Howick rider to take on epic Rhino challenge

Hillcrest to Hluhluwe-Imfolozi park for rhino conservation

By Garth Johnstone

The uBhejane Xtreme Mountain Bike Challenge from Hillcrest to Hilltop Camp, Hluhluwe – in summer and with a 16-hour cut-off time – is one of the toughest one-day MTB rides in South Africa, and it’s also dedicated to raising funds for rhino conservation.

This year, the organisers have shaken things up a bit and have included a three-day option (Thursday to Saturday, December 6-8, 2018) while the famous one-day Long Horn and Short Horn options, and the 100km Baby Horn and 35km Orphan rides, will be ridden on the Saturday.

Howick resident Kim Burnie, who owns Bright Lights Electrical in the town, is one of the hardy souls who is having a go at the event, having completed the 100km version last year.

Kim Burnie during last year’s 100km event. Picture: Supplied

We asked Kim to provide some insight into what it took to ride the race and the motivation behind it.

Mighty roar

Kim said, “The Howick scouts (he is scout leader in Howick) hosted an event in 2016 called the Rhino Shout Out. We had various cubs and scouts from all over KZN join us in a mighty roar to show that we stand against rhino poaching and all forms of wildlife crime. We partnered with the Kingsley Holgate Foundation as well as Project rhino KZN and the Rhino Art Foundation.

“A declaration book was formed and has various signatures from scouts all over KZN and is still making its rounds to those that could not make it to our event. Project Rhino hosts the Ubhejane, where riders with the same commitment to wildlife conservation as myself come together and ride this long distance to show the support and try to raise awareness for Project Rhino.”

Despite having done three-day stage races before, various Berg and Bush rides and sani2c, Kim admitted that the nerves were jangling.

Kim after this year’s Amashova race which he did with his son, Justin.
Picture: Facebook

“I won’t lie, I will be very nervous, especially knowing who is going to be there. There are top names taking part, but I’m there for a cause.”

Wildlife crimes

Fundraising is a big part of the event and the onus is on the riders to bring in donations/pledges.

“As a scout I’m asking various companies not to support us as riders, but to make a donation to this event. Every cent counts and these guys do an amazing job creating awareness on how bad the situation really is. They go into areas and educate young and old people, who previously perhaps saw animals as a way of making money, and are now educated on what these forms of wildlife crime are doing to our ecosystem.”

And how does it feel for those who finally reach the end, dusty, tired and having escaped the wild things out there? What do you most crave?

Coldest beer

“The coldest beer available, and a sense of achievement. Together we all can accomplish a lot and move mountains.

“The founder of the scout movement, Robert Baden-Powell, said try to leave this world a better place than you found it. Right now I think we are all irresponsible and not playing the part. So somewhere or somehow we need to start doing something.”

It’s all about rhino conservation.

For those tough as teak (or perhaps we should say, slightly barmy) characters, starting at 2am in Hillcrest, the 340km Long Horn remains the pinnacle and a severe endurance test. The “easier” 240km Short Horn event offers a more “fun ride”, say the organisers, at a more manageable pace, yet is still a stern test even for serious riders.

On the ubhejanex.org website it is pointed out that this is not a race. “It is a ride to be completed and as such each rider will have a ‘Ride Captain’ who is authorised to set an appropriate pace for the ride and to ensure that all the riders stay together at that pace.”

“It is also weather dependent, and should any extremes of weather be encountered we will adapt the ride accordingly.”

While there is no entry charge, participants are expected to cover their own expenses and raise a minimum of R5000 to be donated to rhino conservation in the province.

Now read: Local team’s breakthrough at Karkloof 100

Former Sharks and Stormers rugby player Joe Pietersen, who is himself involved in a rhino conservation project, has urged athletes and conservation-conscious South Africans to support the uBhejaneX MTB Challenge. He is one of those who will take on the 100km challenge this year.
Picture: Supplied/Gameplan Media

Almost R500 000 was raised last year. All funds raised are donated to Project Rhino KZN to be used for their various rhino protection programmes such as maintaining the aerial support of the Zululand Anti-Poaching Wing (ZAP-Wing) to 26 game reserves in northern KZN, provide anti-poaching training and other resources to field rangers and game reserves, and community-based education and awareness initiatives targeting primarily youth.

Now read: Why $1 billion a year is needed to save Africa’s lions

Support vehicles will be on hand to provide assistance to riders throughout. However, to ensure the group makes camp by daylight – and limit dangers posed by wild animals – stops are limited.

And after all the dust, sweat, toil and camaraderie on the road – a dinner and night spent at Hilltop Camp, and a talk by renowned explorer Kingsley Holgate await the riders at the finish. – Info and how to donate.