By Marita van Rooyen
“Nothing I have experienced, and no place I have been, compares to the Namib Desert and its Desert Dash. It was the biggest thrill; the most sensualising and precious moments were encountered here, at this indescribable spot on earth.”
Jeffrey Norris, Desert Dash race participant, 2010 and 2011
Namibia’s Desert Dash – one of the toughest mountain-bike challenges on earth – is extraordinary in many ways.
A gruelling contest between body and mind, and man and nature, the First National Bank Desert Dash presented by Pupkewitz-Nissan is a tough race, meant only for the most hardcore of cyclists.
Jeffrey Norris too is extraordinary in many ways.
Not only has he taken on the Desert Dash for two years in a row; the first time finishing all 340 kilometres (the distance covered in previous years) without being able to see a single track, rock, pothole, or speck along the way, and the second time almost the entire distance.
And Jeffrey is the only sightless participant who has ever taken on this race!
Jeffrey’s hunger and curiosity for Namibia was awakened by tales his mother told him.
Living in Windhoek during the 80s, she used to tell her family about Namibia: the colourful culture and the beauty she saw and felt in the desert. “At that point I couldn’t understand how a desert could be seen as beautiful, not to mention unleash these strong sensory impressions on someone.”
But then, in 2010, when Jeffrey was asked to race the Dash on a tandem, he accepted the offer without hesitation or a trace of doubt in his mind; he was ready to explore the Namib Desert at a personal level.
“My first encounter with the desert was overwhelming! In this isolated area where there is nothing but sand, open ranges characterised by mountain ridges on the peripheries, and at night nothing between the starry heaven and the warm earth except myself, I felt touched by life.”
In 2010 Jeffrey and his cycling partner Hubert Schwarz were not only awarded with the trophy for the tandem category, but were also honoured with the overall award for courage and performance.
“It was the toughest race, the most difficult challenge, the most intensive experience, and I wanted to repeat this very special encounter.”
Unfortunately in 2011 he wasn’t as successful and had to retire before reaching the finish line with partner Thomas Muhler. “Even though this second participation was the deepest disappointment of my sporting career, I am looking forward to another encounter with the desert in 2013.” Inspirational beings just don’t give up.
Jeffrey agrees. “I would’ve only achieved a fraction of my goals had I let this disability get to me. I see my blindness as more than a physical challenge; instead, I try to win additional strength and energy through it.”
Photographs Courtesy Desert Dash
See the 2012 Results - http://www.desertdashnamibia.com/index.php/race-info/results-2012
Other previous contestants agree that the spectacular desert scenery makes the Desert Dash one of Namibia’s top races.
“The most memorable part of the race was when I passed Bloedkoppie at three in the morning. When I saw that granite outcrop through a cloud of mist, life was beautiful. It was quite eerie, cycling by my lonesome in the middle of nowhere in the early hours of the morning, but it was a nice-scary feeling,” says Zoe Mitchell, who has taken part in the event four times since its inception.
But, she is quick to add, you’ve got to be physically and mentally strong. You’ve got to want it, and then push yourself to get it! The Desert Dash is not for sissies.
For more information and events on mountain biking in Namibia, check out the Rock and Rut Mountain Bike Club at www.rockandrut.org
Starting in Windhoek, the route ascends the Khomas Hochland up to a level of 2 000 metres above sea level. Navigating the sharp twists and turns of the descent – at one stage dropping 700 metres in only 10 kilometres – is made even more difficult by the cold and gloom of a moonless night. During the daytime, temperatures can rise as high as 50 degrees Celsius while bikers cross the arid, rocky monotony of the Namib Desert. The race comes to an end in the coastal town of Swakopmund.
The unique trophies of the FNB Desert Dash are a trademark of the event. They are all handmade and transformed into art by metal master, trophy maker and Desert Dash participant, Hans Kolberg. Made up of different metals, each individual part is cut, polished, drilled and assembled by Hans, entirely by hand. Apart from the central figure – the cyclist – the trophy also showcases a cut-out shape in the form of Namibia. “This is for our international participants, so they can know where they’ve been riding.” Metalled Namibia even has the 369-kilometre cycle route engraved on it!
This year, the event took place from 14 to 15 December and will see 501 participants (approximately 80 more brave souls than last year and the largest attendance number up to date) take on the rugged desert terrain. The first-ever Desert Dash, held in 2005, had only 44 participants.