A few weeks ago, far away from the media circus and as yet unpublished, three experienced endurance athletes - all with a Formex Swiss Watch on their wrist - started a 350-mile trek across the Namib desert. Their aim was to set a world record for the most consecutive miles ever trekked unassisted. The terrain they would be crossing is among some of the oldest, driest and most barren places on earth leading to early explorers calling the Namib Desert ‘The Gates of Hell’.
The three athletes, Angus Collins, Ian Couch and Jason Caldwell, of Team Latitude35 have notched up some incredible achievements. The Team holds a combined eight Guinness World Records across three oceans and four continents. Their most recent achievement was in early 2017 when 4 team members crossed the Atlantic Ocean from East to West on a rowboat in a world record time of 35 days, 14 hours, and 3 minutes, achieving an average speed of 2.986 knots over 3,000 miles.
However, even with their impressive pedigree a trek across the Namib Desert is not to be undertaken lightly. The terrain, whilst starkly breath taking, is brutal consisting of sand dunes, rocky cliffs and mountain ranges; temperatures reach 90-95 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and plunge to below freezing at night; provisions for the entire trek have to be carried and water dug for en route at watering holes or underwater oases. There is also the local wildlife to consider, lions, buffalo, black rhinos, hyenas, vipers, giraffes, ostrich and elephants. Following an intensive training regime for six months, the plan was to cover 30 miles a day by hiking, running and fast marching over a route that had been broken down into 7 legs.
“Time is an integral part of any expedition, from counting down to the start date, preparing, packing and training,” said Angus Collings. “To taking on the trek where we run in shifts, set times for breaks, targets for distance covered and counting down to the end of each day. From our previous experiences, from rowing oceans, trekking Papua New Guinea or running across Greenland we have learnt that only the toughest, most durable equipment survive in the harshest environments. Having a watch as tough as a Formex will help the Latitude 35 team to achieve what some people consider the unachievable.”
The team set off in high spirits but 10 miles into the trek Ian began to exhibit symptoms of heat exhaustion, bordering on heat stroke, at which point the support team attended to him. The unforgiving terrain had claimed its first victim, a 5 times Guinness World Record holder who has rowed across the Atlantic twice and completed endurance challenges such as running through the Gobi Desert.
Jason and Angus pushed onwards. At mile 50, Angus, an adventure and endurance athlete who holds numerous world records in ocean rowing, also began having symptoms of severe heat exhaustion and thankfully Team Latitude35’s support team came to his aid. The “Gates of Hell” certainly lived up to their name by bringing two top endurance athletes to their knees.
With both Ian and Angus safe and on the road to recovery Jason doggedly trekked on wanting to make his fallen teammates proud by beating the current world record of unassisted desert trekking of 107 miles. In order to set a new record, Jason had to cross a lion preserve and trek through a tough area where two rivers merged. Dillo, a local tracker, hiked with Jason to track any potential danger.
On Day 6 of the trek Jason writes in his diary, “My water situation began to get dire again. I approach a much-needed small water hole, with fresh water. Dillo doesn’t want me to stop as he identifies it as a lion’s den with fresh tracks and the smell of urine everywhere. Thirst drives me to disagree with him, before a minute goes by Dillo yells, “we must leave now!”. The next 5 miles I’m going as fast as I can to get out of the territory as Dillo says we are not safe. At the end of the day Dillo casually lets me know a lion was stalking us throughout the day.”
On Day 7 Jason confided in his journal, “The final day. I’m so happy to be on the last stretch but so sad that my journey through this beautiful desert is coming to a close. In the closing miles I am treated to two rare sights - a full moon setting on the western horizon as the sun rises on the east. And a few hours later, a mere two miles from the finish, Dillo and I see a rare black rhino, one of only about 500 left in the country.”
Facing challenges of loneliness, the dangers of the local wildlife and battling the sun and the elements, Jason finished 137 miles in seven days, on foot and unassisted, across the Namib Desert, thus setting a new world record. He reflected in this journal, “the trek is over and I know for sure I’m not the same person leaving this desert as I was when I walked into it - and it’s a good thing.”
He continued, “With regards to adventure these days, the world only recognizes two feats - being the first or being the fastest. Latitude 35 is always chasing one or the other. And both require precision timing because no matter whether you were the first or the fastest, you can bet that someone is right behind you ready to best your achievement. That’s what makes adventure so special, and why time will always be a part of that.”
Formex CEO, Raphael Granito, congratulated the Team on their incredible achievement. “It has been thrilling to follow and support Team Latitude35 as they push the boundaries of endurance to set this new world record. We have always liked to describe our watches as pretty much indestructible and they have proved themselves in the most brutal and extreme conditions.”
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