3 months ago legendary Scottish Expedition organiser David Scott (of Sandbaggers) sent myself and Donnie Campbell 3 pictures and a short email. “Run Across the Namib desert- some parts have not even been explored properly, here are some photos, sore feet and adventure awaits”. The pictures showed variously the desert night sky, a sea of massive sand dunes, and a ship wreck marooned in the middle of the desert. Pictures trump 1000 words. It looked incredible. Sold.
By far the hardest part of an adventure is the planning. Funding and support for the expedition was quickly secured from Scottish entrepreneur Bert Jukes of Lyprinol UK, a great believer in pushing boundaries and breaking new ground. Special permits were required to access the desert, and applications made to tribal chiefs to secure access to parts of the park rich in diamonds that have not been accessed. Accurately planning a route would be impossible, but knowing roughly where we were going, and what to take would be key. Dave and his Namibian partners took care of the majority of this, but each email looking at vehicles, equipment and logistics had my mind drifting to the dunes.
Flying into Luderitz is an amazing experience in itself. Sand stretches as far as the eye can see, dunes rearing up to 400 metres high bringing home the severity of the conditions we would face. Getting off the plane, it was roasting hot, and we talked nervously awaiting our bags.
Dave, had brought on board Live the Journey, a quality Southern African outfit that knew this area better than anyone else, having received expert assistance from members of the Topnaar tribe, and it was highly reassuring meeting the team in country.
Setting off directly towards the dunes got the butterflies going in the stomach. Dave had warned us that the desert can kill you in a day if you let it, and the heat even at 0830 was oppressive. The first day took us 62km over unexplored diamond areas, swooping over ridges, and battering through sand under the watchful eye of the local wildlife including jackals and Gembok. The following day was another long shift what felt like wading through heavy sand for another 60+km day, ending high in a dune system with a view of the sea and abandoned mining quarters. The view was stunning, and I should have been elated, but I was not. My “tank” already felt more empty than it should have done, feeling more like having run 110km a day. My hip flexor was tight, and my left big toe was already just one big blister. Another 8 days like this seemed impossible.
But time brings perspective, and experience is a great teacher. I recalled being in hefty trouble during previous events, having Achilles tendons that looked like sticks of rhubarb 5 days into running from John O’Groats to the Sahara, and starting the “7 ultras of 7 continents in under a week” with heavy blisters having competed in the Antarctic Ice Marathon hours before. All I could do was to do the right things consistently, and expect things to improve. If they didn’t, they didn’t.
Day 3 as Dave had promised was a straight path though some of the highest dunes in the world. Significant forward progress takes time, over the most aggressive of the dunes, the maximum we could crank out was 3km and hour, and the support trucks were frequently having to tow each other out. But move forward we did, and the excitement of the sheer scale of the landscape dulled the pain temporarily as we camped for the first day in the Devil’s Workshop at the end of day 3