Namibia: An Endless Lesson in Sand Riding*

Zanie's picture

Points: 10

Prologue

Namibia. Ever since I started riding a bike on gravel, this was on our to-do list. The Tankwa Karoo opened my heart to the wide open spaces. Namibia represents space++. By the end of last year, Lance and I booked a Namibia trip with WAVOLT. At that point we hadn’t yet done any trips where it was just the two of us (this would change even before we went on the Namibia trip) and had decided to “play it safe,” as it were.

I booked my bike in for some TLC a week before the trip. I needed to have a crash bar welded, which had snapped somewhere along the line, secure a spot light – I noticed it was wobbly while washing my bike, and get a new rear tyre fitted. My previous tyre was completely and utterly holey, thanks to three previous punctures involving wire, a stick and a rock. By the time I had it replaced, it had developed a fun slow puncture, which had necessitated stops at petrol stations for air on the way back from a previous weekend ride.

So many punctures…

A very holey tyre:

I was eternally grateful for the check-up, as it unearthed a frayed clutch cable. It would have been more than a minor inconvenience if it snapped on our trip.

Our route would loop around southern Namibia:

Day 1: Cape Town to Bushwhacked, Namibia

Trip stats
Distance: 677km
Time: not recorded

Our trip was in May; apparently the best month to see Namibia – it is just past the “rainy” season, the night-time temperatures aren’t yet freezing and the day-time temperatures are not too hot (hovering around 24-28˚C). I knew we would be facing relatively warm temperatures, but I was eternally grateful that I still donned my rain-layer on that first morning, even if I did not use it for the rest of the trip. The temperature was absolutely icy, at a low -1˚C in Melkbosstrand.

Lance and I, along with his parents, set off in the dark. We met up with the rest of the tour group at Malmesbury at 07:30. There were a total of 22 people (including our catering and back-up crew of 3, led by Henk), with 19 riders on 16 bikes. Michael Cowley was our ride leader.

We transferred our luggage from our bikes into the back-up vehicle (no hard luggage allowed). The back-up would carry our luggage for the rest of our trip, so that we could enjoy the bikes burden-free.

Most would trailer their bikes to Namibia. Lance, his parents and I would ride. I had managed the stretch between Verneukpan and Cape Town in one day, which is a similar distance, so I figured I would be ok riding the almost-700km stretch to Namibia. Eugene, one of the other riders, rode all the way from Gauteng; taking 2 days for the trip!

Given the mind-boggling distance, Lance had invested in a cruise control gadget; something resembling a plastic clamp on the throttle. I toughed it out minus cruise control and minus heated grips (eish!).

Lance, happy with his new cruise control:

We rode 200-odd km non-stop to Klawer. The temperature, which had ranged from unbearable to just plain cold, jumped to a comfy 20˚C somewhere just before Klawer.

Lance, his mom and I taking a break

We fuelled up and tackled the 280km leg to Springbok, where we stopped for a very nice lunch at Tauren. Somewhere on the stretch between Springbok and Namibia, statistics decided to rear its ugly head. What are the chances of 16 bikes riding 700km without problems? That would amount to roughly 11,000 hassle-free kilometres. Nope. The universe does not like those odds.

Lance’s dad, Ernest, had to pull off in the middle of a stop-go stretch. A small stone had managed to smack a neat hole in his radiator.

The damaged mini-radiator pipe ends were pinched closed, bent back on themselves and sealed with Pratley Steel. After a water top-up, the bike was ready to go again. There would be no further radiator-related issues on the trip.

We had to time our departure in order to ride when the stop-go traffic was flowing northwards.

The next casualty was ride-from-Gauteng Eugene, with a flat front tyre. He also came with DIY installed, so this wasn’t a major hold-up either.

We arrived at Bushwhacked shortly before 6pm. It is located 11km from Vioolsdrif border on the South Africa side, making it an ideal stop-over spot. Those who had trailered their bikes, would leave their vehicles at Bushwhacked. The ride itself had not felt that long.

Henk’s crew (Teresa and Herkie) spoiled us with food that night: huge steaks and pap. Catering and tents were included in the trip cost.

Day 2: Bushwhacked to Klein-Aus Vista (Aus)

Trip stats
Distance: 341 km
Total time: 8:13:05 (42 km/h)
Moving time: 5:04:26 (67 km/h)

FYI: My Garmin always over-reports the temperature, as it sits in a warm handlebar bag.

Click here for a Google Map.

Morning at Bushwhacked:

The border crossing took longer than expected, so we were only on the Namibian roads by 10am. The initial bit of road was tar. It made up for this by resembling a roller-coaster, with gargantuan whoops.

The road reverted to gravel at Aussenkehr. Its vineyards represented the last brilliant green landscape we would see on this trip. We would have to make do with a couple of sporadically-spaced green bushes for the remainder.

Next to the Orange River, along with some of those previously-mentioned green bushes:

Our route took us through Richtersveld National Park, largely hugging the Orange River. Where the road wandered away from the river, it replaced river scenery with mountain scenery.

Lance’s parents with mountain scenery:

Me (the dot) with mountain scenery:

I know the scenery was beautiful, because I have the photos as proof. I cannot say that I actually saw much on this day. I was concentrating on the road. The route had been advertised as “good gravel highway.” I started to quail at the idea of our entire trip semi-resembling the roads we now rode. Little did I know that my fears were unfounded. The roads would not always be like this. On one of the days it would be much, much worse…

Sand “lite,” with corner thrown in for extra interest:

The road tried to resemble the gravel highway of mentioned fame. This only served to unnerve me. If it could just make up its mind! I would sit back and relax; only to be brought into acute awareness by the next jiggle. I had managed to wrap my mind around sand less than a mere month ago, graduating from “see sand, must paddle,” to “this stuff actually does need a bit of momentum.” This trip would include the extended practical course.

Note the sand-banks, biding their time before throwing some random strategically-placed sprinkles in my way:

Oh yes, and the scenery:

Fish River crossing:

Unlike most “river” crossings in Namibia, this one comes complete with a river!

All of a sudden, the front of my bike started to do a hectic jive. It felt as if I had hit heavy sand, yet my eyes could not spy any change in road surface. Something was not right. I relayed this interesting information to Lance (through our headsets) and slowed down. Next thing, Lance was beside me, yelling: “You have a front flat! Stop now!” I redoubled my braking efforts, making sure to focus on the back brake only and keeping the bike dead straight. I did not want the tyre to climb off the rim. That would mean a dead stop plus flying lessons.

We waited at the side of the road for the back-up vehicle. It was not far behind, as I am a slow rider; tending to be right at the very back of the group. I seem to be cursed when it comes to flat tyres. Today’s experience brings my track record to a sum total of 6 flats in 8 months: 3 rear punctures, one rear deflation (due to using a front tube, when we pinched the rear spare tube), one front puncture and now this front flat.

The expression says it all: “Why me?”

I sat in the back-up vehicle until our lunch stop. It gave my heart rate a chance to slow down - no sand! But it quickly moved from relaxed into bored. A car is just not the same as a bike. It’s an incredibly passive mode of sight-seeing and blocks out your full-spectrum sky-view.

The view from another pilot (Lance’s dad) on the piece of road I didn’t get to ride:

We soon reached a place designated by the powers-that-be as our lunch spot. The lunch and camp stops would be the places where we would mainly see the rest of the group. As a general rule, ride-leader-Michael would give us all directions to a rendezvous spot; consisting at most of 3 “turn-here’s” – given Namibia’s very long roads, this can take you quite far. This meant that everyone could set their own pace to the next rendezvous and nobody sat in anyone else’s dust. As a rule, the group was stretched over many kilometres, with the back-up vehicle right at the back.

A spread of breads and interesting sarmie toppings were set out by Henk and crew. While most munched and enjoyed the river…

…Lance and ride-leader-Michael worked to replace my tube. Spare tubes and tube-fixing were included in the deal. The cause of the flat? The tube had torn close to the valve.

After the lunch break I was back on the bike; able to enjoy the scenery unimpeded by lateral metal structures.

Ride-leader-Michael plus scenery:

In the afternoon, it was ride-from-Gauteng-Eugene’s turn for a puncture; his second one of the trip – again the front.

Michael checking out Eugene’s flat front:

Lance and I stayed to chat with Eugene for a bit, before heading off to Rosh Pinah:

Eugene wanted to fix his puncture, rather than put his bike on the back-up trailer for the remainder of the day. Back-up-driver Henk, plus his crew, remained behind with Eugene. Poor Eugene. Everyone only realised later that the first “new” tube they gave him was actually my old tube. They swapped it for another when it wouldn’t inflate. By that time Eugene was in a rush and pinched the second tube. Eventually his bike was placed on the back-up-trailer.

He didn’t miss much. The road turned to tar about 10km from Rosh Pinah and remained in this state for the next 180km to Aus. The original plan had been to ride the D727, but thanks to the longer-than-expected border crossing, we had to keep to the shorter and faster tar option (C13). The D727 is apparently a relatively sandy road with many dry riverbed crossings. I was actually relieved that I wouldn’t be facing more sand, but the C13 was dead boring. There was a head wind and I had a neck cramp by the end of the day (I do not have a windshield).

We finally reached Klein-Aus Vista, about 3km outside of Aus; stopping at the Desert Horse Inn for some drinks. Supper, as usual, would consist of either braai or potjiekos, made on the fire. Yum.

Desert Horse Inn:

The ride to our camp from the Inn:

​Henk, Herkie and some local helpers set up our tents. You could grab one and carry it to a suitable-looking spot; preferably away from the known snorers!

Eugene got down to business at camp, sorting out his front puncture. Mercifully, he would be puncture-free for the rest of the trip. And so would I!

Day 3: Exploring Luderitz

Trip stats
Distance: 318 km
Total time: 8:41:16 (37 km/h)
Moving time: 5:16:29 (60 km/h)

Click here for a Google Map. Note that it does not include any of the short-cuts we took or the sand excursion (see further below).

A Namibian dawn:

Herkie and Teresa were up early, to cater for the hungry horde.

Breakfast bites available would always include yoghurt, cereals, coffee, tea and rusks, bread with stuff to put on it (jams, etc.), with a variety of hot food depending on the day (French toast, English breakfast bits, etc.). There would also be left-overs from the previous night, warming on the fire along with the hot water.

Today’s hot option was my personal favourite: vetkoek!

The person to the right in the above photo is Juno. I think there was a slight (or maybe more than just slight!) measure of hero-worship from all of us for this remarkable being. My memory fails me, but he is at least in his mid-70s (he had his birthday during the trip), and could he ride! I think he has a couple of Roof of Africa events below his belt. He was one of the few that rode up to Namibia rather than trailering.

The breakfast circle:

A whole flock of sociable weavers were in the area. These birds are aptly named. Not only were they very social with each other, they were also social with us!

We would remain at Klein-Aus Vista for another night, in order to explore Kolmanskop (the ghost town) and Ludertiz.

The road to Luderitz is possibly one of the longest straight stretches of nothing I have ever seen. You need to remain aware and awake though. A springbok crossed the road right in front of Lance just before we headed into Luderitz.

We all attended the Kolmanskop tour. It is very definitely worth it. The back-stories are fascinating and, in some cases, quite funny. The tour guide was excellent and knew how to make her voice carry. I suppose she is used to speaking on days with howling wind.

After the tour, you are allowed to walk around and sight-see on your own until 1pm. The area is still strictly “Sperrgebiet,” i.e. prohibited area due to diamond mining. Most left shortly afterwards, heading to Luderitz for lunch. This was the only day, other than the Cape Town to Namibia and vice versa stretches, where a meal (lunch) was for our own account. Lance and I decided that we were so well fed (actually too well!) that we could do with skipping a meal. We made full use of our allotted Kolmanskop time; tramping about in our heavy boots. Thanks to the cool temperatures in and around Ludertiz, this was not a problem.

Some of the ghost-town houses were so covered in sand that a window represented the only passable entrance.

Lance braving some rickety stairs:

Some top storeys looked relatively well-preserved. Others were distinctly dodgy.

One of the houses had been semi-restored:

We even managed to trudge all the way up to the swimming pool; at the top of the hill, overlooking the town. Given that my boots weigh 2kg each, this was no mean feat. There was a separate dilapidated water reservoir. The super-rich residents had shipped in fresh water from Cape Town for their water supply, but sea water was brought in for the massive pool.

Spot the diving board on the opposite wall:

Our next point of interest was Diaz Point. Given that Lance is a kite-surfer, we had to stop at the speed strip on the way; a place where wind- and kite-surfers compete to set the world speed records (of 100km/h or more!) at the Luderitz Speed Challenge.

There’s not much left of the strip now, but it gets revamped before the Speed Challenge events.

Lance decided that a short-cut was in order for our excursion to Diaz Point. These “short-cuts” tend to take much longer than the conventional routes and, more often than not, end up being dead-ends. This one would be no different.

The sand ratio increased immediately:

Becoming worse as we progressed:

Eventually we were presented with two options. Option one, straight ahead, was a track, but I fail to see how any car can tackle it – it’s too narrow. Perhaps plastic bikes and quads? Option two, to the right, was a very steep and sandy incline.

Lance was game to try the incline, but I think I busted his mojo by declaring my intentions: hell no was I going up there! Hence he got stuck mid-way.

My “where on earth have you taken us now” pose as I head to Lance to help him point the bike in the correct direction, i.e. back the way we came.

I need a bit more experience and perhaps a bit less bike before I’d tackle something like this.

We took to the hills to get a birds-eye-view of our moonscape surroundings before heading back.

Note the miniature person on the rise to the left:

My sand skills (or lack thereof) let me down on the return journey. At least it was a soft landing; for bike and person.

On the remainder of the Diaz Point outing, I kept to the “highway.”

Lance, on the other hand, was not yet done with short-cuts.

Arrival at someplace close to the point.

We actually never did see the cross, but that was not the point of this excursion. The cross was an excuse to go ride somewhere. We’re not too big on our human landmarks. The sand road was far more interesting. Anyway, it was quite cold (relatively), at a chilly 14˚C.

Lance demonstrating this fact:

There were various abandoned buildings on the ride. Ghost buildings and towns appear to be a Namibia thing. Yet, dear reader, I like scenery more, so here’s a photo of scenery with a dilapidated building waaay in the background and (possibly) a lighthouse.

On the return journey, Lance found some more short-cuts.

Spot the black speck that is me:

We made a last excursion to the Shark Island campsite (it looks nice) before heading back to Klein-Aus Vista. By the time we left Luderitz, the wind had picked up. In some places, you will find what looks like little white boxes on short poles next to the road. Lance had asked the Kolmanskop guide about them. They are there to act as guiding markers when the road inevitably gets covered by sand.

Our last sight-seeing visit was to the Garub Wild Horses lookout, roughly 35km West of Aus. The road to the lookout varies between sand and rough-and-sharp-looking-stuff.

The lookout consisted of a roofed view-point close to a man-made waterhole. We had just missed the horses – we could spot them as specks moving away from the general area. We needn’t be disappointed, as we spotted two more right beside the road just a couple of kilometres further! I warned Lance that we shouldn’t stop too close to them. Horses tend to be skittish beasts. Not so these ones – they came to us!

Now we actually had a problem: how to leave? The horses were standing right in front of the bikes. Easy solution: walk away from the bikes and the horses will follow! I suspect passers-by feed them, which is why they were so tame. Unlike feeding of baboons, this didn’t make them a nuisance or dangerous to us.

We arrived back at camp after sunset; the last to return. Supper was a hearty curry.

Day 4: Klein-Aus Vista to Agama River Lodge (close to Solitaire)

Trip stats
Distance: 411 km
Total time: 10:15:23 (40 km/h)
Moving time: 7:33:39 (54 km/h)

Click here for a Google Map.

Morning started with a shared breakfast with the weavers. They approved of muesli.

At this point ride-leader-Michael suggested a change in the planned route. There were 3 options for the southern stretch of our route: the C13, C27 or D707. The original plan included one of the C-routes. Michael suggested the more scenic D707.

In Namibia, the roads are labelled according to how often they are maintained. B routes appear to be tar. C routes are graded every couple of months. D routes…not so often. The reason that the D707 is so scenic: it abuts the lovely red Namib dunes. Dunes. Let that sink in.

Michael said it would be tough, but he had faith in our little group and we could paddle the really deep sections. Also, he reasoned, when you overcome such an obstacle, your achievement would stand out as a trip highlight. He was correct. It would be a highlight. This did not mean that we did not want to murder him at various points of the day.

Our morning started with a stretch of C13.

It was in relatively bad shape for a C road. Michael said that if a C road was this bad, it meant a grader wasn’t too far away in its future.

My head hurt riding this stretch, thanks to the concentration. There was a lot of loose stuff and the bike was constantly doing a rumba with its back wheel. I kept my eyes nailed to the horizon and applied some throttle whenever I felt a jiggle.

Michael was right: when a C-road is this bad, expect to see a grader. We found the grader and the road improved.

We finally reached the D707 turn-off, where the group congregated.

This was indeed the scenic route.

But…

For some or other reason I found this road easier. It had dropped all pretence of highway gravel and very firmly said “I am sand.” I found it better than thinking the road is solid and then being caught out.

Yet, it did not stop there. Soon we were next to the Namib and the road became serious sand. I hit the first stretch of really heavy stuff doing 60km/h (I had already slowed down due to the uncertain surface). My bike stopped with its sand-rumba and proceeded into a full-on break-dance. I grabbed the throttle and opened up; swerving wildly across the road. I heard Lance yelling: “What are you doing?!” Trying to live. I opened up the throttle even more. By that time I was doing 80km/h. Falling at that speed will hurt. But the speed did its job. The bike straightened and I started floating over the surface.

I wondered what Michael had meant when he said we could paddle through the deeper sand. This was deep for me. This was paddle stuff. Except…I wasn’t paddling.

I had never ridden sand like this before. I only started riding sand in second gear a couple of weeks back. It was then that the whole “speed is your friend” clicked. Something new clicked today. As the bike rocked gently, I started to feel as if I was surfing. I had always wondered why people would ever want to ride sand. I finally started to get it. This was fun! This was crazy! I laughed out loud in exhilaration.

My skills were not the greatest, causing me to break-dance every now and then, but I used the throttle to get myself out of it every time. I also had an entire wide road to play around with, so it did not matter too much if I started swerving around.

It did matter to Lance, whose worried voice I could hear over the head-set periodically. My sand-dancing was unnerving him. And it was not only me he was worried about. Behind him, his dad was struggling. Two-up on a BMW battle-tank is not easy on this type of surface.

Eventually, Ernie gave up; off-loading Lynette for the back-up vehicle.

Swerving tracks tell a tale of struggle.

I noticed Lance was missing in my rear-view mirrors. Now what? I had just managed to ride sand, but had yet to figure out how to stop in it! Whenever I tried to slow down, the bike started fish-tailing. Gearing down while keeping the revs high worked somewhat. Eventually I found a solid enough patch to stop and turn round. I found Lance, further back. He had checked whether his parents were ok. I managed to doubled-back in the correct direction again and we set off.

Michael had also turned back to check on the slowest of his flock.

Lance and his dad were now somewhere up ahead, with me being the very last back-marker.

Remember how I’d mentioned that Michael said we could paddle through the heavier stuff? I thought he was being ridiculous. To my mind, the sand we’d done up until now was heavy. How very wrong I was.

I spotted black dots of bikers, scattered all along the stretch of road ahead. Horizontal black dots. I had caught up with the group; largely because quite a few of them weren’t moving at all any more.

Lance’s bike in the foreground, with many others up ahead (the GoPro does not do the scene justice - you cannot see the myriad other downed bikes further along):

Oh s#$%*! Actually: oh sand! I needed a whole road for my sand break-dancing, but the road now came with obstacles. I had to stop somehow, but speed was the only thing that kept me upright. I mashed down the gears; my bike screaming at me in protest. Then the sand deepened. My skill ran out. A series of wild serves, increasing in amplitude, ended up with a full, spectacular face-plant.

Lance and his dad had been watching the whole show. So here it is - my first recorded fall:

Other than a slightly sore wrist (the one I broke while mountain biking), I survived unscathed. Sand is unforgiving when you’re upright; but actually quite forgiving when you plough straight into it. Sort of like a Jekyll and Hyde personality: DIE SCUM!! Oops, sorry. Here’s a soft landing.

Yet no matter how soft a surface, it still turns to concrete if you hit it hard enough. Another rider, Stephen, hurt his back when he came off.

Henk taking charge of Stephen’s bike:

The bike was loaded onto the back-up vehicle. Stephen would only ride again 3 days later.

The next kilometre or so turned into a comedy show, as all the back-markers struggled to get through (the highly-skilled speedsters were long gone).

Ernie and I resigned ourselves to paddling.

His bike had not taken kindly to a fall; puffing blue smoke in anger, as it burned oil.

Roof-of-Africa-Juno took everything in his stride, with the usual serene smile. He eventually managed to get out of the sand-pit road by getting the bike out over one of the large sand embankments. Once out, the surface hardened. We all watched jealously as he zoomed off.

Another rider, Sean, tried to follow suit and got stuck.

Eugene trying to get somewhere (not sure where):

His bike having a rest (note the anti e-toll mud):

Lance somehow managed to ride some sections:

But his bike took exception and threw him off in a high-side:

We found Eugene, who had gone down again. I think it was during his first fall that he had hurt his wrist badly; hence he waited for someone to help him pick up his bike. He kept riding, but spent the rest of the trip in pain and on anti-inflammatories. It was only when he went to hospital after the trip that he found out that he had indeed broken a bone.

I now fully appreciated the frustration Lance felt when I paddled and he had to slow down for me. In sand, there are two ways to get through: speed or paddle. No in between. And paddling is immensely draining. I was hot, sweaty and tired. I wanted to get going again.

Nothing ventured, nothing gained, so I tried riding again. Starting and stopping in heavy sand is a skill I still need to acquire. I could not get my speed up fast enough; resulting in the now-familiar weave-and-fall.

After that, I swallowed my pride and dutifully paddled the rest of that damn sand stretch.

Lance managed to get out of the road, over the embankment.

Eventually the sand appeared to lessen. I tried to get going yet again. I was on my way when I noticed my left mirror flopping around. It had obviously loosened after one of the falls. I slowed down to check it out. Bad move. I started the weave-of-death again. Lance yelled at me to speed up. I do not think his nerves could watch another fall. Or perhaps he was tired of picking up bikes! I managed to speed up out of it, with Lance promising he’d pick up my mirror if it parted company with my bike. I eventually found a more solid patch, stopped, secured the mirror, and set off again in a puff of sand.

Lance gave me a quick lesson on video-editing, so here is my first attempt at a trip video, focusing on The Sand:

 

 

The hard part was finally over. Some were battered and bruised. Even the back-up vehicle did not exit unscathed.

Only at supper-time did Henk let on that he had quietly been sweating away in the back-up vehicle, hoping against hope that he would not get stuck (the back-up is two-wheel drive!) and that all of us would make it through (there’s only space on the trailer for two bikes at a push).

I could finally enjoy the scenery:

Henk and his team plied us with fortifying sandwiches at Betta, where ride-leader-Michael had to field the first volley of verbal abuse regarding the “scenic route;” receiving many strafdop threats.

The sand had not yet completely disappeared. After lunch, it claimed yet more victims: Lance’s parents. Lynette had climbed back onto the bike after the stretch of heavy sand, which is why she was involved in this fall. Now she was returned unceremoniously to the back-up vehicle; something that did not please her at all! I remember Lance falling when I was still a pillion and I was definitely not that keen to get back on the bike. Lynette’s nerves must be wired differently from mine.

I could only stop after I had passed them, as I still had not quite got the hang of slowing down in sand:

More scenery:

We named one stretch of road Animal Alley. It was beautiful and there was quite a bit of wildlife to spot. I think it ran through NamibRand Nature Reserve.

We were not quite done with sand yet. A long stretch  of road with sprinkles completed the day. By this time, I was getting used to the feeling of the bike continually rocking beneath me. I told Lance it felt as if it wanted to rock me to sleep.

We finally reached our stop for the night: Agama River Lodge. We would be camping, but the chalets definitely appear to be worth a return visit. They include an option to sleep on the roof under the stars.

I was utterly exhausted.

I think this was the night that I was allocated a strafdop. More like an achievement dop, as it was for high spirits and smiles no matter the adversity.

Day 5: Sossusvlei tour

Trip stats
Distance: N/A
Time: N/A

Today would be a rest day; visiting Sossusvlei. No riding; only driving and hiking. This was sorely needed after yesterday.

I only recorded the drive from Sesriem and the hike in the dunes.

Sossusvlei means dead-end/no return marsh. From the satellite picture, you can see that the “river” ends before reaching the sea. The last time the river flowed all the way to Sossusvlei was in 2011.

Zoomed-in map that includes the hike at Dead Vlei and a good aerial view of the dunes:

We were up at the unearthly hour of 5am (so much for a rest day!) for a 5:30 departure time. The Sossusvlei tour cost was not included in the Namibia tour price, so those that had been there before opted to stay behind. The rest of us piled into the back-up vehicle and headed to Sesriem, where we transferred to the open tour guide vehicles. Thank goodness you get supplied with blankets. It was icy cold.

The main roads to Sesriem were all gravel, yet the 60km strip between Sesriem and Sossusvlei, incredibly, was tar.

Some gemsbok spotted on the drive:

Our first outing at dune 1 (dunes get numbers if they stay put)...

…where our guide unearthed a dancing white lady (that’s a reference to a type of spider, not to Lynette when she saw the spider). It was a lovely white colour when first unearthed, but it soon turned brown.

We stopped momentarily at the most photographed dune: Big Daddy – the largest in Sossusvlei area. There were many crazy people hiking all along the dune crest. Our group decided to do our sight-seeing from the ground.

Further on, we headed into very deep sand. This is probably one of the reasons motorbikes aren’t allowed on this stretch.

Despite the early hour, the wind had already picked up, giving the parking area close to Dead Vlei a hazy look.

Reaching Dead Vlei requires a mini-hike. Despite the number of people on the same mission, it never felt as if the area was crowded. The desert is so big that it swallows everyone easily once dispersed. You actually need people in your photos just to come to terms with the scale of the area.

Dead Vlei:

The petrified camelthorns here died about 600-700 years ago. It makes for a very eerie landscape.

Lance decided that it would be a good idea to climb up the neighbouring dune. Hiking along the crest to get to the top, as everyone else was doing, was not good enough. As usual, we must take the path less travelled.

It was immensely tiring.

It was not long before we were crawling.

We finally reached the top, after many rest and shoe de-sanding stops.

Only to be sand-blasted:

But the view was worth it.

Afterwards, we headed to Sossusvlei Lodge for a buffet lunch. A wild gemsbok kept us entertained.

After lunch, all of us piled into the back-up vehicle to head back to camp. This was not a good experience for the claustrophobic beings.

Our camp at Agama River Lodge:

All of us had a drink and watched the sunset from the rooftop deck above the bar/restaurant.

Group photo:

View over Agama River Lodge:

As usual, Henk’s team spoiled us with food. Supper was a chicken potjie. We even had dessert, cooked in a big pot on the fire: a dish that resembled apple crumble, minus most of the crumbles, but with melted marshmallows on top. Wow.

Day 6: Agama River Lodge to Helmeringhausen

Trip stats
Distance: 336 km
Total time: 6:21:27 (53 km/h)
Moving time: 4:30:11 (75 km/h)

Click here for a Google Map.

We headed to Sesriem in the morning, so that we could, as Henk put it, do the usual tourist thing of sampling the famed apple crumble.

Scenery en route:

A whole bus-load of other people had the same idea.

I must say that the Solitaire apple crumble did not come anywhere close to Henk’s awesome apple dish.

Solitaire was our most northern point of the trip. From here onwards, we would be heading back in the direction of home. Leaving Solitaire, Lance decided to “gooi mielies” on a corner. This resulted in an impressive low-side. Henk busted Lance’s cover later that day; commenting on Lance’s “power-sliding” skills! That night, it was Lance’s turn for a strafdop.

One the way to Maltahohe:

These roads were definitely good gravel highway:

We stopped at Maltahohe for drinks. The place’s ceiling is bedecked by flags from all nationalities. A word of warning: the barman is quite possessive over his fridge, so you must wait for him to fetch your drink.

The stretch of road after Maltahohe reminded us why you need to be on guard even on good roads. There were domestic animals everywhere.

And many, many donkey carts:

Lynette managed to snap this one (seen pictures of this cart before on the web, but here’s the proof that it’s real):

Ernie picked up a slow puncture, so he transferred Lynette onto Lance’s bike. The puncture was fixed at our roadside sandwich lunch stop, where the D824 and C14 meet. A tubeless puncture fix is so easy and boring-looking when compared to a tube fix that I have not even included a photo. Lucky buggers.

Due to the good roads, we arrived at Helmeringhausen relatively early (3:30pm). There was plenty of time to be entertained by the local tame springbok.

It liked to wrestle.

Teresa, one of our providers of awesome food, was rather nervous of the springbok.  We watched with growing hilarity as the springbok tried to reach Teresa; circling around a table. Teresa eventually made a run for it into the back-up vehicle.

The springbok managed to upset and break a whole bottle of rum, which had been placed on the ground (much to the consternation of the bottle’s owner as well as all those who were waiting to benefit from it). The story goes that the springbok had some rum and it all went a bit to its head. It developed a special affinity for guys.

Yeauch!

Having had its amorous intentions rejected by Lance…

…it decided it would try a girl for a change.

The local goose was not as friendly. I think it had death and destruction on its mind.

Helmeringshausen was the first place where patches of grass could be found. It’s probably an uphill battle keeping the green stuff alive.

Lance and I chose a random spot in between the bushes, given that the lawn area also came complete with snorers. We slept with earplugs in every night as a further insurance policy.

People had enough energy on this night to spend quite a while at the fire. Lance and I usually went to bed by 8-ish, given the long days, but we stayed up to watch the hilarity unfold. Pieter, one of our group, was comparing the campfire to a TV. The TV definitely got off worse. With a campfire, no-one ever complains about the channel and everyone appears mesmerised by the one channel that is available!

Day 7: Helmeringhausen to Canyon Roadhouse (close to Hobas)

Trip stats
Distance: 267 km
Total time: 6:25:29 (42 km/h)
Moving time: 3:17:55 (81 km/h)

Note: I only started recording my track from Bethanien. The trip stats shown further above adjusts for this.

Click here for a Google Map.

The day dawned at a chilly 8˚C.

The bikes also wanted a group photo before we departed, so we obliged. I note here that it is possible for differently-branded bikes to co-exist. Here we have KTMs, BMWs, Triumphs and an Africa Twin and they seemed peaceful next to each other.

The day started off with good gravel highway and a stretch of tar between Goageb and Seeheim. We stopped at Seeheim for drinks, where Stephen (the guy who hurt his back in the deep sand ride days earlier) decided to get back on his bike.

The road, despite being a C-road, deteriorated from this point onwards. The corrugations took its toll. The frame screw holding my right-hand-side crash bar in place was coming loose. I had to keep pushing it back with my right knee.

Our lunch stop was at a dry river crossing. One tree desperately tried to provide shade for all of us.

I inspected my bike and found out why the one screw had worked its way loose. My right-hand-side crash bar had snapped yet again, at the place where it had been welded previously; probably as a result of my sand falls or simply the vibrations on the rough road. I quick tape-up job would keep the screw in place for the remainder of the ride.

Those that wanted to, could try their luck riding down the riverbed. In the end; only two people did: ride-leader-Michael…

…and Lance. He turned around relatively quickly, when he realised there were damp sink-holes and most of the others, including our leader, had already headed off and would not be able to assist if he got stuck.

There were times when his speedo was showing 60km/h, yet he was going nowhere slowly.

Shortly after the river-crossing, I spotted a stationary Lance, with his bike broadside to me. This is usually Lance-code for “serious obstacle.” Uh-oh. Better slow down. Good thing I did. Hitting the massive trench across the road at speed would not have been a good idea.

Even the alternative road was starting to get munched by the trench.

Today’s ride was over too quickly. We arrived at Canyon Roadhouse just after 2pm.

The place represents a classic cars graveyard, with various old vehicles both outside and inside, in the restaurant/bar area.

Note all of us queuing at the mini petrol station in the background. The first rule on this trip: get fuel whenever you can.

Our camp: 

Immediately after setting up camp, all of us piled into the back-up vehicle to head to Fish River Canyon. All of us, except Michael, Pieter and Lance, who chose to go by bike. I’m still annoyed at myself that I didn’t go by bike. I was too lazy to get back into my kit.

I had been to Fish River only once before. It was during the Fish River hike that I had met Lance, 13 years ago.

Henk invoked a tradition in order for the group to secure an alcoholic beverage: we were wary springbucks that had to look carefully before approaching our drinking hole. No hands allowed for the drinking part!

As the sun neared the horizon, Henk suggested we watch in silence until the sun had set. I think it unnerved some other tourists, arriving to a bunch of utterly silent people, watching the sun go down.

Picture taken of the canyon just after sunset:

Supper consisted of yummy potjiekos. Even the local fauna thought it smelled good. Lance and I spotted a jackal hanging around the edge of the campsite.

That night we heard roaring. Not lions. People. We had failed to take careful note of our close-by neighbours. No ear-plugs can completely block out those decibels!

Day 8: Canyon Roadhouse to Bushwhacked

Trip stats
Distance: 216 km
Total time: 6:02:45 (36 km/h)
Moving time: 3:51:10 (56 km/h)

Click here for a Google Map.

Everyone had been warned by the late-sleepers that there was no rush today, so please stop being such energiser bunnies! On previous late-morning days, most had magically been ready by 8am, leaving those who were still aiming for the 9am departure time at a bit of a disadvantage.

The scenery between Canyon Roadhouse and Ai-Ais was breath-taking. The first stretch was next to the canyon.

The remainder included rugged terrain:

Sand? What sand? There is no sand here.

More mountains:

Everyone took a well-earned break at Ai-Ais. Some had a swim in the warm water pools. I had the opposite problem to yesterday evening: this time I was too lazy to take my kit off! I just chilled next to the pool.

The Fish River hike ends here:

Heading down the D316, the rugged terrain continued after Ai-Ais…

…for a while…

..but gradually the mountains and hills disappear…

…until you are left with nothing but space.

The border crossing was quiet and quick this time round. It was with a sad feeling that we rolled into Bushwhacked campsite. Tomorrow we would head back to Cape Town.

Eugene’s bike was so sad that it decided to shed its nose.

Juno’s bike went one step further by going into some sort of limp mode. It was trailered the last few kilometres to Bushwhacked, where it was found that the oil level was very low. It was topped up in preparation of tomorrow’s long run.

Day 9: Bushwhacked to Cape Town

Trip stats
Distance: 677 km
Total time: 8:36:26 (79 km/h)
Moving time: 7:04:30 (96 km/h)

We did not use the back-up vehicle for luggage storage on the home run, due to the logistics of trying to meet up with it somewhere in Cape Town. Lance and his parents had organised that their luggage go back in one of the other riders’ vehicles who lived close-by. I would ride back with mine, as it formed a nice back-rest.

Everyone was keen to get the almighty trek to Cape Town done and dusted. Lance, his parents and I set off at 5:30.

It seems crazy, but it is as if nature knows that a country border was crossed. Namibia: no bugs. South Africa: bugs! Visor-cleaning required a bit more elbow-grease.

The Namibia to Cape Town trip seemed remarkably quick and easy. In comparison, the Verneukpan to Cape Town trip (slightly shorter) had been far harsher due to a terrible head-wind.

Aside from the scenery, which is actually quite beautiful if you take the time to have a good look, the only thing of interest we saw was this truck:

Juno’s bike was adamant that it did not want to ride to Cape Town. It had tried the I-have-no-oil story yesterday. Today its chain snapped. Space was found on a trailer.

Lance and I stuck to the 120km/h speed limit. Speed on tar is the single-biggest factor that shortens tyre lifespan. Both of us manage to get at least 10,000 km on knobbly rear tyres thanks to this strategy. We weren’t trying to keep up with the group, which is why we could also implement our other strategy: “helmet breaks” every hour, i.e. stop, remove helmet and chill, even if for only 10 minutes. This staves off fatigue.

We arrived back in Cape Town at 2pm, after 8.5 hours on the road.

Trip Video

Brought to you by Lance:

 

 

Epilogue

Total trip stats
Distance: 3,245 km
Total time: 63:12:17 (51 km/h)
Moving time: 43:42:50 (74 km/h)

I counted myself lucky that I had a relatively mechanical-free ride. My water pump seals gave up the ghost less than 2 weeks after the Namibia trip.

I will be forever-grateful to ride-leader-Michael for taking us on that scenic sand route. My relationship with sand changed on that day. A healthy respect for the stuff remains, but the outright fear is gone. My skills definitely need improvement, but I no longer avoid sand at all costs, which means I can learn.

I was reduced to tears thanks to sand in our January trip to Baviaans.

This is me now:

* Winner of the Ruslamere Trip Report Trophy Sep 2016

Geoff Russell's picture
Offline
Joined: 2007/09/25

Fantastic report.

Glad you came through unscathed.

Committee: Ride Captain

Mwendo's picture
Offline
Joined: 2011/04/13

Thanks Zanie, for another entertaining trip report. It brought back fond memories of my own visits to Namibia. Well done on the D707 - it is a testing road but the scenery, not to mention the sense of achievement on getting through it, provides immeasurable reward. 

--
The only problem with hindsight, is you don't see it coming!

 
Jackie Wiese's picture
Offline
Joined: 2012/02/26

Well done Zanie and the rest of the party and thanks for an entertaining trip report. You go girl!!

Offline
Joined: 2015/10/25

Amazing trip report! I'm jealous

fish_man's picture
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Joined: 2016/06/16

great read, yes

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