Genuine challenges are always a roller coaster of emotion. Both Donnie and I reflected upon what it would take to get us to the finish. The first 3 days had proved we could have absolutely every confidence in our support crew. Their route finding had been superb and we had been kept well stocked up on food, sun cream and anything else 2 men traversing the Namib desert could ever want. We probably needed to conserve a bit more energy, by covering good distance, but running slower, and we needed not to think too far ahead. Breaking the challenge down 10km by 10km, and day by day would keep anxiety about the scale of the challenge down.
In good spirits we set off again through the dunes on day 4, trying to avoid having to go over every dune by hitting the cols, and using the sand valleys between the dunes where possible. This made progress a lot easier. Having run in deserts including the Sahara and the Gobi, I must admit I had not expected the Namib to be so hard. It is partly the size of the dunes, but also the fact that everything in the Namib desert is sand, and heavy sand to run through. Running races like the Gobi Challenge, the Sahara Race, and Marathon des Sables usually at least half of the course is a more runnable hard sand, or rocky terrain but this just wasn’t. But after a few days our bodies were settling into it, and we knew that the second half of the challenge would feature some beach that although sandy is a good deal easier than dunes. I felt after day 4 we had at least a 50/50 chance of getting it done>
A suprising feature of the Namib is the plethora of wildlife. This is due to it being coastal, and although it on average receives the least rain of any desert, a fog in the morning from the sea sometimes rolls over bringing moisture. The next 3 days allowed us opportunities to run past seal colonies (we even went for a swim with the seals), as well as spotting chameleons, giant spiders, antelopes and the tracks of hyena’s and sidewinder snakes on incursions inland. There was also the bizarre sights of various shipwrecks, some well inland, for example the well preserved carcass of the Edward Bohlen, a 1907 ship marooned in the desert showing that the desert is alive and moving week by week and year by year.
With covering these distances there were issues. Donnie and I both ate a fair bit of the sand blowing in our face, Donnie had sand in his eyes, and my back totally seized up one day leading to an uncomfortable time at the end of day 5 unable to move for half an hour. But we were getting there, and thanks to the expert route finding of our Namibia hosts we thought we could emerge from the desert a day early, on day 9 rather than 10, allowing an extra day for community work.
So with the hammer down we progressed over salt flats, dunes, and the coast on day 8. As we were within 100km of Walvis bay, flamingos greeted us regularly, and on another occasion we were hemmed in by 300kg of Oryx, a huge antelope with massive straight horns that have been known to kill lions. That evening was one for celebration.
We had only 55km to do on the last day, over manageable terrain, which we knew would be a formality. So relaxed were we that we staged an impromptu game of golf over the sand dunes before setting off. With sand valleys of 300 metres, good scoring proved difficult, but it was a grand warm up for tanking the last leg into civilisation. Apart from our tight knit group, we had seen no humans at all during our time in the desert, so seeing Chief Kooitjee and members of the local Topnaar tribe welcoming us to Walvis bay was special. Any finish line is great, but one with a pint of beer and the promise of a shower is even better. It was a great moment that we shared, expeditions like this are just not possible without expert help, and having Jurgens, Hein, Len, Paul, Wossy, Percy and Luciano, as well as Dave, and our fantastic documentary team Brian and Gayle of LittleBigShot productions, and Jonny Graham of DigitalPict the expeditions professional photographer. Donnie deserved more beer than me. He had put up with my whining about my back and various ailments and stayed strong throughout. When he was asked by a newspaper if he had thought of giving up he simply said “I was in the marines. So no”.
The 2 days after allowed opportunities to share experiences and assist locally with community work. More about that in the next blog, but we did also raise a glass to Bert Jukes, who both through himself and Lyprinol UK had unswervingly supported the expedition, and to Merrell UK, who as ever had supplied top quality kit not only to myself but to support local athletic projects.