The stormy weather that swept across KwaZulu-Natal on Saturday contributed to making the seventh edition of the uBhejane Xtreme iSimangaliso Edition MTB Challenge the toughest staging of this unique ultra marathon.
With driving rains and strong winds forecast for Saturday, the brave riders setting off for the 350km and 270km Long Horn and Short Horn rides left a few hours earlier than planned to give themselves enough time to ride though iSimangaliso Wetland Park to the final destination of Bonamanzi.
Once the riders reached the dirt roads around Mtunzini they were greeted by slippery muddy roads that sapped their energy and drained their average riding speed, putting into serious jeopardy their ability to finish the entire ride in the safety of daylight.
The 350km and 270km riding groups both opted to head for the nearby highways and use 53km of tar riding to keep their end goal realistic by riding on the highway.
“The conditions could not possibly have been any tougher,” said event co-ordinator Cliff Wills.
“We expected the wind to change direction during the day but instead we had a solid headwind all the way. The storm seemed to hover over us for the entire ride!”
“It was totally energy sapping slipping and skidding around on 130km of mud, so the decision to head for tar roads to Mtubatuba was an easy one to make,” he said.
The riders, together with the 130km and 60km riders enjoyed the easier, quicker ride through iSimangaliso Wetland Park.
“There is a magic spot called the Aerial Boardwalk where you get a view over the whole Lake St Lucia heartland, which was special because it was a sharp reminder to every single rider that they were each riding to raise funds to help in the fight against rhino poaching,” he said.
“We didn’t see any elephants but there was plenty of fresh evidence that they had been there,” he added.
Former rugby player Joe Pietersen hosted his own group on the 130km ride representing his Nkombe Rhino project.
As the ride neared its end the battered and weary MTB enthusiasts were able to enjoy the enormity of what they had overcome on the day, and enjoy the local hospitality.
“We had some fantastic stops where the locals literally took hundreds of selfies with the uBhejaneX riders.
“The finish at Bonamanzi was festive as well. Joe Pietersen had arranged a great band, which made the celebration special after such a brutal day on the bike,” said Wills.