“Yes, that Naukluft.”
I’d only met the guy I’m talking to a few minutes before, at a gathering of mutual friends, and we started talking about hiking.
He’d raised his eyebrows when I said we’d just completed the Naukluft Hiking Trail in Namibia, one of the toughest in Southern Africa. The one that demands respect, the one that separates the weekend, day pack hikers from the eighty-litre backpackers. The one where you weak knee will finally give in. The one that’ll destroy your Hi-Tecs. The one where you used up all your zinc oxide anti-blister plasters and finished two bottles of Brufin.
That Naukluft, yes. All eight searing days and freezing nights. All of its 120 long up and down kilometers.
In November 2013 a Facebook group started up almost spontaneously among a few disparate hikers, that would form the basis for our group of eight that would, almost eight months later, pile into two cars and head out on a chilly early winter morning from Johannesburg to central Namibia, almost 1 700km or two and a half days’ travel away. Almost no-one in the group knew each other; it would be a make-friends-along-the-way hike which is risky on a demanding trek like Naukluft. But fortunately everyone we met at that first get-together in Fourways were over 35, and avid, experienced hikers.
When I think back now, I shudder when I imagine, what if we had a twenty-something, fresh-faced someone equipped with little else than a 500ml Bonaqua mineral water and a fashionable pair of Nikes along? Perish the thought….
But here's a secret: I hadn't done a decent-length hike in years prior to June 8, 2014. I was turning 53, unfit, and leaning towards boutique hotel bedrooms and fancy apartments when I traveled. So why did I do it? Perhaps to prove something every man in his fifties occasionally wants to do - that he's still young and agile. Or perhaps I wanted to be in a place less traveled. Way less traveled - only a few hundred hikers complete the Naukluft each year, and a substantial amount of those that attempt it fail to complete all eight days.
But, here I am, five months later, a Naukluft veteran, and relatively unscathed. Here’s how it happened.