Ranger Odyssey 2014 has kicked off in Namibia and the team selection is being determined with a random draw leading to the finalization of the teams that will compete together for the ultimate prize – an Odyssey Ranger each for a year!
Last night the Ranger Odyssey stepped up several notches with the random draw of the 20 individual contestants into 10 teams – so the competition has begun!
As the first day paired together, for Day 2 the new teams completed a 100 km drive on tar (the first and last of the 2014 Odyssey) and a further 180 km on gravel as the convoy headed north.
With the temperature climbing to a searing 35 deg C in the increasingly rugged and arid landscape, it was the first real indication of the physical demands that will be placed on the crews as the route draws closer to the peak of the action on the Angolan border.
A fairly relaxed afternoon and night under the stars at the scenic Opuwo campsite before the heat of the action commences tomorrow …
It was a thrilling and very competitive Day 3 on RangerOdyssey! The convoy departed Opuwo, aiming for the Angolan border on the Kunene River along a stunning and increasingly mountainous 240 km gravel route.
The contestants had it relatively easy up to now, but that all changed with a punishing tug-of-war elimination challenge held in 35 deg C heat in a dry river bed. The teams and their respective instructors for the day gave it their all, and had countless blisters and rope burns to prove it.
Ultimately it came down to the final, a brutal test of strength, endurance and willpower between Team 2, Lindie and Gladstone with instructor Bernie, and Team 7, comprising Johan, Oan and instructor Kugesh that lasted a full 22 minutes – with the latter ultimately taking the hard-earned victory.
After a brief visit to the Dorslandtrek Memorial and graveyard, the day wrapped up with camp set-up at the beautiful Kunene River Lodge with Angola located on the opposite bank of the crocodile-infested waterway that forms the natural border between the two countries.
It may have been only 90 km long, but the route for Day 4 of the #RangerOdyssey was the toughest so far … by far! It took the 14-vehicle convoy a full 12 hours to complete.
The spectacular trail headed north-west, running along the bank of the Kunene River for much of the day. It also traversed numerous tricky and extremely rocky climbs and descents on the fringes of the captivating Zebra Mountains that proved just how tough the Ford Ranger is while truly testing the mettle of the 10 Odyssey teams.
The day’s action was wrapped up at the stunning Epupa Falls, a virtual oasis in the middle of this harsh and arid landscape.
The 10 teams competing in the 2014 RangerOdyssey had a day off from driving today. The focus was on learning about the indigenous OvaHimba people and culture.
The teams also took on a fun-filled 8 km river rafting expedition along the Kunene leading up to Epupa Falls, made all the more exhilarating when they skimmed past numerous crocodiles soaking up the sun on the river banks.
Ranger Odyssey also joined Ford’s annual Global Week of Caring programme currently underway around the world by handing over a trunk-load of water-purifying tablets to the local clinic in Epupa, and donating food supplies to a local OvaHimba village chief.
Just when the contestants thought the activities were wrapped up for the day, they faced a challenging 6 km evening hike, followed by a general knowledge test to evaluate how much they had learned and remembered about the Odyssey thus far – emphasizing that this remains a competition after all, with spectacular prizes for the winning team.
The Ranger Odyssey set off again this morning, heading south-west away from Epupa Falls on the Angolan border towards Otjihende.
But driving in this rugged and remote northern region in Namibia’s Kaokaland is no ordinary task, and included an extremely rough and rocky 4x4 trail through the Baynes Mountains that turned out to be the contestants’ toughest challenge yet behind the wheel of the mighty Ranger.
The unspoilt natural beauty of the region became even more apparent as the sun descended over the Van Zyl’s Pass Community Campsite in a rich golden glow, followed by the simply dazzling number of stars that dominated the night sky.
Tomorrow – the notorious Van Zyl’s Pass, the region’s toughest and most extreme 4x4 challenge by far …
It started months ago with the call to action for the 2014 Ranger Odyssey, followed by the selection process from over 8 200 online entries , the three-day Boot Camp for 40 hopefuls and finally the departure for Namibia with 20 brave contestants from South Africa, Angola and Mozambique.
And on Day 7 all of the training and preparation came to together as the Ranger Odyssey descended the highly anticipated main challenge of the whole expedition – the notorious and treacherous Van Zyl’s Pass.
With sheer cliff faces on the one side of the narrow track and huge drop-offs on the other, interspersed with massive boulders and loose rocks, the teams negotiated this white-knuckled, extreme 4x4 trail with equal levels of excitement and trepidation.
Despite the Rangers reaching seemingly impossible lean angles and clambering over the rocks with opposing wheels often more than a metre off the ground, the ‘Built Ford Tough’ Ranger lived up to its reputation and passed the test with flying colours – as did the adrenaline-charged teams.
The day was wrapped up with an informal camp set up in the lowland plains alongside the Khumib River, near Orupembe, just as the departing sun signalled a spectacular end to an awe-inspiring day!
It was a day of dramatic contrasts and fantastic scenery on the 2014 Ranger Odyssey in Namibia’s arid but strikingly beautiful Kaokaland.
After spending the night under the brilliantly clear sky in the open plains, the Odyssey set off down the Khumib River 4x4 trail that follows the dry river bed most of the way south from Orupembe to Puros.
Despite the intense heat and complete absence of obvious water sources, this remote region boasts abundant wildlife. For many of the contestants it was their first-ever sighting of giraffe, gemsbok, springbok, vultures and eagles thriving in their natural environment. Thus far the desert elephants and lions have eluded the Odyssey group.
The scenery was simply epic, ranging from vast mountains to rock-strewn flats, dry grasslands to completely barren desert. It made for great driving and viewing – particularly when the group assembled at the top of the Jan Joubert Koppie near Puros with its breathtaking 360-degree view of the amazing and diverse landscape.
What an amazing day on the #RangerOdyssey! It started off with a simply awe-inspiring drive along the Hoarusib River bed. This area is renowned for its desert elephant, and although they remain elusive, there were plenty of giraffe, gemsbok and springbok to keep the contestants enthralled.
The Hoarusib is usually dry at this time of year but there was a fair amount of water that made the drive all the more thrilling between the astonishingly beautiful mountain ranges that line the Puros Canyon and the spectacular ‘Hoarusib Gate’ – a narrow cutting through sheer cliff faces.
For the afternoon session, and after a charter flight to the Puros airstrip rotated the arriving and departing members of the media, the contestants were trained on the crucial aspects of winch operation and vehicle recovery techniques.
Thereafter the inter-team competitive action resumed with a series of five special tasks that were scored throughout. The tests included high-lift jack winching, spare wheel changing in the sand, pre-trip inspection, as well as Odyssey general knowledge tests relating to the trip as well as the Ford Ranger. Just three days remain on the 2014 Odyssey, so the competition is heating up!
The 2014 Ranger Odyssey is well into its second week and the challenge of 10 days on the go is starting to show among the contestants. The hectic schedule, intense heat and tough route are certainly testing the physical and mental stamina of the crews.
Team 2’s Lindie Burger was out of action most of yesterday due to dehydration but fortunately is back on her feet now and raring to go. Several other contestants are taking strain too – but with only a couple of days left and the allure of the grand prize at the end, it’s time for them to give it their all!
The convoy left Puros this morning and followed a combination of the Hoarusib River 4x4 trail and more conventional gravel roads through the Ganias Plains on to Sesfontein and the overnight camp at Khowarib.
The route along the Hoarusib River was truly spectacular, carving its way between sheer rock faces, splashing through water crossings and kicking up dust climbing the river banks.
The Kaokaland’s famed desert elephants have evaded the Odyssey … until today when some of the convoy was fortunate enough to see a herd of around 10 adults and juveniles feeding calmly in the river bed. The majestic gemsbok and springbok have been regular sights along the route for the past two days.
Day 11 was the last competitive day on the 2014 #RangerOdyssey – and what an action-packed day it was! The off-road antics began as soon as the convoy left camp, heading into the Khowarib 4x4 Trail along the dry Hoanib River bed that winds its way through the Khowarib Schlucht (ravine) with its soft, sandy sections that had the drivers working hard behind the wheel to prevent the Rangers from getting stuck.
After being trained throughout Boot Camp and the previous 10 days travelling through Namibia, each team’s performance was evaluated in a series of special tasks staged in the river bed. These included hand-winching, vehicle recovery with an electric winch, general knowledge, vehicle maintenance and preparation, as well as changing wheels in soft sand.
Then it was on to what was probably the toughest obstacle yet for this year’s Odyssey – the so-called ‘dust holes’ between Umumbaaitjie and the Kamdescha Vet Control Point.
The fine powder-like dust is so intense that visibility drops to zero when following other vehicles, and deep tracks are worn into the soft ground, resulting in several vehicles getting stuck. Numerous recoveries had to be performed to extricate the vehicles – but all emerged unscathed and made the final haul to the camp at Kamanjab where it all started 10 days ago.
The final test was camp set-up. The teams completed the exercise in a record 17 minutes, which was a far cry from the nearly two hours it took on Day 1.
The 2014 Ranger Odyssey officially wrapped up today, as the 10 teams departed from Kamanjab with the bitter-sweet realisation that the adventure was rapidly drawing to a close.
Following a visit to Novel Ford in Windhoek the 20 contestants departed for the airport and the return flights to Johannesburg and beyond. Although happy to be reunited with family and friends, every person was equally disappointed that the life-changing trip was over.
Namibia’s Kaoaland and Damaraland had enthralled and amazed with its astonishing beauty and diversity – from the beautiful Kunene River to the Epupa Falls, the stunning Zebra Mountains to the breath-taking deserts and canyons.
The rich cultural heritage also proved a major highlight as the group gained exceptional insight into the lifestyles of the OvaHimba communities in north western Namibia.
But if there was one aspect of the trip that had everyone in awe, it was the exceptional performance of the Ford Ranger. It conquered the worst that this extremely rugged and rarely travelled region of Namibia could throw at it, including more than well over two-thirds of the punishing 3 000 km route travelled on dirt roads and bone-jarring 4x4 trails. That all 14 Rangers completed the challenge without incident (and not even a single puncture) proved that it is indeed ‘Built Ford Tough’ … and more than tough enough to conquer Africa! Just ask any of the 20 contestants …