Crossing the Sahara Desert: Where There's a Will, There's a Way
Brian Tracy’s inspiring book, Success is a Journey: Make Your Life a Grand Adventure, is a personal tale of the voyage to success. Tracy begins with a goal: to travel from America to Cape Town, South Africa. Making his way to Africa with friends, the next challenge is crossing the Sahara desert.
Along the way Tracy identifies the necessary steps to setting and achieving goals. He doesn’t glorify this process like many other self-help books; instead he exposes the personal ups and downs experienced on the road, illustrating the inevitable obstacles on the course to achievement.
Tracy’s honest, down-to-earth tone makes Success is a Journey an easy, enjoyable read that is worth your attention on a rainy afternoon. Travel to Africa in your mind in the comfort of your home and get inspired to begin a journey of your own, whatever and wherever it may be.
From the sand dunes of the Sahara to the sunny beaches of Southern California, Tracy is now Chairman and CEO of Brian Tracy International, “a company specializing in the training and development of individuals and organizations.” Essentially Tracy works to motivate and improve businesses and the lives of others, and he’s very good at it.
Tracy has consulted for more than a thousand businesses, spoken to millions of people over the course of his thousands of public talks, and written more than 45 books as a top-selling author.
Don’t get too intimidated, he to had to start somewhere to get where he is today, and that was someplace between biking through Europe and driving through the Sahara. Lessons learned from Tracy’s challenging journey from California to Africa has made him the successful motivational speaker and businessman he is today.
Below is an excerpt in which Tracy describes the many bumps in the road, (sometimes literally) while driving across the Sahara:
Section 5: Never Give Up
“If at first you don’t succeed, try, try again.” These words have been responsible for the success of many men and women struggling against apparently insurmountable obstacles.
Sometimes your greatest asset can be your ability to persist longer than the other person. Your willingness to continue even when you feel like quitting will often win you the day.
Between where you are and your goal are a number of hurdles or “tests” that you must successfully pass to succeed. And you never know how many there are. You only know that the number is limited and that at any time you might be just one step away from great achievement.
Expect to meet many obstacles, difficulties, and temporary failures on the way to your goal. They are essential to your eventual success. You need them. They are each sent to teach you something vital that will help you.
And you never can tell how close you are to your goal, right now.
Chapter 17: The Sahara Crossing - The First Attempt
After leaving Bob at the highway, we returned to town and spent the remainder of the morning rotating our tires, putting the two worst tires on the defective front end. In the heat of midday, we washed all our clothes in the dwindling river, bathed ourselves, and put our things in order for the big push. When the petrol station reopened at 4 p.m., we filled the tank and three jerry cans, and started out on the long haul south.
Welcome to the Sahara
Two hours and 90 kilometers later, only a short distance before Abadla, the first town after Columb-Béchar, we ran into a sandstorm.
Although it was at least one hour before sundown, the light began to fade rapidly, and the sky seemed overcast. Then, off to the east about five miles, we saw it. Like a huge dirty cloud, thousands of feet high, a wall of murky gray was moving across the land like a monstrous amoeba, enveloping everything in its path. We were driving parallel with its front, and from the wind rattling the plastic windows, we recognized it for what it was immediately.
It seemed to be moving very slowly, and we thought perhaps we’d be able to outrun it. However, its speed was deceptive, and it rolled over us as we reached Abadla. The few people still outside were running for cover, clutching clothes and headdresses over their faces. We didn’t stop at all, but continued through the howling, dry blizzard to get out from underneath it. The windows and the air vents were shut tight, but it made little difference; the fine sand swirled in everywhere, and into everything, forcing us to pull our shirts up over our noses to reduce the dust we were inhaling.
The storm was so thick it obscured the road; Geoff had to peer intently through the dusty window to keep us from lurching off into the sagebrush. The wind pummeled at the canvas top and shook the doors angrily, whistling and gusting and thickening, hitting us first from one side and then from the other. Shifting again, it would rise and come straight down the road, shaking the Rover from side to side like a small boat on a choppy sea.
Then, just as suddenly, we were out of it and driving in the quiet sunshine of early evening. Behind us, the whole countryside was blotted out in a whirling mass of gray, while ahead the road flowed on peacefully across the empty landscape. A few kilometers farther, we stopped and wiped the grit form our faces and ears, and dusted off the windows, hearing the distant roar of the storm coming through the still air. We had our first welcome to the Sahara.
I learned that the storms in life come suddenly and wreak their havoc, causing damage and endangering lives. All you can do is hunker down and hope for the best. And, once the storm is past, to carry on with your life and your journey as best you can.
From Sandstorm to Tire Problems
The sun sat on the horizon like a burnished ball of gold when we came out of the sandstorm, then looked like a knife edge of flame. Then it was gone. The darkness fell and then rose again with the twinkling of a million stars. As though on cue, the country has begun to flatten after Abadla, and the occasional mesas that has dwarfed the sagebrushed plain, at heights just under 1,000 feet, ceased to be a feature of the landscape. The headlights sucked in the flowing ribbon of tarmac, to the accompanying purr of the tight little engine and the ominous growl of the scraping tires on the front. The miles fell away into the darkness behind with easy regularity. We drove in silence broken only by the odd comment on how lucky we were that, after all the floundering that had marked our first six weeks on the road, the way ahead at least seemed clear and largely uncomplicated.
There was no traffic, in either direction, for a long time after dark. The first headlights that appeared on the road ahead aroused little interest, until we passed the car and saw that it was on the shoulder and quite stationary. Stopping immediately to investigate, we found an old 1955 Ford packed with seven Arabs among baskets and bedding and one dog. The driver, a bedraggled Algerian in a dirty shirt, got out as we approached and began jabbering rapidly, much too fast for us to understand.
We answered him in English and got the desired reaction – he shut up. Then, speaking slowly and distinctly in French, we gleaned that he had stopped for some reason, after which the car had refused to start again. Bringing the torch from the Rover, we lifted the hood, exposing a filthy engine with jumbles of loose wires and broken fittings –a real mechanic’s nightmare. With a pair of pliers and a screwdriver, we tightened everything that had any thread left and told him to give it a try. It made no difference; the engine turned over but would not fire.
There was no question about leaving them. In that empty country, the code of the road required that we either send them on their way or take them. I brought the Rover around and Geoff, over the protests of the Arab, took the wheel of the Ford while I pushed the old wreck down the highway. After a quarter of a mile, it finally caught with a roar, sputtering and coughing. Shouting over the noise of the engine, we told him to keep the revs up and, no matter what, not to stop before Abadla. We waited until the rumble of the old Ford had faded into the distance before continuing. It had been our first opportunity to reciprocate the assistance we had received, and we were glad of it.
Half an hour later, we came upon another vehicle and were met with a strange scene. A half-ton Citroen pick-up truck, piled high with baskets and blankets, was parked by the road, while behind it on the ground, 16 Arabs squatted peacefully around the little fire. Stopping the Rover where we could watch it, we approached and inquired of the man who rose to greet us if he wasn’t in need of anything.
Oh yes, he said easily, he was out of petrol and would be most pleased to buy a little from us, if we had enough to spare. But first, he said, we must have a cup of tea. Always suspicious of smiling foreigners, and more so in the middle of the night, we declined the tea but poured 10 liters of petrol into his tank, charging him what it had cost us in the Columb-Béchar. However, he was not to be put off, and insisted we come and sit by the fire.
An old Arab was feeding pieces of broken brushwood into the little blaze under a blackened pot, and everyone seemed quite merry about being stuck in the middle of nowhere, 40 miles from the nearest town. The driver produced a package of cigarettes and we squatted with the fellows to join the party. When the tea was ready, we relaxed a little and became a part of the gang.
The tea was poured into thick, little clay cups, and was sweet, minty, and very hot. Soon we were chatting away jovially. But for us the complete nonchalance of the strange group toward their circumstances was slightly unfathomable. We were enjoying the tea and the chatter but were becoming uncomfortable about the time we were losing, whereas they didn’t seem to care at all.
Finally, the tea was finished and the party broke up. All 16 of the long-robed Arabs arose to shake our hands, some twice, with cheery smiles and vigorous head nodding. As we regained our vehicle, they began to reload themselves back into the pickup, until it was a mass of humanity, the rear end almost touching the ground from the heavy burden. We waited until they continued on their way before driving on. We were behind on our schedule, and hoped our services wouldn’t be required anymore that night.
About 20 minutes later, our left front tire went flat with a dull plop. In the 135 kilometers from Béchar, the half-worn tire had been ground right down to the tube and was ruined completely. The other front tire was only slightly better.
We realized that we were faced with a major mechanical problem, and although we had a spare tire of sorts, it would be folly to continue. We drove the vehicle 20 yards off the road, parked it, and went to sleep on the sand nearby.
We had left civilization behind, but hadn’t left the flies. More dependable than an alarm clock, they drove us out of our bags at half past sunrise, buzzing delightedly at the two guests who had stopped during the night. A sober inspection of the Rover showed that it would have to be partially repaired before we moved, or the other tires would likely be destroyed, leaving us stranded. Mounting the front bumper on the jerry cans as before, we dug out under the wheels with the machetes and removed them to see what we could see. And all that we could see was the other side of the front wheels. We decided against dismantling anything before having a qualified opinion on the cause of the trouble. I departed for Béchar, hitchhiking, half an hour later.
It was one hour before a car came along the lonely road northbound, another hour before I reached Abadla, the three hours after that when I was dropped off in Béchar. In the meantime, the sun had burned off the coolness of the morning and set in like a bake oven, making me very thankful that I’d thought to bring a canteen. The lack of passing motorists had turned an 80-mile trip into a five-hour ordeal in the hot, empty land.
At the main garage in Béchar, I tried to explain our problem. They told me that they would have to see the vehicle before passing judgement. I next tried the Foreign Legion post on the edge of the town, but they wouldn’t let me in the gate to speak to a mechanic. The guard, however, told me to ask at the Highway Department building, a mile down the road.
The girl at the desk of the entrance hall ushered me into the unadorned office at Monsieur Leroux, the type of man who can be found occasionally in obscure places, seemingly for the set purpose of restoring one’s faith in human nature. He was a husky man with a long face and an ability to grasp the essentials of a situation, no matter how confused its presentation, and my presentation was surely confused.
As soon as I had outlined the problem and showed him approximately where the vehicle was on the large wall map, he told me to go back to the Rover. He would radio to his garage in Beni-Abbes, 40 kilometers past the spot, and have someone sent out to take a look at it. There was no question of payment, or mention of the fact that it wasn’t his responsibility to help itinerant travelers, nor would he accept any thanks. Only ten minutes after entering the building, I was back on the road, waiting for the next car south.
Four hours later, I finally grinned down a truck that got me back to Abadla, where I waited another two hours for a second ride in another truck, arriving back at the Land Rover just before sunset.
It was like coming home after a weekend out of town. Geoff had passed the day reading and waving to the few motorists, all of whom had stopped to offer assistance, food, and water before going on. Two hours previously, he said, a light truck had come from the south, and the two Arabs inside had stopped to inspect the Land Rover before saying something about tomorrow morning and disappearing back down the road.
I explained what had taken place in Béchar with Monsieur Leroux, from which we reasoned that the two fellows had been sent and would return in the morning to repair the defect. We were there for another night.
Time for a Council Meeting
It was time for another war council to decide how to proceed from that point. The mechanical difficulties were only part of the problem facing us, since we needed a minimum of two tires before we could continue toward Lagos. The repairs were going to be expensive, we reckoned, and in our financial position, we couldn’t have them done and continue with the Rover, too. Since going back, as Bob had done, was unthinkable, we would have to find another solution.
There was only one alternative –hitchhike to Lagos, pick up the money, and hitchhike back for the vehicle. It would be extremely difficult, we knew, but it was our only choice. We certainly could not quit, not at that stage of the game.
We could leave our Land Rover at the Highway Department in Colomb-Béchar, load up with enough food for two weeks, and hope for the best. Once over the Sahara, which increasingly seemed to be our big stumbling block, we would be in more heavily populated countries, and would surely get along somehow. Realizing that any more discussion was worse than fruitless, we turned in early to be well-rested for the coming day.
At 7 a.m., the light truck from the previous afternoon reappeared, and the two Arabs examined the Rover once more. The driver of the vehicle shrugged and said that there was nothing he could do, but he would escort us back to Abadla, to the workshop, and perhaps they could repair it.
We put the old spare on in place of the ruined tire and followed him slowly. The mechanic at Abadla hemmed and hawed for the entire morning before informing u sthat he knew nothing about Land Rovers and we would have to go to Béchar to find someone who did. He had held back that little tidbit of information until it was too hot to drive, forcing us to wait the afternoon in a little mud-walled café, listening to the wailing of Arab music coming from the speaker above the door.
The return to Béchar took four hours of 15-mile-per-hour driving, and it was with great relief that we made it back to the riverbank to spend another night. It was a bit like Dunquerque, we felt, in that we had made a successful retreat, but we weren’t any closer to winning the war.
We woke in the morning amid a herd of goats bleating, their bells tinkling merrily. The old gaffer steering them along the riverbank showed no emotion at the rudeness of our awakening, aside from a toothless grin, he plodded on, swinging his staff. Fortunately, the goats avoided stepping on us directly, and we withdrew into our sleeping bags to avoid any low-flying hooves until they were past. No one sleeps after something like that, not us anyway, even if the flies weren’t there to remind us that it was time to be up and out hitchhiking.
Our patron saint of Columb-Bechar, Monsieur Leroux, readily agreed to our leaving the vehicle in the Highway Department compound, where it could be watched during the day. We thanked him profusely once more, the pulled on our loaded rucksacks and hiked out to the main highway.
Attacking to the Rear
Sometimes a tactical retreat, allowing time to reassess and reconsolidate, can save the entire situation. There is a time to advance boldly, and there is a time to back off and reconsider.
The person who is going back the fastest is often the person who is going forward the fastest in the long run.
Conserve your resources. There are some decisions you cannot afford to make. The cost of being wrong is too high.
Look at your life today. What are the major sources of stress in your world? In what areas should you withdraw and regroup?
Taking time to rethink and reevaluate your situation can enable you to see it in a much better light.
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