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A Traverse of the Namib Desert – by Bill Fleming

Written By :  Bill Fleming

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How I found myself riding my fat bike across the mind-bending dunes of the Namib desert is at least as entertaining as the actual ride itself. It started last December in the bathroom with a smart phone. I started searching for areas with sparse population densities, like in Alaska.The long and short of it is, I pulled up a map of Namibia, and a long, approximately 310-mile desert coast immediately struck me. After a quick Google Earth flyover, I was a man possessed. This was a trip I had to do. The only real hurdle was how to talk my wife into joining me, plus a few other minor details (like water), all of which I was confident I could figure out.

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This was supposed to be an unsupported trip, but after a few discouraging emails from local bike shops in Windhoek, the capital of Namibia, (“Do NOT attempt this trip. You will die!”), it was clear this fat bike mission was going to need some assistance at the local level. Fortunately Mannie Heymans, owner of Mannie’s Bike Mecca in Windhoek and a three-time Olympian, did a little background work on fat bikes, and suggested such a trip might be possible, but some modifications would need to be made.

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After Mannie teamed me up with his buddy, Leander Borg, owner of NatureFriend Safaris, all of the details began to fall into place. The only problem was that the details of this fat bike journey had a whiff of adventure to it, and people began wanting in on the action. The more the merrier, said I, and before I knew it, we had lined up seven additional riders and four support vehicles.

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Since the southern part of the Namibian coast is an active diamond mining area, it’s completely off-limits, so we had to modify my initial plan. Instead we had to make a traverse of the Namib Desert to reach the Atlantic coast. Once we reached the ocean, we would head north along the Skeleton Coast until we reached the small community of Walvis Bay. All in all, it was shaping up to be a six day ride through a remote corner of the world.

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Day one was an inauspicious start. I was clearly the runt of the litter.
“How do you know Mannie?”, I asked one of the other riders.
“We raced on the pro circuit together for three years.”

Yeah, well, I like racing too.

Among a bunch of heavyweight aerobic monsters, I was merely just heavy and out of shape. At least I could hang with my wife, or so I thought…`

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After suffering from heat exhaustion, dehydration, and nausea, I was rescued by Guy Jennings, a South African I met while competing in the Iditarod Trail Invitational last February. I had helped him out in a minor way during that event, and in a strange twist of karmic something or other, he came back to assist me. After towing me to our camp just after the last light had left the sky, I slumped dejectedly into a chair, wondering if I was even going to be able to finish the ride.

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What an asshole, I thought. Who comes up with a killer idea for a ride, invites people to join in the fun, only to be the one guy that has no business being there in the first place?

After forcing myself to eat and drink, I awoke the next morning fully recovered and had no more problems for the rest of the trip.

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As we rode further into the desert, the low, vegetated dunes gave way to towering mountains of sand. The dry grasses disappeared, and this wild spot of Earth revealed itself to be a very dry, barren place.

“This place is drier than a three-year old cat turd. No wonder no one lives in this country,” I thought.

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Towards the end of the third day, we could hear the waves pounding the coastline. We were getting close, and the anticipation of reaching our halfway point was at an all-time high. After arriving on the beach, the scenery stunned everyone.

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The dunes fold themselves into the ocean here, and the big Atlantic rollers come straight into them. We had a narrow beach to ride until it opened up enough to make another camp.

After two more days of riding this desert coast, we reached our destination. We were done (like toast).

How did the fat bikes ride in the desert? Coming from Alaska, I was surprised how familiar the sand felt under the tires. The sand was easier to ride in many respects, almost like an endless landscape of crust snow. You could go anywhere you wanted. No need to be limited to a narrow snow machine trail. Riding up the dunes was easy, and the leeward side, almost always just shy of 45 degrees in steepness, was soft and easy to descend.

My mind has since gone near crazy thinking about the endless possibilities of fat bike travel. In many ways, desert fat biking has a lot going for it compared to its cold winter cousin. One thing is for sure, the fat bike world is only limited by your imagination.

A Note About the Author :  When Bill isn’t adventuring, he is one of the owners of 9:Zero:7 – Chain Reaction Cycles and The Trek Store of Anchorage. Bill left out the part about the 9:Zero:7 Carbon Whiteout Fat-Bikes that carried him accross the Namib. Bill’s one of the nicest guys that you’ll ever meet and quite the practical joker! ~gomez~

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6 Responses to A Traverse of the Namib Desert – by Bill Fleming

  1. skota September 22, 2014 at 12:43 pm #

    awesome story and great pictures!

  2. Glenn Brooks September 22, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    Bravo and Well Done! Great story and photos. I played around in the Liwa and parts of the Empty Quarter in UAE on fat bike last year and can highly recommend going there if you seek another desert riding adventure. Couple of local fat bikers have crafted a 100 mile desert race across the Liwa every January- largest dunes in the world I believe, every January. Also, one could ride from Oman to Jordan, straight up the Arabian desert for 1000 miles, if so inclined.

    Conjures up all kinds of possibilities….

  3. Thomas September 28, 2014 at 3:18 am #

    Great! I was in Namibia for half a year, 10 years ago and I was thinking about going there for fat biking.

  4. Jane Mac October 3, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    Brilliantly written, matches the quality of the pictures – so pleased I stumbled upon this!

    (I’m not a cyclist at all, never mind a fat biker………but always appreciate a good story)

  5. Victor January 20, 2015 at 2:33 pm #

    What kind of Wheelset do you recommend for beach riding?
    Regards

  6. coastkid March 7, 2015 at 10:39 am #

    Fantastic story!, Pic 7 is amazing-those dunes!, then the story hits the coast and i seen those pics and thought `wow 2 days riding the coast…` coming from Scotland that is unthinkable to be doing, then you look at the Skeleton coast on Google Earth – that fried my brain!. breathtaing desert remoteness…