The darkness collapsing the horizon was a call to action. Dusk meant my companion, Glenn, was not late, but lost in the desert, and ahead of him was an icy night somewhere along the last 85 kilometers of austere desert road. Was he in a ditch, crumpled and camouflaged? Exhausted from dehydration? Struck by a car? Left incapacitated by the 11,000 perils found in Namibia? All of them patient nemeses in a vicious, vacant topography...
I waited at a crossroads to plead with dusty cars to help me form a search party. What finally delivered itself was a green Landy Defender with hazy lights driven by a near-sighted German. The driver, an old man wrapped in a thick sweater named Gerhardt, set his jaw in annoyance when he accepted my request.
The first six days had been exultant. Glenn and I had pushed our way through the desert on mountain bikes, creeping across a moonscape until we entered wide savannahs tacked to the earth by thorns and wispy grasses. We had soared through the Namib-Naukluft on a lone paved road; we had flushed small bok that bolted toward gargantuan pyramids of sand threaded together by snaking, apatasauran spines; we had braaied fresh wors, and savored canned peaches; we had been the only ones to hear the weaverbirds build their empires in solitary trees, and to watch the wind run its fingers through acres of dry grass.
The thrill of our adventure had crumbled in the previous two days, after I filled my tent with vomit. The gritty water, long rides, and unremitting wind manifested an unknown germ that erupted from my throat and drenched everything I owned in bile. That sour catastrophe washed away a dam of stoicism, our sole guard from the existential angst that spurred us, two near strangers, into the wilderness together on a cycling adventure.
The morning after I became sick, Glenn roiled with acrimony. He spat at nature. He screamed at strangers. He scolded me. Eventually he rode off with our map to exorcise his demons, and told me, unable to carry on, to meet him the next day in Solitaire, a lonely Bagdad Café found at a crossroads a day away.
Our drama deposited me there, at a junction between two roads to nowhere, waiting for Glenn as the sky deepened to a purple and black bruise. I explained little of this to Gerhardt. I simply told him Glenn was lost and I was at my nadir.
The crests and troughs of travel amplify ecstasy and despair in ways unfamiliar to our everyday lives. We daydream of rapture while we forget that the forces of adventure push in two directions. At that point I didn’t know if I would find Glenn, or how near to the bottom I truly was. I just climbed into Gerhardt’s car, and started searching.