Lawrence resident survives Gobi challenge
By Mark Ambrogi
“Every dreamer knows that it is entirely possible to be homesick for place you’ve never been to…” -Judith Thurman
It’s a quote that David McAvoy embraces and lives by.
As a youngster, McAvoy wrote to Edmund Hillary, who joined Tenzing Norgay as the first climbers to reach the Mount Everest summit, and to British Army officer John Hunt, who led that 1953 expedition to Everest. Hunt responded with a letter to McAvoy, offering tips if he ever tried to climb Everest.
McAvoy, an attorney for emerging markets for Eli Lilly, didn’t actually starting climbing mountains until his late 30s when encouraged by a colleague. Now 53, the Lawrence Township resident is completely hooked on adventures, both climbing and as an ultra marathoner.
“We don’t do it to summit the mountain or cross the finish line,” McAvoy said. “We do them because they are journeys. I want to do sports as an explorer. I’m into going to A to Z and what it means to do that and what you find out about yourself.”
McAvoy has completed three of the Seven Summits, the highest mountains of each of the seven continents, completing Denali (Mount McKinley), Mount Vinson and Mount Elbrus. While recuperating from a nerve injury in his right shoulder, McAvoy learned about the 4 Deserts races. He first planned to pursue the Sahara in Jordan in March, but that was canceled because of ISIS activity. So he competed in the seven-day Gobi Desert race (in Asia) in June.
“It was the most extreme weather that they had seen in the Gobi Desert in 19 years of doing this,” McAvoy said.
Gobi is the windiest desert in the world with constant 30 mph winds and the greatest temperature fluctuation of any desert. The temperatures ranged from below freezing to a high of 127 degrees.
“We saw a blizzard in the desert,” McAvoy said. “We saw hail, sleet, driving horizontal rain, blistering heat. Then the capstone was a biblical sandstorm of immense proportions. That caused them to actually have to cancel the very last stage which they have never done before. It was the knockout punch by the Gobi.”
McAvoy prides himself as a hot-weather runner so the blazing heat didn’t affect him at first.
“But the Gobi had a trick up its sleeve with me,” McAvoy said.
As McAvoy ran into the sun, the high temperatures boiled his water.
“In order to hydrate and survive the Gobi desert, you have drink eight to 12 ounces every 15 minutes,” McAvoy said. “If you don’t do that you are going to get heat stroke and you could certainly die. I’m drinking the water and it’s scalding my throat.”
One bottle had water and the other had Nuun tablets in it that dissolve and releases electrolytes. The heat made it sickly sweet. So McAvoy didn’t realize the 15-minute gaps were becoming 30-minute gaps.
“Then I’m not drinking eight ounces because I can barely get it down,” McAvoy said. “I’m like getting delirious and seeing Ethel Merman sing ‘God Bless America’ in the desert. And that’s a problem because I know she’s not there. I know if I can’t get protein and more liquids in me, no matter how strong-willed I am, and I was willing enough to crawl on bloody arms and feet, this can take me out.”
As McAvoy stumbled into the check point, a veteran runner gave him a tip to mix packets of evaporated milk and chocolate powder in the water. McAvoy was finally able to get the water down and was back to running.
There are less than 150 people who have completed the 4 Deserts. Only one person, a Canadian, has completed both the 4 Deserts and Seven Summits.
“But if I could do it, I would be the oldest and only American,” McAvoy said. “I would then take it up a notch and add Death Valley. That would put me in even more rarified territory.”
Slowing McAvoy down is the fact he does not want to attempt to summit Mount Everest until his three children have concluded college. He and wife Karen have three children, Aly, 21, Ryan, 17 and Kyle, 14.
“First it’s extremely expensive and it takes six weeks to do so I would have take a leave of absence (for part of it),” McAvoy said.
McAvoy said morally it would be wrong to take a chance of getting killed in his prime earning years while the kids are in college.
“So that would put me (at Mount Everest) in my early 60s, it’s been done before but never very often,” McAvoy said.
But don’t count him out.
About the Gobi Desert
- Name meaning: Waterless place
- Size: 500,000 square miles
- Location: North and Northwest China, southern Mongolia
- Climate: Features extreme hot and cold conditions with extreme changes in 24 hours
- Fifth largest desert in the world
- Considered a cold desert
- For more information, visit gobidesert.org