Imagine you had to walk across the Rub’ al Khali – the “Empty Quarter” – of the Arabian Peninsula. This 250,000-square-mile desert is the largest sand desert in the world. Sand dunes there reach as high as 800 feet. It rains less than two inches a year. The surface temperatures reach 125 degrees. Think about the three most important pieces of equipment you’d need, beyond the most basic stuff like shoes, clothes, food, water, etc.
This isn’t hypothetical. Three guys decided to try and walk across this desert completely unassisted. In 2013, South Africans Dave Joyce, Marco Broccardo, and Alex Harris became the first humans to walk completely unassisted through the Empty Quarter. They plotted a 1,000-kilometer course from Salalah, Oman to Dubai. Their story is completely nuts… but fascinating.
The most obvious piece of advanced equipment you’d need? A GPS, right? Nope. What they needed most wasn’t a GPS… or even a map. What they had to have to make it across 1,000 kilometers of desert in 40 days (after which they would have quickly starved to death) was Google Earth. They needed to know their precise position in the desert relative to the giant sand dunes, which you can only see using Google Earth’s satellite photos. Before the advent of publicly available satellite photos, walking across this desert would have been impossible. GPS alone wouldn’t have been enough.
They also needed a strong, lightweight, easy-to-pull cart, so they could carry enough water for the journey. Obviously, they needed food, too. But the water was far more critical and heavy to carry. They spent about three years testing various designs for carrying enough water. The key to success was using mountain bike tires on their cart, rather than wide full tires, which were too difficult to pull through the sand.
And finally… to make sure they had continuous access to Google Earth, they needed to use a solar-based charger to power up a satellite phone. They lost the charger on the 10th day of the trip. So one of them had to turn around and follow their tracks for 25 kilometers to find the charger before it got dark. Without it, they probably would have died. Imagine trying to find that charger… before dark… in the desert… by yourself… knowing that if you couldn’t find it, you and your friends would probably die.” – Stansberry Research