The Namib Desert Fat Bike expedition

Rudi Bowe

A tough but phenomenal experience from Lüderitz to Walvis Bay on fat bikes.

Ten cyclists cycled 500km, about 35 hours of cycling time through dunes, on the beach, salt pans, rocks and rugged gravel plains. It was 6 days the ten selected men braved the harsh elements of the Namib Desert.

This was done by daredevils and suckers for adventure, Leonard Martin, Jurgen Sander, Robert Schaaf, Martin Freyer, Police Commissioner Tobie Gerber, Leslie Bosman, Peter Pahl, Leon Smit and Pierre Knoetze and Frans Anthonie Gerber from Windhoek.

This team of 10 was the first cyclists that cycled on Fat Bikes from Lüderitz through the oldest Desert in the world, the Namib, to Walvis Bay. They also did the Nedbank Desert Dash, the Munga, The Cape Epic with some professional cyclers.

According to Leonard Martin who was the brain behind the Fat Bike Expedition, the dream has started about 6 to 7 years ago when Mannie Heymans introduced Fat Bikes in Namibia.

After he started to ride with his Fat Bike in the Namib Dunes it occurred to him that if people drive with cars through the desert from Walvis Bay to Lüderitz and back, then way not with a Fat Bike.

He then approached Heyman with the idea, and in 2016 Hayman and a few foreign cyclists did the Auas route to Windhoek. The difference between the two routes is, the Auas route is along the road and can be done by cars and the Lüderitz Walvis Bay route is along the beach and is not easily accessible for cars.

After a few weeks in look-down I needed to go out and explore nature. I approach Paul Lombard from Travel Uncharted Tours about the expedition and he just said let’s do this.

The epic and challenging journey started at about seven o’clock on Sunday 8 August with a 90 km cycle from Lüderitz around the coastal mining zone, up along the foot of the Lüderitz dunes known as the S.O.S route on a long hard sand stretches, gravel plains, sand dunes and finally down to the beach with various ship wrecks the most recent being Frotamerica which wrecked close to Anichab rocks in February 2013 along the route with Dunes on the one side and mountains on the other and animals everywhere to Hottentots Bay where they spend the tents.

The next day was a tough and hard day on the fat bikes with 85km from Hottentots Bay to Devils workshop. The route took the cyclist a cross the rock of Gibralta marking the start of the Namib Naukluft Park on a path filled with stories of the trials and tribulations of the diamond hunters from the early 1900’s.

They passed a mining vehicle graveyard, Saddle Hill as well as the beautiful Spencer Bay on a terrain that varied with coastal flood plains, rocky outcrops and some long sandy climbs and a maze of barchan and crescent dunes where they camped between the dunes for the night. DAY 3 was ultimately the hardest from Devils workshop to Afklimbaai where two giants meet, the mighty Langewand and Atlantic Ocean lied stretched out ahead.  The most challenging parts of the Namib Sand Sea, with unforgiving coastal dunes that towers over 200 meters and 3-meter waves even at low tide, crashed up against these colossal dunes blocking the only corridor along the coast.

At the end of the day the cyclist has conquered the most challenging parts of the Namib Sand Sea as they reached a low-lying dune at the bay known as Afklimbaai.

The 100km from Afklimbaai to Holsazia was a short section of beach, coastal flood plains and finally the diamond flats with the northwest wind in their faces for the whole day. They enter the Northern Diamond Area Number 2 where in the 1900s, the area was known as the Garden of Eden as diamond literally lay on the surface. They visited an abandoned whaling station and the various Ghost towns and finally set up camp in the Northern mining town of Holsazia. The second last day of this epic journey was challenging from Holsazia to Sandwich Harbour with tired minds and bodies on a familiar territory of 105km ahead for their final night in the Namib.

The day consisted of small crescent dunes followed at a long coastal stretch with flood plains, if not filled with water, will give cyclists the opportunity to rest those weary legs and make up good time before tackling the next Langewand section. Once through, the Golden Highway will take you straight into the heart of Sandwich Harbour.

Upon their arrival at Sandwich Harbour it was time to celebrate with a swim, large fire and great dinner at the camp right next to the lagoon.

As this phenomenal experience and epic journey of about 500km comes to an end on Friday 13 August with the final stretch of a 70km “victory lap'” from Sandwich Harbour to Walvis Bay. The day started only at nine o’clock as they had to wait for the tide to get lower for them to pass be-tween the dunes and the sea. They finish the phenomenal experience from Lüderitz to Walvis Bay at about 13:15 in the harbour town.

The pride what these 10 cyclists achieved and the history and memories that were made on what is to believe one of the toughest and biggest, phenomenal challenges in the world is enormous.

Martin said “It was painful but worth it and I will do it again.” What motivates me is life as life is a challenge and I love challenges. As long as I am healthy, I will try and do anything possible, not for myself but for my family and the community” Martin said.

He added “I am already busy setting up a new challenge but will first do the Marabuli in Septemer that with Police Commissioner Tobie Gerber do the Cape Epic in Ocktober and then the Munga and four days later the Nedbank Desert Dash in December.

Jurgen Stander said “I am a sucker for adventures like this. It was tough but it was very rewarding and it was great to share the experience with nine great guys and I did learn a lot from on this once in a lifetime journey.”

Robert Schaaf said “The Lüderitz to Walvis Bay Fat bike trip was certainly a highpoint in my cycling experiences thus far. Massive dunes, endless beaches, rugged plains and phenomenal landscapes all perfect to explore on the fatties. With Travel Uncharted as our backup and an awesome group of cyclists, we truly could enjoy all that this beautiful part of our country has to offer. I’m all in for the next one!”

Tobi Gerber said, “Experience of a lifetime with a group of crazy people.  Pain and suffering were replaced with good humour. A journey through nature so pure, as if it was created the day before.”

Leslie Bosman said, “Going into it I was very relaxed and optimistic not really knowing, what to expect, getting into it the emotional and physical experience was unlike anything I have experienced so far in my life. Questions of life and the meaning thereof resonated with me while enduring some of the toughest terrain you could imagine. The unity of the group sustained our will to continue day after day and the character of each individual member came forth.”

“This experience will forever be referenced in my life going forward when courage and hope is needed to go forward, thank you to my brothers who shared this with me. Thank you, Leonard, for making us part of your dream trip – the first guys to complete this crazy mission. It was a privilege for me to be a part of this” Bosman added.

“Wow what a privilege to enjoy these exceptional views of this vast terrain of our own country. Digging deep for courage every day, this was an experience of a live time. Building new friendships that helped making the good times better and hard times easier. Thank you to everyone that helped making this a reality” says Leon Smit.

The cyclists’ thanked Leonard Martin and compliments to Paul Pascoe Lombard from Travel Uncharted Tours and his team for the support, logistics, planning and the 5-star trip through this rough part of the world. This mission would not have been possible without you champs. The sore bodies will recover but the memories will last a lifetime.



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