Text Marita van Rooyen
A tick off an American athlete’s bucket list
“I came all the way from the USA to Namibia because I love unique adventures and I love mountain biking. I wanted to experience something few people ever had, in a place I had never seen before.”
Racing through untouched lands
The six-day Namib Quest Extreme Mountain Bike race is not for sissies, even if you’re a Colorado-based, elite multi-sport athlete and journalist called Jessi Stensland.
“The toughest part of the race was the large number of hours we spent in the saddle. I love all types of terrain, but had never ridden that many miles in that many days before. The support of the crew was a huge benefit, giving us the ability to relax after the rides, eat well and sleep comfortably. Having Swakopmund to look forward to at the end of it, was also a massive motivator!”
Hardship, sweat and blisters aside, Jessi was thrilled to have the amazing opportunity to take part in this race while experiencing some of Namibia’s stunning untouched landscapes .
“There’s no better way to see a place than by bike, covering that much distance, seeing that much beauty. Being able to experience Namibia so intimately, on private lands through the Khomas Hochland, the Namib Desert and finally finishing on the beautiful beaches of Swakopmund, is something I will carry with me forever. It was an absolutely epic experience.”
An extreme assignment
As a member of the first North American team to participate in this event, Jessi believes: “It’s only a matter of time before the Namib Quest joins the ranks of other global ‘bucket list’ events on the extreme mountain-bike circuit.” She was accompanied by teammate Luis Vargas, manager of Adventure Travel Programmes for REI, North America’s leading outdoor adventure retailer/consumer cooperative and travel provider, who is also a keen mountain-bike racer and photographer.
The team covered the race on assignment for the website Active.com, which receives more than 1.7 million visitors a month. The pair also contributed to other North American traditional and online media, and generated heaps of video footage featuring the Namib Quest.
Leila Calnan, team leader of the North American Destination Marketing Campaign and part of the team that brought these athletes to the desert, added reason to the madness, “With the support of the Millennium Challenge Account Namibia (MCA-N), the Millennium Challenge Corporation (MCC) and our partners at the Namibia Tourism Board (NTB), we can take advantage of these opportunities at special events to spread the word about Destination Namibia to athletes and travellers alike. We are delighted to have been a part of bringing two world-class athletes from the US to participate in the Namib Quest.”
Just do it
“If you’re thinking about doing the Namib Quest, stop thinking and just do it! While physical preparation is key, mental toughness is critical. Moreover, along with physical and mental challenges that will push you to new limits, the event serves up a ton of fun. And don’t forget your camera. There are amazing memories to capture around every corner,” says Jessi.
Jessi and Luis from the US covered this 480-kilometre journey with about 100 teams from Namibia and South Africa. After a close dice with Namibia’s Jacques Tattersall and Archie Graham, it was the South African team consisting of Ludwig Malherbe and Almero Barnard that walked away with the winning title. The pair finished the race in a total time of 19 hours, 39 minutes and 33 seconds, only one minute and eight seconds before the Namibians.
Jessi and Luis were unfortunately not as lucky and finished in 11th place, with an overall time of 33 hours, 19 minutes and 38 seconds. Organiser Tinus Hansen was proud of the results. “It was an exhilarating race!” he exclaimed.
Experiencing the harsh beauty of nature’s battlefield “The Namib Quest is the only true multi-stage mountain-bike event in Namibia – an extreme wildlife safari on wheels, through spectacular landscapes, desert terrain, and rural villages to the ocean. Riders have the privilege of passing through areas that are essentially closed to the general public, providing an up-close-and-personal connection to Namibia’s unspoiled land.”
Tinus Hansen of African Extreme Promotions, organiserof the Namib Quest Mountain Bike Challenge
Known as the event that takes adventure – and inevitably adrenalin – to levels never experienced before, the Namib Quest is a gruelling challenge through nature’s inhospitable battlefield. According to the patron of the event, Mannie Heymans, known as Mister Africa in the professional mountain-biking fraternity, “When we were scouting the route back in 2010, I already knew that traversing the Khomas Hochland was going to be a tough challenge. It’s definitely a privilege to be a part of this event.”
The first Namib Quest took place in 2011. It was not without its fair share of en-route surprises, including rivers in flood and unexpected rainstorms that proved to be somewhat unnerving. But the riders persevered, and many returned for the 2012 event, held this year from 29 April to 4 May.
Tinus boasts that the Namib Quest affords participants the opportunity to view and experience the harsh yet stunning beauty and diversity of landscape, as well as the diverse fauna and flora of the Namibian highlands and desert regions. Entries are limited to two-man teams as a precaution against the ruggedness and remoteness of the terrain, and team members are expected to finish each stage together. Full bike backup and support is provided, with a workshop at the end of each day in the ‘race village’, where participants can rest tired muscles in their ‘five-star tents’.
The race village includes a Beat The Heat Zone, a social area where riders can relax and interact if they don’t want to be trapped in their house of nylon. Jessi suggests packing noise-cancelling headphones and an eye mask to allow for that much-needed peaceful sleep each night. “And indulge in the daily massages offered by the support team – they are a wonderful, a much appreciated perk each afternoon.”
This article appeared in the June 2012 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine