Desert Nights – ‘Life begins at the end of your comfort zone…’ this is what came to mind when I was first asked whether I would join the Desert Knights Tour in September 2015. The idea of travelling to Namibia and spending five days of my time there on a mountain bike seemed a bit absurd and crazy. But then again, how often do we get to experience an epic country in its wildest form on a mountain bike! So I jumped at the opportunity to go, having no idea what I had just gotten myself into… – words by Rowan Buhrmann

Life begins at the end of your comfort zone – Neale D. Walsch

The Desert Knights tour is like no other tour you would ever have gone on before. It takes place in and around the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld Transfrontier Park, which stretches across both the South African and Namibian Border. This park just happens to include the truly magnificent Fish River Canyon (and what an amazing canyon it is!) as well as the mighty Orange River, which we had the opportunity to paddle down on one of the days to our next campsite!

The /Ai/Ais/Richtersveld Transfrontier Park just happens to include the truly magnificent Fish River Canyon as well as the mighty Orange River

As most of us know, Namibia isn’t known for its extremely lush landscape with cool temperatures and high rainfall, but rather is a land of spectacular scenery, both arid and very mountainous! If you are a rider, you would probably agree with me in saying that a tour across the middle of a desert during the day, in the blazing sun, could sound like some kind of sick torture.

Thankfully for us, the ‘Desert Knights’, we only rode from the late afternoon well into the night. And with the tour being planned around the full moon, when the sun sets and you let your eyes get accustomed to the darkness, the light from the moon is bright enough to do a fair bit of your ride! Obviously we still needed to take our own lights with us, but the trick was to hold off using this light for as long as your sanity held.

There is something magical about riding at night – the moon welcomed us into her world… a world that was stangely quiet, but left you feeling welcomed and secure

There is something extremely magical about riding at night… The moon welcomed us into her world not too long after we left our camp each night. A world that was strangely quiet, but left you feeling welcomed and secure. Maybe it was an overdose of fresh, crisp air rushing into my lungs as I went about my ride, or the stillness of the surrounding landscape with only the sound of my gears meshing together. Whatever it was, I couldn’t get enough of it.

Each ride had a varied length ranging from around 30km up to 70km. Now don’t get me wrong, this isn’t a walk in the park, but it definitely isn’t excessively hard. Let’s just call it ‘a challenge’… You also need to remember that this event is not a race. The point is to enjoy the moment and take in the wonder that is around you! This was easier said than done though… For those of us who race, slowing the pace down took a while to get used to. We were informed that there would be a booby prize for whoever came into camp too early! This was to keep us out in the moon light for as long as possible, but there are always a couple of racing snakes, well to my pace at least!

What also made each ride that much easier, were the pit stops along the way. Each ride usually had three stops; two water stops with a couple of light snacks, and then a food station which served amazing hot chocolate and coffee and a variety of foods. My go to food during each stop was the biltong… You can’t even begin to imagine how great it can taste after riding 30kms or so!

Once we eventually made it back to camp, we were greeted with a couple of cheers from those that had arrived earlier in the evening as well as some of the staff helping out. Things were pretty chilled in the evenings, as you would expect after most of us had spent the last few hours in the saddle.

For dinner each evening, we were always greeted by a hearty meal prepared by Marion and her team of truly amazing caterers! Our meals consisted of pretty simple foods from the area, with little touches of the landscape put into the garnishing We even had a group of caterers from a small village nearby come and cook for us a very traditional Nama meal. Which of course had to include a generous helping of offal! These meals really set the scene for this area, very rugged but simple. With most of the foods we ate coming from the surrounding areas and villages.

The camp was divided into two; a social/food area and our tented area. Believe it or not, the tented area had TENTS… They served their purpose and were all a pretty decent size (we each had our own 2-man tent!), with a few larger tents for couples or teams. Now the go-to area of each camp had to have been the HUGE Bedouin tent that was set up at nearly every camp. Not just because it provided MUCH needed shade during midday, but also because it was usually located right near the open bar and ‘kitchen’! There is nothing better than a chilled beer on scorching day in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld, relaxing in a comfy camping chair while soaking in the location with great company.

There is nothing better than a chilled beer on a scorching day in the /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld, while soaking in the location with great company

During the day was out ‘downtime’. Our time to catch our breath and enjoy the beautiful Namibian scenery. We were usually invited to go on walks, hikes or excursions to somewhere nearby the general area of the camp. I definitely wasn’t going to miss out on exploring the area on foot! So I always picked the longer trips into the unfamiliar environment around us. All the trips we did were worth the extra expenditure in energy.

We got to visit a little hidden ‘oasis’ snuggled into the nearby canyon at Hobas, an incredible view after a hefty climb at the /Ai/Ais- Hot Springs resort, and an extra bit of paddling up the Orange River for a thrill!

As a biologist myself, it was really great getting out and exploring, looking for the different plant and insect species that were around.  Surprisingly enough, this seemingly inhospitable place actually has a huge diversity of plants. Yes, they aren’t all visible like the iconic Halfmens scattered across the landscape, but once you actually spend a bit of time looking closely around the rocks at your feet, you start to see these weird and wonderful looking plants! Like the clever little Window plant that is endemic to this region.

Besides the little expeditions into the surroundings, we were also treated to some gems, like a unique Nama Stap dance by the Nama women

The /Ai/Ais-Richtersveld is truly breath-taking, and you would do yourself a disservice by not getting out and exploring at each camp. Besides the little expeditions into the surrounds, we were also treated to some gems, like a unique Nama Stap dance by the Nama women and an epic evening of drumming and didgeridoo storytelling around the camp fire. The whole experience seemed to bring us all that bit closer to the Nama lifestyle, with most of the staff being from the local villages.

For those of you hating on life right now, thinking this is all just a pipe dream because you have no idea what a mountain bike even is, the tour is open to non-cyclists. You will still get to join in on everything we got to do and as well as enjoy the scenery from a game viewing vehicle without even working up a sweat. So not all is lost!

And if you do know how to cycle, but are lacking a little confidence on your bike, don’t stress too much! There are only a couple of places you might want to get off and walk. I would suggest that you get some time on your saddle before doing this tour as it will let you have a lot more fun during the rides!

…the Desert Knights tour isn’t just about the riding, it’s about the experience, going out and doing the unthinkable, and having memories that will last a lifetime

So to sum it all up, to me the Desert Knights tour isn’t just about the riding, it’s about the experience, going out and doing the unthinkable, and having memories that will last a lifetime.

words & pics – Rowan Buhrmann