Water splashed over the large brimmed hat, Gilles poured and poured on Didier’s head to help reduce his temperature. Droplets floated in the air like stars in space and as they made contact they exploded with dramatic effect.
Dried salt on cheeks and lips disappeared but moments later re-appeared as the searing 50+ degree temperatures evaporated the water that continued to pour.
It was very early on in the longest stage of the 28th edition of the Marathon des Sables. It was midday. Gilles and Didier had only dented the distance needed to be covered before the 34-hour cut off would be imposed.
Moving onward, Didier embraced Gilles arm for stability. A very sore and enflamed right knee could give way at any moment. Gilles as ever, faithful to the cause provided the support and self-sacrifice to ensure that Didier’s journey to the line was safe and as trouble free as possible.
Twelve hours after the start, darkness approached and with it some food and rest. With a new lease of life the two continued into 13 km of relentless dunes that reached two to three meters in height. In the distance a green laser shows Gilles the direction he needs to go. Didier follows, two become one and as the sun rises and the heat returns, victory and the opportunity to fight another day seems possible.
From the finish line I see two shadows on the horizon. It is 1600 in the afternoon. The warriors have been on the trail for 32-hours. Tired, weary and emotional they approach the line. I see Didier’s tattoo glisten in the scorching light. An MDS logo on his arm with nine stars around it, a star for every MDS finish. Next to the 9th, a space, would he obtain that 10th star at the 2013 edition of the race?
In the final meters to the line you can hear the shouts from MDS staff, “Bravo Gilles”, a marshal shouts “Allez Didier” and then the clapping and whoop whooping starts. It’s done, they cross the line an incredible 75.7 km’s completed over some of the most demanding conditions possible.
Didier falls into the arms of Gilles in an embrace similar to a small child who has just found a lost mother. Tears stream down his face as he sobs uncontrollably. Gilles, all smiles, pulls away and kisses him on each cheek with a passion seldom seen. It’s a moment I will never forget. It epitomized all that the Marathon des Sables represents. It shows a bond between two people and confirms all that is good and pure in human nature.
You see, this is no ordinary achievement, Gilles is a guide and Didier is blind.