Canadian endurance athlete and adventurer Ray Zahab is in Chile this week where he has just launched an epic long distance run across the Atacama Desert, a place that is renowned as the driest environment on the planet. Zahab is making the attempt as a challenge to his own abilities, but also as part of an educational outreach program with the hopes of delivering an ongoing message to students about the importance of biodiversity to the health of the planet.
All told, the run will cover approximately 750 miles, starting in the northern part of the desert and heading south. Ray hopes to complete the expedition in a little over two weeks and will average more than 43 miles per day on foot. (That’s a marathon + 17 miles each and every day for those keeping track at home!) All of his gear will be carried in a backpack, along with the 8 to 10 liters of water that will be necessary for each day. A support team will make strategic water drops along the route, so that Zahab can count on a fresh supply when needed.
Along the way, Zahab will use satellite communications technology to interact with school children in classrooms all over the world. As part of the impossible2Possible program, a non-profit organization that seeks to educate and inspire young people through adventure, he’ll reach more than 16,000 children to deliver a message about threats to the environment. The desert will make for a stark contrast to a similar expedition that he conducted last year in the Amazon Jungle.
Zahab is no stranger to these kinds of challenging adventures. He has already run across the Sahara Desert, traveled to the South Pole, and set a speed record for traveling the length of Russia’s Lake Baikal on foot, a distance of nearly 400 miles. On each of those journeys he was joined by his partner Kevin Vallely, who was to be included on this expedition as well. But just days before the start an illness in the family forced Vallely to pull out, leaving Zahab to run the desert solo.
Caught in the rain shadow of both the Andes Mountains and the Chilean Coastal Range, the Atacama Desert is considered the driest place on Earth. The region averages just 1mm (.04 inches) of rain per year, and many areas have not seen rain throughout recorded history. One study suggests that river beds in the Atacama have been dry for more than 120,000 year, which gives you an indication of what Ray will be up against over the next few weeks.
You can follow his progress at AtacamaExtreme.com where he’ll be posting daily progress reports and updates from the field.