I was fortunate enough to be one of the few participants in the Old Mutual iMfolozi Challenge which was sponsored by Old Mutual and the Sunday Tribute, which was held on the 29th of July 2017 at the Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve in KZN.
The race is in aid of raising funds for the African Wild Dog Trust. Of the R900 entry fee, half goes to the Wild Dog Trust so it’s all for a very good cause. The entries are limited to 500 participants and entry to this event is quite challenging so you must know my delight when I was invited to participate in this event. Once you have made the cut to participate in the iMfolozi Challenge, you are given preference over all the new riders the following year.
The route is a 55 km undulating and challenging terrain. If you are fit, which I wasn’t then it’s an amazing adventure.
On the way to the start while driving through the Game Reserve, we stumbled across a cheetah perched on a tree stump taking in the crisp early morning and posing for us. The start was very relaxed and you get more of a sense that this is not a grueling mountain bike race but a safari. At the start, the racing snakes were off not to be seen again until the end. I backed off the manic early pace and rode with some people that we met at the start. Once I found my rhythm I put on my race face and raised my pace.
I read up that in one of the years, one participant managed to puncture 14 times which is hard to believe but when you see the terrain, you might believe it. I would presume that that person was not running tubeless and after the first puncture failed to properly remove the thorn. Tough luck!
We crossed 3 deep riverbeds with very soft sand which was quite challenging. There was just no traction, so I had to resort to pushing my noble steed across the riverbeds. I found the route quite tough, some of the climbs and descents were really tough. Safety along the route is provided by rangers on the lookout for any big 5 animals that might want to investigate the commotion.
I didn’t encounter any of the Big 5 animals, although at times when I was alone out there the thought did cross my mind as to how I would react if I did. We stayed at the Protea Hotel Umfolozi River, which was very nice, the other riders tented in the reserve. During the race, it was sad that we came cross a carcass of a Rhino that was poached a few days earlier.
At the finish the bar was well stocked with ice cold beer and burgers which went down well. On our way back to the hotel, we spotted an elephant too.
It was an wonderful experience and would recommend it to any mountain biker.
Words and photos Emmanuel Roccas