Welcome to the first blog for this next expedition in my Breaking the Cycle series, The Skeleton Coast. As I write I am about two hours away from touching down in Johannesburg, en route to Windhoek, the capital of Namibia. Travelling with me is adventure filmmaker Kasimir Zierl. We are both excited; it is Kas’s first visit to Africa and for me it is the first opportunity to return to the Luminous Continent since my 2010 Breaking the Cycle in Africa expedition.
Named after the bleached bones and the rusting remains of a thousand shipwrecks washed up on its shore, the Skeleton Coast is where the Namib Desert meets the Atlantic Ocean in south-western Africa. Here, great walls of sand, many dunes between 200m and 300m high, drop sheer to the beach.
The Khoi-San people of the Namibian interior called the region The Land God Made in Anger, while Portuguese sailors once referred to it as The Gates of Hell. The cold Benguela ocean current circulates straight from Antarctica, every morning enshrouding the shoreline in fog, adding to it’s mystique, until the strong on-shore winds disperse the haze each afternoon.
The aim of this expedition is to cycle the full length of the Namibian coastline, from the mouth of the Cunene River on the Angolan border to the Oranjemund at the mouth of the Orange River on the South African border. This journey of about 1600km is unprecedented, no one has attempted this before.
I was first alerted to the harsh beauty and intriguing history of the Skeleton Coast when I read of British explorer, Benedict Allen’s camel trek, the first and only journey on foot, from Oranjemund to the Kunene River mouth in 1995 and was inspired to travel there someday. To cycle it back then would have been impossible, but now, with so much experience behind me and with the development of fatbike technology (that makes pedalling over sand doable), I believe this is an achievable, though extremely difficult physical and mental challenge.
Over the last few years I have been preparing to make the first bicycle crossing of the Antarctic continent via the South Pole and have undertaken training expeditions around the world (polar, sand and altitude). Cycling on sand is very similar to cycling on snow and so the Skeleton Coast expedition will also help me to prepare physically and mentally for the Antarctic journey. The bike I will ride, a prototype which I have so far used in Northeast Greenland and along the sandy ephemeral Finke River in Central Australia, has been developed specifically for my Antarctic journey by Christini Technologies (USA). It is the first all-wheel drive fatbike and works very well in sand and snow.
Deeply affected by many experiences from my previous African expedition, I am determined to make more of a tangible difference to the people whose land we will pass through. I have brought together a formidable team; my Indian partners, Global Himalayan Expeditions and local tour operator Jimmy Marais of Karibu Safari. In September we will undergo part two of the project, a humanitarian expedition to install a solar energy system to bring light and eventually improved access to education and economic empowerment to the remote village of Purros in Namibia’s northwest.
I’m using this six week cycle journey to pave the way for the September expedition, visiting Purros on the way up to the start and setting up education connections, especially in the centres of Windhoek, Swakopmund and Walvis Bay.
So join Kas, myself and the team as we track the shoreline, where the world’s oldest desert, the Namib, meets the cold South Atlantic swell, where I will encounter raging headwinds and sandstorms, tackle the territory of the endangered Kunene Lions, investigate some of the rusting hulls of a thousand shipwrecks and meet with some of the local indigenous cultures such as the Khoi-San, Himba and Herero. Stay tuned…