DUBAI When Max Calderan returned to his Shams apartment in Jumeriah Beach Residence from his “extreme desert expedition” last Wednesday, nothing, not least the record-breaking feat he had just accomplished, could compare with the touching homecoming.
His six-year-old son Lion Saeed, who was flapping his arms on either side, literally flew to him, almost as if his six-day absence had made the heart grow fonder. Calderan scooped him into his arms and could barely hold his tears when the print on the little boy’s new T-shirt caught his attention.
“My father is a total legend,” read the Tee which Calderan’s wife Valentina had specially got to welcome him home.
“I was so overwhelmed by the love and support and can’t explain the feeling,” Calderan told XPRESS, a week after he became the first-ever person to cross the Tropic of Cancer in the UAE non-stop on foot.
Known as the Son of the Desert, the 48-year-old Italian covered 340km of the Tropic of Cancer line through the UAE from the Saudi border to Oman in 128 hours between March 18 and 23. What’s more, the 600,000-plus steps he clocked were at a stretch, barring short dusk and dawn rest breaks spanning 90 minutes each. The extreme desert explorer, who has found his place under the sun, is now seeking an entry into the Guinness Book of World Records – for good measure.
But why Tropic of Cancer? For Calderan, the journey symbolises an effort to make the impossible possible. “The most northerly circle of latitude on earth at which the sun may appear directly overhead at its culmination, this imaginary line’s position is complex and varies over time.” When Calderan started out, his GPS showed 23° 26”. He crossed the line in Oman in 2007, covering the 437km mountainous and sandy terrain in 90 hours on foot. But this time’s expedition through the UAE proved more challenging.
“I earlier managed 100-120 km a day. But when I set out this time, it took me an hour to cover just one km on the first evening. With three bottles of water in hand, I walked all night. It was pitch dark, the sand soft and slippery, the dunes tangled and the winds strong. A rain storm with rumbling thunder and lightning didn’t help matters. I knew I was all alone in the vast expanse of the desert, pitted against these powerful forces of nature,” said Calderan.
But as he explained, therein lay the purpose of his expedition. “My journey is meant to inspire people that if they have a strong dream, nothing can stop them from achieving it. Think of an issue you are not able to accomplish and find the key within yourself to unlock the door of happiness. It’s the journey, not the goal that brings you joy.”
Calderan said he has undergone rigorous training – from depriving himself of food, water and sleep for long hours to covering 700 floors non-stop in his 46-storey building in one night – to help him through his explorations. “I showered and changed into my expedition clothes three days in advance so that I would smell as natural as possible when I hit the desert and help keep foxes and other animals at bay.”
He said his love affair with the desert began as a little boy. “Back in Venice from where I come, my mother bought me a set of encyclopedia in 1974. I remember pulling out one of the volumes and opening a page that happened to feature the Rub Al Khali or Empty Quarter in this part of the world. I was fascinated by its beauty. I found myself making a painting out of it and vowing to my mum that I would walk through this desert one day.”
Thirty two years later, the dream is work-in-progress. “Inshallah, it will be fulfilled by the end of next year,” said Calderan.