This story begins as the ground opens up in front of me and I plummet twenty feet and land face down in the surprisingly warm sand of a dune that had caught me unawares with its size and the steep drop to the desert floor. I had attacked it gleefully on my quad bike expecting to enjoy a small jump on the far side. Little did I know that the far side fell away like a cliff face. So, as the quad took flight, I let go of the handlebars and fell clear - I figured that holding on could have done me some pretty serious damage. As it was, I fell into soft sand with a slight nick where my ankle had caught the bike on the way off, and the bike ran a few meters along the desert floor before coming to a gentle stop. This little moment of excitement was the most dramatic moment of my afternoon's quad-biking. However, scrapes with danger aside, it was great fun and one of the most exciting things I have done in Oman.
We picked up our quads outside Al Raha Desert Camp. They were small little contraptions, scarcely a meter long and less than that wide. They were also just 50cc. Their diminutive nature was both a blessing and a curse. As they were so small and so light, they were very easy to control. The controls were also outrageously simple. The accelerator and break were just buttons on the handle-bars - there were no gears or pedals to complicate things. They were also fast, but thankfully not too fast, which, considering my later escapade, probably saved me from a few broken bones and loose teeth. However, as they were quite petite, they lacked the oomph to climb big dunes. There were larger, more powerful quad bikes - of 100cc or more - available. However, even though these were faster and more powerful, they were less maneuverable and far less fun.
We began our afternoon on the quads in cautious fashion. Our camp was on the desert floor surrounded by large dunes. The floor was hard, flat and covered in loose stones. So, for the first few minutes, we fizzed around and honed our riding skills. However, after a few minutes, this began to get a little dull. So, I decided to strike out in search of something a little more exciting. At the rear of our camp, the hard grit of the desert floor rose into a wave of small dunes that lead out into the abyss of Wahiba Sands - beyond the dunes there was nothing for kilometers on end. It was towards this empty expanse of sand that I was drawn.
With my desire to explore the unknown pushing me on, I thrust my quad up the dunes and headed into the unknown. At first, this was slow progress. Its tiny engine had been far more comfortable on the flat desert floor than it was ploughing uphill through soft sand. However, the coughing and spluttering it took to get to the top of the dune was worth it. I was greeted by a wonderful view. The sands swept out in front of me like endless waves in a vast ocean (I realize this is a rather cliched metaphor, but it is really the only way to describe the scene. The only break in the panorama was a thin and wiry tree poking out through the waves around a kilometer in front of me. I set the tree as my target and set off down the dune. The ride down was far more exciting than climbing the dune. The quad picked up speed dramatically and the sprayed up in my wake to fantastic effect. It was all very exhilarating. I really felt as though I were conquering the desert.
So, this brings us to my little accident. Exactly how did I come to be falling through the air having lost control of my quad? The answer makes me look sadly infantile. Pumped on adrenaline and euphoria after my jaunt over the big dune close to my camp, I decided to find yet more buzz. So, I attempted to jump some smaller dunes off to the side of the valley. The problem was that I had not judged the size of the dunes. I thought they were just a couple of meters in height. However, when I passed over the ridge at the top, I found myself faced with the rather large cliff I mention in my introduction. However, despite my close escape, I would recommend quad-biking to anyone intent on exploring the deserts in Oman.