It all started with Paul Newman back in 2001. He was sitting round a camp fire at a Wilderness Safari lodge, chewing the fat of a bush braai*, when he challenged the bosses there to start a charity like his Hole in the Wall projects in the USA and Europe. And so was born the Tour de Wilderness, an annual five-day South African mountain bike safari charity tour.
Do Five Game Reserves by Mountain Bike
Since the tour's inception Wilderness Safaris, the largest safari lodge operator in southern Africa, has raised millions of rands to sponsor children in villages closest to where their lodges are situated, to attend environmental programs there. The Tour de Wilderness has become the most talked-about South African mountain bike safari, where the emphasis is on fun and adventure, rather than racing.
The tours originally ran from Tuli private game reserve on the South African-Botswana border, through game reserves along the Limpopo River, to the Kruger National Park. However, last year, in order to promote the near Greater Mapungubwe transfrontier park initiative, as well as to increase the amount of rugged single-track riding, the tour was re-routed from Tuli, up the Save River into Zimbabwe, then across the Limpopo River back into South Africa and finishing in Mapungubwe National Park.
Racing Snakes versus Game Watchers
This year for the first time you can ride the longer 'original' route (average 80 kilometers a day) for the racing snakes, or the 'explorer' route (average 60 km a day) for the more chilled riders that last year were nick-named the "game watchers". For the most part the route follows game trails through the wild African bush, crosses dry and flowing rivers, Moab-type slick rock shields, and traverses high riverine forest. Each peleton of maximum 20 riders has an armed professional guide in front, and a support leader with bear banger at the rear.
You sleep in tent villages each night, one person to a tent (couples tend to co-habit and use the second tent as a storeroom), and catering is to safari lodge standards. They send a 4x4 into the bush to provide morning and afternoon 'tea' breaks, so you're never more than 20 or 30 kilometers from chocolate, cool-drinks, water, nuts, fruit cake.... Organiser Helen Wilson reckons this might be the only multi-day mountain bike tour when you actually put on weight.
There are limited entries, and the event runs in August each year. So if you're a cyclist and are planning on coming to South Africa for the 2010 Soccer World Cup, the Tour de Wilderness is a perfect book-end to your South African trip. It costs R12,900 (about $1,720) to enter the tour, but for what you get it's really cheap at the price. Extra is the R1,000 ($150) transfer to and from Joburg and the start. You can also fly in to Tuli. The dates are 3 to 8 August. There is a bike-maintenance crew and you pay only for parts (and tips). You are guaranteed to see lots of wild animals, just as the Metal Cowboy did.
Last year I rode with the Metal Cowboy Joe Kurmaskie, best-selling bicycling author from Oregon who we named the Naked Metal Cowboy - the reasons for which we expect will be revealed in his next book. You can see his YouTube video footage of an elephant charge (no worries, it was a mock charge).
*braai – barbecue, the staple safari food