This article features in the December edition of Mountain Bike magazine:
THE DUNLOP “BEYOND THE DESERT EDGE” EXPEDITION will be the first in a series of #BEYONDEXPEDITIONS ventures to be undertaken by duo Peter Van Kets and Jacques Marais over the next four years. Each of these missions will aim to highlight specific regions under environmental threat, while attempting human-powered journeys never before undertaken by man.
Their attempt to cross the unchartered wilderness between the Cunene River on the border with Angola and Swakopmund on the coast of Namibia, was completed successfully at the end of September. Beyond the Desert Edge was sponsored by Dunlop Tyres SA, and Children in the Wilderness is a key fundraising beneficiary. Van Kets, a worldrenowned adventurer, together with photo journalist Jacques Marais and a media and support team, tackled this extreme expedition by fat bike and mountain bike.
Van Kets rode from the Wilderness Safaris camp, Serra Cafema, following the inhospitable edge of the Skeleton Coast National Park. Marais joined him on regular daily stages, and the riders crossed the expansive dune fields into the desolate and remote Hartmann’s Valley. The route passed into the arid Namib interior, doglegging via a rugged Damaraland moonscape, past Brandberg and the Spitzkoppe inselbergs, before finally finishing in Swakopmund after two weeks.
“Beyond the Desert Edge is more about natural exploration than about an egodriven adventure,” says Van Kets. “Our route took us along the edge of an amazing and fragile natural world, and somehow we want to share this incredible journey with every interested party out there.”
Further financial assistance from Spar Eastern Cape helped with key provisioning. Vehicle support came courtesy of Isuzu South Africa. Beyond the Desert Edge could never have happened without the backing of Wilderness Safaris either. “Their unrivalled environmental ethos and indepth knowledge of the region we passed through was key to the success of the adventure, and we hope to help highlight the plight of these delicate ecosystems upon our return.” The team used technical outdoor apparel from HiTec South Africa, neversaydie Giant bikes, Ciovita, Holdfast, Spot Africa, Drip Drop, Race Food, Bean There and Darling Brew. Focused fundraising through a range of channels will go towards the official charity beneficiary, Children in the Wilderness.
Follow our BEYONDEXPEDITIONS Facebook Page, or connect with Peter and Jacques on www.petervankets.com or www.jacquesmarais.co.za
Read Jacques Marais’ report on this incredible adventure, which was a continuation of the article in the Mountain Bike magazine:
On Monday 4 September, Peter van Kets set off from Serra Cafema, right up against the southern Angolan border, on a world-first mountain bike ride through the Namib Desert. This is a taste of the 1 200km crank across what rates as one of the most inhospitable deserts on Planet Earth.
I could take up this whole magazine telling you about the extraordinary Dunlop Beyond the Desert Edge expedition. So to summarise, I’ll detail our first day of this two week desert adventure…
There’s no easy way to escape the Cunene River valley from Serra Cafema. Behind you, the in-your-face and belligerent landscape shaping the Zebra Mountain ranges of Angola bristles with intent, while ahead of you, a massive mother of a climb lurks along a winding sand trap of a track. It’s a war of attrition, even on our mega dikwiel fat bikes, as we duel head-to-head with sand dunes and the infamous Rocky Pass. Cranking. Pushing. Portaging. Dropping the wheel pressure. Swearing, every now and then. Thinking, “My God, if the whole ride is like this, we’re going to die in this desert”. Maybe not quite, but you know what I mean.
Every now and then, a dune face descent lifts your spirits though, and then about 5km into the morning we reach a small scattering of decrepit mud huts, where a local Himba family has set up an impermanent family kraal. I’d love to say this was one of those true connections with noble savages, but frankly. I do not believe in their existence any more. Western “civilisation” and, if I’m honest, photographers like me and National Geographic explorer types, have turned the human landscape into a virtual Discovery Channel. We all live vicariously through their lenses, gawping as the wild tribes of the world are thus showcased, but it is through this very process that they are drained of the very essence that makes them unique. That said, this Himba family still lived a life as feral as imaginable here on the edge of the desert, with relatively minimal tourism contact. Peter Van Kets got one of the boys up on his fat bike, much to the delight of his sisters, and we bought armbands to serve as a symbolic token to our passage through their amazing desert land. I’m wearing my rusty metal bangle now, a tenuous link to remind me of that amazing space.
From the Himba village, we continued climbing further along a sandy ascent, mostly going offtrack in the hope of finding slightly more solid surfaces. That first 21 k m took us more than three hours, so it was a damn hard start – I can’t really say “on the bike”, as a lot of it was a hard, slogging push. Fortunately, our lunch stop provided an excellent counterpoint to the suffering, and we sat perched on a gargantuan granite outcrop, with infinite views across bristle grass plains. All around, the utterly vast and expansive desert shimmered to an evocative midday mirage run, with not a single vehicle or any sign of human habitation in sight. I was quite relieved to switch to the Isuzu to get long shots of Pete as he soldiered on in the saddle of his Giant Anthem.
From here, the route descended onto the grassy plains adjacent to the Marienfluss Valley, with the arid savanna now dotted with regular plains game all round. Pistol joined PVK on the fat bikes here for a fast and flat stretch, and they bombed along grassland tracks, passing the mysterious “fairy circles” one finds in this region of Namibia. These unexplained bare circles appear on the grassy plains, and numerous hypotheses including termite circles or possibly chemical leaching from euphorbia bush detritus have so far remained unverified.
In one of the many narrow valleys, a herd of approximately two dozen mountain zebra galloped alongside the riders, dust puffing off their hammering hooves as they skirted the amphitheatre to burst onto the surrounding dunes. The bikes were totally alien to them, and after a circular burst, they stood and stared as these strange velocipedes disappeared towards the skyline. The terrain was becoming increasingly sandy, with row upon row of hammock, also known as crescent dunes cascading towards the edge of the faint track. This combo of soft sand and occasional alluvial rock proved to be an excellent test for the #GrandTrek tyres fitted to our Isuzu bakkies, but it was soon time for me to swap back onto the bike.
PVK by now had had a long day out in the saddle, and unfortunately the fat bike proved to have a rather uncomfortable seat, with the downside of some damage to our adventurer’s nether regions. That comes with the territory, though, and he knew some damage control would be necessary over the coming weeks of cycling. Together, we set off on our final 25km crank as the sun dipped low over the endless ranks of crescent dunes slanting away into the distance. PVK had been on the bike since dawn, but we pushed on to make it into the Ugab River just before nightfall, after a solid 11 hours in the saddle. As we approached camp, four giraffe paraded into view as dusk fell, silhouetted against the western skyline. We finally cruised into our stunning site, where Gerhard and Graham had already made a fire. Shadows played against the high desert earth cliffs as we rolled to the end of Day 1.