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by SS at 4:46 pm on Saturday 8th May

Everyday I struggle to place myself within the riding group. I'm something of an inconsistent racer - on days I'll be far ahead of the pack, at lunch first and at camp early. Other days I'll be right near the back, riding slowly and being one of the last third of riders to make it to camp. This riding week and day previous to the rest day (since the last post) has been much like that.

On our way to Sesriem for our rest day near the dunes of Sossusvlei I managed to ride pretty quickly, feeling fairly fast and comfortable in the knowledge that it was a short day. Having two working earphones does wonders for your motivation too - before Windhoek I'd been riding with just one working earphone (which sounded terrible too). Looking around would have been beneficial in hindsight since most other riders saw a lot of wildlife that day - oryxes, giraffe, springbok. Arriving to lunch early, I left early and reached our campsite in Sesriem with plenty of time for the rest of the day. Racer Dan S. won the day's race, completing the list of stage winners so that now all top twelve racers have won stage plates.

In Sesriem, we signed up to a tour departing to Sossuvlei the next day at 4:30am and sat around doing nothing much. Sesriem consists of a few lodges, a well stocked gas station and our campsite. There was a series of dunes near to camp which a lady at the tourist desk of the lodge next door suggested we climb for a good view of the sunset. From the campsite, it didn't seem like the dune was too far away but having left a little too close to sunset, we decided to cycle there through the bush.

Unfortunately, the skinny tyres I borrowed from Eric were no good in the thick sand and coupled with tired legs, it was hard work keeping up with Dave, Sam and Jacob (Jacob was also trying to drink cider as he pedalled - he quickly relinquished that notion). We left the campsite just after 4:15pm and it was nearly 5 by the time we finally reached the base of the dune. Sam and Dave had run on up ahead, eager not to miss the sunset - Jacob and I tried to catch up, struggling to keep them in sight. The top of the dune seemed like it was constantly moving - as soon as we reached what outwardly appeared to be a summit, we saw another ridge down the line, rising up higher.

Eventually we reached the sunset and not a moment too soon. The sun was going down and the view from that dune was probably one of the best sunsets I've witnessed in Africa (African sunsets are generally superb too). Going down was good fun and involved sliding down using a similar motion to skiing. At the bottom I took my cycling cleats off and removed a good few hundred grams of sand from each shoe. We discovered a road that was far smoother and much better packed than the offroad route we had taken - following this back in the dark, we made it back to the gas station to buy a chocolate bar or two to temporarily silence our rumbling stomachs.

That evening eating at our campsite was a harrowing ordeal - their restaurant is unable to cater for vegetarians other than to provide a soggy and much delayed plate of french fries. Luckily I had some instant noodles in my bag to prevent total hunger that evening.

The next morning we woke up at 4:30 and foolishly I decided against taking a jumper, reasoning that we'd be in a warm enclosed vehicle. Unfortunately, the 4x4 we were loaded on was an open air safari vehicle. Our hosts were kind enough to equip us with fleece lined ponchos but the lack of total coverage and the giant breeze coming in through the windows made it a chilly experience.

We got to Dead Vlai (another site of interest near to Sossuvlai) just before sunset and hiked up one of the dunes to catch the sunrise. Other, more energetic riders hiked up a much larger dune but didn't managed to summit in time to catch sunrise. From there we slid down into a dead forest - a collection of trees that had dried out. As the sun came up it quickly warmed up - our guide said that by lunch time it'd be too hot to walk on the sand.

From there, stomachs rumbling (as the stereotypical touring cyclists that we are), we were treated to a fairly substantial breakfast. I'm not sure if the guys in charge were expecting us to clear them out of food but we finished *everything*. Returning to camp it was an extremely relaxed rest day - I ate a bowl of cereal for lunch and sorted out my bags and had time to watch The Pianist.

That evening we went to have a buffet dinner at the fancy lodge next door ($300 for a room per night!). This was the most expensive salad buffet I have ever attended - the dinner cost nearly $30 and was based around an impressive selection of game meat (springbok and various other Namibian wildlife). Still, the dessert was good and I had to stumble back to my tent via a shortcut that ran through a precarious wire fence and several thorn bushes.

When I reached my tent it took me a few seconds of shock to realise that it had been visited by a wild creature of some sort, most probably a jackal (judging by the dog like footprints). The broken zipper on my tent door means that the only thing keeping my tent sealed is a mosquito net which is flimsily clothes pegged to the edges of the doorway. The jackal had managed to break in via the side of the net and had ravaged an entire bag of protein powder, one of my protein bars and a bag of dried fruit (which I had been saving for four days!). This is the second time that an animal has stolen my food - the first being the dog that ran off with my loaf of bread in Maun, Botswana.

Leaving Sossuvlei the next morning (and enjoying the extra thirty minutes we were able to sleep in), it was a slow start but I soon sped up once I realised that my seat was a bit too low. That was a hard stage, the usually well packed dirt roads were loose and sandy. There was a lot of wildlife on the road and the roads had some amusing 'Caution' signs - silhouettes of zebra, springbok and giraffes were all present. At one point a herd of about thirty zebra crossed the road in front of me, speeding up as they sensed me speeding towards them.

Shortly after I passed Tim, a springbok ran up alongside and almost made contact. I didn't realise this at first (wondering what that strange metallic sound nearby was) but Tim explained what had happened at lunch. Second into lunch after Marcel, I left fairly quickly but sprung a puncture not more than 4 kilometres out. All the racers passed me and I elected then to take the remaining sixty kilometres slower. The tailwind made it a faster day and the hamlet of Betta came fairly quickly.

That afternoon Dave and I held the locker packing event of the decathlon and gathered enough bags that we were sure not everything would fit inside the locker. Our perception of volume is presumably flawed because the first competitor, American Sam, maanaged to fit it all in the locker and packed everything within three minutes. Most passers by had to double take at the pile of bags, amazed that all of it could fit in a locker. Besides several large duffel bags, there was also a pannier rack, hard shelled laptop case, tin of Milo and backpack. We thought we had picked an unused locker but one of the riders, Jeff, went to access his locker and was quite shocked to find it jammed full of assorted bags!

It was a cold night - the prevailing wind that had been at our tails for the entire day kept blowing late into the night (and also powered the electricity at the campsite via several miniature turbines). I camped inside a brick floored and walled picnic area so didn't put my outer fly on the tent. When I woke up in the morning, it was the coldest I have been in the entire trip and even with arm warmers and a gilet on, I was shivering.

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