Guest Blog – The Timbavati Traverse Experience 2022
Written by a guest journalist, Kath Read.
Images courtesy of Chad Cocking Wildlife Photography.
As a gentle breeze ruffles the tall grass, you breathe in the dusty, distinctive scent of the plains. You take another breath, breathing in deeply, maybe for the first time in years, and you feel your heart rate slow. Then you look around, and there's uninterrupted space as far as the eye can see. Slowly you become aware of the silence, broken only by bird song or the crunch of shoes.
And it's in that moment that there's an awareness of perspective, of the age-old call of the savannah and the promise of heart-stirring adventure. This is the wild, untamed beauty of the Timbavati.
Race-day, 5:30 am…
It's dark and cold, runners and walkers alike are huddled around the fire pits, steaming cups of coffee warming their hands as the starting line beckons. There's a palpable tension, and they're minutes away from a challenging trail through big-five territory. The Master of Ceremony (MC) calls running bus one to the start line, and a ripple of energy flows through the gathered runners.
As the first rays of dawn spread from the horizon, bus one lines up. In place of a starting gun, fittingly, a Timbavati field ranger steps up to the starting line and fires a single shot from his rifle, and the first pack of runners are off!
A more cautious second bus of runners lines up, and minutes later, they're excitedly headed out into the untamed wilderness led by armed guides on their bicycles.
Finally, the walkers line up, prepared for a 21km traverse through some of South Africa's most beautiful wilderness.
Heed the call of the wild
The Timbavati Traverse isn't a race; it's an adventure and a privilege in an unrivalled setting. And those that choose to take on the challenge are more than runners. They're passionate conservationists at heart who are energised by the thrill of a run through wild spaces; where rhino, buffalo, elephant or lion could be around the next bend and doing it for a greater cause.
As Johno Meintjes, founder of JEFF Fitness and a Timbavati Traverse supporter, explains, "for us, we're here to represent the JEFF community, spreading the word of the reality of rhino poaching, and to help create awareness around the incredible work that is being done. We are a massive believer in purpose, in fitness and health and driving sport as a purpose leader. So, it's an incredible event for us to be part of."
Louis Hazelhurst, a trainer at JEFF Fitness, agrees, "the Timbavati Traverse is not a run; it's an experience, one that you can't get anywhere else in the world and for a purpose that's bigger than just us."
Watch their JEFF the Rhino video
But, it's not for the faint-hearted. The evening before the event, all the participants come together for a race briefing that covers the route and, crucially, what to do in the event of a wildlife encounter. It's a gruelling trail out in the reserve, and the ever-present threat of wild animals keeps even the weariest runners on their toes.
"the Timbavati Traverse is not a run; it's an experience, one that you can't get anywhere else in the world and for a purpose that's bigger than just us." - Louis Hazelhurst, JEFF
A fresh vision fuelled by a long-held burning passion.
The Timbavati Traverse started as the dream of a single person and has quickly captured the imagination of many. It's a unique experience that combines the training and resilience of long-distance trail running with the untamed beauty of a wilderness adventure.
Comrades veteran and head field guide at Kings Camp Lodge in the Timbavati, Grant Murphy, is the person behind the starting of this incredible event and the man with a plan (and an even bigger vision!) Following the cancellation of the Comrades marathon in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rather than waste the long hours of training, Grant decided to use his fitness for a cause close to his heart.
He ran the route in 2020 as a fundraiser, raising awareness and funds to support the Timbavati canine anti-poaching unit, and it's grown quickly from there.
Read the previous blog here
In 2021, the experience was opened up to other runners with a passion for conservation. Now, in its third year, the field of runners doubled again, and a walk was added, with 25 runners completing the 45km ultra-marathon run and 20 walkers completing the 21km half-marathon walk.
Wild spaces, wide open hearts.
Conservation remains at the heart of the Timbavati Traverse, with runners raising funds in the lead-up to the event.
In the last year, the Timbavati has lost rhinos to poaching, however, the proactive measures that Edwin Pierce, Warden of the Timbavati, and his team have put in place have assisted largely in preventing an onslaught as seen by the rest of South Africa’s reserves. But, as he explains to the assembled runners, "our security initiatives require significant ongoing investment to formulate a coordinated approach and we rely on donations from businesses and individuals to help preserve our wildlife. No one person can change the tide, but working together, we will be successful in stamping out poaching.".
A new calling; to be a voice for the voiceless
As the victorious runners return, they swap stories mingling tales of cramps and muscle fatigue with rhino sightings, buffalo encounters, and elephants on the plains. Emotions are charged with triumph and exhilaration at having overcome the intense personal physical challenges of a trail ultra-marathon, as well as the sense of having been a part of something bigger, something that goes beyond the individual runner.
The prize giving winds up a successful day in the Timbavati, with the focus shifting to honouring those that continue the fight against rhino poaching. From the individuals and businesses raising funds and awareness to the rangers who put their lives on the line, all are recognised for their contribution to preserving a threatened species for the generations to come.
"our security initiatives require significant ongoing investment to formulate a coordinated approach and we rely on donations from businesses and individuals to help preserve our wildlife. No one person can change the tide, but working together, we will be successful in stamping out poaching." - Edwin Pierce, TPNR Warden
About the writer - Kath Read
Kath Read, founder of Kath Read Writes, is a passionate wildlife advocate and freelance writer based in Hoedspruit.
Having heard about the Timbavati Traverse and learning more about the ongoing work that the Timbavati Foundation does to promote the preservation of critically endangered species, she jumped at the opportunity to be a small part of the change by volunteering her writing skills.
A big thank you to Kath for sharing her experience with her readers and being a part of the Timbavati Traverse 2022!