DAY 5 Conception - The wreck of the Eduard Bohlen - 9 miles (AKA Look Mum, I Crossed A Desert!)
I wake up with a HANGOVER because I am not used to drinking wine anymore. Just a baby hangover, but a baby one when you have a desert to finish crossing is still a pain in the arse. Coffee and salt tabs for breakfast plus a bit of granola - and we are off. Darren is fresh as anything, so he whizzes ahead to try and catch Dani and Jim. I realise that I am going to be alone for a lot of today. Not sure if that’s a good thing. I don’t feel mentally strong, but there you go. It is what it is. That’s life.
It’s a grey morning and I struggle to find the footprints that Dani and Jim have left for us. The dunes have more of less flattened out now - they are more undulating than mega frustrating, and it’s cold, because we are heading to the coast - I have 2 layers on. It feels like a different life to the one we were living yesterday. I trek away on my own, with my own weird thoughts. They are thoughts of pride, mixed with the inability to accept what I have done. Feelings of ‘who the fuck cares’ and feelings that I should try and keep myself together. I want to sit and cry.
The irony of runnable terrain when you are totally exhausted…
I trot over a small dune, and suddenly I can see and smell the sea. It’s almost too much for me to take in. It’s almost over. The smell ignites my childhood memories of holidays, and the mist is rolling in across the flat sand. It’s beautiful and bleak.
I keep trotting on - not wanting it to end, but willing it to end at the same time. What will I do when I get to wreck? Will I cry? No, I can’t cry. I just want to cry at the moment. I am all out of snacks and everyone is ahead of me. I am last. Always last.
Old German mining railway left to rot on the skeleton coasts salt plains
The sea is not getting any nearer, but I come over a dune towards some plains. The salt plains. They are wet and cold and salty. Do what they say on the tin. The sand drops away under my feet and it’s more like an estuary than a desert. In front of me, is what looks like water, but I have learnt not to trust the desert. Turns out that this time it IS water. My feet are very wet and my shoes are full of grit.
Seem fine to walk on right?
The water gets deep quickly and is running fast. It has dead fish in it. It’s about calf deep now, and my radio comes into action. It’s Jim. He has already crossed it. He says it will take me 45 mins at least. I look at it, and, being mental and not being able to judge distance, think “nah, that’s ten mins”. It takes me 90 minutes to cross the fast flowing estuary and get to the support vehicle. I have no pictures or video of it, as my hands and phone were too wet and frankly, I was too exhausted to film it.
One of the things I remember vividly about this trip is those 90 mins. It was so hard. Lifting your tired legs and feet out of wet, deep mud. Feeling like you are going backwards, and having nobody to talk to. The support vehicle seemed like it was getting further and further away. It was horrible - really horrible. It’s something that in times of stress I will always recall. Relentless forward progress. You will get there. I stood and shouted the word ‘FUCK’ many, many times at the water. I hated it.
Back on firmer land with unidentifiable dead shit.
Eventually, I made it to firmer sand and got to the vehicle. I said very little to Danny and David. I wanted to change my socks - I had 3 miles to go, so really no need. I felt mental, and probably looked and talked like I was. My shoes were filled with grit and water and I did my best to dust them off. Danny and David told me it was only 5km to the end. I put my head down and started marching. And then I started to cry.
I didn’t want to cry at the end. I wanted people to think I was cool and casual, not overwhelmed by what we had done. I don’t want people to think I am ‘girly’ or ‘weak’. So I cried on my own. the irony of this is that crying doesnt make you weak - it helps you remain strong. I know this now - I couldn’t compute it at the time.
Vertebrae from a whales spine, the skeleton coast.
I kept on marching, I wanted to see the things I had come to see. The whale bones that litter the skeleton coast. Old wine bottles, washed up from ships that met their fate here. I saw a lot of it. Jackals coming out of their holes to chase down baby seals. Pieces of wood and metal from vessels long gone. It was bleak, astonishing and humbling. A world lost in sand and time.
Wine bottles in the sand
Then, in the distance, I see it. The wreck of the Eduard Bohlen. He has sat there since 1909 when he was wrecked in thick fog. The Bohlen completely symbolises the loneliness of the Skeleton Coast. It’s remains lie rusting in the sand, partially buried. A home for jackals, bones of their prey scattered around the hull. A symbol of the possible future of mankind. Once full of wonder and promise - now a wreck forgotten and alone. It’s a lot for me to think about. I think about how transient everything is.
Whale bones hidden in sand
Whale bones covered in sand. Wreck of the Bohlen in the background.
I try and run, but my brain tells me no. I am done. Exhausted. I take in what is going on around me and march it in. Nothing here but the remnants of a once promising and golden future, that the people of the 1900’s would have been proud of. Old glass bottles against dead whale bones. All preserved, but meaning nothing now to the people they once meant the world to.
But I’ve done it. I have fucking done it. I have become the first woman to cross the Namib Desert on this course from east to west. I hold it together, but the team form an arch with their hands, and I run through it. It’s over. They know I have been crying, they just don’t say it.
An emotional little Bailoid tries to hold it together…
The finish line
I am given a beer, and I take a minute to calm myself down. The feelings that I have are not really for writing here, mainly because I don’t know how to write them. I am both proud and empty, I have forgotten the hard bits. 127 miles through one of the most hostile environments on earth. I am tired, so tired. Race to the Wreck. I have done it.
Time is running out to leave - we have a 7 hour drive out of here. I don’t have much time to get myself together. I eat lunch, have a quick run around the wreck and wish I could stay here for a week investigating it all. We get in the fun bus. We’re all very, very quiet. The drive back is one of the scariest thing about this trip. The fun bus going up and down dunes at what feels like vertical angles is terrifying. We pass a dead humpback whale on the shoreline, more wrecks, dead seals and hopeful jackals. It takes seven hours of driving across those dunes, but then, suddenly, we hit tarmac and we are back in the human world.
Thats what a dead humpback whale looks like then…
More wrecks on the way out
Some casual driving on the way back….. FFS
We have one night in a hotel before we fly to Cape Town the following day. This journey is not over. One days travel and then its Man vs Table Mountain (or the Cape Town Three Peaks Challenge of Death as I have snappily renamed it). And that’s before we travel to Panama to attempt the double traverse in a journey that fundamentally changes everything for me.
So thanks for reading the first instalment of this ridiculous trip. If you want more info on the race it’s on sale now and I am happy to talk to anyone about it - just get me on the website or social media.
Next up on the blog: Man Vs Table Mountain
RAT RACE CREW
Massive thanks to Jim and Rob and the whole team at Rat Race for once again trusting me to trial one of their ridiculous ideas. This is a hard event, a really hard event, but totally achievable and I am honoured to have been part of the Test Pilot team and hope I have done you proud. I would recommend this to anyone who has ever sought to do more than just a desert multi-day. This is the real deal - an immersion in culture and a world first. And it’s on sale now, kids! Click here for details.
Thanks to Dani Brodie for representing the female side of endurance challenges with me - this was her first ever multi-day event - no pressure then, throw yourself in at the deep end why not? She handled it with style and enthusiasm, and in the end totally nailed the whole route. A total pleasure to be with, she provided some much needed female company on those nights round the brai, and I am so glad I got to spend this time with her.
Handsome Pete Rees for making me laugh with his fear of pretty much everything, his health and safety lectures (NO IBUPROFEN BEFORE FOOD!) and providing us with top notch pictures and video that makes us look a lot more epic than we actually are.
Lastly thanks to Darren - my adventure husband. It really is like being married - we constantly bicker and don’t sleep with each other. Magical. Darren - I know I can be an annoying rat, and so thanks for putting up with me and my stupid voices. It’s good to know I have a constant to talk to when things get horrible and your support means the world.
Eternal thanks to the crew put together by David Scott who runs Sandbaggers. Without their local and in depth knowledge of the Namib, we would never have made it. Without the expertise of the drivers, the trucks could not have made the journey over the dunes, carrying our supplies, tents and bags. I’ll be honest, some of those climbs in the car were touch and go….. and who the hell tries to run over an Ostrich? MONSTERS LIKE YOU, THAT’S WHO.