Desert Dreams ~ By Neil Frazer
I found myself on Colin & Jared’s tour by some divine act of non-synchronicity. A while ago on a cycle home I stopped at their shop for a shot of air and a quick chat. They were promoting their trail blazing tour of Namibia which looked unique and in line with things I enjoy on tour – small, boutique, hard, in a beautiful remote place and populated by fringe players. I said cool tour but no thanks, busy and family commitments. Colin misunderstood and promptly booked me on the tour. In for a penny in for a pound. This non-embellished version may be familiar to Morningside Cycles customers. It’s how SLX metamorphoses into XTR.
Besides, always happy for an adventure off the deep end. So, it was to be 5 days of cycling in Namibia with the promise of great riding, good food, vibrant people and spectacular scenery.
I knew very little about Namibian besides Desert Dash tales from James Parkin and Paolo Beltramo. I heard that Namibia features on calendars more than any other country. That the place is vast. Around the corner in Nam speak is the same as Johannesburg to Durban in our language. It’s also clean, unpopulated and magnificent in its beauty. The air is fresh and breathing is a pleasure.
Ai Aibaba Lodge – Erongo Mountains
I am never particularly bothered by place names or distances but rather like to embed myself into a landscape and then to integrate cycling into that plan. But what a landscape, the first aspect is the immense flatness and high blue spectrum sky combined with hard arid terrain and a total lack of water. It’s also very tranquil and safe. My expectations were blown away.
The spin out ride on Thursday afternoon was across a game park, the whole country is a park/reserve/conservancy or kleine German enclave. Giraffes and herds of Zebra and drinks on top a granite rock outcrop watching the sunset. On the tour always some gin and tonics or Tafel lagers. There were some holiday-style drinkers on tour but of the get on and ride and drink and ride and no whining variety. It was a hard 30 clicks with soft sand and thorns (thorns are a compulsory add on to all Namibian vegetation). But a good start and relaxer from what had been a mega stressful week. I had to be convinced not to bring a giant set of kudu horns, that I found in the bush, home. In response to Namibia my mojo popped out of its shell and was enjoying itself.
Omaruru River (Bed)
Next day 100 clicks to the middle of nowhere or actually to a camp in a riverbed, not 1 flowing river was seen on tour, with hyenas, springbok, and owls. Just beautiful desert riding flowing working all the time because it’s flat rugged riding. The Pyga in the company of omnipresent 2018 Yeti’s. Tour riding, with banter, breathers and photies. Flowing pedaling under a clear blue sky and unbelievably a tail-wind. Clicking with the happy group. On this day no points of reference just a faraway horizon. I enjoyed this, being part of the gravel beneath my wheels on seldom traversed places. The desert is arid and you must stay hydrated and we all used Camelbacks for the first time in years. No water points. No Spars. No Spazas.
It was a hard but good day. The camp site was surreal, in a riverbed, under a huge tree and the mountains were appearing in the distance. Ziggy, ex of Polar in Johannesburg, is the camp master and superb host. We had everything, showers, tents with beds and bedding. You did need a spade and a portable stool for your stools but that’s no stress with the views on offer. A quiet and meditative place with Colin’s Moms famous chicken curry including cardamom for dinner. A restorative and a powerful place. We were completely disconnected from the world and way off the grid. Pure aesthetic minimalism. The riders were fun, witty and a diverse bunch of mostly 50 plus gents. Chirps and drinks flow freely and easily. Everything slows down to a rhythmic pace.
Day 3 and we headed off to the much anticipated Spitzkoppe. Riding was a slow uphill grind initiated by a long climb up a ridge with multiple false summits. I had some climbing legs and felt fluid up the climb. I did get the bunch lost despite the GPS routes on my Garmin (provided by Jared). After that a traverse towards Spitzkoppe 1. In the desert, you can create your own trail blazing tracks. Blissful riding. I did fall into a giant Aardvark hole but no damage done to bike or rider. Rocks and scrub abound, Jared expertly led the bunch towards the massive rocky outcrop that is Spitzkoppe. I let my mind loose of toxins and inhibitors, was just being happy in a happy place on a bike. That is why I choose to ride bike tours.
The finish line pub at Spitzkoppe had a hammock and I lay there and decompressed and recomposed myself from the ride, the week and other worries. The ride was top tier stuff
Spitzkoppe is a special place in a spiritual, Ayers Rock or Wailing Wall, kind of way. You feel privileged and humbled to be in the presence of such significant natural wonder.
The climb (walk) to the top of Spitzkoppe to watch the sun set and the full moon rise was a little daunting but a seminal experience. No photograph could do justice to the experience. You cannot be left unmoved by the vast scale of such glory. Places like Spitzkoppe should be remote because most people don’t deserve this experience and the experience needs to be hard earned and much appreciated. I will never forget standing high above the horizon looking at tracks weaving across the desert with the sun setting on one side and a full moon rising on the other. Without a visible sign of civilization. A sensory overload moment.
I do not think it’s possible to have a better campsite, nestled under the vast monolithic rocks. Namibian wood makes for a great camp fires. Eating well including Oryx and the inevitable Jägermeister’s fines. Still so quiet with hardly anyone anywhere. No rush to do anything but relax. The bikes don’t get hammered so minimal maintenance was needed.
Dunes ~ This did need a commute and the hiring of fat bikes. This experience needs to be bucket listed. The excellent guide enlivened the dead desert with his superb knowledge of the route the place and everything in the desert. The desert holds some fascinating secrets and everything including plants, animals and minerals have a special place. Riding I felt like a boy with a toy playing on the dunes in the desert, with the smell of the Swakopmund Sea in my face. It was cold and breezy but another dislocating experience. Those fat bikes a perfect fit for desert and especially dune riding. Flying down a huge dune struggling not to hit the brakes is a do again, do again, do again activity. Big smiles all round after that ride.
Swakopmund is pretty, a neat and tidy seaside city with a significant German influence. Everything works and no one is out of place or just loitering about. There are proper coffee shops. We had dinner at the famous Tug restaurant on a pier in a salvaged old tug boat. Nice place, tasty fresh fish and prices to rival Marble. The oysters were outstanding
Namibia is a good place. In the desert you need to adapt to survive, distance and time are conceptually different and not in line with Jozi standards. The terrain is foreign to any green and pleasant land but easily holds its own scenically.
Recommend 5 stars, just stop for a shot of air at that cycle shop.
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