Friday, 8 September 2017

Welcome to the desert!

After several weeks of being stationary waiting for my bike, I was beginning to wonder what was wrong with me. I was in a beautiful part of the world and yet things did not seem right. I questioned whether I wanted to continue. My body ached and I feared I would not make it across the last continent. Perhaps I had just had enough of the road. 

I pushed on with little choice but to ride it out, and that’s when the magic started to happen all over again. It seems I truly am a prisoner of the white lines. The aches dissipated, the fears quelled and the tiredness melted into a forgotten past. I was getting my road fix and the cold turkey had gone. 

I was sad to say goodbye to all my new friends in Cape Town. They had been so good to me and made my stay a memorable (and affordable) one. I will miss them, especially Ali, who fed, watered, housed and entertained Billy and I during our stay. She was even wise enough to tell me to 'Get on with it', when I doubted myself. That was all I needed! 

I took many dirt roads North through the rural areas of Cederberg. After Clan William, I was relying
on a fuel stop in the tiny village of Kliprand to get me out of there,  but to my surprise it was closed. The owner was on his monthly drive to the nearest grocery store 180 km away and no-one knew when he would be back. I had no choice but to continue and hope something would magically happen to get me to the next town of Springbok. It did! After another 20 km of sandy road, I came across a farm. Chancing my luck, I rode in and found a lovely couple busily working away with their sheep stock. They downed tools, made me coffee and, as luck would have it, they had a spare jerry can of fuel which they happily filled Rhonda's tank with. After a lovely half an hour of chatting, I was waving goodbye, tank and water bladder replenished and yet another example under my belt of the kindness of strangers as they refused to take any money. 

Waking up in my tent just outside Springbok, I jumped out of bed, made the coffee on my little stove, and shared my energy bar breakfast with the exotically yellow birds who had seen me a mile off and had come to prey on my good mood! I sat watching the sun move across the adjacent hill, slowly working its way towards me. My departure time was all down to how quickly its rays could reach me and dry the dew from my tent. I smiled and savoured the moment, completely submissive of nature and its control over my day.

After two days of sand roads, the ride out of South Africa was easy. Fast, friendly and efficient border control saw me through in minutes and the open road was suddenly spread out before me, into the desert that is Namibia.

There is one tar road through the middle of the country (the rest is sand), and for now I was on it, chasing the newly painted white lines and allowing myself to believe in the mirage that lay before me. Any minute now it looked like I would be splashing through the magical river that had engulfed the empty road ahead. Once again, whilst away from it, I had forgotten the power of the desert in playing with our minds and reigniting our imagination. The space and lack of people always gives me a sense of freedom. The beautiful simplicity in this unprejudiced landscape that will swallow any bush or beast that does not follow a few basic rules of survival. It is a leveller and, in that, I find a certain comfort.

I turn off the black stuff and head east towards Fish River Canyon. Here I planned to meet up with Charley Boorman and Billy Ward, who were leading fifteen riders from Cape Town to Victoria Falls on an epic three-countries ride with Compass Expeditions. It wasn’t long before I suffered a puncture on route to my first camping spot and spent an hour fixing it with the desert sun burning down on me. As I was wrestling with getting the back tyre back in place (all at a funny angle as I have no centre stand), a local guy turned up and placed his truck in a position where it threw its shadow over me, then gave me an orange and an extra pair of hands to hold the weight of the tyre while I ensured the spacers, brake pads and chain were all aligned! When is someone going to design a less finicky solution?

The following morning a baboon came into camp and frantically ripped apart another campers belongings looking for food. He was BIG and I was not going to challenge him, instead choosing to shuffle behind Rhonda, using her as my shield as I continued to brush my teeth! Once it had gone, I turned my attention to more pressing issues. I was in a very rocky area with no spare inner tube. I had also lost the cap to my fuel bladder and the long stretches between fuel stations meant it was very much a necessity to carry extra petrol. Thankfully I managed to get a little signal on my phone and got hold of Billy before he crossed the border. Helpful as ever, Billy managed to pick one up for me and would deliver it when I met them later on in the day. The fuel solution was solved by two bikers who came into camp later on. You don't see many bikers here so I was very lucky to meet this father and son duo. They were near the end of their ride and had a truck and trailer to get home, so they offered their own fuel bladder as a replacement. Problems solved thanks once again to the kindness of strangers (and Billy, but he IS strange!)

That morning I rode the 20km along the dirt tracks to the lodge where Charley and the gang would arrive later that day. I managed to 'persuade' the staff that I was actually with the Compass Expeditions crew and was in fact a guide who was riding ahead of the group, knowing that they had spare rooms at a cheap price for guides. It worked and I actually got a lovely room with a soft bed and a wonderful shower! When I heard bikes,  I raced out to meet them and whispered 'If anyone asks, I'm a guide for you guys!'. Billy laughed and said 'Good blag! Well done!'

Meeting up with Charley and the gang at Fish River Canyon was a real treat. Having 15 riding buddies was a total contrast from the norm, but one I thoroughly enjoyed. The guys rode well on their big bikes. Some had very little off-road experience but, with guidance and a support truck at hand, they were getting on with it and enjoying the challenge. Rhonda and I managed to keep up by maintaining our usual ‘Keep Calm and Potter On’ approach. I envied the smooth speed of the big bikes on the long stretches, but I got the feeling the tables were turned on the softer, more technical bits!

I was with them long enough to miss them when they left. They were a really great bunch and that fork in the road came too soon for me, but it was time to head back to my solo life of roughing it - just me and Rhonda, cooking dinner for one on my little gas stove. Spending time with fellow bikers had been a thorough recharge for me. Now though, I was ready to go back to what I knew and I smiled as I set up my tent once more. 

I was desperate to get the petrified trees in Sossusvlei, and so I had found a free camping space behind a gas station in Sesriem. The Namibian workers there were lovely and that night ran an extention out to my tent so I had power. They even brought me a table and chair to make me more comfortable. My space was now so inviting that I was later joined by a couple of aussies on a 4x4 adventure of their own. Like me, they were on a tight budget and so joined me with offerings of fresh fish and bottle of red wine! So much for the lonely desert! This was becoming a really sociable affair! 

I could not take the bike into Sosusvlei, and so one of the petrol attendants came with me to see if we could find a way in. We came across a couple from London who were planning on driving there in the morning and so I tentatively asked if I could join them. They happily agreed and so we met again at 6.45am the next morning for the 60km drive over to Dune 45, Big Daddy, and of course - the petrified trees! 

Wagner and Tatiana were very easy to get on with and we soon became friends sharing a wonderful experience together. Originally from Brazil, Wagner had a great sense of humour, and Tatiana was so relaxed and clearly fazed by very little. They both had a great sense of adventure and kind hearts. That was all very apparent within the first couple of hours of our meeting!
The following day, we took the same long stretch of sand and corrugation out of the area and so kept meeting up whenever one of us would stop to take in the view or take respite from the vibrations. It was a real pleasure to share the road with them, and I must admit, their offerings of sugary treats at each stop was probably what kept be going when my patience wore thin from the relentless jarring and front wheel wobbles! The scenery though, was breathtaking at times and all the better for earning it! 

Now in Walvis Bay, I am catching a breath and restocking, before deciding which way to go next! So far I am loving Namibia. 


  1. I'm loving every bit of your adventure! Stay safe, ��������

  2. Great update, Steph.
    I've always wanted to see the Martian-like landscapes of Namibia.

    By the way, I've often wondered whether a baseplate, or a part of a baseplate, could be hinged so that it can be utilized as a center
    stand. But I guess not, otherwise someone would be using it already, right?

  3. I'm enjoying your travels. Love your ability with the written word.

  4. yes keep calm and potter on! you lucky gal! take good care eh.

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  6. have been following your travels for a long time - but it was nice to see your interview on our local television programme Carte Blanche. Travelling mercies to you for your trip through Africa.

  7. Dan from California just praying for the angels to comfort you

  8. My dear Steph, we came back yesterday from Namibia which we totally adored but I am also completely star-struck after meeting you by such a coincidence and I still can't believe it!
    You will bring home life experiences and tons of memories - they will last you a lifetime!
    You are amazing! We wish you a good luck!!!
    Tatjana and Wagner

  9. Great Experienced!

    You must feel the pure air(hot air) and meeting the nice people.

    It was very hard for a common person to get over this challenge but you did.
    I can see your pictures so clear but for the real, don't you use some accessories to record your journey and you can review anytime when your free.

    As a car lover, I have one and i usually use it for my trip.

    Thank you so much for your share and have a nice day!