Former Springbok captain and 2007 Rugby World Cup winner John Smit and former Sharks centre Jeremy Thomson will join a small group of intrepid mountain bikers who will tackle the gruelling uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge on Saturday, 10 December in an effort to raise much needed festive season funding for Project Rhino KZN.
The former KZN rugby legends join the likes of globally recognized humanitarian Kingsley Holgate, world renowned adventurer Sibusiso Vilane and the ‘Voice of Cycling’ Phil Liggett in a star-studded line-up for Saturday’s event.
“I think it was a moment of weakness and a fair bit of peer pressure that saw me buckle,” laughs Smit about his signing up for the challenge.
“I’ve never done 240km in one go before and it sounds like a long, long way!
“It sounds like a long way on a road bike, let alone on a mountain bike!” he chuckles anxiously.
22 brave souls will start at 02h00 on Saturday morning at Cadence Cycling Performance Centre in Hillcrest, aiming to reach the Dolphin Coastal town of Ballito by sunrise and the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve gates by 18h00 as they head for the finish line at Hilltop Camp.
Smit and Thomson have however opted to join those doing the 240km Short Horn – a shorter but no less challenging task from Ballito to Hilltop Camp as they do their bit for the highly endangered creatures.
“I love the bush, when I was younger our family grew up with the bush and now we try take my kids to the bush whenever we can,” says Smit.
“But, with how things are going, we’re not sure how much longer these magnificent creatures are going to be around for and if I don’t do something about it then my grandkids may never get the chance to ever see them!”
The cause is also a close one to Thomson’s heart. “The company I work for has been behind Kingsley Holgate’s expeditions for many years now, so we have very strong ties to him and the Rhino Art programme – which was his brain child – in particular.
“Now to be a part of an event that Kingsley is linked to really is going to be very special.
“It is critical that we all get together and get involved in these sorts of events, campaigns and projects because without them the message just doesn’t get out there and the money doesn’t come in.
“I feel obligated as a person to do my little bit.”
Thomson, like Smit, is secretively a little worried about the distance too. “I’m not quite so worried about the legs as I am about my bum!” laughs the Thule/PYGA Industries ace.
“This will be more than double what I’ve ever done in a day before, so it will definitely be tough, but it’s for a great cause and with a great bunch of people so I’m really looking forward to it.”
Being a ride rather than a race, taking in the whole experience is something organisers encourage, especially as riders cover the final 35km inside the game reserve, amidst the bushveld and the Big 5.
The sheer distance alone does however make this one of the most testing one day mountain biking challenges in the country and will take a few brave faces and much camaraderie within the groups to get everyone across the line.
The 2016 uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge takes place from Hillcrest to Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve on Saturday, 10 December.