Namibia is a gem. There are only two million inhabitants in this primarily desert climate. It hosts the largest sand dunes in the world, but parts of it have a fantastic wild life population. The Etosha National Park is suppose to be a top spot for safaris and game drives. We didn’t make it that far north, but I’m told it should be on your bucket list.
We left Windhoek on April 28th for three difficult days of off-road riding and arrived Sesriem for a rest day at the dunes. The second day was the traditional “naked mile,” in which the riders had the option of riding any distance in the buff. The majority of the full tour cyclists participated at some time during the ride. Despite my fear of showing the sun my bare fanny for too long, I let the breeze cool my “schwetty balls” for a mile or two, (only to quote Alex Baldwin on a very funny skit that Saturday Night Live produced).
The dunes of the Namib Desert were stunning. A group of us got up bright and early and toured the area. We scaled “Big Daddy,” a monster of a sand dune, that protrudes 280 meters, (924 ft), from out of the desert. The ascent was arduous, but offered incredible views. The descent made us all feel like kids, as we ran down a steep section of the dunes, yelling and screaming, trying to keep our balance. At the bottom we tumbled into the dead vlei (dead pan), an eerie dried out seabed, with unusually shaped dead trees. Lifeless in most respects, a few bugs and geckos were spotted in this barren, but spectacular, part of the world.
After our day of rest, we started a five day section of grueling off-road riding. The roads were very unforgiving and offered a fair amount of washboard, but the biggest challenge was the heavy sandy soil that had a little gravel sprinkled in. You would go from 25 km/ HR to 5 km/ HR in a matter of seconds and would have to grind through the sand. For many of us, that don’t do a lot of sand riding, it meant getting off the bikes and drugging through the desert soil via foot. It was slow going for many of the 290 km, (180 miles), we covered the first two days. One difficult morning, it took many of us six hours to cover 70 km, (44 miles) and that was just to get to lunch. The last three days were much more of the same. We finished off the section with a 171 km, (106 mile), primarily off-road trek into Felix Unite Camp. A scenic, comfortable sojourn, where we’ll rest for a day before our final push into Cape Town.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention, or should I say gloat about my biggest cycling accomplishment since Cairo, almost 4 months ago. Emma Houterman, a 30 year cycling phenom, who has won more stages this tour, than I have had flat tires, (about 20), was passed not once, but multiple times by your’s truly. YES, I passed Emma on the road. Normally, if Emma leaves before me, I don’t see her until camp and she’s arrives hours ahead of me. Or, if I start before her, then she breezes by and leaves me in the dust. Well that wasn’t the case for two days this week. Both days started as usual, with her blowing by me, on the sandy gravel off-road. However, amazingly I caught her and bolted by with a sly grin on my face. Her response, “Chief, how’s this happening.” I couldn’t give her a logical reason. A few kilometers down the road, I stopped for a photo and she pressed past with a glance that said, “Get back in your place old man.” Once again, I caught her and slipped by with her bellowing, “Chief, how’s this happening?” The smile on my face said it all. The same scenario happened a few more times, over the two days, much to Emma’s chagrin. For me, these moments of glory were intermittent, but relished. If I was writing for the NY Post, the byline would be, “Sixty-two year old cyclist passes Female Dutch Champion, he says it’s better than viagra.”
For you Rancho Feliz fans, Gil’s started to swear at me for
“throwing him into the fire,” but I’m glad to have someone to share the pain. Keep suffering Gil. I love it.