Johan Fourie, Service Quality and Training Manager for Wilderness Safaris Namibia, recently took part in the wonderful Ride for Rhinos cycling tour. He shares his experience with us:
The short history of the ride starts with the two leading ladies of Venture Media, Rieth van Schalkwyk and Elzanne McCulloch (Erasmus) sitting down seven years ago in December, looking for a project to help conserve black rhino in Namibia. Poaching was starting to accelerate at the time. With cycling becoming a popular and growing sport, they came up with the idea of an event that could bring Namibian corporates together with Save the Rhino Trust (SRT).
Conrad Dempsey from RMB Namibia heard about the event and made contact with Elzanne – and RMB became the title sponsor of the event; from there the ride really started to take shape. Elzanne got in touch with Gerhard Thirion of Wilderness Safaris Explorations division, taking direction on how and where the event could take place.
Cymot, one of the big camping, adventure and cycling outfitters in Namibia, and long-term supporter of Save the Rhino Trust, came on board, as did one of the top bicycle mechanics to provide cycling technical support to all riders pre, during and post the ride.
Wilderness Safaris was involved from the beginning, providing the guides, routes, access to our concession areas in Palmwag and Desert Rhino Camp as well as around Damaraland Camp. Wilderness Safaris has also been involved in the ride’s logistical support, and as a treat for weary riders and campers on the final day, blocking off a camp for their exclusive use.
SRT is the major beneficiary of the event, and plays a crucial role in the logistics and tracking of rhinos. They have been heavily involved in rhino conservation in Namibia since 1983, and have included the communities from the ground up. As you might know Wilderness Safaris is in partnership with SRT at Desert Rhino Camp.
The event also allows for direct links between Namibian corporates and SRT, allowing more sponsorship and access to materials the business owners and managers can provide. I remember one year Simson, the Director of SRT, and his deputy Sebilon, explaining that the poachers have access to better equipment than SRT. They hatched a plan around the fire that evening to acquire night-vision equipment for SRT’s use in the field.
This Year 2020
On this year’s ride we had exclusive use of Damaraland camp for our entire stay, right in the lap of luxury for all four nights. The camp opened especially for the ride, after closing at the end of March due to the Coronavirus pandemic – so a big thank you to the team on the ground for opening up and making it wonderful for all of us.
We were a total of 21 riders including four crew riders, two guides, myself and Elfrieda Kirsten, and our tour doctor and his wife, who both volunteered their time.
The routes were more physically challenging than previous years, and we covered 115 km in the just three days, climbing around 1 800 m. The rides are quite technical, with lots of rocks everywhere, steep climbs in areas and many gravelly riverbeds that needed hard pedalling to get through. Each day we looped downwards for half of the ride to the bottom of the Huab Valley, then had to get back up to camp, entailing a climb of around 560 – 600m in the second part of the day.
The event took us past some of the most amazing scenery on offer in the Damaraland area. It is dry and there weren’t great numbers of game, though we managed to see giraffe, desert-adapted elephant and black rhino, springbok, and a even lioness (on the day the guests arrived).
The rides took us through the age-old basalts of the Etendeka Plateau, the Etjo sandstone and open sand and gravel plains, as well as a little visit to the Riemvasmaker village of De Riet.
We crossed the dry Huab and Aba Huab river systems three times on the second day, and on this ride were lucky enough to view a herd of seven desert-adapted elephant from our mountain bikes. This day we also had to contend with the “horizontal hills” – otherwise known as sand… Some areas here had small sand dunes that needed crossing, and it burnt some energy.
There was one rhino sighting on the second afternoon. Machau, a magnificent young rhino bull (around nine years old) wandered slowly in our direction after finding him with the help of SRT and the Torra Conservancy rhino rangers. The community rangers head out on foot patrols to track and monitor these rare and amazing animals. The event made me realise how vulnerable they are, as we watched him from about 80m he had no idea we were there. He eventually walked into the area we had been standing in initially, where he picked up the scent of our footprints.
On the last morning, we went down past Slangpos, a natural spring on a fun fast descent. That morning a thick fog bank awaited us as we dropped towards the Huab. The thick fog reduced visibility and made for an adventurous experience bringing in weather we normally expect at the coast. It was also very cold, and some of the boys had “police coffee” – Jameson and coffee – to warm up.
On the last night we had a huge spit braai. Gerhard was in charge of cooking the lambs. Elfrieda Kirsten, a former Wilderness Air pilot and keen cyclist who helps with the cycling guiding on the ride, sponsored the lambs through her farming operation in the southern part of Namibia.
Photography credits go to Gerhard Thirion and Leroux van Schalkwyk, photographer with Venture Media.
The Wilderness Team for 2020
Participants – Wilderness shares our time FOC on the ride, and for that a great thank you to Alexandra Margull, MD for Namibia.
Gerhard Thirion – Explorations Manager in charge of the logistics, and the main braaier of the sheep spit on the last day.
Johan Fourie – Cycling and all things related.
Willie Stoman and Christine Salt (Wilderness Air) – Food and all things related.
Damaraland Camp team – Collin, Lena, Donavan, Willem, April and Martha.
Desert Rhino Camp team – who allowed us to have Selma as a host for the four days.
Written by Johan Fourie
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