…and it is absolutely stunning!
I recently accompanied two of the younger Rhino Charge course designer’s and one veteran on the “second working recce” for this year’s event…I think they should rename ‘recce’ to ‘venue preparation field work’ or something like that because I left my 12 hour day job to find myself on 14 hour days, involved in some kind of bizarre frontier exploration exercise for the next 4 days whilst helping to design and prepare the 2016 Rhino Charge course! I have been on recce’s before but this was the first time I have gone on one during the design phase. The attention of the design team to competitor safety whilst still looking to retain the legendary challenge of the event was intriguing and yet baffling. They search out the inaccessible, have to make it accessible and yet maintain its inaccessibility… contradictions everywhere! (If you know the concept of the Rhino Charge you’ll understand what I mean!).
I became the youngest member of the Rhino Charge organizing committee, having been co-opted in late 2014, and I think my “duties” as yet another member of the 100+ strong unpaid volunteer team have diversified and multiplied fairly quickly and unexpectedly! Since I joined I have been involved in event logistics, spectator strategy, provision of services, control of radios and now the exhilarating venue preparation, all of this only 14 months into the ‘job’. There will be more detail about what I get up to in later posts but this one is about that specific 4-day trip.
A 5am departure wasn’t too far away from what I’m used to because of countless other work trips I do. Day one for me was about getting my bearings – which frankly didn’t happen until a few days after we returned, and only once I looked at our GPS tracks to work out what the hell had happened in those 4 days. Once we’d circled the venue, got stuck, driven through some of the thickest bush I have seen, slipped into & out of lugga’s and been rained on, it was assumed that everyone knew where true north was 🙂
Over those 4 days we winched ourselves out of holes, scampered into bushes as ‘wildlife’ erupted from their hiding places and found ourselves following a lioness, or was she following us…? We got sunburnt, covered in sand, mud, held up by endless “wait-a-bits” and whatever other muck you can imagine that comes with being out in the middle of nowhere…Oh and according to my GPS we walked well over 10km in the 1pm sun, twice (our veteran has a penchant for 1pm walks). Creating the structure behind a Rhino Charge course whilst only using a topographical map and a GPS is definitely one of the weirdest things I have seen in my life. The expert designer’s “estimate” the coordinates of a “feature” they can “see” on the map, of which they have a “hunch” of where a good check point should be and then we just go towards it – as far as the cars can go, and then as far as the feet will take us. And they, let alone me, have no idea what is in the surrounding bush – scary canary! And we ran out of water on two occasions because the simplest route isn’t always the shortest and there always seemed to be a better option around the corner that the designer’s wanted to look at!
I’d known about the statistics behind what kind of preparations are made for a Rhino Charge to happen – I knew about the 50km of tracks that were built, meandering through the bush and around trees for the 2015 Rhino Charge in Kalepo (Namyunyak) and the airstrip that was built on the back of a hill in the middle of nowhere. What I didn’t know was who actually does some of the work…
This year we have to cross a bridge to access the venue, not uncommon, but this particular bridge may not be there in a few months’ time due to a buildup of flash flood related debris. The debris is creating an upstream dam of the bridge, which could end up breaking the bridge! It further transpires that this debris can only be cleared at night, because the bridge’s steel beams are ‘infested’ by millions of angry bees. So on day 2 we went to the bridge, in the dark, with the veteran kitted up in the appropriate gear (kikoy head protection, oversized wellies and a head torch) chainsaw in hand he went about clearing the debris, which was made up of full sized trees over a metre in diameter! We were there for an hour and half breaking up these trees, in the middle of the night and to the designer’s, nothing seemed out of the ordinary – it was like all in a day’s work!
A few things struck me about this ‘phase’ of venue preparation:
- How did they see and identify this hazard because there’s no way I would have noticed it?
- How did they know about how and when to work around the bees and to come at night and not during the day?
- Imagine the bridge being washed away! Nobody else was going to do it, community nor government and so we, the organizers had to do the work!
It’s hard sometimes to appreciate what goes into staging this event and at what time and cost. I, with the rest of the team, will probably spend up to 30 days out of Nairobi to make the Rhino Charge happen this year. That is 30 days away from my day job. My car will go through torture, I will probably destroy a few pairs of clothes and shoes, take risks that my insurance would struggle to fit into any “normal” category and at the end of it all, Kenya will have yet another thrilling, safe and ultimately successful fund-raising event, all for conservation!
…Oh, and just to let you know, on day 3 we found the gauntlet. And it was built by the devil…!