Initially there were no solo races in the Desert Dash. The 350 kilometre mountain bike race from Windhoek across the Khomas Hochland and the Namib Desert to Swakopmund has turned into an internationally known annual event since it was first introduced in 2005. In the early days cyclists were tackling the gravel roads in teams of two or four.
Monika Großmann (48), an X-ray assistant at a private clinic in Windhoek, completed her 15th Desert Dash last year. She rode in the solo category for the first time and finished 12th among the women. Her husband Kai also competed as a solo rider but had to give up prematurely due to back injuries which he sustained in a serious accident a few years ago. He is the only rider who has entered all 15 Desert Dash races and completed 14 of them.
Monika and Kai first participated in a team of four, but from 2010 they entered the race as their own team of two. “In the first year we were only 44 riders. At night you were all alone on the track, which at times was somewhat disconcerting”, Monika recalls. These days, lights can be seen everywhere because there are more than a thousand cyclists on the route.
The race starts at 3 p.m. in Windhoek and participants have to make it to Swakopmund on the Atlantic coast within 24 hours. When the Desert Dash got underway last December, it rained for the first time in the race’s 15-year history and there was more rain on the first leg, which is the same for all cyclists. “Once it rained in 2007, after the first checkpoint. It had also rained in the area of the fourth leg, and there were still puddles on the track”, says Monika, who grew up in Windhoek. “Otherwise, all the races were hot and dry. 2006 was the hottest race in terms of temperatures.”
Monika Großmann started cycling in 2000 when her husband bought simple mountain bikes for both of them. “Then he entered us in a race in which I covered 30 km. I thought everyone who rides more than 30 km is crazy” – says the woman who completed 373 km solo in December 2019. But after her first race it still took a few years before she was really hooked on cycling. “At some stage during each race you wonder ‘why am I doing this to myself’ and you are determined that you won’t participate in another one”, Monika says. “But now I am already thinking of participating as a solo rider again this year. My husband, however, should only take part in a team because his old injury is too dangerous.” The couple’s daughter and son are also enthusiastic and successful mountain bike riders, who have taken on the gruelling Desert Dash as well.
“An additional challenge of the Desert Dash is the west wind which blows directly from the front. Once we encountered such strong headwinds that it felt as if our shins were being sandblasted. Another encounter that I can certainly do without was a large yellow snake that crossed the gravel road right in front of me. I almost drove over it”, Monika recalls.
These days, unfortunately, most of the participants don’t know one another because the race has become so big, she says. In the first year the support teams had to wait at intersections to make sure that their rider(s) continued in the right direction. “Now it is an effort to find your support team at the checkpoints. But a feeling of euphoria always sets in when you reach the finish line after all the exertion.” Monika Großmann takes part in several races each year “as time and finances allow”.
Author: Dirk Heinrich