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09 Dec, 2016

Joburg to Kili for the Kids

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On a chilly Saturday morning on the 30th of July, four South African adventurers of Team Joburg2Kili powered by Tarsus cycled out of the Jeep dealership in Bryanston, Johannesburg, to start a 10-week, 4650km journey across four countries to the base of Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania. There Warrick and Camilla Kernes, Gareth Pickering and Derrick Fourie planned to exchange bicycles for hiking boots and summit the highest peak in Africa, all to raise funds for Qhubeka, the South African-based charity that donates bicycles to children that have to walk more than hour each day to get to school. – BY KYLE DEELEY WITH GARETH PICKERING

The Buffalo bicycle is a 23kg, relatively cheap, ‘Africa-proof’ single-speed machine with back-pedal brakes, making it ideal for kids in rural areas to get to school on, but not exactly ideal for long-distance cross-country riding. Nevertheless, the four Joburg2Kili riders would be riding these same bicycles that Qhubeka donates to kids to help them get to school faster, safer and with less tiring walking… all the way to Tanzania! “Aligning with Qhubeka made sense for us, as the organisation is established and has a solid history with more than 50,000 bicycles already donated to help uplift rural communities,” explains Warrick.

The four riders were supported by American Bobby Fuller and Zimbabwean Bryan Fawcett, driving a support vehicle to carry the food and camping gear required for the journey that lay ahead. “When planning a trip of this nature, it’s not always easy to find accommodation where you need it and we needed to bush camp some of the nights, either next to the road or on a local farm – some nights we would just ask landowners if we could stay on their property,” says Derrick.

Four days after setting off, the Joburg2Kili team entered Botswana through the Martin’s Drift border post. The long, flat roads of Botswana were the ideal terrain for the team to get into a rhythm, and Gareth says “The northern parts of Botswana were wild, with miles and miles of open game parks. Seeing elephant, eland and plenty of other wildlife from our bicycles was a truly remarkable and memorable experience.”

 

Expensive Border Experience

Eighteen days after leaving Joburg and having cycled all the way across Botswana, the team crossed the border at Kasane into Zambia. “We had done our homework about what documentation was required for the team as well as the vehicles and had also been told that the smoothest way to get through this border was to use an agent,” says Camilla. As it turned out, the agent charged almost three times more than should have been paid! “We got scammed!” says Bobby. “It’s annoying, but that’s how it goes… things do not always go exactly to plan on a trip like this.”

As soon as the team entered Zambia, the terrain got hillier as they entered the Eastern Highlands. However, experiencing and enjoying the communities through which the team cycled was part of the planning and each week allowed for a rest day, sometimes two, to take in the sights or have some time out for some rest and relaxation. The team made the most of these rest days, including Derrick and Gareth performing a ‘world first’ by bungee jumping from the Victoria Falls Bridge with their Buffalo bicycles! The team also spent a morning white water rafting on the Zambezi River.

Not finding that many formal campsites in Zambia, the Joburg2Kili team spent many nights staying with local farmers, who welcomed them to set up their tents. “People were always so warm and welcoming, allowing us to stay with them, and they showed a lot of interest in what we were doing there,” says Bryan. Then on 2 September, armed with the lessons from the Zambian border crossing, the team crossed the border from Zambia into Malawi smoothly. None of them had been to Malawi before and all were excited to spend the next 10 days cycling up the western side of Lake Malawi. “The riding along the lake was amazing, with beautiful landscapes on our left and views of the lake on our right,” says Gareth. “It was the poorest country that we had been through so far, but the people always greeted us with a wave and a warm, genuine smile.”

 

Kilimanjaro Fever

The last stop in Malawi was the town of Karonga, where the team camped on the beach next to Lake Malawi for the last time before entering Tanzania, which is where things really got serious, says Derrick. “In Tanzania the terrain, while beautiful, was very hilly, with miles and miles of roadworks and dirt roads, as well as having to share the road with big trucks and lots of other traffic.” Then Derrick came down with a bout of Malaria, which saw him off the bike for three days to recover.

“I’d had Malaria before, so I knew what to expect, but it was really difficult for me not being able to cycle for the three days, and then not being able to climb Kili with the team three weeks later,” says Derrick. However, he knew it was the right decision not to climb, considering what happened to rally driver and celebrity Gugu Zulu a few months earlier. Despite being young, fit and healthy, Gugu passed away due to medical complications that he suffered at altitude while climbing Kili.

The final three weeks of the ride saw the team cycle through Tanzania and finally reach Moshi, two days ahead of schedule on the 6th of October. “It was such an incredible experience knowing that we had arrived at the base of Kilimanjaro, and that we got there on the Buffalo bicycles. It was a great lesson to all of us that any large task can be accomplished with a great team, and by doing a little to get you closer to your goal each day,” says Gareth.

 

Finishing on a High

On 10 October, Gareth, Warrick and Camilla left Moshi and started the seven-day climb on the Machame route up Kilimanjaro. They successfully summited five days later, on 15 October, which was also Warrick and Camilla’s fifth wedding anniversary! “The team from Zara Adventures went out of their way to make our special day so memorable, having a cake and bottle of champagne on the summit, above the clouds,” says Camilla.

Wrapping up the story, Gareth says “Joburg2Kili took two years of planning and I’m really pleased with how it went off. We had some amazing sponsors and received great support, while also exceeding our initial target of R100,000 for Qhubeka. As it stands, we have raised around R160,000, enough to buy 55 bicycles for the kids. The amount of planning and preparation that went into this meant that most of the accommodation, food, medicine and bicycle elements of the trip were perfect. The tough part was having six very different personalities living in very close quarters with one another for 10 weeks, under sometimes difficult conditions with little chance for any alone time, but having said that, I don’t think we would have made it so far without the team that we had. We pulled together when we needed to and always supported one another, and I’ve formed friendships on this trip that will last a lifetime.”

For more information on the trip or to make a contribution to the Qhubeka Charity, check out www.joburg2kili.com.

Kyle Deeley

Kyle Deeley

Editorial Assistant |

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