The Old Mutual Wild Series iMfolozi Challenge provides a spectacle of MTB that crams all of South Africa’s unspoilt beauty and splendour into 55km of mountain bike riding. South Africa is, of course, is also home to many bugs that bite and without regret, Justin Bartholomew and Andrew Killick have fallen victim to one bug bite they don’t want to treat: the iMfolozi Challenge.
Having both successfully completed several iMfolozi Challenges, Bartholomew and Killick have enjoyed the event on a yearly basis, and with that comes a collection of memories from arguably the most unique ride in the country. Because it takes place in the Hluhluwe–Imfolozi Park, riders are treated to a spectacle with no other, with the chance to sight the Big Five and the endangered African wild dog. A temporary camp is also set up for riders in a section of the part that is usually closed off to visitors too.
For Bartholomew, the highlights are obvious: “My favourite memories will always be the good bacon and egg rolls we get at the top of a fantastic view point, plus all the friends and sponsors that make this event possible.”
The iMfolozi Challenge veteran continues, “I just enjoy getting back into the park and having good fun with friends and family. Maybe see some wildlife along the way. I also love having a lekker bush shower and a cold beer afterwards telling my family and friends what we managed to see along the way.
“This event is all about the unique experience of riding through a Big Five game park and to see sections of the park that not many other people get to see. There is also the feel good factor of being out in the bush and raising funds for an excellent cause.”
The excellent cause is part of Wildlands’ pledge to save the wild dogs of iMfolozi. Sadly, there are just 412 African wild dogs left in the South Africa today. They are threatened by habitat loss, snaring, poisoning and disease spread by domestic dogs. By participating in this amazing challenge, you directly contribute to the conservation of this beautiful protected species.
“The wild dogs at Hluhluwe-iMfolozi have just had pups and populations are doing well,” said Strategic Manager of Conservation at Wildlands: Mark Gerrard. “These wild dogs are monitored by WildlifeACT who are partners of both Ezemvelo and Wildlands. Amazing conservation efforts by these partners on the reserve have ultimately enabled the success of this critically endangered species.”
Killick’s fond memories encapsulate the wholesome experience that the iMfolozi provides, which is much more than just a 55km mountain bike journey through pristine wilderness.
“My favourite part of the ride is that you can ride with a friend along amazing game reserve paths and appreciate the peace, quiet and tranquillity of nature. The atmosphere around the ‘race village’ or temporary campsite has always been great. This is where on the evening before the race there is a lot of banter and sometimes fear of the unknown
“My favourite memory of the race comes from the year that we had a shower singing competition. I sang a nursery school song that my eldest daughter sang in her concert. I won the prize. In the process of gathering my thoughts I said that I could not sing until I had some donations for the wild dog. An amount of over R1000 was given for me to sing,” says Killick.
From a perspective of surroundings and environment, Killick says the iMfolozi Game Reserve is world class, and nothing short of exceptional. On his trips there, he has spotted rhino, elephant, buck and many more animals along the route.
“A few years ago we were stopped on the route due to about four elephants grazing alongside the path. It was really special to see these majestic animals up close whilst relaxing in the sun, eating jelly babies. We waited for about an hour-and-a-half for the elephant to slowly move away,” says Killick.
Killick clearly has a love of riding, and an even deeper love of untamed African bush.
“There is always an air of excitement and anticipation whereby you don’t know what is around the corner. Last year a wild dog approached a cyclist and then merely decided he was not edible and turned and went back into the bush!
“If you are tired it is not a race; you can stop and look around at the beauty and take photos, have a drink, gel or even a small picnic alongside the route. At the iMfolozi Challenge fellow cyclists will stop and help a person who has a flat tyre or a problem but the goal is the same for everyone – to survive the wilderness and reach the finish line. This game reserve is a very special place. That is what makes iMfolozi Challenge what it is.”
For more about the Wild Series events, visit: www.wildseries.co.za