Crossing The Mighty Namib Naukluft Desert

I had to pull myself away from my camera to get on with making the journey across this desert and to the seaside town of Swakopmund


It was inevitable. My visit in Sossulvlei took longer than I planned. And with 300km of questionable quality dirt roads to Swakopmund, I probably pushed a bit too much. With a 1pm departure from Sesriem, I should have no problem arriving before sunset. And considering this is one day before solstice, I had the advantage of perhaps the longest day of the year. The locals told me it would be four hours more or less to Swakopmund. Considering I ride slower than most of the four-wheel traffic on these roads I’d factor an extra hour which includes a petrol stop.

Grabbing the last scenic shots of the dunes around Sossulvlei, I’m torn. I want to stay. But I should go.

Though I didn’t see much traffic, this is a major route. In Namibia the B-designated roads are the primary routes and are paved. The C-designated roads are minor routes and, for the most part, are gravel. The D-roads are sometimes only suitable to 4×4 traffic with a mix of gravel, dirt, rock and sand. I was hoping for that nice compacted gravel surface, but was prepared for the worst. Considering my route — the only route — to Swakopmund crosses across the Namib Desert and through the Namib-Naukluft Park, I knew I’d have to deal with sand. But hoping the power of positive thinking would be in my favor, I visualized and counted on this to be no more than a dusting over a harder surface.

But the other shoe was dropped over fresh homemade apple pie at the general store in Solitaire, just 100km from my room at Desert Camp in Sesriem. Getting to Sesriem was almost easy as that apple pie — the road was in fair shape yet it still took me more than an hour to ride those almost sixty miles. But the couple from Cape Town who just drove three and a half hours from Walvis Bay (35km from Swakopmund) warned me of the loose sand. Grabbing an imaginary steering wheel and frenetically twisting it back and forth while explaining how his truck behaved over the sandy parts of the road had my mind spinning. Once my pie was finished, I’d be on that road on two wheels — heavily loaded. “Just be careful,” he warned me, “watch for the sand.” The words echoed as I fitted my ear plugs, donned my helmet and fired up Doc. Great. Not only was I running late, I could imagine what took them 3 1/2 hours taking me 4-5. And it was now after 2pm.

My Cape Town friends described the road as boring. And perhaps from inside the caged cab of a 4×4 it might appear so. The road goes on and on and on. But crossing two mountain passes and riding through the northern part of Namib-Naukluft Park, the desert vistas and desolation leaves much time to think. And concentrate. The road got progressively worse as I rode on. I was not only unable to find tracks made by other vehicles, usually with less loose sand or gravel — making the road surface a sea of gravel about three inches deep — but the wind continually pushed me to even deeper parts. Several times Doc went into a front wheel swim sending me across patches of the deep shit. More than a few times I would surely go down and be eating my gravel nemesis. But with a steady twist of the throttle and with no illusions of trying to steer myself to center, I just squeezed the tank between my legs and motored on.

The first pass, Gaub, was a gentle slope with wide sweeping turns that got tighter toward the summit where the road carved through hard rocks and then simmered to a gentle and seemingly unending sandy plain. Then the stunning Kuiseb Pass with its hidden desert oasis-like riverbeds tucked between towering rocky cliffs offering striking contrast with signs of green life. The gravel was manageable but on the turns the sand and gravel all gets pushed to one side making the lane deeper and forcing me to choose the opposite lane — usually not a bad thing when you’ve had a preview of what’s coming down the road. But this is a mountain pass. And one must hope and pray that drivers in the other lane are considerate and driving at a reasonable velocity.

The Gaub Pass (above)

Kuiseb Pass (below)

Winding down the pass until the vast swath of the Namib Naukluft Park unfolds and presents itself, a lonely line of acacia trees crossing the desert and the road showing evidence of where water flows — sometimes. With the sun inching down the horizon, the view just about knocks me off the bike when I grab a handful of brakes while forgetting about the loose crap I’m riding in. But I manage and grab a quick snapshot — one that cannot present the emotion I felt at that moment.

Acacia tree studded Namib Naukluft Studded desert. Immaculate.

This looks good in the photo. But riding it was a rollercoaster going off the track. But it looks so straight and simple. Deeper than I though.

Seeing the road stretch straight and seemingly forever in front of me I progressively twisted the throttle downward. Then at one point my bike started swimming. I probably was over 100kph. Slowing down would just increase the problem, but I was feeling uncomfortable. Standing up and looking forward I managed to get down to a reasonable speed. Tired and thirsty, I stopped. Taking a huge pull from my Valpre spring water bottle I looked down at my boots. I was standing in gravel that covered the top of my foot. No wonder I was wallowing like a Brazilian Samba Dander. For the next thirty kilometers I danced with doc across the desert. After passing the river and onward closer to Walvis Bay the gravel became finer until it was sandy dirt. I stopped again to check out the road off the bike when a Toyota Hi-Lux pulled up and instantly three kids glued there noses to the back window as the driver checked in with me.

“Everything okay?” he asked with reasonable concern. “That’s a pretty tough stretch back there. Something wrong with your bike?” The kids were fighting to be the face in the window.

“Sorry if I’m talking too loud,” I explained that my ear plugs were a liability when I’m stopped. “No just taking a break and some water.”

“Don’t worry. When you get to Walvis the road is tarred all the way to Swakopmund.”

This was something I didn’t know. And though it’s only 35km, I was confident I’d get to town before sunset. It’s practically solstice. And after all, I had crossed the Tropic of Capricorn a few hours before and this is the point on earth where during solstice the sun is at its highest point of the year. Yes. The sun was on my side. And I’d experience a fantastic Atlantic Ocean sunset — something you only see on this side of world.

Here I was able to make time. Though perhaps not smart I could hit speeds of 120kph or faster (70mph)


Did someone forget to tell me there’d be sand on this route. OUchhhhh. I hate sand. Loaded as if I’m riding two up, I hate it. Any kind. Every time.

Before crossing the passes that day, I crossed the Tropic of Capricorn for the third time on my journey. But this time it was extra special.
It was solstice it’s the point on earth that the sun reaches it’s highest part of the year.

Rolling into the Germanesque town of Swakopmund I awoke from my gravely, sandy and dust infested adventure to the realities of holiday season in this popular seaside town. I think I got to visit nearly ever hotel, backpacker and guest house/B&B. But finally stumbling into Andreas and Cynthia at Hotel Deutsches Haus with a single room and free wireless internet, I quickly signed a guest card and plopped down in my room.

A sundowner beer, some ostrich strips and chips and I was to bed. But before settling in I started downloading the photos from my camera to my Mac. At about 5am I woke up in my clothes on my bed with drained batteries on both my laptop and camera. I was spent. The days ride its both physical and mental overhead did me in. But what a ride. What a day.

Dune just outside Malvis Bay. Still more than 200 miles as the crow flies from Sossulvei. The lighting was perfect at this point.

Germany…. Oooops. I mean Namibia – Swakopmund for a sundowner and lovely sunset.


4 replies
  1. Richard
    Richard says:

    Allan,
    I have been following your journeys for quite a while now and have been enjoying your stories and photography. I noticed that since you have been in Africa, your posts have been made much closer to day of the journey. I know it’s a tremendous amount of work for you, but I will speak for all that we appreciate it! If you head towards Kenya, see if you might stop in the small village of Katito, 40K east of Kisumu and say hello. Our church is sponsoring kids and improvements such as a water well and goats through World Vision. Thanks again for the documentation of your journey and be safe. Richard

    Reply
  2. Cristian
    Cristian says:

    Hi amigo,
    Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!!!
    As always…we read and enjoy your stories, photos and dynamics of your epic journey. Can´t wait to move to NYC and buy my new BMW GS 1200 Adventure.
    Be safe, keep enjoying life and every time you take a break from the heat…sit by Doc and see the Chilean flag on the jessee bags…there will be me smiling at you, holding a glass of Carmenere.
    Cristian Munoz

    Reply
  3. WorldRider
    WorldRider says:

    Richard, Cristian & Joss:
    I’ve finally got the site fairly current and given access to internet in Africa I hope to never be more than a couple weeks between posts — ideally posts within a week! will look on the map and put a circle around Ksumu and note Katito and as I make my way into Kenya later this year I will chart my course there if possible and drop in and say hi!
    Cristian – Looking forward to your NYC migration and pics of the new bike… but I think you better change your tune… perhaps the new GS800 would be a better bike! It looks sweet, is lighter and very cool… either way looking forward to seeing your new bike, baby and house!
    Jasso – YOU Legend… glad you’re with me in Africa!

    Reply

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