Gabriel and I are sitting on the crest of a massive dune somewhere in the Namib Desert. Horizon to horizon, as far as the eye can see, is desert wilderness, our minds are still trying to get used to our new normal. There seems to be a parallax between the sun’s fading rays and our growing sense of humour as the heat of the day is getting more manageable. While Gabriel’s makeshift duct tape and cable tie reinforced gaiters (we will get to that later) are actually doing their job, there is an unspoken concern in both our eyes. Between us, we only have a few drops of water left, no more food and no warm clothes, with the possibility of not finding our seconding crew looming. Our only hope is that we and our seconding crew manage to get to the same set of numbers, an invisible location somewhere across, wait for it… yet still some massive dunes. The day started 11 hours ago, up to this point we have managed 75 hard kilometres.
There is an old cliché, saying, failing to prepare is essentially preparing to fail. With this, if there ever was a ‘showstopper’ to running across a desert it will be managing your feet, more specifically keeping sand out at all costs. Having zero desert running experience between us we looked at what runners do at races like Marathon Des Sables. We opted for some custom-made gaiters that are fixed (stitched and glued) with Velcro to our shoes. To further ensure no sand gets in, the Altra Lone Peak 6 ALL-WTHR Low was our go to shoe. The only shortfall in this plan was Gabriel only got into his shoes 24 hours before the mission started and 3kms into our ‘shake-out’ run he already had a couple of blisters as the stiches protruded into the inside of his shoes. His only other shoe, the Altra Escalante Racer, in essence is an ultra-light weight road-shoe, with an upper not un-similar to a cake flour sieve. Luckily, I had my Altra Mont Blanc’s there, and I am always packing… duct tape and cable ties that is!
Monday afternoon 19:35pm
Some call it luck, I call it grace, our seconding team spotted our headlights as we were cresting a dune approximately 40 degrees off the point, they expected us. Thank you Led Lenser! After 83 kilometres we came running (read death marching) into an oasis of familiar faces, water, and calories! Tomorrow, we do it all over again. A Monday to remember!
Let’s rewind a bit. Our mission was to set a Fastest Know Time (FKT) running across (East to West) the Namib Desert at the widest part, straight line thinking, basically running as ‘the crow flies'. The Namib Desert being a UNESCO world heritage site comes with various (and rightfully so) rules and regulations. One of which is our ‘activity permit’ which only allows for daylight activity in the desert. This made my initial idea of running at night (for obvious weather reasons) null and void. The second-best option was dead of winter, which in the Namib Desert is like a December in the Great Karoo. We therefore had dawn to dusk to work with. Furthermore, one of our main challenges was to try and accurately determine our best route. We had no idea of how long it would take us to traverse the desert. After considering many options we opted to simplify things, we plotted GPS coordinates from our starting point (just North of Solitaire) straight to the Eduard Bohlen shipwreck on the coast.
Although day one packed a serious punch in itself since we made good time as the first 20 odd kilometres had some desert grasslands followed by what seemed like ‘moonscape’ rock sections with the big dunes only appearing by kilometre 50. The second day however proved to hold the desert’s cruel reality. Day two was a whole different beast. Massive dune after dune after dune! “If you put out 200 watts of power on each step, you could probably give 80 watts away to the desert for ‘sand-tax’”, were some of the conversations we had. Our running often migrated to hands and feet as we climbed up the sandy giants. To add insult to injury, if you stop climbing at the steepest part of the dunes you would slide back down a couple of feet.
As the day progressed our bodies started to operate on the edge of our energy systems which lead to some spectacular lows (solid bonks), add the relentless desert sun to the mix and you can quickly invite yourself to a pity party. We declined these invitations by sword fighting with Oryx horns, capturing our low moments on camera (have a look on Instagram@bergskaap) and even stalking some unsuspecting Oryx. Seeing the humour in our predicament was often our only respite to the suffering. Slowly but surely, we shuffled our way across the belly of this beast, day two was done, we managed around 50kms in 9hrs of moving time.
Even as tough Gabriel had used the 4th and final roll of duct tape, we felt a sense of relief the final evening. Going into day three, we knew what to expect and had covered most of the miles. The next day would most likely be our last day. So, there might or might not have been a ‘small’ party in the middle of the desert that night. Not what you are thinking, Gabriel and I retired to our tents at a respectable time, I can’t say the same for our seconding crew. So much so, when I woke, Gabriel’s tent was 400m way from our camp (I told him to buy some earplugs).
Around noon we could see our destination coming ever closer, the Eduard Bohlen shipwreck. As we approached this earie shipwreck, we briefly discussed what we each experienced the past three days. We quickly realised how fortunate we were to have been able experience one of the world’s last untouched frontiers on foot. We felt humbled and blessed and in desperate need of some rest and recovery. We tasted the wild and icy waters of the Benguela current with a rush of endorphins. What an expedition and in true Bergskaap tradition, it was time for Champagne!
Another tough day in Africa.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail, unless you have lots of duct tape, cable ties and a sense of humour!