On the 7th of December 2018 I lined up for my 4th Desert Dash. A 24hr MTB race covering a distance of 373km and in the process crossing the Namib Desert from east to west.
I am in a 4-man team. Twice I completed the race in a 2-man team and last year I completed a solo. The 4-man format should therefore not present any problems whatsoever.
That was also the overriding thought during my preparations for the race. I’ve soloed this thing so riding a 4-man should be easy. Not necessary to train all that hard. Just show up in reasonable shape and the rest will take care of itself.
But the Dash had other ideas. Straight out of the start-shoot we were met by a nasty westerly wind that derailed our carefully worked out plan for the first two stages. I deliberately took it easy up the Kupferberg Pass on stage 1 knowing that stage 2 was straight into a headwind. The youngsters on our team were however either full of adrenaline or just simply over excited as they blasted up the pass hardly pausing to wait for me as I gingerly made my way up to the top. (Everyone can start strong but it’s not about how you start, it’s all about how you finish…a lesson that’ll be learned during the next 20 odd hours…)
I suffered through stage 2 and handed over the baton to one of the young guns who’s unenviable task was to deal with the unrelenting hills of stage 3. He did a stellar job but arrived at the halfway mark looking ragged and utterly spent.
Another youngster took over on stage 4, a flat stage and by far the easiest of the 6 stages. He arrived at the end of the stage cramping like crazy and for the first time the thought occurred that we might not make it to the end.
Pieter, my Dash partner for my two two-man finishes was on next, only he could not get himself on the bike! He had severe stomach cramps, was throwing up and already in a state of dehydration. We still had 126km to go and the possibility of a DNF was now real.
Summoning every ounce of willpower Pieter got on his bike and wearily started the 72km 5th stage. Waiting anxiously at the end of stage 5 word arrived that Pieter was found lying on the ground next to his bike at the waterpoint midway through the stage where somebody gave him valoids and something to drink (and persuaded him to again get on his bike and cycle to the end of the stage). In the meantime we arranged for the ambulance personnel to be on standby for his arrival. Pieter arrived at the end of the stage, grey as a ghost and went straight into the ambulance and onto a drip. There he lay for an hour while a little bit more than a liter of fluids slowly entered his system.
Pieter is not a quitter, In fact he is one of those you would want to go to war with. Pieter still looked weak after the drip but he spent a couple of minutes walking around, allowing his system to cope with the added fluids and then looked us in the eye and said that he was ready to get going. The last stage, although shorter than most is by no means easy. A fair bit of climbing, thick sand and against the prevailing westerly breeze, it hammers in the last nails…
Just the fact that Pieter got onto his bike and was literally willing his body to the finish line gave me all the inspiration I needed to drag the team to the end. I went to the front and sat there dishing out a steady but brisk pace, the youngsters on my wheel and Pieter following in the slip. On a few occasions one of the youngster would come to the front to help with the pace setting but neither lasted more than a few minutes before slipping back onto my wheel again. Pieter did not say word, he kept his head down and clung to the wheel in front of him as if his life depended on it.
I’ve seen, and experienced this type of thing a couple of times. When you’re weak, you’re strong. Pieter could not have been physically weaker than he was, yet his courage and determination fueled me with a strength I did not think I had. Fitness wise I was not supposed to be able to operate at that pace for that length of time as I did on that last stage, but somehow I did. The mind is able to override the body, it is however most likely to happen when fueled by strength in the face of obvious weakness.
The 4-man Dash of 2018 proved to be my most memorable Dash yet. Even more memorable than the Solo attempt of the year before. It’s the tough times that linger longest…