Our wheels are pointed dead south for Capetown. The barren and desolate landscape of the Namib Desert and the dunes at Sossusvlei have restored the WOW factor to the Tour. All is as it should be, except for a growing feeling of dread that this will all end soon.
TDA calls the final section of the Tour Dunes and Atlantic. It began in Windhoek, easily the most modern looking city we have encountered in Africa. New roads are under construction and housing projects are climbing the many hills that comprise the city. We dined in fashionable eateries on delicious game meat (kudu, gemsbok and oryx), washed it down with South African wines and paid prices comparable to home. The group suffered a stolen phone and a shakedown for cash in a city where gated communities speak to the wealth disparity in a country with among the largest diamond and uranium deposits in the world and a thriving tourist industry. A 4 year drought has certainly contributed to high rates of unemployment and poverty. Africa is ground zero for the haves and the have nots.
30 km out of Windhoek we hit what will eventually total 891 km of dirt and gravel. Crossing the central Namibian plateau and eventually descending into the Namib desert after an epic 400 meter descent at Spreetshoogte Pass, in short order we experienced the the highs and lows of cycle touring. A 124 km ride into the town of Solitaire was one of the most exhilarating riding days of the trip. The highland scenery is reminiscent of Tucson minus the Saguaro cacti: the surrounding mountains cast in a rust colored hue as the new day dawns, giving way to ominous shadows as they become backlit with the shifting sun. The desert presented apricot colored dunes, dry pans and heat. Temperatures were 10 degrees cooler than the mid 40’s of Sudan, but there we had smooth surfaces to ride on. The roads themselves were rough, serving up stretches of deep sand to power through, bone jarring corrugation, but enough interludes of hard packed surfaces to allow us to make reasonable time on relatively fresh legs. It was a day during which the surroundings masked the strain, reminiscent of Ethiopia where at times we “could not pedal slowly enough”, a day like others in the deserts of Arizona and Texas which have us turning circles with the GoPro to capture on film 360 degrees of wide open space without a hint of civilization, save for the road.
The follow-up 83 km ride into Sesriem looked to be a walk in the park ahead of a rest day. Wrong. As has happened in the past, the low mileage fooled us. The road surface was less forgiving, forcing us off the bikes in stretches to search out navigable lines. The desert heat hit hard after lunch. With one TDA vehicle in Windhoek to tend to an unforeseen event and a second support vehicle stranded for part of the day with a tire blowout, some riders were short on water. Spills resulted in broken phone screens, bruises and even stitches for some. A right turn with 12 km to go would normally have signaled relief and the welcome “home stretch”, but deep sand turned the distance into a an endurance test.
What a difference a day makes.
Sossusvlei is a large salt and clay pan in the Namib Desert set amid red sand dunes that rise 325 meters above the valley floor. The dunes are among the highest dunes in the world. We had the fortune of visiting them on our rest day at sunrise, climbing “Big Mama” before running down the dune to “Dead Vlei” where the dry riverbed and ancient trees present a surreal contrast to the surrounding dunes. Yet another unforgettable trip highlight.
Here is a link to a movie chronicling 3 days of our ride into Lusaka, Zambia. Enjoy, and thank you for following: