Downhill hero René Wildhaber enjoyed an uphill experience in Salalah blazing the trail of the camels. Nishad Padiyarath meets the Swiss adventurer to share the thrills and spills
One of the most memorable and captivating experiences you can have in Oman is to ride through the rippling, windswept desert on camelback and camp out under the stars. Mountain bike Enduro prodigy René Wildhaber got the same kick, but not out of riding a camel and not in the desert. He was actually in the back of the camels 10 hours a day for a complete week.
Every year when the Khareef season sets in, camels wander around the green patches created by the incessant rain in Salalah. It was here that the Swiss mountain bike Enduro rider followed in the footsteps of the camels. He shadowed the camels on some of the most unique routes the region has to offer — in the stunning and green Salalah, a city which lies only a few hundred kilometres from the Empty Quarter.
Acknowledging that it was not the way he envisioned Salalah, Wildhaber said: “I expected a desert, only sand, but then I found (green) mountains here and it’s really nice, like at home but without snow.”
What fascinated Wildhaber the most as he set out to explore Salalah was the camels — the ship of the desert. Not a common sight in his native Switzerland, so he decided to track their trails. With the task of designing the trail left up to the camels’ devices, Rene’s ride was laden with challenges, because what sometimes looked like an easy trail turned difficult with unforeseen bends and twists.
“On the trails here, you see a good variation of inclination, so the camels sometimes like to walk steep, and sometimes they go flat. They are the trail builders here,” he adds.
René rode 7km nearly 10 hours a day in average temperature of 26°C during the week-long adventure. “You never know what you get around the next corner, so you have to look forward and be awake,” says Wildhaber.
Wildhaber’s routes were not always approachable by car so at times he had to hike the mountains to reach the right spot. Riding in such areas clearly meant he needed energy to stay strong throughout the long day. The winning diet combination for him was: carb-rich bread, potatoes, beans and protein and water mixed with Red Bull.
On choosing Salalah for the project, Wildhaber said: “It was the fact that mother nature herself, with the help of the camels, was what shaped my route, rendering the whole process a uniqueness rarely found elsewhere.”