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|Charlie Engle, Ray Zahab, and Kevin Lin (left to right) covered over 4,300 miles during the expedition.|
|The expedition crew struggled to keep an accurate day-to-day account of their course through the Sahara.|
One of the things that really motivated us was the fact we decided that water was our real focus during this expedition. That sounds obvious for runners, but what I mean by that is we actually aided in setting up a NGO [nongovernment organization] called, "H20 Africa." The goal was to help bring attention to the problem of clean water in Africa. In particular, bring attention to the problem in the Sahara Desert. It was very motivating for us just to run through these towns and villages and see people that were happy, well-adjusted and family-oriented. But almost every place we encountered lacked access to clean water. We're hoping that in phase two of this expedition, happening now, we're able to bring attention to that and solve a few of the problems over there. Q: I recall reading a story from Don Webster's blog. You all encountered a 7-year-old boy whose parents left him alone for a couple days, with very little food and drink, while they went to search for water. It seemed stories like that were common. A: Very common. That little boy was incredible. I have children of my own, Brett and Kevin, who are 12 and 14. I couldn't imagine leaving them anywhere in the world. I couldn't imagine leaving them in the house for two or three days by themselves! Just picture this 7-year-old boy who is out there in the desert in his nomadic camp. He's fending for himself while his parents are off with the camels on a two-day journey just to get enough clean water to bring back to camp to last for a week. Then, the process starts all over again.
Q: I know you were able to give the boy some water and cookies, but it's like that will only last for so long. A: You really hit the nail on the head right there. I was almost embarrassed at times about the expedition. When we did happen to encounter a village that might have some bottled water, I'm a Westerner and I could afford to go in and buy it. These people don't have that luxury. It was just very humbling to be there and see it firsthand. I realized that I had an opportunity to do something about it. I'm not sure what kind of impact I can make, but I do feel like it's my responsibility to at least spread the word and do what I can to bring attention to it. A: What political conflicts did you encounter? A: We had a very difficult time getting in Libya. It's a dangerous area to go into and they weren't certain they wanted us there. Politics, religion and everything else was taken out of the picture. We commend them for that because we were certainly nonpolitical and nonreligious. They recognized that and realized we were hoping to do some good things for Africa. They allowed us to pass through. Q: It was actually a situation where Damon had to fly over from the "Bourne" set in London to Washington, D.C., to meet with people. Ultimately, it wasn't him that ended up helping, but rather a gentleman from Los Angeles who was involved in that community. A: Right, it was a man named Omar Turbi. I had actually seen him before on "Larry King Live" and some other shows. He's an American, but born in Libya. He's a Libya expert. He was very well-connected with the Libya government. Q: You mentioned the dangers involved with this expedition. It was scary enough running on the streets with how bad some of the drivers were. Then, you're running through areas where there are minefields. A: I'll give you two very brief stories. One was when we were in Mauritania. We called it the Highway of Dead Animals. It was a wide two-lane road where cars regularly drove 100 mph. There were no fences, even though camels, goat and sheep were all being herded. Animals, just like deer in our country, happen to wander out in the road all the time. Let's just say it was ugly. Every day, we literally encountered hundreds of dead animals along the side of the road. Unfortunately, the smell that comes with that will never leave me. The other story involves me stopping to pee for the hundredth time that particular day. I stepped into this field and stepped over the remnants of a barbed wire fence. I'm standing there, doing my business, and one of the guards yells at me to come back over. I walk back over to him and he's making what I like to call the international sign for explosion. He's shaking his finger at me and pointing to where I was just standing. I got the picture and was a little more careful after that. Q: I should also point out there are apparently some difficulties in going to the bathroom in sandstorms. A: Very, very true! We had a 21-day stretch where we had winds and sandstorms that blew up every single day. Our joke, Kevin's in particular, was that you have to be very careful which direction you pee in a sandstorm. The crazy thing is that it's almost like a little tornado. Really, it didn't matter which direction you peed in. You were either going to pee on yourself or somebody nearby.
|The crew stands at the exact starting point of the expedition in St. Louis, Senegal.|