Tour d’Afrique

10 May: Strandfontien to Elandsbay

109 km to ride, with 1040 metres to climb and down 1040 down.

It was very cold in the tent overnight and I ended up sleeping with my jacket on, as well as trousers plus had the sleeping bag pulled up over my head! Thankfully only two more nights after this, it is getting too cold for camping.

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Leaving the Strandfontein camp for Elandsbay

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Such a pretty spot

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The Atlantic Ocean

The first 11km we had a nice view of the sea and tarmac, and then we turned onto gravel for 49 km, of which 20 km was into a wind. Not much fun and pretty slow going. I rode 20 km with Rommy, chatting to her which helped pass the time.

At 31 km we turned right and while we still had 29 km of gravel at least it wasn’t into a head wind, more of a cross wind. Mostly I managed to ride but there were bits that I had to get off and walk. I was very pleased to get back onto the tarmac at 60 km.

We had a nice 11 km stretch on the tarmac with a tail wind till lunch at a very pretty spot called Lamberts Bay.

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Another gravel shortcut, but back on the tar

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Cool, breezy autumn morning. Doringbaai fishing boat harbour

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Nice riding in the morning alongside the South Atlantic

After lunch the first 5 km was a tail wind and flat, after that it was head wind or cross winds and quite a bit of climbing. Just before camp there was a great 6 km downhill which was pretty steep, I was very relieved to hear at the riders meeting that we don’t have to climb back up it in the morning.

Tonight we have managed to book a room in the little hotel by the campsite. Tomorrow we are going to be tenting so as we have a room and the hotel has a restaurant we decided to celebrate my birthday a day early and have dinner at the hotel tonight.

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Overnight staying at the Elandsbay Hotel

Over at the camp site I was amused to see a dog that looked very much like my old dog Pat (Pat was part Huntaway, part Great Dane and part Lab, with a Lab obsession with food). This dog not only looked like Pat but was involved in his favourite occupation – scavenging for food (this one was checking out the camp rubbish bins).

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“Pat” look alike checking out the bins at Elandsbay beach camp.

We had a very nice meal outside in the courtyard with the 4 stray cats that live here.  Very friendly, especially when the food came out, but they fought a bit amongst themselves so we quickly realised to throw the scraps in different directions.

We had a lovely sea food platter with prawns, grilled Hake which was delicious, some mussels, and some crumbed fish, plus a very nice bottle of Chenin Blanc.

Peter and Elaine stopped by our table and had a drink and somehow that it was mentioned that it’s my birthday tomorrow. I had been keeping that under the radar.

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Early birthday dinner with the stray cats

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Elandsbay Hotel cats finishing off the seafood platter

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 Sunset from Elandsbay Hotel

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9 May: Garies to Strandfontien

163 km, with 2160 metres to climb and 2380 metres down, plus 27 k of gravel.

Very cold again in the morning and fog and a lot of climbing. Not an appealing day to be out on the bike. I decided to eliminate the fog and cold and 3/4 of the climbing and took the truck to lunch.

The landscape is the same as yesterday, mountains and sand – bleak, desolate, and beautiful. Lulu told us that between late July and late September this area is covered in acre after acre of wild flowers and is incredibly beautiful, and people come from all over the world to see it. Hard to imagine at the moment.

Just before lunch we hit the gravel for 2 km, it was pretty nasty, hopefully I will be able to ride at least some of it. After helping set up lunch I set off.

I walked up the first hill to warm up and then started riding, it was actually not too bad. I had to criss cross the road frequently, but mostly managed to ride it until the last two kilometres where it was a 50/50 mixture of riding and walking. It still took over two and a half hours.

After this it was rolling hills on tarmac. There was about 5 km that was a bit hairy with no shoulders and busy. I had to get off at one spot that was very narrow and trucks passing both way.

It was great to see the first sight of the Atlantic. However with the sea often comes wind and the last 10 km was hard work with a up gradient pushing into a Wellington-worthy head wind. I was averaging 6 km an hour.

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First sight of the South Atlantic Ocean.

We have a very pretty camping spot right by the sea. Fantastic views, lovely beach, and grass to camp on. Tallis has provided a chilly bin with beer and wine we can buy. Life is good.

Dinner was really nice, a spicy bean mix with chilli and avocado, very enjoyable even with the inevitable tomato and cucumber salad.

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Coming into the beach camp at Strandfontein

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8 May: Springbok to Garies

It was very cold this morning, I had full finger clothes and my rain coat on setting out.

Unfortunately my nice warm thermals and over boots are in my permanent bag and my toes are freezing. I did have a look in the truck where the permanent bags are stored to see if I could see mine, and if I could I was going to ask to get into it. Unfortunately it is buried under others and can’t be seen.

I resorted to a trick I used in South America where the last couple of weeks were very cold – plastic bags on my feet. But instead of a plastic bag over my shoes, I had a pair of socks, then a plastic bag, then another pair of socks – kept my feet pretty warm.

As well as being cold it is overcast, so hopefully it warms up when the sun comes out. There is lots of climbing, so by 20 k, I am warm enough to take my coat etc off. There is a lot of climbing today but some great descents as well, and the same bleak but stunning scenery. Sand and mountains.

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Overnight stop in country town of Garies

The campground at Garies has fallen into disrepair and the toilets are unusable and TDA have been told they can not dig holes, so tonight TDA has put everyone up in a hotel or bed and breakfast.

We are at a bed and breakfast called Sophie’s full of old stuff from the 50’s, it’s pretty quaint. The shower is all ceramic and pieces of mirror and glass with yellow flowers.

The dinner tonight is white pasta, broccoli in sauce, and tomato and cucumber salad .I am pretty much done with TDA food and hope not to see another cucumber and tomato salad for many months. At least not one without lettuce and other ingredients.

Tomorrow we get to see the sea (Atlantic Ocean) which I am really looking forward to.

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7 May: Felix Unite camp to Springbok

133 k to ride, with 1626 metres to climb and 923 down

It was still nice and warm when we were leaving the camp but the temperature dropped noticeably as soon as we crossed the border into South Africa at 12 km.

The only people in the group that need a visa to get into South Africa are the New Zealanders. I keep telling everyone it’s because we keep beating the South Africans in the rugby. It’s actually because we have tightened up our entry criteria for South Africans, so they have reciprocated.

Last year a NZ rider, who had done the whole tour, didn’t have a visa and got turned around at the border. He had to catch a bus back to Windhoek and then a plane to Capetown, but wasn’t allowed to leave the airport before catching a plane back to NZ. To make it worse his daughter had flights to Capetown to join him there.

Getting through the border was very seamless and we were soon out the other side. To start there was a very long climb, 30 km, which was not that steep it was just on going, and I couldn’t get my speed up over 13-14 km/hr, probably as there was also a head wind. More climbing after lunch, but we then had a fantastic downhill for about 8 km, but after that a few more hills.

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13k from camp we cross through the wire at the Noordoewer border and enter into South Africa.

Before we went to camp we went into the town of Springbok to get a SIM card. We went to the vodacom store thinking it would be straightforward like it has been everywhere else, but it took over an hour to get the network to contact my phone and get it set up. I was just about at the stage of giving it up, but don’t like to be without a phone in case something happens at home. At least this is the last SIM card for the trip.

There were quite a lot of beggars in town which was sad to see. Not sure how much work opportunity there is here.

At camp you can tell it has got a lot colder, all the riders were wearing jackets and a number were wearing hats. The pool is empty and looks bleak and cold. It’s hard to believe yesterday we were wearing t-shirts and a number of riders were swimming.

I’m not wearing warm weather gear though. Yesterday when I got a bit frazzled and was looking for my purse, I somehow managed to put all my warm gear into my permanent bag! I can’t get it back till Capetown. Ha after carrying it all trip in my daily bag just in case, now the only time I need it I can’t get it! Thankfully I have my full fingered gloves in the apidura.

Dinner was peas, gravy, potato, vegetarian sausages and beetroot salad (at least a change from tomato and cucumber).

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Into South Africa and mostly good roads. Nearly there!

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6 May: Rest day Felix Unite Camp

On the way up to breakfast I noticed in the bank by cabana there are hundreds of swallow nests in the bank. I didn’t see them yesterday when I arrived possibly because the sun was directly on them and it was too hot. (later on I couldn’t see them in the afternoon when the sun was directly on them).

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Swallow nests in the earth bank

First off, up to the breakfast buffet .What a debacle, a buffet with no food! Even if there had been food, there were no plates, bowls, glasses, cups or utensils to eat it with anyway. There are no other options to eat so once again Africa time prevails. As I commented yesterday, if you know you have 63 people staying, and you are the only option for breakfast, possibly employ some more staff for the day and get extra supplies.

First of all out came toast but no butter, then into the buffet about 6 slices of bacon, then there was juice but no glasses and so on it went.  After about 40 minutes I managed to get a cup of tea and milk, and toast and butter. I used Dans saucer from his coffee to get a bowl of cereal. We tried to settle the bill before we left but they said they were busy and to come back later.

Due to the breakfast experience and the TDA olympics which were meant to start at 2pm, we were at lunch bang on 12pm, when the restaurant hours said they were open. We were told: “Come back later, we are still setting the tables for lunch”. We came back but were still not allowed in the restaurant, but we were allowed to order sitting outside. I had lasagne and Brett had fish – accompanied by literally hundreds of flies! I spent the whole meal shooing them away. We tried to sort the breakfast and lunch bill, but were told “come back and sort it out later, we are too busy at the moment”.

Today we have the TDA olympics. This was meant to start at 2pm, we got there at 2pm and found the time had been pushed back to 2:30pm. We came back at 2:30 and waited, and waited! I was already lacking in desire to do this but was fronting up as part of a team.

At 3:10pm I said to the organisers that it either needed to start or the other teams who were not there should forfeit. All the Wildcat team were there.

Finally at 3:15 we started. We were doing team challenges. It will be if no surprise to know the Wildcats have a team, but what was a surprise was Gerry gave us a written application to join our team. I was highly suspicious.

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Olympics at Felix Unite Camp

We had 6 challenges and one member of each team has to choose which one to do:
1. Eat food hanging from the clothes line (with hands tied behind your back)
2. Furthest throw of a bike shoe (we chose my riding sandals as they are the heaviest)
3. Ride the bike holding an egg on a spoon (a number of riders decided to do this holding the spoon in their mouth. Plus a few cheated and glad-wrapped their egg to the spoon (of course the Wildcats cheated in this, whose idea do you think it was)
4. Slow riding – taking the longest to get from point A to B (not for me, it requires excellent balance)
5. Stacking the highest number of canvas chairs (this got pretty competitive as there were only a set number of chairs, so competitors ended up dragging them off each other)
6. Table tennis with shovels (due to the behaviours with the 5th challenge this was cancelled due to the worry riders would start whacking each other).

I was surprised how competitive it all got. At one stage one of the team was shouting in my face and I responded by saying “it’s just a fucking game you know!”. I think he had lost that point.

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Slowest Bike Ride

I managed to misplace my purse that has my money and unusually both my credit cards. I pulled apart the room and thankfully found I had accidentally packed it in a packing cell in my permanent bag. Phew!

I went to pay the bill and of course both breakfast and dinner were not on it, so I had to wait while that was sorted out – only took only 45 minutes to sort.

Dinner was a barbecue again, and TDA said they would provide sides if we provided our protein. So it was sausages and a baked potato – no bread or salad.

Today is the last rest day. Tomorrow we cross over into South Africa and we have 6 riding days, including tomorrow, until we arrive in Capetown.

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The next 6 riding days

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5 May: Fish Canyon to Felix Unite Camp

As agreed yesterday, I rode in the lunch truck to lunch, so that I could get to the supermarket before it closed, to get supplies for dinner.

The ride from lunch to 129 km was spectacular but taking photos on the iPhone doesn’t do it justice. At 122 km we came to a T intersection and got the first view of the Orange River. Along both sides of the river are vineyards surrounded by desert. The first lot of greenery I have seen for quite awhile.

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Have reached the Orange River and the border between Namibia and South Africa. Tar and vineyards and only another 50k to camp!

At Assenkehr, the turn for the supermarket, there was a huge shanty town built mainly from cardboard, hardboard, or thatching on the sides and corrugated iron on the roof. There were hundreds of houses and I couldn’t see any services, sidewalks or roads. I couldn’t imagine living in a place like this. At least it doesn’t rain hardly ever here, so not much issue with house leaking or mud. I spoke to one of the TDA staff afterwards who advised that the people here would work in the surrounding farms and vineyards.

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Shanty town at Aussenkehr

At the supermarket I bought bread, 3 packets of bread rolls, tomato sauce, cheese and 4 packets of sausages and butter, and then managed to get it all into my apidura (bike bag) and a back pack and set off. I couldn’t certainly feel the difference in weight going up the hill back to the main road.

The ride for the afternoon did not have much climbing but it was a slight up gradient all the way into a head wind and very hot. There was not a single spot of shade the entire ride. I was worried that I was going to run out of water but about 20 km before camp Jen and Stephanie came past in the cruiser and did a refill of water.

The Felix Unite Camp is very pretty and we have a lovely cabin (called Cabana) with a view of the river. We are at the end of the row so on the right hand side we have lovely river views as well as out the front. However this means 4 walks to and from the truck carrying bags but worth it for the view.

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After a big 5 days mostly on dirt arrive for the rest day at the Felix Unite Camp on the banks of the Orange River.

When I got into camp I was told by Errol, one of the TDA staff, that I hadn’t paid my bill at Fish Canyon. When I looked at it none of the stuff on the tab was mine, numerous coffees, coke zeros, and chicken wings. The system is bad – they don’t ask to see the key or any identification when putting stuff on a tab, which is pretty frustrating. I was especially frustrated as these items had clearly been added after I checked my tab was clear and went to bed.

We had a barbecue for dinner with Gerry, Lenore, Fritz, Karl and Terry. Terry is from Australia and joined the ride in Livingston. This is Terry’s fourth go at doing this ride. In 2012 Terry was knocked off his bike in Sudan and came too a few days later in hospital. He has since gone back and done Sudan to Nairobi, and then another year Nairobi to Livingston, and now has come back this year to do the final section.  For dinner we barbecued sausages with fresh bread, baked potatoes, plus a vegetable parcel with whole pea pods, mushroom and baby corn, it was very nice – and a nice bottle of chenin blanc.

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Start of the day riding through Fish River Canyon National Park

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Views from the road

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Views from the road

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Views from the road

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The road today

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Almost at the end of the dirt

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4 May: Seehiem to Fish Canyon Road House

Today there is 93 km to ride with 480 of climbing and 360 down, however the gravel for the first 29 km is going to be very bad, and given that I am dreadful with gravel I have decided to go with the lunch truck to lunch and then ride from there. I wasn’t aware that a number of riders had organised to get a ride with Tallis until the end of the gravel and then ride from there, otherwise I would have taken that option.

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 Tough first 30k today

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Leaving Seeheim Hotel. Hotel being restored after fire.

From lunch the ride was easy to the finish which only took 1 hr 15 and I  didn’t feel like I had gone for a ride at all. Once again amazing scenery.

The place where we are staying – Canyon Road house – is an amazing place, lots of old cars from the 1940s – 1950s, inside and out. At night the headlights of the old cars are the lamps around the outside. The inside is decked out like a 1950s diner. In the bathrooms are a box saying “Pandora’s box” with a sign “do not open” – of course most people do and every time a loud hooter goes off in the bar and the sign from the box pops up “Your shout”.

As it is only just 11 am it’s like having a day off. I got a room which is lovely, with a great shower. I wanted to go to Fish River Canyon which is the second biggest canyon in the world after the Grand Canyon. However whilst the lodge has a tour it doesn’t go to the Canyon which is a bit weird but I guess most people who come here come via their own transport, and no many people would turn up via bike. To get there my options are to ride 22 km each way on gravel that TDA advised is pretty horrid, or hitchhike, neither option takes my fancy.

I spent a lovely afternoon reading, having a leisurely restaurant meal, and a nap.

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Canyon Roadhouse

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Canyon Roadhouse

For dinner was a vegetarian cottage pie. I did not eat much due to not riding and I had the roadhouse burger for lunch.

At the riders meeting we were advised that the place we are staying tomorrow for the rest day, the restaurant service there is torturously slow for meals.

The service in Africa can be very frustrating, there doesn’t seem to be any concept that if you know you are going to have 63 riders and staff arriving, plus bus tours, maybe get some extra staff and supplies. Especially as this is an annual occurrence.

We were advised to stop at 129 km on the ride tomorrow and buy food that we can carry on our bikes to barbecue. However a bit of a hiccup – the supermarket at 129 km shuts at 1pm. This is the only place to buy food, and given there is gravel in the morning no certainty of getting there before 1 pm. So we decided I will go in the lunch truck to 80 km and then stop at 129 km to get food for two nights for Brett, Shirley, Dan and me.

We went to the bar to have a drink after dinner and before I went to bed I checked there was no outstanding balance on my tab.

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Coffee and strudel stop. Place set up and run by a couple who previously ran a cattle property. They set this place up alongside the road and, as the guy said, they now farm the tourists.

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3 May: Konkiep Lap to Seehiem Hotel

Today we have 127 km to ride, with only 520 metres up and 920 k down.

It is getting noticeably colder in the morning and darker, so it is getting later as we set off. To start off we have a lovely smooth gravel road for the first 31 km then paved all the way until 2 km before camp.

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Cold morning: fire and toast for breakfast

I rode with Brett and we stopped at the town at 31 km. We went into a shop that is like a 4-Square in NZ and managed to get a SIM card finally, and return the message to my daughter Tracey to ring her as soon as possible. I also got some more money out of the ATM.

There was a very nice cafe next to the 4-Square where we and numerous other riders stopped. We had a very nice cup of tea and carrot cake.

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Old church in Bethanie

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Back on the tar at village of Bethanie

It was a very easy ride to lunch and after lunch we had a bit of climbing but stunning scenery to look at. Amazing mountain ranges as far as you could see.

Nasty 2 km of gravel once we turned off the main road just before camp, but we had made really good time and were in camp by 230pm.

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Dropping down to the Fish River

We are camping by a hotel which is old and historic, and by where the train used to run. However, it was mostly burnt down a year ago by a disgruntled employee and a lot of it is just shell. There is still a bar with a veranda and a swimming pool, and a few rooms have been rebuilt. The TDA riders made the most of an early day and a bar with a veranda to relax in the sun with a cold drink.

I had a swim in the pool it was icy cold but very refreshing.

Dinner was Spaghetti bolognaise. At the riders meeting it was announced that at the next and last rest day we are having TDA riders Olympics in teams. Details to follow.

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Publican and bar at Seeheim Hotel

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2 May: Beta to Konkieo Lapa

Today we have 153 km to ride, with 950 metres up up and 1030 metres down.  A lot of very tired riders. Today 3 are not riding at all, and 20 – including me – are riding from lunch.

The first 20 km of the road this morning was horrid, and I was very pleased not to be on it. After this the road improved for the rest of the day.

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More gravel, sand and corrugations

At 65 km we stopped to take photos of the biggest Socialable Weaver nest in the world. There are about 150 birds in each nest and over 100 nests. The Socialable Weavers are small birds but they have a loud squeak, much larger than expected for the size of their body (same size as a sparrow) and they sound like a squeaky bath toy.

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Social Weaver nests

After helping set up lunch I set off for what was the easiest ride so far this trip. 79 km from lunch to 153 km to camp, with good surface all the way, I didn’t have to get off my bike once. Very desolate and dry but beautiful scenery. Lots of mountains and sand and small groups of cattle who can clearly find food to eat even if I can’t see it. I suspect the farmers top up their diet with hay.

I still have no WIFI so hopefully nothing is happening at home that I need to know about. Luckily I got cash out in Windhoek as the camp sites don’t take cards, only cash.

This area is in drought but as with just about every campsite so far, they are losing hundreds of litres of water with showers that don’t turn off completely and toilet systems that don’t stop filling after flushing.

We have a very cute black stray dog in camp who is extremely friendly and delighted to see everyone. He is very thin, so very happy to eat leftovers and by the end of the evening was clearly full as he got very selective about what he would eat.

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In need of a bath and a flea treatment but nice and full after sharing the riders food 

Dinner was corn kernels, squash, potatoes and beans mixed with beetroot. I ate the corn. Have to say not an appealing meal.

It was nice to get to camp mid afternoon, and I finally got to take my bike to bike clinic and have the gear cabling checked. It’s all very well having a daily bike clinic between 4 and 5pm, but it’s not much use if you aren’t getting into camp until after that time.

I had a swim in the camp ground pool, nice and cool just needed to stay away from the bee swarm that seemed to live down one end of the pool.

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Oasis at the Helmeringhausen Hotel

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Hard to leave for another 50k on the gravel to camp!

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01 May: Sesriem to Betta

Today is 137 k to ride, with 880 up and 460 down all gravel.

Unbelievable but this morning the relief valve went off at 4:30am! No worry about sleeping in.

We had organised breakfast bags as we were leaving before breakfast. We only had one bag but not, so the staff said “Just take on of the other rooms breakfast bag” – I hope that they then went and arranged another breakfast bag! The transport arrived on time to take us back to camp and we were back in time for the riders meeting.

Leaving camp, the first couple of kilometres were ok but then nasty gravel! I just could not get traction and was either slipping and sliding and nearly coming off, or I couldn’t ride through it at all.

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Start of another 5 days on dirt

By 20 km I had drunk all 3 bottles of water so I went into a very posh looking spa and resort called Le Mirage to see if I could buy some water. This is a beautiful place inside and out and the staff were incredibly friendly and welcoming. I wish we had known about this place as we could have stayed here instead.

I got to the turn at 31 km which had taken 4 hours and realised that I didn’t have a hope of getting to lunch at 75 km so walked 2 km to a shady tree (this took nearly an hour in the slippery sand) and waited in the shade for the truck to come back to refill water (on the days that there are no or few drink stops they come past a couple of times).

By this stage I had Stephanie, who was the sweep, with me and we discussed the previous camp and why it wasn’t where TDA had camped previously. TDA head office that does the bookings had only made the booking in December! Seriously TDA get organized, this is an annual trip and it should be booked automatically each year a year in advance! Stephanie was aware that there was a lot of unhappiness re the previous camp and had feedback to head office. Hopefully this was heard for the good of coming years’ riders.

When the truck came back it had 4 other riders it had picked up on the way back at 40 km who had also thrown in the towel so I didn’t feel quite so bad. There were also people who had decided not to ride at all.

By the time we got to the lunch stop at 1:30pm there were still riders just getting in. The road after lunch did improve slightly for a while but it then got nasty again.

I managed to get a room at our next camp, which I was pretty pleased about as it saved having to put up two tents and it’s nice to have your own shower plus a toilet.

Unfortunately, Fiona fell about 2 hours from camp, and has a cut above her eye that Jen will need to stitch, plus a nasty bruise on her check. I feel very sorry for her and Brendon – first his bike hasn’t arrived so he missed for the first 3 days, now on his first day riding Fiona has fallen.

A number of the riders came in very frazzled. Brett, Shirley and Dan got in just before dark after dinner had already started.

Fritz, Lucy, I’Angela and Vicas all got bought in by the truck. A real shame for Vicas as he had been an EFI rider up until today and was 4 km away from getting here. Vicas has small tyres which are not great for gravel, plus has had a sore hip since he fell the other day. This is his first TDA ride and he comes from Canada.

Vicas is a real character, he has a radio playing on his bike and makes lots of stops along the way. I’Angela is from Switzerland and this is her first TDA tour, she has only done mountain biking before and her bike is well set up for gravel, but she has been riding with Vicas and stayed with him today.

Dinner was vegetarian stew with coleslaw (nice change from cucumber and tomato salad) and rice.

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Brett out on the Namib desert

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Namib Desert – trying to find a “smoother” line between the corrugations and loose gravel.

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