Rhino Charge

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It’s 7:00 am and a group of 30 men, women, and children from the Nairobi Karen Vineyard church is standing in a clearing in the wild bush listening to the rumble of cars approaching. We’ve been up since 5:00 am getting ready for this moment, food and drinks in hand, and ready to start cheering for the six off-road teams. Suddenly, clear and close, we all hear something unexpected – the wild trumpeting of a startled mama elephant. It was a beautiful and strange moment – that combination of wild, testosterone-laden off-road vehicles ready to take on the wild bush, and the sound of the true wild, just a little bit unhappy about it.

Changing a blow-out on the way to Rhino Charge. The drive took over 8 hours.Samburu women hang out near the entrance to the conservancy.An official leads the team of nine vehicles through the conservancy to the furthest checkpoint where we will set up camp.Mountain view on the way to the checkpointOstrichCampsite & Karen Vineyard CheckpointAudra CaddCadd Family with leaders Mandeep and BubblyVulturine Guineafowl - a beautiful and unusual kind with both striped and polka dot feathers.Josh and Dan erect the toilet tentPreparing foodBoys during a rare quiet momentThe view from a nearby hill overlooking our campsite and the Rhino Charge area.The view from a nearby hill overlooking our campsite and the Rhino Charge area.Preparing breakfast for the competitors at 5:30 am the day of the race.The Vineyard officials in their red shirts.The first six cars arrive at the checkpoint where they will begin the competition. All cars begin at one of the 13 checkpoints.Six cars that began at the Vineyard checkpoint, the farthest from headquarters.Car 02 team decides which direction they will head first. Josh & Audra feed some of the teams before the 7:30 am start.Part of our job is to cheer the teams as they arrive and leave.Bundu Fundi team 38 arrives at the checkpoint with runners in front. This team is the Avery family. The father lives in Nairobi, and the children, many doctors, come every year from England to compete in the Rhino Charge."No Bush too Thick", said before the team saw this year's terrain.Audra and Annette feed and rehydrate a newly arrived team.An elephant, unfazed by the sound of engines, hangs out near the back side our our checkpoint.Two of the runners on this team admitted that they chose to wear the wrong kind of pants.A team checks their map and coordinates to decide where to head next.Gabe serves fruit to team 30 contestants.Planes and helicopters regularly flew over the Rhino Charge areaDirecting a car to the X on the ground.Annette, a nurse, bandages some cuts on a member of team 30, already banged up and bleeding in the morning hours.Team 30 crosses a shallow ravine. Some ravines were straight 10-meter drops.Team 30 crosses a shallow ravine. Some ravines were straight 10-meter drops.A team tries to patch a broken windshield with duct tape.Team 10 gives the thumbs up as they leave the checkpoint.Audra waits with fruit for a car to arrive.Team 37 grabs what they can from the car before racing off again.Team 37 grabs what they can from the car before racing off again.A new arrival.Team 02 makes it back to the checkpoint they started at just before the deadline of 5:30 pm.Team 02's car is badly damaged.Team 02's car is badly damaged.Team 02's car is badly damaged.Several cars arrive before 5:30 pm, but did not make it back to their original starting point.All cars were covered in thorny twigs and branches.Martini, an Italian from team 13, competed for the first time, only making it to six checkpoints in 10 hours.Team 04 didn't make it back to their checkpoint, ending at ours instead.Team 02 came in 5th place overall.

This is the Rhino Charge – one of the most popular off-road competitions in the world in which teams are required to visit 13 points scattered over approximately 100 square kms of rough terrain within a 10-hour period. The winner must do it in the shortest distance, which means taking the most direct route possible. This year, the competition raised a record-breaking 102 million Kenyan shillings for conservation. Sixty-five cars entered the race – the maximum allowed – and Karen Vineyard ran one of the 14 checkpoints. It’s a lot of work and a lot of fun.

The location this year was an eight-hour drive north of Nairobi in the Kalama Community Conservancy, a Samburu region that benefits greatly from the Rhino Charge. The Conservancy is a dusty open landscape, thick with every thorny bush and tree imaginable, scattered throughout with ravines and low mountain formations, plus wildlife ranging from dik dik to leopards to elephants (and a few scorpions to keep us on our toes).  A large bull elephant hung out at the backside of our campsite the morning of the race, seemingly unfazed by the roar of engines.

Our job was to feed and rehydrate every team that passed through our checkpoint for 10 hours straight, plus our officials checked each car in. Six cars started at our checkpoint, and only one made it all the way back in the 10 hours, coming in 5th place. About 40 cars came through the checkpoint during the 10 hour period. All the cars have “runners”, guys (and the rare girls) who run ahead of the vehicle scoping out the terrain and best route, making sure the car doesn’t fly off a cliff or drop into a ravine unexpectedly. As the day wore on, the teams and cars start to look more and more ragged and beat up. Windshields smashed, doors twisted, tie-rods bent, and all kinds of other damage. The contestants all looked happy, whether they finished or not. Martini, an Italian on Team 13 and a first-timer to compete, beamed as they drove into camp just before the 5:30 pm cut-off, having only completed six checkpoints. With a wait-a-bit branch hanging from his turban, he looked like he couldn’t have been happier if he had won.

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One Comment

  1. Miriam 5 June 2014 at 8:10 am #

    So great. Wish we could’ve experienced this while there. Love your photos & descriptions!

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