A REACH TOO FAR
Adventure Motorcycle (ADVMoto)|November - December 2020
This is not the story I thought I’d be writing when I began my motorcycling adventure on Namibia’s gravel roads.
Judith Macaluso

If I’d imagined an opening paragraph then, it would have been universally encouraging, definitely including the concept, “I’m 68 and if I can do it so can you!”

This trip was, without question, the motorcycling experience of a lifetime, but it was not “soft adventure” travel, and I was about to push my off-road skills beyond their limits.

Why ride Namibia? Famously, Namibia has the highest and most beautiful sand dunes on the planet, as well as the world’s oldest desert. It is an off-roader’s fantasy— 80% of the roads are unpaved. The country is just north of South Africa and has the same iconic animals as the other southern Africa safari countries, including more cheetahs than anywhere else. In fact, in Namibia’s far north is one of the most famous safari destinations, Etosha National Park.

Not only that, but Namibia’s official language is English, and it’s a safe, well-organized country. You’d be hard pressed to find a more enticing motorcycling destination.

Several companies feature motorcycle tours through Namibia, including experienced and reliable stateside outfits. My preference is for local companies, and after researching Gravel Travel I signed up for their “Namibia Special Tour,” which ended up being a perfect choice.

After landing at the airport in Windhoek, Namibia’s capital, I was greeted by a guy who was way too cool to be holding a greeting sign in the arrivals area. Andi was to be our guide, and he immediately used his gametracking skills to identify the other 12 Gravel Travel riders among the scores of folks leaving baggage claim after our flight from Frankfurt, Germany.

Ah, the German connection. Gravel Travel is a German and Namibian touring outfit and caters largely to German tourists, with Belgian, Dutch, British, and a few American riders thrown in. Namibia has an involuntary history with Germany that dates from 1884. After World War I, the League of Nations passed Namibia to South Africa, which imposed racial classification rules and eventually apartheid. After decades of guerrilla war, South African rule was completely eliminated in 1994. The country is now described as a stable, multiparty democracy. But a strong German presence remains amicably in the midst of a country run by its majority population.

As it turned out, all the other riders were German, leaving me even more the odd person out than I’d expected. Not a problem! Andi spoke perfect English (as well as German and Afrikaans) and all but two of the others spoke English and went out of their way to include me in dinner conversations and the group as a whole. I was by far the least able rider, in addition to being female, old(ish?), and American, but they continually and without condescension kept an eye out for me. They proved to be great teammates.

Contrary to my chipper preconceptions, which were aided perhaps by some overly welcoming descriptions on the company’s website, this was not riding for the untalented or inexperienced. We started at Gravel Travel’s lodge outside of Windhoek and, after a delicious lunch, were assigned our bikes for the week and taken on a 100 km shakedown ride. We rode Yamaha 650XTs, which Gravel Travel has found to be the most reliable dual-sport for this desert environment. Fortunately, the company offers lowered seat models for folks like me.

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