Lifestyle

Thrill and beauty as the Rhino Charge turns 32

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Car 23 team led by Mr Peter Kinyua was the 2021 winner of the highest sponsorship car. They raised Sh36m. PHOTO | POOL

Summary

  • The 4x4 offroad competition attracted 45 competitors and 500 spectators
  • Competitors had to complete 13 checkpoints, scattered around 100 kilometres of rough terrain under 10 hours.
  • BunduFundi in car 38 won the event with a distance of 37.43km, while car 19 won the ladies category. Car 9 won the un-modified car category and car 38 won the modified car category.

At first, when I was informed that this year’s Rhino Charge will be held in Baringo, I couldn’t hide my excitement. Why? Baringo is a unique county. It is the only county with 25 percent forest cover, and the only one with two world heritage lakes - Lake Bogoria and Lake Baringo.

The adventure started even before we got to Marigat, where Rhino Charge was being held. The fresh air, wild animals grazing freely, the spectacular Tugen Hills, and magnificent valleys were some of the natural features that greeted us while entering this county.

Marigat town, one of the major urban centres in the county is 290kilometres from Nairobi was a beehive of activity. Locals milled around the entrance of Kimalel Primary School, to watch airplanes land, catch a glimpse of the competitors, as they waved to their local leadership. As usual, the venue had been kept secret, until a few days before the event to prevent people sneaking an advance look at the terrain.

The last time Rhino Charge was held in Baringo was five years ago, with 65 competitors and over 1,000 spectators. This wasn’t the case this year, due to the pandemic. The 4x4 offroad competition attracted 45 competitors and 500 spectators, though this low turnout didn’t discourage the efforts of the organisers to put up a picture-perfect event in the wilderness.

They were optimistic considering that they were celebrating 32 years, since they held their first event, under Rhino Ark, whose main purpose was to raise money to protect water towers and minimise human-wildlife conflict.

To date, Rhino Charge has raised Sh1.6billion, and in 2021 the collection hit Sh140million, with President Uhuru Kenyatta contributing Sh5million, making him the second-highest fundraiser in Rhino Charge history.

It is not easy to compete for this off-road 4x4 rally event. One has to invest in a good vehicle. Competitors go the extra mile and modify their vehicles to endure the tough terrain. The vehicles have gigantic tyres, winches, souped-up engines, and suspensions that could bounce an airplane.

Competitors are given a map the night before the start of the event, and a series of coordinates for the checkpoints. Their task is to plot and drive a route to all these different points without using the roads.

Last Saturday, all the competitors were ready for the big day. They had to complete 13 checkpoints, scattered around 100 kilometres of rough terrain under 10 hours. We woke up early to witness the flag-off and headed to various spectator points, which had been sponsored by Kenya Breweries Limited’s WhiteCap Lager.

The spectator area was tucked under a Lagga, dried river, huge rock boulders, and thick shrubs. It was also called the Gauntlet, which was the most difficult, impossible, insane, intense, and shortest stretch of the competition.

This year’s event had three points, manned by Kenya Wildlife Services.

The Gauntlet challenge kicked off with a dramatic turn, when car 42 hit a tree with a beehive, and caused a swarm of bees to fly out. The spectators were stung and some jumped into the seasonal Sabor River to evade the attack. Car 42 couldn’t compete, due to bee attack. At the same location, car 22 rolled four times as its driver tried to cut through to KWS point, (one of the points under the gauntlet), but fortunately, no one was injured. The car managed to finish 11th overall. The winner of the Gauntlet competition was Car 33.

Despite all these odds, and action-packed 10 hours, competitors, and spectators, cooled off to high-energy music, by accomplished mix master DJ Leo. The sponsors had organised a cool off party at the top of Tugen Hill, overlooking the beautiful Marigat Valley. The party ended at 9pm, in line with the government curfew.

Come Sunday, every competitor was eager to know how they performed.

BunduFundi in car 38 won the event with a distance of 37.43km, while car 19 won the ladies category. Car 9 won the un-modified car category and car 38 won the modified car category.

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Team members of Car 38 that won the overall category and modified car category. PHOTO | POOL

I can’t explain what drives the competitors to fix cars and then bash them through the landscape other than they genuinely desire to raise money and conserve the Aberdares ecosystem.

See you at the next rhino charge, wherever that may be!