Dune 45, aptly named, is 45 kilometers from Sesriem, home to the gate that opens to the Namib-Naukluft National Park, an area in the Namib Desert of never-ending giant sand dunes, including Dune 45, at 5am to give visitors enough time to floor it to the dune by sunrise.
Gino, our ever-enthusiastic leader, insisted that we leave our campsite in Sesriem by 4:30am in order to be the first in line waiting for the gate to open. As soon as the gate opened, Imani would put her pedal to the metal for the 45 kilometers to Dune 45, and we’d toss off our shoes and climb to the top of the dune to watch the sun rise up over the sandy hills.
I am not a fan of the pre-sunset wake-up. In my opinion, the only reason I should be up while it’s still dark outside is if I haven’t yet gone to sleep from the night before.
We’ve had quite a few still-dark wake-ups on this trip so far, but it’s usually to get an early start on a long driving day. All we have to do is take down our tents, pack everything up, then hop on the truck and immediately doze off again. It’s always quite painful, but not having to do anything too strenuous and getting to fall back asleep as soon as the truck is packed up makes it bearable.
This day, we actually had to start our day at this ungodly hour. I really couldn’t imagine a sunrise over a bunch of dunes being worth the agony of extreme grogginess.
It turns out, watching the sunrise at Dune 45 is one of the few things in this world that is worth waking up while it is still dark outside.
We arrived at the dune as the lower sky was just beginning to show signs of light. Standing at the bottom looking to the top, I thought it looked like a pretty short, easy climb. In fact, Dune 45 is waaaay taller than it looks. And I completely underestimated how hard it is to run up a sandy hill.
Running up the side of a dune is much like running up a down escalator. Each step up requires the effort of running up two, three, or even four steps. After spending a lot of my recent days and weeks sitting in a truck, I wasn’t prepared for such extreme exercise. It also didn’t help that most of my body was still officially sleeping.
Our group was traversing the dune in a line, and I was about halfway from the front. I stared at the sandy ground as I ran, trying to keep from tumbling down the side of the dune. The hike got slightly easier after I started stepping in the footsteps of the people before me. Just slightly. I still felt like I was going to keel over every second.
Every so often I would look to the top of the dune and dejectedly realize it looked even farther away than when I started. The guys booking it at the front of the line – my much-more-in-shape-than-me brother included – didn’t seem to be getting any closer to the top. I really thought one of my lungs was going to give out before I could see this stupid sunrise that forced me to remove myself from my warm and comfortable sleeping bag at such an obscene hour.
Coughing up sand, wheezing, and completely out of breath (I really need to work out more), I was finally at the top of the dune. We all sat down in a line at the top staring all around us as the huge sandy hills changed colors with the rising sun. Orange, brown, yellow, even green and purple. It was one of the most breathtakingly beautiful scenes I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t believe the sunlight could create such a spectacular color scheme on a bunch of sand.
When we’d gotten our fill of the colorful spectacle, we each bounded back down the side of the dune, one by one. When my turn came, I hurtled myself from the top and just started running. The gravity gave me a burst of speed, and the soft sand took away my fear of falling on my face. It was the fastest I’ve ever ran and unbelievably fun. I felt like I was soaring down the side of the dune.
After the rush from racing down the dune subsided, I realized I had spent twenty minutes wheezing my way to the top and less than twenty seconds leaping to the bottom.
We ate breakfast in the shadow of the dune. What an exhilarating way to start the day. As I chugged down my second cup of instant coffee, I decided that I could wake up that way every day of my life.
Now that I have a little bit of a coffee buzz going on and most of my limbs are adequately awake, I am ready for our all day drive to camp near Giant’s Playground, which we will visit tomorrow.