A few months ago I was sitting in Switzerland, all innocent and minding my own business when I received a mail confirming my entry to the Desert Dash. Solo. I had no idea about this and with a bit of investigation was able to find out that a certain mad Irishman had something to do with the entry.
So on Friday I lined up at the start of the event, completely under prepped and not knowing what I was letting myself in for… I spent as much time as possible trying to persuade people that I was not going to race as I had only just started training again and had no idea what lay ahead of me.
So much for that..
As planned I started with the leaders amongst the 211 strong field, but instead of slacking off as planned I clung to Mannie Heyman's wheel and was dragged into the desert at an alarming rate. Unable to offer much help with the pace making I hung on and decided to go until my body decided that it had enough.
By the 100km service point I was still with Mr Africa but gulped down a bit too much lasagne so once we started up again it was not long before I was struggling to hold the wheel over the extremely nasty rollers. Before I knew it I was on my own and riding towards the setting sun, trying to regain my breath and enjoying the one or two river crossings along the way.
By the mid way mark the night had well and truly set in and the full moon peeked out from behind the clouds every now and then, confusing me, making me think that a car had suddenly crept up on me. Truly amazing moonlight in the middle of the desert!
With 140km to go I thought another backup vehicle was about to pass me, but it turned out to be Willie Engelbrecht (riding in a two man relay team) with some serious lighting dripping off his incredibly snazzy MTB. We were able to exchange a few niceties when all of a sudden we hit some thick sand and he disappeared behind me. Later I found out that he'd punctured, but I was not very bothered. Put my head down and found an amazing rhythm (after 200km of MTBing!) and blasted off into the night.
On three occasions I thought I saw Mannie's lights off in the distance, but each time it turned out to be a car or my imagination playing games with me.
I was not impressed.
With 60km to go Willie's team made, Wim, was biting at my heels but thanks to his equally bright lights I could keep an eye on how far behind me he was. That was, until he decided to follow my stealthy example and ride with moon light alone. As I still had my red back light going, he knew exactly where I was, but I thought that he had dropped. Until all of a sudden I caught sight of a dark blur moving past on the opposite side of the road, trying to pass me.
After some choice words and hard pedalling I was panting, but on his wheel. Where I decided to stay, leaching for the time being. Problem was that 30km from the end Willie and Wim would get back together and keep on riding to the end, while I needed to refuel.
Fortunately there was a bit of chaos at the sign in and Marc Bass did a super fast refuel for me so after a few more choice words and hard pedalling I caught up to the pairing and some mad riding at full tilt ensued. Fortunately we were all sharing the work, but then realised that we were hurting ourselves for no reason. Mannie was long gone and there was no one behind us for nearly an hour.
From there I was very glad to take it easy till the end, as we cruised through the dark streets of Swakop with an escort (the marshals were still in bed, not expecting us so early) crossing the line at 4h28 a whole 13h28 after leaving Windhoek. 15 minutes behind Mannie and almost 10 hours before the last solo rider.
I'm still trying to recover as my body took a decent beating, but I am really impressed with how the legs handled it all. Evidently I have not lost all that much form from the last season.
What a great event. Certainly worth the trip up for the many South Africans who came up to join us.
Thanks Aiden and co. Job well done (just please change the last confusing loop through Swakop)! Pics to follow.