Challenge4aCause 2009

The inaugural 2009 Damaraland Challenge

For our inaugural 2009 challenge, 17 of us cycled 330 kilometres across the Damaraland Desert in Namibia!
The 17 cyclists returned home from their epic quest across the Namibian outback with bruised behinds, but even bigger smiles. What seemed like the impossible, a 330km mountain bike ride across the Damaraland Desert, became a reality after 7 days of hard graft and enough memories to last a lifetime!

And by undertaking this epic challenge, we were able to raise about R300,000 for the Save the Rhino Trust, which seeks to protect the endangered black rhino that has adapted to the harsh desert conditions, and the local communities in this part of the world.

We Came, We Saw, We Cycled!

Words cannot really do justice to our experience. It was 7 days of sheer physical pain, riding over rocks, slithering through sand and marvelling at the vast open landscapes and desolate desert of Damaraland. Each day was a mammoth challenge, but the 17 challengers stepped up to the plate, gritted our teeth and kept on keeping on. Camping under the stars each night was a treat, and the privilege of seeing desert-adapted wildlife in such a remote part of our planet was simply mindblowing.

The Damaraland desert is one of the most remote and hostile places on Earth – and we had to cycle over 300km across it. Rock-strewn dirt tracks, sandy ravines, cobbled rises and searing temperatures stood in our way.

The Diary

17 brave (I prefer foolish) souls were to put their bodies on the line, to raise funds for the endangered black rhino, which has adapted to the harsh desert conditions in Damaraland. This madcap crusade was formed through Challenge4ACause, the social responsibility project founded by Rhino Africa, one of the continent’s leading tour operators. The challenge is designed to raise funds for Save the Rhino Trust, which seeks to prevent poaching and protect the rhino species in this part of the world.

After the auction was held, the funds were raised and some minimal training was done, we were finally on our way. A short flight from Cape Town to Windhoek and a 7-hour road transfer took 17 nervous cyclists to Palmwag Rhino Camp. Namibia is as remote as you get – with 1.8 million inhabitants it is the second least densely populated country in the world (Mongolia is first for the record). And the Damaraland desert resides in the northwest of the country, in the remote Kunene region. It is so off the beaten track that it makes Timbuktu look like a tourist hotspot.

Quite why we decided to cycle across such a landscape continues to bewilder me. Surely a leisurely spot of rhino tracking in the bush and a cold cocktail by the pool would have been a better idea? It was too late now though.

Day 1 was an acclimatisation ride, but it felt like the Iron Man event to most of us. We thought offroad cycling meant following a gravel track, not dodging boulders, hopping rocks and slaloming through soft sand. After a 50km circular route, we collapsed back at camp, exhausted, dehydrated and rather worried about the next 6 days. It was a massive wake-up call – and we hadn’t even covered any distance yet!

Day 2 was hell. There can be no disguising it, not even for the most nostalgic among us. It started innocently enough with the gravel road and dirt track, before we hit the boulders. Before this trip, I would have countered that such terrain was impossible to cycle, bad for the body, bad for the bikes and reserved for lunatics only. Except now we were the lunatics, and the last 12km into camp were sweated out in 40°C heat, bouncing off endless cobbled stretches, a painstaking affair. My rear end and hands will never forgive me, as I inched my way into the Wereldsend Camp. It really did feel like the end of the world – as we knew it.

Another 4:30am wake-up call on Day 3, another helping of oats and we were on our way. The legs were heavy but the going was good and we had conquered 40km before we knew it. And then we made the fatal mistake of thinking we could conquer this desert. It beat us back down with a vast swathe of sand, that none of us could cycle through. Cursing and cringing, we heaved our bikes through the soft underground, arriving at Overhang Cliffs without a smile in sight. The last stretch had broken us – but after a bucket shower, a timely siesta and a few cold beers, we felt more at peace with the world as the full moon rose over the distant mountains and illuminated our desert world.

Day 4 was meant to be a rest day, but our guide Patrick’s interpretation of the word ‘rest’ involved a 30km cycle, a river crossing and some serious sand. It did feel like a breeze after day 2, and we were starting to get the hang of this cycling malarkey now. Day 5 saw us set off into the east wind, stuttering along through Desolation Valley, covering 40km before setting our bikes down behind a rock and making our way to Save the Rhino Ugab Camp.

On Day 6, the weather gods smiled upon us, the wind abated and we were able to fly across the desert. We passed the Doros Crater, near the famous Brandberg (Burnt Mountain) range, and came stuck in a good few river beds. A herd of giraffe passed our way, a puffadder slithered across our path and a chameleon even posed for photos. We set up camp in the dry Guantagab riverbed and gathered ourselves for one last push. And finally on Day 7, we packed up camp for the last time and set off. The end was in sight and after many a photo shoot en route, we reached Doro Nawas after 330km across the desert with just our bikes and feet to carry us there! A hot shower and proper bed were just reward.

It was the promised land, and a point I thought we would never reach without divine intervention. Exhausted, fatigued, battered, bruised, buggered and beat, but smiling inside and out, the 17 of us hopped gingerly off our trusty bikes and celebrated an achievement that will live long in the memory.

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