Kathleen tells...


A sea of sand


"Sometimes the world seems so crazy that you need some kind of madness in order not to go crazy." according to the French philosopher Blaise Pascal.


For example, you could go cycling through the Namibian desert. Although I'm not sure you can still call that 'cycling'. Our activity often looks more like slogging. Or playing. Yeah, a better word. We often glide through the loose sand, and practice our skidding techniques to stay upright when the wheels want to go down. Also the wind, which especially in the afternoon races over the plains with full force, tries to take us down. The sun burns mercilessly and brings the 15 litres of water we each carry to a temperature just below boiling point. But that struggle against the elements of nature, the concentration it takes to stay on the bike and preferably to move forward a bit, give me power and a special kind of happiness. This - for eight months now - simple outdoor life makes me firm, healthy and calm. Humble too, but in a nice way.

Oryxes, ostriches, zebras and lots of antelopes keep an eye on us from the plains as we cycle by.  In the morning and evening the sun casts a different light over the landscape every minute. Purple, pink, orange and yellow pastel shades alternate and give the views a surreal character.


At night we hear the howling of a group of hyenas in the distance, and the occasional barking of geckos around the tent. And when we look outside from our mat for a moment, we see millions of stars and the white glow of the Milky Way above our heads. 

Because the surroundings here are so inhospitable, we have to keep our attention: avoid holes of scorpions and spiders; find enough food and drinkable water; protect our skin from the sun; don't put our tent under a tree where birds nest, because that's where the snakes come at night; do not leave food lying around the tent, for that is bait for cheetahs, hyenas and leopards; let ourselves be embraced as two tiny creatures by the vastness of this ancient desert and realize that the laws of nature also apply to us, that we do not only cycle around here as spectators. 

Sometimes we meet a lonely farmer on his 65,000 hectare ranch. He laughingly calls us 'crazy cyclists', and offers us a bed for the night. He tells us he likes to meet us, because we bring stories to this desolate place. But then he himself is the one who speaks the most and we, coincidental passers-by, clearly give him the chance to 'tell his own story'. 

Maybe it's a bit crazy indeed to cycle here, to stare at the sky together with that farmer in the evening and count passing satellites. But it's that crazy thing that makes it so attractive to me. You don't achieve anything with it. It doesn't contribute to anything. You could even call it antisocial, to wander through that fairytale and timeless lightness, while the world has other worries. For a few days now, the wind has been blowing reports of a corona virus heading our way. Because we've been cycling through deserted areas for so long, that information is new to us. It seems as if we wandered somewhere in the silent eye of a hurricane for a long time. Corona? What kind of animal is that? Are we still allowed to cycle here? Can we still cycle here? Do we still have to cycle here? 


The desert doesn't answer our questions. It throws us back on ourselves with great indifference. The mountains at the horizon are standing there, and don't care about our human fantasies. The sun rises and sets. The stars no longer show us the way, for a polar star is not to be seen here, but celestial bodies such as 'the Three Sisters' and the 'Southern Cross', which tell us little, because we don't know them at home. In short, every point of orientation and direction is missing. And with these unknown celestial bodies and endless desolation, the standard values, norms, expectations, opinions and complexities of our daily life also disappear into the background. We no longer get any guidelines about how life should be lived. It is up to us to give it our own interpretation. And we know that life has many faces. Maybe cycling through the desert is one of them. Although sometimes it seems a bit crazy.