In some western countries mountain bikers are not allowed anywhere near the wilderness because the places are simply off limits. You can imagine how frustrating that must be for the two-wheelers because during the summer the rocky and bushy trails are the perfect outdoor corners for a ride uphill.
While mountain bikers are losing places to ride and their trails becoming closed, luckily for Southern Africa, this past week the annual Nedbank Tour de Tuli, which is a multi-stage mountain bike event, provided participants with a chance to cycle across the challenging and remote terrains in Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa.
As usual Botswana was the starting point of the cyclists’ tour and the Northern Tuli Game Reserve (NTGR), which is one of Africa’s most immaculate wilderness areas, was the host. Spanning the Shashe, Motloutse and Limpopo rivers the bushy surroundings in the area provided an amazing experience.
Riders, numbering 257, took off from the Limpopo Valley and headed off in to the forest. Since this was not a race but a fun ride geared towards raising funds for Children in the Wilderness (CITW), the cyclists travelled in different groups.
The place is near villages such as Lentswelemoriti, Motlhabaneng and Molalatau therefore it was always adventurous to explore where communities and wild places meet. With the river connecting Botswana and South Africa through the Pondrift boarder, it served as natural boundaries for the excited bikers.
They were having one-on-one with nature and their trail along the wild animals habitat proved that the two could co-exist as long as there is no interference. In an area where one could be wary of animals such as elephants, it was just like any other day in the office for the riders.
It was the first day of the four-day event but other cyclists were already looking tired. Since Botswana is one of the countries where wild places get saved and protected, one could tell from the rider’s faces that they love the environment and knew exactly how to preserve it.
Since riding up the hills and steep slopes is no child’s play, it was time for some riders to reinvent their own wheels and take it the easy way and set out on foot. While it meant they would arrive after everyone else, it also gave them some time to see some animals they could not see in fast motion.
The route also provided a variety of landscapes and rest stops until everyone returned to the base at the foothills of a camp called Amphitheatre that kisses the edge and shores of Motloutse River.
Located inside the horseshoe like rocks, the Amphitheatre bush camp was unlike any other and towering stone cliffs punctuated it. Climbing up the rocks gave the campers a chance to see the aerial view of the forest beyond, including a gaze of the historic dry Motloutse River.
Besides the friendly crew, the amazing food and atmosphere, the camp also provided cyclists with free massage after a long ride. One of the massage practitioners from South Africa, Nina Joubert said as volunteers they have decided to join the wonderful initiative for the greater good. She said the body massage was necessary for bikers especially in the wilderness. Joubert said she does not just provide massages for Nedbank Tour de Tuli but has also massaged contestants of the world’s strongest men.
Even though the majority of the bikers were foreigners, two local youngsters were among the participants in this year’s tour. In an interview with Mmegi, 21-year-old Bakang Ebudilwe said she received a sponsorship through the help of the Ministry of Environment, Natural Resources Conservation and Tourism. She said as a cyclist who started cycling at the African Youth Games in 2014, she takes part in various competitions and tours. “It was nice riding with the slow riders, stopping and taking pictures of animals; it was great,” she said. Ebudilwe, who trains with Tsela Riders Club, highlighted that they were riding with both experienced and inexperienced riders so it was not that difficult.
Over the last 12 years, the tour has hosted approximately 3,223 cyclists and raised R18 million. This has allowed Wilderness Safari to host over 5,600 children on camp programmes since 2001 and over 11,000 children on Eco-Club programme since 2012.
The Tour follows very strict environmental practices and every campsite is left as it was originally found. Before heading to Zimbabwe the next day, cyclists were really impressed with the 2017 route that followed ancient wildlife paths in the Northern Tuli Game Reserve in Botswana.
The other routes included the Mapungubwe in South Africa and Zimbabwe’s Maramani area. Despite experiencing a range of incredible wildlife, cyclists also got the chance to interact with children at Lentswe Le Moriti Primary School where they handed them backpacks with stationery.