I have never visited Namibia nor raced my bike at night. When the opportunity arose to do both, I couldn’t help but to squeeze one final event into an already full racing calendar for this year.
The Nedbank Desert Dash is a 369km event stretching from the Namibian capital of Windhoek to the coastal town of Swakopmund. Participants have the options to enter in the solo category, a two man team or a 4 man team but regardless of their decision everyone had only 24 hours to complete the race. How it works for the teams is that the first 32km and the last 45km you and your teammate(s) have to ride together. The rest of the distance is then divided into 4 sections of roughly 70-75km each which you and your teammates take turns to complete. If you opt to ride solo it’s obviously one long pull all the way to the Atlantic Ocean.
One of Namibia’s top female cyclists, Irene Steyn asked me to join her for this year’s edition. On Friday the 11th of December at 3pm, Irene and I left the start line in Windhoek together and rode consistently to the first change over point 32km into the race. Here I continued racing on while Irene got into the back up vehicle only to meet me again after a further 67km at the 2nd change over point on the Kuiseb River. Around 7pm I made my way to this changeover point where Irene took over from me riding into the sunset on her 76km leg while I was transported to the 3rd change over point in the comfort of a minibus.
At 11:20pm Irene and I swopped roles again and I set off into the dark on my 74km leg through the Namib Naukluft Park. I rode 85% of this stage on my own and if this experience wasn’t unique enough in itself, I was so fortunate as to see a leopard en route. At first I couldn’t believe my eyes as it walked into the road right in front of me! It started trotting ahead of me, running in my little bike light’s beam. The only problem was that I started catching up to the cat and I had NO intention of catching it, so I hit the brakes. The leopard then decided to make a left turn off the road and into the grass, turning around to stare at me as I passed. Then it lowered itself into the grass and disappeared… I got the fright of my life and in ostrich-head-in-the-sand mode just kept on pedalling past it. Who needs an energy gel when you have that much adrenaline coursing through your veins! After a few minutes there was no cat on my back and I realized it was an unforgettable encounter with an extraordinary cat.
When “what the hell just happened” finally sank in, I decided to keep the sighting to myself because who on earth would believe me? I could just hear all the stories of Yolandi hallucinating about seeing leopards in the desert due to sleep deprivation. As I arrived at the 3rd change over point, it was a relief to hear that the 3 guys in front of me also had an encounter with the Leopard. Yes! I had evidence.
Irene left at 2:20 am on the 5th stage to cover the 74km to the final changeover at Goanikontes. I managed to get a valuable one hour nap while being transported to the next stop. At dawn Irene and I left the 4th changeover point together to cover the last 46km stretch through the beautiful ‘Moon Landscape’ to Swakopmund.
Around 7am Irene and I crossed the finish line in Swakopmund to claim victory in the ladies 2-man category in a combined time of 16 hours and 41 minutes. The pairing of Adele De La Rey and Johanita de Waal finished in 2nd place with Maike Bochert and Anneke Steenkamp in 3rd place.
The Desert Dash was truly an unbelievable experience and I honestly couldn’t have asked to be in better hands during the dash weekend. Before and after the race I was warmly hosted by the de Lange family who started this event in 2005 and organised it until 2014. As you can imagine with all their experience of the event the de Lange family briefed me and helped me to get ready for the event to the point where I only had to show up on the day and pedal my bike. The Namibians’ kindness didn’t stop there as Irene’s father in-law chauffeured us from one station to the next in a luxurious minibus equipped with a comfy mattress in the back.
A big thanks to the de Lange family and the Steyn family for making my stay so comfortable and my experience of the Dash (and of Namibia) remarkable.
Looking back on 2015 I can only say thank you to all my sponsors, supporters, family and friends for all that they contribute to my cycling career. All my results and the experiences that I have had wouldn’t be possible without you. I would love to thank you all in person but you will get bored 1/3 through the list.