Monday afternoon 17:57pm; Gabriel and I am sitting on the crest of 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 use 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 its 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, fledail 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 cost. 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 is fixed (stitched and glued) with Velcro to our shoes. To further ensure no sand gets in the Altra Lone Peak 6 _ All WEATHER 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 3km in 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 Escalate Racer, in essence is an ultra-light weight road-shoe, with an upper not un-similar to a cake-flour sift. 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 Ledlenser! 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 is 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’ that 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 will take us traversing 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 grass-lands 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’”, was some of 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 tough Gabriel have used the 4th and final roll of duct tape we felt a sense of relieve that evening, going into day three, we knew what to expect and have 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 than 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 final 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, Champagne!
Another tough day in Africa.
Fail to prepare and prepare to fail, unless you have lots duct tape, cable ties and a sense of humour!
All images: Outlaw Media
Moving time: 26h36m
Elevation gain: 4 898m
Shoes: Altra Mont Blanc & Altra Lone Peak 6 – All Weather
Packs: Ultimate Direction
Technical Clothing: Ultimate Direction
Tents: Sierra Design Convert 2
Sleeping bags: Sierra Designs _ Nitro O
Lighting: LedLenser NEO 10R and NEO 9R and various Ledlenser camping lights and charging systems.
Navigation: Coros Vertix and Apex Pro
Camping: Various Stanley products
This trip will not have been possible without: LEDLENSER & STANLEY