Steamboat Springs Eric Meyer hesitated as he told the story of his latest adventure.
The accomplished mountain climber who has summited two of the world’s tallest peaks was recounting his six days and nights in the Arabian desert.
The Abu Dhabi Adventure Challenge cast Meyer and his team of three friends more than 250 miles into and around the unparalleled sand dunes of the United Arab Emirates, up nearly 2,000 feet of climbing and across miles of sea in two-person kayaks.
It was a challenge the likes of which Meyer said he’d never encountered, and one question made him pause as he related his story.
“Was it fun?” he echoed, stopping again. “Yeah, you could say it was fun, I guess. It was hard. It was brutal.”
That Meyer, a Steamboat Springs anesthesiologist, found the six-day trial hard is no surprise. It sounds disturbingly hot and difficult, even on a snowy Steamboat day.
Meyer was asked by a group of friends in the summer to join in the adventure race effort. He had gotten to know that group — Jason Magness, Daniel Staudigel and Chelsey Gribon — at yoga conventions across the country. The group pieced together a number of sponsors — Inov-8, Ibex, Prana, u-hydration, Nuun and Talus Outdoor Technologies — and left for the desert.
It all started Dec. 4 with an Olympic-length triathlon that cut through the city streets of the city of Abu Dhabi, the bustling metropolis that is the capital of the oil-rich UAE.
That section included nearly a mile of swimming, 25 miles on a bike and just more than six miles running. Upon crossing the finish line, the 40 teams that started the race were thrust into a 20-mile sea kayaking stage.
That was nothing compared to the 35 miles of kayaking that awaited on Day 2.
“I hadn’t had any opportunity to do any paddling, but Dan was an expert sea kayaker,” Meyer said. “I learned pretty quick from him. It’s really important to do the technique correctly, but fortunately, I had good coaching from my teammates.”
The race’s third day started perhaps the most brutal phase of the week, a 75-mile “run” through the Rub Al Khali, a massive and unforgiving desert known as the “Empty Quarter.”
The trek took two days, the only support therein coming from a few scattered water depots.
“It’s known to have the highest sand dunes in the world,” Meyer said. “The sand was super fine, and there were a half dozen checkpoints you had to reach and about four different places where you could resupply with water.
“It was super challenging with a four-person team to keep everyone together and keep your nutrition going, keep up the fluid intake and electrolyte intake.”
After 33 hours, the team emerged from the desert.
Long haul to the finish
The desert may have been the most difficult part, but finishing there didn’t mean things got much easier.
A 52-mile mountain bike phase awaited on Day 5 — a significant challenge even before long stretches of the course had to be hiked when storms covered the road in a thick layer of fine sand.
Finally, on Day 6, Meyer got to something he knew intimately well: a climb up the tallest mountain in the UAE, the 4,068-foot Jebel Hafeet. More biking followed as the trail led into the desert oasis city of Al Ain. Then, after a four-mile run through the city’s streets, team Yogaslacker finally crossed the finish line. It was 19th out of 35 teams that finished.
“We felt pretty good about that,” Meyer said. “We were able to finish every single stage. We didn’t have any injuries or major mishaps, so we were pretty happy.”
He said there were difficult portions for everyone and that, at times, each member of the party was roped to another during the long desert running stage to help conserve energy and simply survive.
And there were many incredible moments.
“Looking out at the scenery is just absolutely beyond description, the beauty of sunrise over Arabian desert and sunset, then being on the top of this big mountain in the middle of the desert — just incredible,” he said.
Was it fun?
He said yes, but almost reluctantly. Perhaps a better test of how he considered the experience came moments later.
Would you go back?
“Sure,” he said without the hesitation. “I’d do it again.”