Hilltop Camp – The pain and agony participants of the 2016 uBhejane Xtreme MTB Challenge suffered throughout the course of their 16-hour long day in the saddle was soon erased on their arrival at Hilltop Camp in Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve shortly before nightfall on Saturday and replaced by a mixture of jubilation, relief and a tremendous sense of achievement.
Starting in the dark at 2am and finishing in the day’s dwindling light at 6pm, the encounter’s gruelling 340km Long Horn event from Cadence Cycling Performance Centre in Hillcrest to the Zululand venue challenged participants’ physical and mental toughness like few others.
The day’s programme of endurance cycling also included a 240km Short Horn option as the event sought to raise vital festive season funding for Project Rhino KZN’s province-wide anti-rhino poaching efforts.
“It was long and it was hard but it was a great day!” said former Springbok captain and 2007 Rugby World Cup winner, John Smit after completing the Short Horn.
“Not many people would normally ride 240km in a day but it is an unbelievable thing to do, especially because we were riding for a purpose.
“You go through some incredible places that you’ve never seen before – and you wouldn’t if you weren’t putting your hand up and raising your voice for the rhinos.
“It was also great to be thrown into a group of people of whom I probably knew three or four beforehand and, after the fourteenth hour together, you feel like you’re family,” he added.
Not ridden as a race but rather a ride, the event concludes with a memorable 35km final stretch through the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve’s bushveld, albeit a segment that includes some lung-busting hills at the end of an already brutal day.
“The camaraderie out there amongst everyone was brilliant!” explained international cycling commentator Phil Liggett who, together with his wife Trish, joined Long and Short Horn participants for the last leg to the finish line.
“Everyone pulled together and made sure the whole group got up those hills – I felt like I had my own team of super domestiques.
“It was a wonderful occasion and one that I felt very privileged to be a part of,” added the ‘Voice of Cycling’.
Global mountaineer and adventurer Sibusiso Vilane, like Smit, tackled the Short Horn event as he pushed himself well beyond his previous best of 100km in one sitting.
The inspirational figure however dug deep and completed the task, all the while leaning on the day’s ultimate purpose to drive him on.
“It was very tough, long day in the saddle, particularly for someone like me who isn’t a regular cyclist, but as tough as it was, it was very worth it.” said Vilane. “I had a wonderful, supportive group and so it ended up being a team effort.”
“I adore animals and love watching them in their natural habitat but that’s where we need to leave them; people must go see them there, take pictures but don’t kill our animals!
“Many of us are not happy about what is happening as far as rhino poaching – or the killing of any of our wildlife for that matter – goes, but what are we doing to stop it?
“We all have a role to play; you don’t have to have a certain status to get involved, any ordinary person needs to help be the voice for the voiceless – our animals!
“The animals need us to talk – even shout – for them and to protect them for our future generations.”
Former Sharks rugby player Jeremy Thomson was another to through his weight behind the cause – one very dear to him through his involvement in the Kingsley Holgate Foundation’s anti-rhino poaching efforts – as too did seven time Dusi Canoe Marathon winner and regular extreme cyclist and adventurer, Martin Dreyer.
“We weren’t out there riding for ourselves but rather for a really good cause and I was really glad to be part of it,” said Thule/PYGA Industries’ Thomson. “It’s good for us all to get out there and support these types of very important campaigns and events.”
“I do a lot of extreme adventure races but it was so lekker to do something for good, especially to help with something like the plight of the rhinos who are in a pretty desperate situation at the moment,” added Dreyer, founder of the RMB Change a Life MTB Academy. “To be able to ride our bikes with the likes of John Smit, Phil Liggett and Sibusiso Vilane – celebs of note – was also a real treat and I absolutely loved it!”