Text and photographs Nicolette Jacobie
“We cycled in the Namib Desert, saw its beauty and experienced Namibia intensely. And I want more.”
Seven times champion of the gruelling Dusi Canoe Marathon in South Africa and a multi-disciplined extreme sportsman, Neels Dreyer, says he underestimated what Namibia had to offer, and will surely be back for another helping of adventure.
Dreyer was one of 67 top South African business executives who traded their boardrooms and the hustle and bustle of city life to cycle 500 kilometres in three days through the Namib Desert – for charity. It was an experience that left these hardcore business leaders in awe of Namibia’s unique beauty, and of what the country has to offer.
At the beginning of September, 57 men and ten women boarded a flight in Johannesburg, destination Windhoek, from where they were transported to a tented camp next to the railway line near Karibib along the B2. After a night under the stars, the first cyclists headed westwards just before sunrise for the first leg, a distance of 208 kilometres. As they approached the Karibib surroundings, the sun started peeping over their shoulders, transforming the plains with their covering of tall, wavy grass into a valley of gold. The cool morning air and chirping birds inspired the cyclists to take on the relentless heat and strong winds they were to face later in the day.
While wending their way through the Erongo Mountains on their way to Usakos, the mercury started rising and temperatures shot up. After the first two tea stops, the cyclists made their way up the western side of the Khan Valley, leaving Usakos behind. And so – with the grass plains of Vergenoeg transforming into the rocky plains of the rich uranium fields east of Swakopmund – their journey to explore the real Namib Desert took off in earnest.
“The road infrastructure in Namibia is of the best we’ve seen and the country is really beautiful.”
Except for the exhausting heat in the desert, the ride was made easy with strong winds blowing from behind, helping to push the cyclists into the newly proclaimed Dorob National Park, close to Swakopmund. At the last tea stop, about 30 kilometres before reaching the outskirts of the coastal town, the temperature had risen to 43 degrees Celsius. But once the cyclists started their descent, the crisp sea breeze increased their strength and vigour.
From the road, the Swakop River course can be seen to the south as it creeps through the barren landscape. The effects of a record rainy season could be seen from the saddle, with small succulents colouring the ground in shades of green, orange and yellow. The cyclists wheeled their way into a bright and sunny Swakopmund.
This lovely sunny day was, however, exchanged for a misty and very cold morning when the cyclists took off for the second day of cycling on the salt road northwards towards Henties Bay. To the west the waves of the tumultuous Atlantic Ocean crashed onto the shore and in the east the expansive lichen fields and grey-green salt-bushes covered the desert plains. After a U-turn heading back to Swakopmund, the business leaders tackled the gravel road behind the dune belt (D1984) heading for Walvis Bay, with the ever-shifting dune sand of the dunes as their riding partner. After a stop next to the lagoon in Walvis Bay, they cycled along the B2, the sea spray in their faces and the fog obscuring their view of the Atlantic Ocean.
On the final day of cycling, the participants took on the Amazing Race challenge, a gruelling test of endurance comprising different stages. In the Amazing Race the cyclists were divided into pairs and given eight GPS waypoints. They criss-crossed the desert in the Dorob National Park just north of Swakopmund and had plenty of fun with Go Karts and sand-boarding down the dunes. The final challenge in the Amazing Race was to catch a fish for dinner.
“What struck me most was how clean the desert is. Hardly any plastic and bottles can be seen next to the national roads.”
According to Ursula du Plooy, tour director and executive director of Computershare, Neels Dreyer and South Africa’s number-one cyclist, Malcolm Lange, were the only professional cyclists in the group. “The rest of us are all business executives with a passion for cycling. The 208 kilometres we cycled on day one was the greatest distance most of us had ever covered. And every single cyclist finished the first stage.” And after that first stage, they all wanted more.
“I have to be honest. I really had my doubts when the organisers announced that Namibia was the playing field, but from the moment we touched down in Windhoek, all my expectations were exceeded,” said Dreyer. “The contrasts and scenery is something special.”
“Beautiful, clean and friendly,” was the remark of Nicky Newton-King, deputy CEO of the Johannesburg Stock Exchange. Mrs Newton-King has not missed out on one Change a Life cycling tour since its inception in 2008. “It was fantastic. The road infrastructure in Namibia is of the best we’ve seen and the country is really beautiful. What struck me most was how clean the desert is. Hardly any plastic and bottles can be seen next to the national roads.”
Having completed nine Cape Argus cycling races, Mrs Newton-King is full of praise for the endless cycling possibilities in Namibia. “In this race the playing field was levelled. We all had to push to reach the same goal and we helped one another to attain that goal while having fun. For me personally the cycle tour and the time in Namibia were incredibly uplifting. I was amazed at what the country had to offer.”
Namibia can also be sure to see Neels Dreyer again. “I’ve heard of a three-day race from Windhoek to Walvis Bay and I’m very interested in doing it. But even if there’s no race to participate in, I’ll bring my family to this country. The tour was extraordinary, but at times I really wished I could share small moments with my family.”
Dreyer said he’d travelled all over the world and participated in sporting events in numerous countries. But Namibia had never been his destination of choice. “Whenever I heard of Namibia, all I thought of was sand. It was a black-and-white country, but this trip gave colour to the dull picture I had in my mind.”
Charity-minded individuals from the highest echelons of the South African business fraternity contribute to the Change a Life project of Computershare South Africa. Their mission with their trip to Namibia was to complete a cycle tour to raise funds for the Change a Life project, which supports victims of crime in South Africa.
About N$3.5 million was raised during this year’s Change a Life cycle tour. The funds will be distributed among five different organisations that assist victims of crime in South Africa. For the time being only projects in South Africa will benefit from this project.
Ursula du Plooy, who has been organising the cycle tour for the past four years, says it was easy and a joy to organise the Change a Life tour in Namibia. “Everyone we worked with was friendly and helpful. They really went the extra mile to accommodate and help us.”
Each year’s tour starts to take shape about a month after the previous tour took place. This year was no different, with every single logistical problem worked out to a tee. “We made two reconnaissance trips to Namibia to work out the routes and to look at the infrastructure. And make no mistake, Namibia’s infrastructure is one of the best.”
Swakopmund-based company, Abenteur Afrika Safari, helped with the local arrangements.
This article appreared in the Oct’11 edition of FLAMINGO Magazine.