Those who tasted the dust and conquered the unrelenting gravel roads simply refer to the race as “The Dash”. It’s is a beast that lures you in, and once in its claws, curiously converts most into loyal “dashers”, returning year after year for more. The rest it simply spits out, never to be seen again.
The equation is a simple one. You have 24 hours to cycle from Windhoek (Namibia’s capital), crossing the Namib Desert from east to west, to Swakopmund, a quaint holiday town on the coast. The race covers a distance of 369 km (230 miles) divided into 6 stages. You can enter in a 4 or 2 person team or you can go solo.
Never in my life have I dreamed of or considered entering an event of this nature. I got my first taste of the Dash in 2012 when a friend talked me into driving a support vehicle for a 4 person team. Had that team not included South Africa’s World Cup winning lock, Victor Matfield, I doubt whether I would have grabbed the opportunity. Little did I know that 5 years later that “friend” and I would both complete successful solo rides…
Stage 1 departs from Windhoek at 15h00 in the afternoon. O, did I mention the race takes place in December? It is smack in the middle of the Southern Hemisphere’s summer and one of the hottest months of the year in Namibia – and along the way you’re crossing the planet’s oldest desert…
It’s a short brutal stage. You’re climbing up the Kupferberg Pass in the heat of the day, gaining 650 vertical meters and topping out at a little over 2050 meters above sea level. You can’t win the Dash on stage one but you can certainly lose it there.
I remember standing on top of the pass in 2012 waiting for my team to arrive when Rein van Veen told me that I would be on a mountain bike doing the Dash the next year. I told him that he was smoking quality stuff and that he should not lose track of his dealer…
Stage 2 traverses the Khomas Hoogland and on this 67km stretch you’re likely to encounter a headwind. Some riders consider stage 2 to be one the most difficult stages of the race. Definitely the most exciting section of the stage is descending down the Uss Pass into the Kuiseb Riverbed. The descend is steep and made all the more difficult by loose gravel, fading light and poor visibility caused by the dust kicked up by the support vehicles. The aim of the stage is to arrive at the Kuiseb water-point with all your teeth in your mouth.
Stage 3 is a monster. The profile does not do it justice. The 76 km to the halfway mark of the race is a never-ending series of short steep climbs and with a total elevation gain in excess of a 1000 meters it gets your full attention. Another factor making it a bit more difficult than it should be is that you’re on the stage when you should be standing beer-in-hand at a braai. For us mere mortals you’re likely to be on stage 3 roughly between 20h00 on a Friday night and 01h00 on a Saturday morning. It is on this stage that most of the “withdrawals” take place. I’ve seen the halfway mark on stage 3 look more like a scene from “Saving Private Ryan” than a water-point on a mountain bike race. Survive stage 3 and the battle is nearly won.
Stages 4 and 5 are the easiest. They’re flat and both covers a distance of 74km. The sun is likely to rise on stage 5. In 2013, as part of a 2-man team, I vividly remember the moment the sun crept over the horizon. I had a few hundred meters to go to reach the Stage 5 water-point when I felt the first rays on my back. It was as if plugged into a charger. The first light of day gave me new energy. Apart from warming my body it also helped in winning the mental battle. It’s a new day, I’m close to the end of the fifth stage where my partner is waiting for me. We’ll ride the final stage together. I can taste the beer.
Stage 6 is a short, nasty stage. It kicks off with a section of thick sand in the dry Swakop Riverbed. Exiting the riverbed a jeep track traverses a series of steep climbs before turning into a gravel road descending gradually towards the coast. A westerly breeze coming of the cold Atlantic Ocean only serves to hammer the final nails into the coffin. Don’t be fooled by the 46km distance. Stage 6 is difficult.
Pieter and I on stage 1 of the Dash in 2016. I’m riding in the front with Pieter following. We ended up finishing inside the Top 20 2-person teams. A friend I’d walk through fire with.
And as predicted in 2012, I entered the 2013 edition in a 2-person team completing the race in just over 19 hours. In 2016 Pieter Praetorius and I completed our second Dash together, this time clinching a top 20 spot. On the last stage of that year’s race we resolved to never enter the Solo Category, but instead to each find another partner and enter a 4-person team… That is off-course not what happened in 2017.