Omar Shariff on the 40th edition of the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive - Tilal Swaihan Experience Image Credit: Supplied

One of the rules that govern my life is never to volunteer my services for things that don’t directly concern me. But I made an exception for the Gulf News Fun Drive and, for the first time in life, found myself manning a checkpoint. It was Checkpoint 2, sponsored by the good people at Castrol, in the middle of the Tilal Swaihan desert in Al Ain.

I love cars in general, and 4WDs in particular. I have been on three Gulf News Fun Drives before as a full participant with the kids. But this time, the event clashed with the exam season and my kids’ participation was not feasible. So when approached for volunteering duties, I said yes. The idea was to finish the work at hand, and hit the dunes in my own 4x4.

My job was to say ‘hi’ to the driver of each vehicle approaching Checkpoint 2, and sign off on a form confirming passage through said checkpoint. (Not exactly the most demanding task in the world, I hear you say. But hey, a job’s a job and someone’s gotta do it).

I reported to duty at exactly the annointed hour — 9am — and the first 4x4 arrived at 9.42am. It was a Range Rover Classic (could have been 1993 or 94), and had been heavily modified, including a manual gearbox swap. After that, it was a stream of both stock and customised offroaders.

By 1pm, I was flying down the dunes with my colleague and friend Tawfiq Nasrallah, trying to keep up with the other participants. A momentary lack in concentration meant I found myself hopelessly stuck in a sandpit, only to be pulled out by a Good Samaritan in a 200 Series Land Cruiser. (The camaraderie drivers show towards each other in the desert is something to behold).

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Omar Shariff on the 40th edition of the Gulf News Overnighter Fun Drive - Tilal Swaihan Experience Image Credit: Supplied

Fifteen minutes later, disaster struck. Losing control over a dune, I landed with such a thud that the impact blew a hole the size of a volleyball in my bumper. The windshield washer fluid reservoir was destroyed, too (and I am really hoping the washer pump is okay).

But I was not going to let a broken bumper stop me (this is my third bumper, by the way, and second washer pump). We soldiered on in the dunes, enjoying what has become the greatest annual event of its type in the region. We reached Checkpoint 5 by about 3pm, only to be told to take the shortcut to Checkpoint 8 as it was getting late (we started at 1pm, remember, not 10am).

At base camp, the highlight of the evening was watching the performance by the talented Ahmed Haffar (the ‘Voice of Dubai’) and the dinner banquet. And yes, the chair I won by suspending myself from a bar for a full minute at the Nature Valley stall.