How modern adventurers put cart before the camel in 'crazy' desert crossing

Story highlights

  • Two British adventurers attempted to cross the Empty Quarter of the Arabian peninsula
  • Tracing the exploits of British explorer of 1940s Wilfried Thesiger
  • Duo could not afford camels so pulled a home-made cart
  • The area has been transformed beyond recognition in many parts since Thesiger's adventure
Hot, thirsty, frustrated and exhausted, British adventurers Alastair Humphreys and Leon McCarron were already feeling despair set in.
At this early stage of their expedition to trek across the Arabian Peninsula's forbidding and desolate Empty Quarter, however, the pair had got no further than the wet sands of the English seaside town of Margate.
Humphreys had hit on the idea of dragging their 300 kilograms of water and supplies for the 45-day 1,000-mile (1,609 km) expedition on a homemade steel cart, but as the pair labored to heave the heavily laden cart through the boggy sands of Margate on a test run, doubts were starting to set in.
"The purest way to have done the trip would have been camels but we couldn't afford it, so that ruled that out," Humphreys told CNN. "I liked the aspect of the cart because it made it a physical challenge which appeals to me.
"The cart in theory was the right idea, but the cart in practice was absolutely terrible," he said.
With no steering mechanism, the wrong sized wheels and a fundamentally flawed design, just six weeks later the pair flat-packed the conveyance to begin the long walk from Salalah in Oman to Dubai in the United Arab Emirates.
Undaunted, Humphreys and McCarron undertook the arduous journey with a budget of just £2,000 ($3,270) and made modifications to the cart on the road.
"I think it was a good demonstration that the main thing is to get out there and make stuff happen," he said. "We could have spent a whole year in the UK to get sponsorship for some carbon fiber cart and we still wouldn't have done the trip."
If nothing, he said, the cart added to the comedy value of his film "Into the Empty Quarter", which was released last month.
In the footsteps of Thesiger
The aim of the expedition was to retrace the footsteps of one of the legends of desert exploration, British adventurer Wilfred Thesiger, who in the 1940s on two separate trips charted vast tracts of the Empty Quarter -- or Rub' al Khali as it is known in Arabic -- a sea of sand dunes and flat featureless plains that spans modern day Oman, Yemen and Saudi Arabia.