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29 Apr, 2013

A Hidden Gem

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Save the Rhino 2-day Trail Run, Southern Cape, 11/12 August

Ever heard of Botlierskop Private Nature Reserve near Mossel Bay? Neither had I. But this was the majestic location for the Save the Rhino Trail Run. This 3000-hectare reserve boasts 26 species of wildlife, including rhino, elephants, lion, wildebeest, zebra, giraffe and buffalo, and over 200 species of birds, and I suspected we were in for a great experience – especially when head game-ranger Billy suggested during briefing that if charged by a Rhino or other wildlife, we must simply make loud noises and try to look as big as possible!

 

DAY 1: 25km

We set off after lots of encouragement from event organisers Hano and Sonja Otto and Modern Athlete’s Sean Falconer, the event’s MC. In spite of being a chilly six degrees, we warmed up quickly on the steep track to the lion enclosure, where we were greeted by the spectacular sight of lions eyeing the colourful array of slow-moving ‘meals in running shoes’, just yards away! So enthralled were we by these majestic creatures that we missed the bright orange ribbons indicating a turn-off. Cue detour 1, which saw us descend a steep jeep track rather speedily, followed by a U-turn and a rather slow, sheepish ascent to get back on track.

 

Next we found ourselves weaving along beautiful single-track and crossing a multitude of ankle-deep rivers, and merrily waved on by a marshal in front of a closed gate, amidst grateful cries of “Thanks, marshal!” A kay or so down the road, doubts set-in: Where were those guiding ribbons? After a 2km detour, we headed back to ask the marshal where we had gone wrong. Let’s just say that there was a marshal-technical error... Once the gate was opened, the runners were free to continue the adventure. At one stage I was literally stopped in my tracks as a herd of wildebeest and mountain zebra hurtled by. “This is like the Serengeti,” gasped a fellow runner. A few kays later a placid-looking elephant sauntered towards me, and I stopped to stroke its trunk. This was a day I would not forget!

 

After a bit more bundu-bashing down rocky single track, running across meadows and finally along gorgeous mountain contour paths, I gratefully descended to Botlierskop. On checking my Garmin, I realised I had clocked an extra 8km on the detours, but I wasn’t too stressed, because this event was all about the experience.

 

Day 2: 18.4km

With spirits revived after some R&R, we were all set for Day 2, but as Hano said, you can’t visit this reserve without summiting Botlierskop! Fair enough, although 2km into a rocky climb, grasping an electric fence for support – yes, it was turned off! – I thought, “This better be a damned good view!” It didn’t disappoint. The second day was thankfully devoid of detours, and we ran past grazing impala and gemsbok along the way. Finally, the elephants roaming near the finish-line were a fitting end to an amazing African experience. So whilst my weary legs were battered from the thorny vegetation, my spirit was revitalised and I had a truck-load of wonderful memories.

 

WHAT OTHERS SAID

James Brown: Everything was an adventure; from starting the race next to free-roaming elephants, to avoiding charging wildebeests en route!

Malcolm Collins: It was way more than a trail run, more of an adventure. Definitely a run to do again.

Sue Ullyett: This is a trail run to put on your bucket list, and it’s for such a good cause, to save our precious rhinos.