Cycle Tour Namibia Wk 3

Cycling the Namib desert and the truth about being alone | BLOG#3

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Karas region, Namibia

A Landrover full of tourists pulls up alongside my bike on the ground, “Are you okay??!!”. Man, was I glad to see them.  Not everything is as it seems on a cycle tour in Africa and I certainly learnt the truth about being alone cycling across Namibia. I guess it’s quite a common thing, to feel like things could be better in life or wish “something” new and different would happen but then it always seems like “the grass is always greener” at the time.

The past two weeks of the Africa bicycle tour were reminder that not everything is as it seems and sometimes what we are looking for has been with us all along. In my case it didn’t take long to realize what that “something” was exactly. The truth is, I had such high hopes about travelling alone in this isolated part of the world by bicycle and what I could learn from the experience of being alone, but in the end it didn’t have the profound life changing effect I expected……or did it?

The Desert

Honestly, it was like riding a bicycle into an oil painting, I just couldn’t get over how big everything looked, exaggerated and instead of being intimidated, I found myself exactly where I wanted to be, in that moment in time. It was proper crazy and I wondered back to school years

imagine being told, I would one day do something on this scale in the future” 

It wasn’t long before animals were popping up everywhere either, I really didn’t expect to see any so soon never mind this many, and it seems one advantage of my safari vehicle is that the animals don’t hear the bike until the last minute allowing for amazing close-ups? There are no lions in Southern Namibia, Leopards are shy and few Hyenas so safety didn’t concern me regarding the wildlife.

However, the conditions could not be ignored and the weather was so much worse than before. It was now above 40 degrees, the roads were awful, a terrible headwind powered for most of the days and the novelty of being in a desert was wearing off. From day one cycling in Namibia it was a test of endurance but mentally, it was far worse for being alone.

The sunsets are incredible and without a fly sheet, the stars make sleeping in the tent a dream but there have been interruptions in the middles of the night when some neighbors drop by and I can confirm that being woken unexpectedly is nowhere near as bad as not knowing who it is.

In the morning the spoor (animal prints) around the tent show springbok and zebra to be the main culprits, although last night it was chickens as I pitched the tent next to a farm.

Unfortunately my lense is not powerful enough, you can just about make out

Unfortunately my lense is not powerful enough, you can just about make out some Zebra on the hill. There’s also been many Springbok, Klipspringer, Oryx, Ostrich



Sunset, the coolest pic of me I could find!

Think it looks photo shopped?'s not

A Brainstorm (The Longest Day)

The sun is a sign of life in many parts of the world but here it’s the reason for it being so non-existent, it saps my energy. Near Ai Ais, Southern Namibia, progress was slow with something bothering me that morning but I wasn’t sure what exactly.

By midday, demotivated and really struggling in the heat, I found a small tree to cool down underneath. There was a great distance still to go so I didn’t dare stay too long and hit the road again, which is when the wind really blew. Now coming sideways, it would literally blow me from one side to the other then right off the road although strangely, there was something fun about the misery it was inflicting. I taunted back “I’m an Irish adventurer, it’ll take more than hot air to stop me”. Then I stopped, crouched down behind the bike and held on to my hat for a while.

Gale force winds continued to blow overhead and I couldn’t believe it when I heard what sounded like an airplane. It happened in the space of a few seconds, I looked over the bike to my left, there was no plane but around 100 metres up ahead, a huge sandstorm was roaring across the road. I often saw them in the distance but never this close, it was insane and with heart in mouth, I just sat there and watched it move right past.

With the sandstorm avoided, the headwinds were now coming on strong. Some bizarre things happen when you’re alone for so long and so it wasn’t too surprising to see another cyclist in the distance but given how far the road stretches, it’s impossible to calculate how far something is up ahead. After pedalling hard for 10 minutes, I was relieved to see the gap had closed but another five minutes on, I realised why:

It wasn’t a cyclist I had closed the gap on, it was a signpost and you can probably imagine how hard it was to accept the signpost would not be cycling with me that day. I knew then, I was suffering from heat exhaustion. Headache, confusion and every other symptom.

“Stupid me”. Something had been on my mind that morning and I should have stayed where I was to let it pass, but I didn’t and for the first time on the Africa bicycle tour, I had truly bitten off more than I could chew.

Truly, no mans land

Truly, no mans land

Underneath the tree

Underneath the tree

Still blame me for going crazy?

The state of me - an honest picture arriving at the campsite that day

By now the wind was howling around the plains as thunder storms rolled loudly in the distance. Despite my exhaustion, I remember thinking Toto’s “Africa” would have suited the moment but still, the last 10km continued to be horrendous. The road was so terrible, I was now pushing the bike on foot and stopping every ten feet. I’ll never forget how completely isolated it felt and to be in such bad condition and it took everything to keep moving.

The truth is, not everything is as it seems. The real storm all day, and what was bothering that morning, was nothing to do with weather. It was because I was alone. At the camp entrance, I dropped the bike and sat looking back over the plains. It felt good to have been able to push through it and more proof that “nothing lasts forever”. And it was then, when I heard the voice from behind which brought an end to the storm:

“Are you okay??!!”

Man, was I so glad to see them.

Practicing Irish dancing, seriously I reckon I'll be well able by the end of this trip

The truth about being along

I mentioned having high hopes for travelling by bicycle in this isolated part of the world and what I could learn from the experience of being alone but as you can probably tell, it didn’t work out as expected. Feeling as though I want to be alone is natural and okay but being so far out of touch reveals only one thing – that there’s no need for it. Being isolated is not good and being in that position only teaches you exactly that. It’s sobering how easily the wild can make sense of everything. I thought to myself how this would have been a great, hard hitting lesson to anyone who suffers from depression. Isolating yourself is definitely not the answer, you need the opposite – talk to someone.

This also reminded me for the importance that this trip is in aid of Irish child cancer charity Aoibheann’s Pink Tie, an organisation who make sure the family of children with cancer in Ireland know, that they are not alone.

Happy as a pig in.... (Hi Cian, Aaron and Mikey) to make it back to tar roads in Central Namibia

Back on tar roads


I Love You Namibia

I left the nuns my books with a thank you note before leaving (you can make them out behind the railing)

I left the nuns my books as a thank you in Keetmanshoop. The days that followed were admittedly boring and I even took a lift to the next town on one of the days. 

So did it have the profound life changing effect I thought it would?

I don’t use the words lightly when I say cycling Africa, these landscapes, animals and night skies are mind blowing. It’s clear they’re all beautiful parts of nature but really, none of it is nearly as important as the people in your life. It was a great first experience but I was wrong to expect meaning in a world without people. Without people, there are few memories, people are the reason we do everything and with regret sometimes we stupidly take them for granted. Maybe this explains the signpost cyclist and the relief of meeting the Landrover tourists, the “something” I was missing all along was not a thing at all, it was someone.

I’m writing this post in the back of a church. We agreed that in return for a bed, I would give them 90 rand and a promise to attend mass this evening .I’m not religious but wait, not everything is as it seems-it’s perfect, I’ll be surrounded by people again.

Derek Cullen is an experienced overland tour leader in Africa. He is best known for cycling across Africa and writing about travel in Africa for many online media publications. If you would like advice or information for your trip to Africa, you can speak with him directly through the LiveChat box!


  1. Varnhalen

    November 30, 2013 at 8:34 am

    Great read fella, your bang on about isolation, rumination, introspection and depression.
    Im sure youll catch a tail wind soon.
    Rock steady.

  2. Middlechildsyndrome

    November 30, 2013 at 1:31 pm

    Great read Dewek and judging by your accounts it was something you needed to do so well worthwhile so far. I cant imagine the struggle with the bike never mind the loneliness/desperation/anxiety that come with all the lows but more importantly all the highs! Keep on truckin and keep up with the pics/blogs etc! All proud of you here and your nephews are following your adventures with great excitement although I have to keep telling them this is what crazy people do (just in case they get any ideas haha).

    An inspiration to us all and its a comfort to know there is always someone out there that’s crazier than you 🙂

    Stay safe

  3. Naomi

    November 30, 2013 at 2:02 pm

    Hi Derek,
    WOW …. what an amazing read! You’ll have to get the story of your adventures published!! Fair play to you, I never realised what it would be like, what you would have to go through! Your a strong man, we are all really proud of you…….. still think you are crazy though!
    Stay safe and we are looking forward to reading the next piece of the adventure!

    Naomi xxx

  4. olderwiserchild

    November 30, 2013 at 10:58 pm

    Im feeling the heat of that sun from here .. or maybe its just the roaring fire in front of me. Congrats on your 2 journeys so far (the physical and the Mental … with a capital M). If youre not planning getting home for xmas let me know soon as I can wrap the present and cycle after you with it … trip looks handy enough for me new bike :-p Take care.

  5. Cormac Corkscrew Ryan

    November 30, 2013 at 11:47 pm

    Another superb piece! Your power is not just your bike but your words ! Keep on trucking buddy ! I had a bout of depression a few years back and the only thing is your support network you are spot on ! Without your experience though you probably would never have realised and gained all this wisdom on life !

  6. No Hanging Around

    December 1, 2013 at 8:04 am

    Awesome, it definitely adds a whole lot more to the feeling of accomplishment seeing these comments! Varn cheers hopefully the wind is a bit kinder to me soon, Cormac cheers buddy its good people can see all the benefit of the trip because its sometimes hard to explain or get across….CIan,Aaron,Mikey – you’re Dad is right, Uncle Derek is crazy! Thanks Naomi and Mrolderwiser child, you might get a summons to a leg of the trip with dangerous words like that haha

  7. Fraser

    December 1, 2013 at 3:16 pm

    Hi Derek, great post and thank you for your kind words on my blog earlier! I agree, we have a similar writing style and it’s interesting to hear our experiences have touched us in similar ways.

    I recall your previous comment regarding your adventure but for some reason your blog wasn’t on my radar – it is now.

    Good luck,


  8. Valerie Cullen Carter

    December 1, 2013 at 5:13 pm

    Another great chapter. I was missing your post lastweek and hoping you were ok. Its extrodinary what you are doing So true about isolation. For a short time last year I didnt want contact with people. That was a consious decision and while I was shocked at me doing that, ( its unheard of ) I actually needed it. However it was breif because apart from the fact I need to be surrounded all the time by people, I knew it wasn’t doing my moral any favours. Again I will definetly buy your book when its published If you can do this Derek then you can do anything. Michael Palin eat your fecking heart out. Take care Derek. Waiting in anticapition for next weeks blog xxxx 🙂 Val

  9. Valerie Cullen Carter

    December 1, 2013 at 6:53 pm

    BTW Derek you will have enough beard to have a hair transplant by the time your home 🙂

  10. Lidia

    December 1, 2013 at 10:00 pm

    Derek … I just love your posts…
    Stay strong ( u are strong)
    And I’m always there…
    Follow your dreams!!! Btw u are maximal crazy

  11. Robert

    December 2, 2013 at 8:44 am

    Great read mate and Im glad to read you made it through. Keep going and enjoy the experience. 🙂

  12. Chris

    December 2, 2013 at 3:52 pm

    Hey Derek, great read… Keep it up!

  13. No Hanging Around

    December 2, 2013 at 4:17 pm

    Guys I’m honestly so, so chuffed at all the responses and messages about the blog….it’s inspiring me in the right direction that’s for sure….seriously, chuffed – thanks and hope you can all keep reading. Derek

  14. Briony Kramer

    December 3, 2013 at 7:15 pm

    Hey Derek! Just wanted to let you know that I really am glad I met you the other day at Felix Unite, after I bailed from my river trip! It was super interesting to hear your story… and I was very inspired! Hope all goes well. Where are you now? Keep the posts coming! Briony x

    • No Hanging Around

      December 3, 2013 at 7:32 pm

      Briony hows agoin!! yeah it was great meeting you also, I expected you guys to pass me the next day but I must have gotten ahead and then turned off onto the sand roads (you no doubt stuck with the tar!) haha It was a really hard ride up from there but in Windhoek now and ready to go west…really glad to have you following the journey Briony keep the comments coming 🙂 Derek

  15. Liam YBIG

    December 3, 2013 at 11:04 pm

    Very interesting and well written account, fair play to yah Derek keep it up 🙂

  16. Spooky

    December 4, 2013 at 9:28 am

    Derek, great read. Just found the link from Cycleccino, I work with Adam. Sounds like an amazing adventure.
    From experience (I took a double decker bus from Weymouth to Ethiopia in 2008), it’s those moments where things are so hard that you feel like quitting but you somehow carry on, those are the moments that you look back on when you get home. That and the people you meet along the way.
    Keep up the good work. The World needs more lunatics, especially lunatics who can write a good tale.


    • No Hanging Around

      December 4, 2013 at 9:45 am

      Spooky, Was so lucky to have Adam write that article – brilliantly done. And just as happy happy that you’ve come on here to show your support!! (A double decker bus wtf haha are there any pictures??? – I’d love to see them on the Facebook page lol)

      I’m sure you’re right re the hard times, there’s been enough already and I do my best to grasp the moment as it happens – even the bad.

      Delighted to be called a lunatic, maybe this site will somehow produce a few more lol

      Great job re Cyclecinno, will definitely keep in touch and thanks again for spreading the word


      • Spooky

        December 4, 2013 at 5:16 pm

        Yeah, plenty of photos. There is a gallery on my website with some of the bus trip. Nearly gave up a number of times, but hung in there. It’s worth it for the memories and the photos. I think our poor bus is still down there in Addis Ababa somewhere, probably inhabited by a few Ethiopian families.
        Anyway, I would say ‘hope the trip goes well’, but then you’d have nothing exciting to write about. I hope it is an adventure, and I’m certain it will be. I’ll be checking regularly and I’ll post a link to the blog on my Facebook wall. Best of luck,


  17. Phelim Warren

    December 4, 2013 at 11:29 am

    Last chapter was clearly horrendous.

    You’re off yer head man:)

    Keep safe Derek, you’re doing brilliantly.

  18. Tony

    December 8, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Addictive reading Derek, I think “inspirational” was used a few times already………
    Keep it goin!

  19. Neslyn

    December 9, 2013 at 1:50 am

    Great (but tough) way to see the countryside Derek. Hang in there.

  20. Neil McKeag

    December 20, 2013 at 10:10 am

    I thought id have a read of this since I have the time mate!

    your an inspiration pal, now I must get up of my arse and do something

    Good Luck and take care

    • No Hanging Around

      December 22, 2013 at 8:14 pm

      Good man Neil thanks for that, beats waiting for that train in Balaclava station, Melbourne every morning!

  21. Johno

    December 20, 2013 at 11:31 am

    Great read. Best of luck to you, hope you have some good company for the Christmas

    • No Hanging Around

      December 22, 2013 at 8:15 pm

      Johno, Thanks and enjoy Christmas back there. Actually I will likely spend it alone haha but it’s with the idea of making it to somewhere fun for NYE 🙂

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