By Clare Morin
The wind is whipping into the Cybertent, forcing sand into the computer keyboard as the hot sun sets over the camp at the end of Stage 1. Two competitors are sitting here, America’s Clancy Johannsen (47) and the United Kingdom’s Diego Carvajal (28).
They are cracking jokes with one another and enjoying the adrenaline of finishing the first day’s course. But they also share a deeper bond: both Diego and Clancy had to pull out of the Atacama Crossing 2010 due to injuries - and now they’re now back to finish what they started.
Colombian-born Diego (27), who was raised in California and then the United Kingdom, set out to become the first person to ever complete all of RacingThePlanet's events in one year. That would have included the 4 Deserts Grand Slam, plus the 250km roving race - RacingThePlanet: Australia, plus the 100km, single stage Taklamakan Ultramarathon. A huge 1350km of rough-country endurance racing.
However, by the third stage of the first race, his knee became injured. “Stubbornness dictated to go on,” he explains. “But they explained that the joint was loose – and could either result in fracturing the lower leg or floating bones.”
The British competitor made the difficult decision of pulling out in Stage 3, where coincidentally Clancy was also finishing due to an injury of her own and the impending difficulty of the salt flats. They decided to stay on the course as volunteers and found within each other a similar sense of humor.
A strong friendship emerged: “We were in the same truck going across salt flats, so we had lots to chat about and lots of time,” says Clancy. They forged a bond that would bring them both back to this desert. “Afterwards, we didn’t make a promise but kind of stayed in touch naturally. We write each other rude messages on Facebook, regarding our training and it keeps us in check.”
Diego went on to complete the Gobi March, Sahara Race and The Last Desert in 2010. Now that he’s back, Diego says, “Physically, I don’t feel prepared, but mentally - absolutely. Experience helps put you in survival mode. And not coming would have been worse, especially because of Clancy making it.”
As the pair joke with one another during the interview, it becomes clear how important it is to have people willing you on in a 4 Deserts race. “You can’t get anywhere if you don’t have friends,” agrees Clancy. “A hug, a high-five, we’re all here and going through it.” Clancy adds that family is also very important; her sister Teresa has accompanied her this year as a volunteer, her youngest son gave her a heart he drew, her older son prepared the music on her iPod and her husband prepared the food.
Diego confides that it’s the people in his life that will him on in his training, “I have pictures on my arm when I’m training, of friends, family.” He even has a picture of fellow RacingThePlanet athlete Pete Jong when the Australian was out in the Sahara. “He looked like a broken man, it shows you that you just need belief,” he says. “Pete did finish that race. You also need messages,” he adds. “Messages are hugely important. Messages from friends telling you you’re a sissy, and also nicer, more affectionate ones.”
As he says this, a huge sound emerges from the camp surrounding the Cybertent: the final two competitors from the day’s race are crossing the finish line and a welcome drum is resounding. The entire camp erupts in cheers and claps – and it’s a timely reminder that a desert race is not necessarily a solitary pursuit, but one filled with camaraderie and deep friendships.