Desert Knights MTB Challenge 2016 Day 5 : Extra-Terrestrial Trial Tripping

De Hoop Camp Site in the Richtersveld Mountain Desert National Park rates as one of my absolute favourite camp sites on the whole of Planet Earth … Unforgiving mountain desert stacking up at your back, and with the life-giving, emerald artery of the mighty Orange River carving a greensward swathe through this lunar landscape at your feet.

It has long been one of my personal rituals to climb one of the peaks rucking up to the east of De Hoop. This time, I ventured up the outcrop nearest to camp, but the higher peaks whispered an invitation, and I tramped further into the tectonic shale shards smithereened along the knife-edged ridges.

The western peak of Rooiberg proferred a lone pinnacle on which to stand, overlooking the forbidding landscape. De Hoop lay far below – too far to hear any of the sounds drifting up from the camp – while a Verraux eagle circled far above. Uninterrupted views for hundreds of kilometres unfolded in every direction, and some recessive nomadic gene deep within in my phyletic memory urged me to turn my back on the river, and hike into the arid badlands at my back.

I fantasised about that daydream for a while longer, but reality rapped me on the knuckles, so instead I jogged back down the mountain, soaking up the sounds of Nama-San and his drums, guiding the #DesertKnighters through a morning bongo session.

Late afternoon came and, with it, my time to saddle up and chase the full moon along the lunar plains steepening away to the Hakkiesdoring Hiking Camp. This night ride remains by far my favourite part of the whole of #DesertKnights, especially the single-track Donkey Trail section.

Angular rock stacks loom over antediluvian plains where glaciers once scoured the earth, with euphorbia cactii and quiver trees and other Tim Burtonesque plants spiking against the pale moon shadow glow. It is a super-surreal dreamscape, especially when you switch off your bike light to crank within the lunar half-light, with all your other senses kicking into a mode of high alert.

A clatter of gemsbok hooves in the distance; a low rumble of distant thunder over the hulk of Mount Terror; a ribbiting grunt that could be a desert toad; the swish of your wheels through patches of desert sand; off-key nocturnal bird calls reminiscent of ‘Where the Wild Things Are’ … it is beautiful, and reason enough to trip all the way into the Richtersveld just for these 2 hrs of mind-expanding space.

You emerge from your time-space bubble on the final climb to Hakkies doring, with the whoops of marshalls welcoming you to the camp, with camp fires burning bright; with cups of gluhwein thrust into your hands; with the sense that you are now and forever part of the #DesertKnights family.

And with a haunting feeling that you do not want to step out of this desert dream …

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