The day I am due to travel, I wake up mega anxious, stressed and slightly hungover. I can’t concentrate on anything, even though I know everything is done. I packed yesterday and my work stuff is covered. I am so anxious that I don’t want to eat. I am packing and repacking stuff over and over again. Moving stuff around the flat for NO reason. I tell myself to go out and get a sandwich. I am packed, and the cab is not due for another 2 hours. I might even be able to squeeze in a pint with my pal Lucy. So out the door I go, patting my pocket with my keys in. Slam the door. Then the horror, as I realise the keys I have in my pocket are not my house keys at all. They are my OLD house keys. I rush round the back of the house and try and jimmy the window - no luck. I have left the house without anything but my phone and old keys. I can see all my packed bags sitting in the living room I have NO access too. I phone the landlord, but it’s a Sunday. I sit down. Think. I’m going to have to call a locksmith. So I do. And he charges me almost £300 to drill the lock off and replace it with a new one. He turns up in twenty mins and I stand there watching him, biting my nails, looking at my watch.
I didn’t want to ever meet this man. Locksmith ninja.
He finishes, and I go for a very quick beer and small cry with Lucy before my cab arrives at 2pm. I’m really going now. I cannot believe that just happened. That was pretty horrible. But I dealt with it, right?! Surely that’s the hardest thing I will face? Right?
When I get to Heathrow, my fellow adventurers are there waiting. It’s Jim (Rat Race CEO and all round amazing human), his wife Dani (who I now have a massive girl crush on), Darren (you might remember him from Monglia) and me. Handsome Pete is doing the camera work, and he will join us later when we get to Namibia. I offload my Panama kit into their car - we will do a kit swap on our way back through Heathrow to Panama, which is great because I don’t fancy slogging around with 3 massive bags. One massive bag will do for now.
Jim and Dani are planning to do both the bike and run stage in Namibia - it’s down to myself and Darren to see if the route is do-able solely on foot.
Bit of background for you. The Namib Desert is the oldest desert in the world - 55 million years old and 81,000 square kms. It is 2000km long and, crucially for us, 200km wide. I say crucial, because that is what we are trying to do. Cross the width of the desert, from east to west. On the west coast lies the wreck of the Eduard Bolen. This is where we will finish. Fun fact, the Namib desert is home to the biggest dunes on earth, and is one of the most hostile environments on the planet. Even worse than Reading town centre at about 7pm. It’s hot, dry and full of things that may well kill you, if you don’t die of thirst or heatstroke first. We’re not dicking about here. This is serious stuff. The area we are running across is primarily National Park, but not in the way we think of National Park here in the UK. This route has NEVER been run before - it’s a world first. There are parts never touched by humans. Our men on the ground have had to get 3 different letters from the government to allow us to do this. National Parks in the UK have way marked trails and picnic benches and shops. There is nothing like that here. There are no marked trails, because the trails change and shift every day. We didn’t know it yet, but we weren’t going to see one other person apart from our team for the whole 5 days we were out there.
The plan is to run across it over 4 days - 50km a day on foot for myself and Darren. Jim and Dani are going to attempt to ride the first two days on fat bikes, BUT they will be trying to cover 100km a day each in comparison to our paltry 50km. So they will start 100km behind myself and Darren and try and catch us up in time for the 3rd day. Let’s just remember that none of us have any experience on this terrain (Darren has done Sandy Jog Week AKA MDS but wotevs) and none of us know what the terrain will actually be like in order to prepare anyway. I am imagining it’s all dunes going downwards, soft fluffy white sand and then sometimes flat white lovely sand. Spoiler: It is not like that at all.
After a traditional trip to Wetherspoons Terminal 5, we jump on the plane, change at Johannesburg and a few hour later, arrive in Windhoek, Namibia. On the flight to Windhoek, I have a huge Ghanian guy sat next to me, who, it becomes very clear, is terrified of flying. I have to hold his hand and talk him down. Literally. Talk to him all the way down until we land. He’s very grateful and I was really happy that I could help him. It felt like he was a personification of my own fears about, well, everything. This also means I have successfully managed to avoid almost all of the sleep on all of the planes. I am amazingly stupid and bad at sleeping. So after about 18 hours in transit, I feel FRESH AS FUCK. The excitement of meeting up with Handsome Pete, David Scott (our expedition leader and pal from the Mongolian adventure) and the rest of our team keeps me up and bouncing along, and, after a quick stop at the local supermarket for beer and supplies, we start the 4 hour car journey to Namibgrens Farm on the east side of the desert, where we will spend our first night.
View from the car en route to Namibgrens Farm
Namibia is massive and it’s hard to get places. “I’ll sleep in the car” I think - but, because the roads are dirt tracks and the cars are basically 4x4 buggies on speed, the bouncing about all over the place means no snoozes for me. Plus, there’s so much to see out on the drive. We drive past Warthogs, Oryx’s and Ostriches just mooching about. Causal. I ask our driver a million questions about the history and geography of where we are going. Turns out Namibia was a german colony from 1884, with the administration taken over by the Union of South Africa (under the League of Nations) after WW1. It became independent in 1990, but the German influence is obvious in the place names and the organisation of the streets in the major towns. Of which there are two.
But the town has gone now. We’re heading out to the wilderness. We have finally arrived at Namibgrens Farm, where we will spend the night, before starting on our run tomorrow. The farm is literally in the middle of nowhere (4.5 hours to the nearest shop) and we have a real bed each for the night. A rare treat. After we have got changed and had a shower, we are picked up by Johnny, who is part of the support team, in what looks like a cartoon desert truck. In hindsight, this truck has a lot to answer for. This truck is now known as The Fun Bus, mainly for ironic reasons. Here is the Fun Bus. Fuck the Fun Bus.
Looks a lot cleaner than I remembered……
Ten mins down the road, the rest of the support team David, Danny and Hein have set up a Brai on the edge of the desert. There we sit and eat, and drink beer and gin and tonic in the dark, whilst being briefed on hydration, foot care and how not to die. Danny and Hein are local expedition experts, and know the desert back to front. Not only that, they can drive huge vehicles up 33% sand dunes. Not fun for either the driver or the passengers. We’re in good hands here. It’s magical and we are excited. We all get to bed for about 8pm. Tomorrow we start.
Dinner location on the first night