Category Archives: Namibia

Tim Manchester

Day 112, stage 86, 126km

Start, Konkiep Lapa Camp

Finish, Seeheim Camp

Finally an easier day, a manageable distance and slightly better roads. We needed it after the last two days. We camped tonight at a bizarre castle like hotel and camp next to a railway station. Once again it was in the middle of nowhere and yet they were busy – a forty-room hotel with bars, restaurants and swimming pool. We see few cars on the road. We see very few settlements or towns. And yet, after cycling 70km without seeing anything we show up at 40 room crenelated hotel that is busy. Where do these people come from? It is like the twilight zone or the X Files. You show up somewhere and all of a sudden people start appearing from behind and under rocks, from cracks in the dried earth  and from between the ties of a rarely used rail line. Not only that, but in the middle of this dessert landscape, this hotel hand soft green grass. I don’t get it. The hotel had originally been built in 1906. The current owners had been there for 16 years, had expanded it and made many improvements. The lady of the manor had those dark sunken eyes of an insomniac (probably from staying up all night counting the money from the extortionate prices they charged – only game within 70km of course, take it or leave it). The Laird of the manor skulked around spectre-like in a pair of blue worker pants he hadn’t changed in three or four months. He weighed about 40kg and had the tight-skinned, cadaverous face of a recently unwrapped Mummy. Namibia is a fascinating and quirky place.

Tim Manchester

This morning we had a coke stop at around 30km in the town of Bethanie. I stopped because I needed to get some money. Waiting in line at the ATM I turned my phone on. There had been no cell signal at Seeheim so I had been out of communication for a day. The first thing I saw was a message from Liz with the news that Tim Manchester, a good friend who lives around the corner from us in Dar, had been knocked off his bike by a vehicle yesterday and killed. It was devastating news. I cycled with Tim. He was one of the world’s truly gentle souls. He was kind, generous and always to lend a hand. He will be deeply missed. It was very sad news. When I got back on my bike, I cycled for many miles with tears in my eyes.

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We cycled, we ate, we went to bed

Day 111, stage 85, 153km

Start, Caltex Camp, Betta

Finish, Konkiep Lapa Camp

Today was longer than yesterday and yesterday was a bitch. Today was also a bitch. But I took better care of myself. More fluids. I stopped at 30km and had an ORS sachet. There was a Tour vehicle at 56km. I stopped, filled my bottles and had another ORS sachet. Lunch was at 79km. I had a long stop, ate and drank as much as I could and had another ORS sachet. The road was bad. The wind was bad. The distance was long – just under a century. I didn’t set any speed records but I moved at a better pace than the day before and felt better at the end.

Not much else happened today. We cycled. We ate. We went to bed. It was survival mode. We were hunkered down. I was probably the toughest week psychologically on Tour in four months. We knew we were near the end. As of today there were only 10 days left to the finish in Cape Town. And it seemed lie they were trying to break us with long, tough off road days. There would be no gentle cruise to the finish line. When we set out this morning I almost felt like a soldier being asked to climb out of the trenches into no man’s land. Would I get back in one piece? It was tough. We wanted to finish and to finish well. But they kept throwing bigger and bigger obstacles in our way. It was brutal.

NO COKE

Day 110, stage 84, 139km

Start, Sesriem, Camp

Finish, Caltex Camp, Betta

Today was the first day of another 5 consecutive off road days. Riding 139km off road takes as much energy or mare as riding 200km on road. It was hot. The roads were miserable. By km 50 I had run out of fluids. My energy levels and power dropped off a cliff. This was the first day on Tour where I actually felt that I might not make – not a question of not enough time, a question of not enough gas in the tank. At about km 55 I came across Thiys who had stopped at the side of the road. He had some water and very kindly gave me about 300ml. This was very generous and kept me going. I had slowed right down. I don’t think I was traveling at more than 12kmh. the lunch stop was not until km 74. Could I make it? And then at km 68 one of our vehicles passed and it had water. I quickly drank a litre and a half and filled my bottles. This made it possible to make it to lunch. But it had taken me almost 5 hours to do the 74km. I was beat up. And I was not the only one. Sandi S had run out of water at 40km. she reached lunch and then had no more gas left and got in the truck. John Faulkner ran out of water and became dehydrated. Volker passed out when he reached the truck and was put on a drip. It was brutal. The roads were bad, it was hot and the dry dessert wind sucked every ounce of fluid out of you.

At lunch I drank and I drank. I had 2 ORS sachets. I ate as much as I could. I began to revive. I set out after lunch with Alex B. and we kept each other going. We were promised a coke stop at about 96km. When we got there, there was a hand scrawled note on the signboard saying “NO COKE!”. NO! All we could do was keep pedaling. At about 112km we saw a sing to a Lodge about a ½ km off the road. We decided to cycle in. It appeared closed and empty but we saw some movement and made ourselves known. Before long we had cold cokes on ice cubes in Crystal glasses served by a little old lady with a parrot on her shoulder (I am not kidding and no this was not a mirage). None of the other riders took the chance to check the place out. So when we got to camp – in the yard behind the Caltex filling station in Betta – we were a little fresher than some of the others. But it had been a totally knackering day.

The dunes

Day 109, rest day, Sesriem, Sossusvlei Lodge

We were up early to go climb the Dunes. We went into the park and travelled about 65 km into the desert, to the end of the road. We reached a point about 55km from the Atlantic coast but no road to get there. Just sand. These dunes are apparently the most photographed dunes in the world and they re spectacular. They are also somewhat unique in that they do not move. They say this is because they are covering rock formations; so while the peaks change profile, they stay where they are. All the dunes are numbered. The most famous is Dune 45. We passed this and went to the end of the road to the Dune they call ‘Big Daddy’. It is 325 metres from base to peak. The guide said we could climb to a half way point if we wanted. But we said we would climb to the top. ‘Oh, you have to be strong to do that. It will take you an hour and a half.’ We were at the top in 45 minutes. I think he mostly guides 18 stone German tourists.  It was a fantastic view from the top. You could see the unending desert sweeping out before you. But the most fun of course was tumbling down the steepest face of the Dune. The gradient must have been 35% of more. We reached the bottom in about 5 minutes. The bottom was a clay pan appropriately named Deadvlei. Six hundred years ago there had been a lake there. Now there was a hard white clay pan studded with very eerie looking 600 year old petrified trees – an apocalyptic landscape.

We went back to the Lodge and checked out as the 60 new people checked in. It was one of those odd Tour Groups. They all had the same green suitcases. They were almost all over 60. They all looked like humpty dumpty in new desert kit. They all smoked. And I am sure they were all paying top dollar. We got on our bikes and cycled off to set up our tents at the camp just inside the park gates.

A town called Solitaire

Day 106, stage 82, 124km

Start, Weisenhof Guest Farm

Finish, Solitaire Guest Farm Desert Ranch

Two weeks from today, all being equal, we will be cycling into Cape Town. Hard to believe. But there is still a lot of hard cycling to do and anything can happen. I remember being told a story about a guy who was EFI when he arrived in Windhoek but got so sick in Windhoek he couldn’t even think of getting on his bike. Unfortunately we had our own version of this story coming out of Windhoek. Lizzie, who held second place in the women’s race, had felt run down coming into Windhoek. In Windhoek she went to the hospital and discovered that she wasn’t just run down but had a significant infection in one leg that appeared to have started with a saddle sore. She tried to keep going but had to give up coming out of Windhoek. What a shame, she is a really strong rider with a great attitude. But anything can happen.

Day 2 off road there was less climbing and a lot more descending. Before lunch the day was pretty much like the day before – some good bits of road, some bad bits, but manageable. After lunch we went onto a D road and off the map. The reason for this was a mountain pass that was not to be missed. We came out of the mountains through a pass that laid out dozens of miles of valley before us. We descended 500 metres in only 4 kilometres. That is an average gradient of -12.5%. With switchbacks, this is serious white knuckle and smoking brake territory.  The descent is so steep that our trucks had to take another route. They were not allowed to go through the pass. It was remarkable. Some people walked some of the steeper and rougher parts of it. I cycled the whole thing but had my brakes firmly engaged the whole time. I almost lost it at one point. I was on a smooth bit and had picked up a fair bit of speed. But before I knew it I was back on dirt and going too fast, and then the dirt became very corrugated. One hand bounced off my handle bars and I only had only hand left to keep my upright. Somehow the lazy hand found the bar again and grabbed the brake hard. I skidded around a switchback and got it back under control. Shit. Too many broken bones on this tour already.

After descending into the valley we cycled another 45km to the town of Solitaire. Sounds like a lonely place right? But it wasn’t. It was little more than a cross roads in the middle of the Namib but it seems to be the social hub for the area. There is the camp we stayed at, a gas station and general store, and a bakery and restaurant. The bakery makes amazing apple pie – they say they make 150kg of pie a day, sounds outrageous but could be true. When we arrived there must have been twenty or thirty cars in the parking lot. And they kept coming, disgorging fat people who made a beeline for the bakery.  What a bizarre place. But a great place to camp.

Following John Cleese on a tricycle

Day 106, stage 81, 112km

Start, Arebbusch Travel Lodge, Windhoek

Finish, Weisenhof Guest Farm

There is a lovely paved road that goes from Windhoek to South Africa, the B1. We didn’t take it. We headed onto the dirt, gravel, rocks and sand of minor C and D roads, where we will stay for the next 8 riding days. We are heading through the mountains and then the Namib dessert.   After following a bit of tarmac that got us to the dirt we also started to climb. By the end of the day we would climb 1300 metres – and to no avail because we would also descend 1200 metres.  Having said that, these dirt roads were probably the best we had travelled on so far on the Tour. There was clear evidence that they had been graded in the not too distance past and we did have sections that were hard packed and almost smooth. But we also had sections that were badly corrugated and made every effort to shake your fillings out; that were deep, sandy gravel and tried to grab your wheels and turn them sideways; and that were studded with large, sharp rocks that felt like riding over the spikes on a pit bull’s collar.   The deep, sandy bits were usually at the bottom of a hill – just waiting to catch you and throw you off your bike when you were at your maximum speed. The corrugated bits were usually on the flat straightaways – designed to keep you from generating any kind of decent pace. And the sharp, rocky bits were usually on the uphill sections – designed to keep from you from cycling a straight line (the shortest distance between A and B) so that the line you took when ascending a steep hill looked like you were following John Cleese on a tricycle.

But I had a fairly good morning to the lunch stop. I had some hills in my legs from the couple of days of hills leading into Windhoek. My pace slowed a it after lunch but I still made good time to camp. I probably would have cycled faster if Bob were still there to pace me but Windhoek was his last stop. His bike was boxed. His bags packed. His flight booked. He got up early with us and came down to the trucks to say goodbye to everyone and see us off. It would have been great if he could have cycled all the way to Cape Town with us but it was fantastic to have him with us for as long as he was. He did 3500km through 5 countries and didn’t miss a f***ing inch.

Claus was also at the truck early this morning saying goodbye to everyone. Claus had fallen when brushed by a truck as we were leaving Nata in Botswana. He was originally X-rayed and told nothing was broken. But he was till in a lot of pain so in Windhoek he had an MRI and discovered there was a break in his pelvis. Claus was also a strong rider. It was sad to see him go.

However, we were joined in Windhoek by a few new riders, including a crew of three from Cinelli, the bike and cycle clothing manufacturer. There was the Cinelli rep, a filmmaker and a pro racer. There are here to film a 5 – 7 minute film for Cinelli and TdA. There first day out though was a bit of a wake up call for them. Wrong tires. They had close to 10 punctures – all those pit bull collars. At camp that night they made frantic efforts to beg borrow or steal better tires.

And they weren’t the only ones. As well as maintaining my EFI status for the last 3 ½ months I also held the record for fewest punctures. I hadn’t had a single one – a record hard to beat.  I spent a lot of time wandering around looking for wood to knock on. But it didn’t help today. I got to camp all right with tires still fully inflated. But an hour later, after a shower and a coke or two and went to put my bike away for the night. The back bloody tire was flat. My bike had betrayed me. I was already composing ad copy for Schwalbe Marathon Plus tire: “TdA rider completes 12000km on Schwalbe MPs without a single puncture” etc. When I took the tire off I found a centimeter long slit on the rim side – a pinch puncture. But perhaps not. Three other people had ‘phantom punctures’ in camp that night. Was it sabotage? Hmmm. Oh well, the ad copy wasn’t that good anyway.

We camped tonight at a 4,000 hectare guest farm. They ran 250 head of cattle (very dry land – grazing capacity is 16 hectares per head), bred horses – currently over a hundred on the farm – and ran a camp and guest house. It was a lovely place in the middle of nowhere with Pueblo style architecture and a hedgerow labyrinth. People get up to strange things in remote places. It had originally been part of a 10,000 hectare land grant to a German soldier in 1908.

two milk shakes and a sundae

Day 105, rest day, Arebbusch Travel Lodge, Windhoek

Windhoek is a growing and modern city. At times it almost feels as if you are in the south west of the USA. There are good roads, good shops, good restaurants, affluent housing and cars. So after the standard set of rest day chores – laundry, bike cleaning and maintenance and blog – we headed into town and went shopping. Many people went off to the bike shop. There is a very good one here that has all those parts people have needed for the last six weeks. There is also a good selection of cycling clothes. Since it had been very cold the last few days I picked up a fleece-lined jacket that I can wear in the mornings before the sun heats things up. And then, believe it or not we ended up at Spar, the South African chain of family restaurants, for a cheeseburger and a milk shake, or in Bob’s case, two milk shakes and a sundae. We were also hosting a cocktail hour at our chalet at 5 that evening so we picked up wine and beer and snacks.  All very civilized.

The hardship of Africa continued in the evening. We went to an excellent restaurant called NICE – the Namibia Institute for Culinary Education (I think). It was brilliant. It is run by the Institute and staffed by students. It has an open kitchen – all steps of food preparation are on display. It is in a quirky old building, stunningly renovated, with private and small rooms all over the place. It was all starched white linen, shining cutlery and the full choir of wine and other glasses. There was an excellent menu and wine list. Once again we ate and drank well and finished late.