mike and the kids met us at the finish line, and my family spent a what can best be described as a miserable night as the four of us all tried to fit in to a too-small hotel bed. There's nothing like running that far and then not getting a good night's sleep. Graham can tell you. He was in the next room over and had to listen to us.

I thought I had a bug for the marathon, but now I know what being bitten by the bug really means. I will be thinking of Wadi Bih over the next year, and I'll be back.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Does that make me crazy? Possibly...

(2 of 3 posts)
Starting up that mountain, I knew I was in for it with this leg of the race, but I wanted to see what would happen. This sort of behavior always got me into trouble as a child, as my parents will be happy to tell you, and I still haven't learned the lesson. Probably too late at this point.

I knew this portion was more than 2 km, and from what I could see it was nothing but straight up a winding mountain road going up to a towering crest far above the valley. The top did look like about a vertical mile, but no one could be expected to run this entire monster by themselves, could they?

First it was major effort. Then it was worse. My team drove slowly past on the incline, I think I waved and tried to smile, though it probably lost translation on the way to my face and emerged as a grimace. They disappeared around a corner, needing to keep going to not stop or slide.

I was having a similar problem. Trying to keep the cadence of my feet consistent, my steps got smaller and smaller until I was barely inching my way up. Sweat was stinging my eyes and dripping off my face onto the sand as I gritted my teeth and strained and pushed.

It was like going through the stages of grieving.

First: Denial. I can do this. I will not falter, I will not fail. I will not break stride. This isn't as hard as it seems. Pain is temporary.

and so forth.

Second Stage: Anger. Aaargh! I said I wanted this and I WILL have it! I won't let my team down, damnit damnit DAMNIT!

My calves, thighs, toes, back were cramping, burning, screaming. How did my legs get so heavy? Around each corner, I could see no sign of the changeover, just the other racers faltering, struggling, suffering as I was, though they were higher class of athlete and a few passed me. It was like a slug race, though. Slowwww-ly passing, slowwwwww-ly left behind. We gasped encouragement to each other and kept going.

Keep going, keep going. I couldn't see, my eyes stinging from the sweat and sunscreen, couldn't hear for the roar in my ears. Was that my heart? I broke. Dropped to a walk. I forced myself to make it a long-stride, fast as I could, high arm swinging "in your face" walk, but it was still a walk.

Stage 3: Bargaining. I'll start running again at that rock there and not stop again. OK, that wasn't so good. Um, I'll run from there to there, and then walk some more. If I can just catch that guy right there...OK, maybe not, (at this point an extremely fit runner, maybe 75 yards up the trail from where I was collapsed and was hauled into a support car), I'll take 50 sets of 4 steps and then walk...push push push....

Stage 4: Depression I am so letting my team down. They have got to be wondering what on earth happened to me. They're going to wish I wasn't on their team, they're going to hate and blame me, they worked so hard and I'm messing the time all up...

team member Kathy

team member Tom

team captain Graham team member Sara

I stopped and took a very, very deep breath. Bent double. Then straightened.

Stage 5: Acceptance That little shack or whatever it is at the very very top? Well, that must be it. This really is a run to the very top. This is quite the mountain. There's no getting out of it, there's no quitting, so now we just do this thing as best as we can.

This didn't make it any less miserable, but I could see the valley when the leg had started far, far below me now. That the cars were having trouble going up was actually encouraging. My team would know I was working hard for them. Though I'd started out well-hydrated, my tongue was feeling thick, and though my lungs had recovered somewhat with the walking and were ready for more work, the calves and thighs simply couldn't run more than a few yards at a time. I concentrated on how much ground I was covering rather than how fast my legs were going, and that helped. Up, and up, cars and runners alike cautious of getting in each other's way. Under my feet the rubble slipped and shifted, but I huffed and puffed like the little engine that could.

There was a welcome flatter area just before the final curve and peak, and I tried to get up some speed there, but with limited success. Back on the unbelievable incline. By some miracle I made myself move my feet fast enough to approximate an attempt at running as the final summit came...and that wasn't the end either.

But up, and over, and down a small hill, there was my team! The downhill cost me much, but it was such a relief to GO again, and to release my back and legs and let myself flow down the mountain to my team, the muscle fibers pulled so tight now returning to the other direction. It felt unbelievably good. I made sure I ran every millimeter of the way to the checkpoint number, touched Kathy's hand and she blazed off.

I don't remember now much of what I did next. I think I did some walking away from the group for a moment to catch my breath, I know I got something to drink, though whether I acquired it for myself or had it pressed into my hand, I do not recall.

What I never imagined was that Graham would report my jaunt in the Dubai Road Runners newsletter when he wrote up the Wadi Bih race. He sends this out to hundreds of people, by the way. Here it is, in all its glory:

Here are a few nominations for additional awards.

The Dumbest action of the day........ Natalie Van Cleave

Natalie was getting a bit hot under the collar because she was not getting enough running. When she was given a 1.5 km leg she felt short changed. As she came to the change over point she said "Can I carry on and do the next leg too?" We gladly conceded. The next leg was 2.2 km with a climb of 300m. At the top Natalie mumbled that in the history of mankind maybe only 5 things were dumber than volunteering for that leg.

He also emailed to me the following: I just checked out the route on Google Earth. On the two legs you combined up the hill you climbed 324m or 1069 ft. I guess that statistic is going to find its way onto your blog.

How correct he was.

(to be continued---hey, this was a really long race!)