Expedition Africa sets big challenge in Eastern Cape

GEARING UP: Team Ubhejane comprises, from left, Dr David Zimmerman, Dan Leeuw, Ben Makoloi and Marilyn Zimmerman
Picture: Supplied

Rangers among competitors in 39 teams to compete in tough event

Team Ubhejane (black rhino in isiZulu) will be hoping that their bush skills and knowledge of the Eastern Cape terrain will aid their charge on the seventh edition of Expedition Africa, which begins at Cape St Francis on Sunday.

The team was formed to throw the spotlight on SANParks rangers and the crucial conservation role they played, Port Elizabeth-based team leader, SANParks wildlife vet Dr Dave Zimmerman, said yesterday.

The aim was to give the two rangers in the team the opportunity to engage with their environment beyond work.

“Ubhejane is about ranger wellness. We often have these kind of races in our region but they’re expensive so it’s great to be able to involve these guys and allow them to appreciate the environment when it’s nothing to do with work but just from a recreational and perhaps spiritual point of view,” Zimmerman said.

“This is our first Expedition Africa, so we’re just looking to finish. But a lot of it is about what rangers do on a daily basis, so we’re excited about the challenge.”

A key partner in enabling Ubhejane’s vision has been Port Elizabeth’s Wilderness Foundation Africa which has stepped in with part sponsorship for the rangers, Dan Leeuw and Ben Makoloi, from the SANParks game capture unit in Kimberley.

The fourth member of the team is Zimmerman’s wife, Marilyn, a top trail runner.

Details of Expedition Africa 2017’s unmarked 514km route along which the teams will have to navigate themselves on foot, mountain bike and in canoes is being kept secret until the last moment.

But it will start at Cape St Francis and then cut through the Tsitsikamma, Kouga and Baviaans mountains before bending back to the starting point, race co-organiser Stephan Muller, of Kinetic Events, said yesterday.

The Baviaanskloof could be a major stumbling block for the teams if they did not plan properly, he said.

“For the first time we are putting a ‘dark zone’ in place because of the buffalo in the Baviaans and the need to take extra security precautions.

“This means if a team is caught in this zone after nightfall they have to stop and sleep the night through.”

This could be a game changer because the competing teams usually sleep just a few hours in total through the race, Muller said.

Besides the main disciplines, the teams will need to do some rock climbing and may have to swim across rivers.

Leeuw and Makoloi could not swim sufficiently well when they first started training at the end of last year, but they were taken under the wing of Kimberley-based Paralympian Ebert Kleynhans for two months of intense tuition.

There are 39 teams from 13 countries taking part in the event.

The prize for the winning team will be paid entry to the Adventure Racing World Championships to be held in Wyoming, in the US, in August.

You can follow the teams and the action by going to www.expafrica.live

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