It was another very memorable year for us at the 2015 Rhino Charge. There was unfortunately a problem with the distance measuring system software employed by the organisers which meant that we had to wait two weeks longer than expected to get the full results breakdown; now that they are out we are in a position to write to you. It is bad enough having to wait the normal one night to find out how we have placed, so it was a particularly nail-biting two weeks while we waited with baited breath, and crossed fingers for the highly
Thank you first and foremost for your kind donations in support of our entry this year. We raised another good total for Rhino Ark coming in 13th overall in the fund raising stakes with 1.68 Million Kenya Shillings (£11,200). The event itself once again broke its record with a total of 108 Million Kenya Shillings raised, which is just over 1 Million USD; another staggering amount for the conservation of Kenya’s highland forests.
The venue was in a fantastic piece of Kenyan bush country owned by the Kalepo Conservancy, a Samburu community conservation area in Northern Kenya just to the east of the Matthews Range mountains. It was a 10 hour drive from Nairobi but it was worth it for the stunning views and amazing campsite next to a large dry river bed. We had elephant near camp on a couple of occasions and the night time chorus included hyena and leopard. It is nice to see the elephants, long absent from this area due to previous poaching, returning and drinking from the wells dug by the Samburu cattle herders.
The sophistication levels of the cars used in this event continues to rocket and we were once again incredibly nervous about the level of competition we were up against. Thankfully we had no last minute mechanical gremlins to deal with this year and our preparations were fairly smooth and relaxed for once.
Our team this year consisted of three Averys (Sean, Patrick and Kieran), Harry Brainch, Colm D’Olier and Alan de Boer. Col and Al were essentially new to the team so they had their work cut out and we were all hoping that we would gel nicely on the day. Harry flew all the way from the USA to be with us and arrived on the afternoon before the event.
2015 represented our 20th consecutive appearance in the Rhino Charge. Sean has driven on every single event and overseen the development of our team and car from a bunch of complete amateurs, and kids back in 1996, to the highly competitive and successful group of ‘Bundu Fundis' that we now are. Route choice and starting control are always key on the Charge. The aim of the game is to visit all of the control points set by the organisers and spread across a piece of thorny, rocky, and generally inhospitable countryside. You have 10 hours in which to complete this task by whatever route you want, and the team that manages to take their car around this course in the shortest distance is the team that wins. It is all about driving as straight as you can across the countryside and it is a wonderfully challenging, yet fun, and addictive sport!
This year’s event was a particularly short one in terms of overall distance and there were lots of different potential route choices. As usual the organisers had laid a few traps for unsuspecting teams trying to tempt us to go over hills and ridge lines that were just a little bit too steep to manage. It is always a balance between driving as straight as you can and managing your time by taking easier routes so that you can still finish. We opted for a clockwise route around the course and steered clear of any of these ridge lines.
The team work this year was fantastic. Everyone pulled their weight in a phenomenal way and we had a great time together which is what it is all about. Our vital crew of supporters got to see us loads and there was generally quite a relaxed atmosphere amongst us all. None of us can ever recall running so much on a Rhino Charge. By the end of the day all of us apart from Dad (Sean) had covered at least 25 km on foot scouting out the route ahead of the car; trying to find our way through unbelievably thick swathes of Commiphora thorn trees and hundreds of erosion gullies. The car’s body work took a serious hammering in the trees with various bits ripped, bent and torn off. The windscreen smashed itself against a particularly firm tree. Our bodies weren’t much better off and Al had a 2.5 inch thorn go directly into the back of his calf muscle. Thankfully this came out nicely with the aid of a Leatherman.
We had a huge branch break its way into the engine compartment of the car under the front left wheel arch. Miraculously it just missed anything vital but then started a fire from resting against the exhaust manifold. Another car on the event had a similar problem and weren’t quite so quick to identify it; sadly their entire car went up in flames although no one was badly hurt. Another stump went straight through a side wall on our tyre and we had to change it.
Tyres were our biggest issue on the day and we had to change another and managed to bend a rim on our last leg when we hit a big rock. The leak was thankfully staunched by blowing the tyre up to 30 psi. It was touch and go as to
whether we would finish because we used lots of time on our earlier legs and didn’t really have enough for the last few very long ones at the day’s end. We used some handy tracks and somehow found a way through the thick bush, managing to keep pretty straight despite our time constraints.
We eventually came in to our final control to the cheers of the support crew, with just nine minutes to spare. There were tears of emotion all round. We were so happy to finish and there was a palpable air of excitement in the team because we just knew that we had had a really good day. We had made just a few little mistakes but nothing major and we had charged our socks off all day. Everyone was exhausted both physically and emotionally by the end but it was a very happy group that limped its way back to camp that evening.
It wasn't until the next morning when the results are normally released that we realised that there had been an issue and that there would be a delay. There are a growing number of highly competitive teams in this event and you quickly learn from various conversations who as done well and who hasn’t. It was clear that this year was going to be a very very close one. Everyone had gone very straight and a couple of teams in particular were also quietly confident.
So it was that we found ourselves in Nairobi, two weeks later, opening an email to discover our fate. It was one of the closest event finishes ever with four cars within 800 metres of each other after 32 kilometres of driving. The margins on these events are tiny and it is difficult to comprehend how straight one has to drive in order to win. We were second, just 240 metres behind Car 48 another group of seriously competitive and consistent Chargers who have now won three times in the last seven years to our two. This made up for 2013 when we had beaten them into second by just 90 metres. They are a great team, and good friends; and we couldn’t have finished behind a better group of guys.
It is a bittersweet feeling coming second. We have been here five times now on the rhino charge and whilst it is a tremendous record and achievement one can’t help but think of the what ifs. We are however incredibly proud of our achievements and we still stand as one of the very best rhino charge teams and one of the teams to beat. Our record now stands at two firsts, five seconds and one third out of 20 appearances. In the history of the event only one team has finished in the top three more times than we have. We are not about to quit yet and you can guarantee that we will be back again next year to raise more money for Rhino Ark and to give our all tackling the next instalment in the great rhino charge story.
Thank you once again for your support. Until next year....