June 22, 2016 – Game On!
Despite being exhausted, I just couldn’t sleep. Somewhere and sometime I must have drifted off as it was suddenly 7:30 in the morning; shafts of sunlight streamed through the floorboards and wooden sides of the lodge. We are perched on the side of a ravine, hence the name Ravineside. Last night we couldn’t really appreciate the view other than that it was several steps down from where our jeep escort dropped us.
This morning breakfast was at 9 am and an optional run/walk was scheduled for 11. Several of us just went to breakfast in our running gear … Which was fine when not riding in the open air jeeps. During the transport though, my goosebumps had goosebumps.
It’s about a twenty minute drive out to the reserve’s entrance… and the ride doubles as a short game drive, which enabled me to spot a few giraffe amongst other wildlife.
We can’t run inside the reserve for safety reasons; when the marathon is run, armed rangers patrol the course to ensure our safety but that’s a one-off. For casual runs, we get dropped off at the entrance and set loose on the long road back to the main highway. Th altitude was a factor for this morning’s hour run, as was the heat when the wind was still and the sky was clear. As a dry run for race day, it was instructive for what to do and not do.
The opening miles were a bit huffing and puffing but I settled into an easier rhythm before too long. To be honest, I was feeling pretty confident as I ran along the dirt road, aiming for packed tire ruts carved into the sandy soil. I had asked to run an hour and wound up back at the entrance to the reserve in just under 55 minutes. With that distance and pace, I’d be looking at a 3:40 marathon time. Pretty good, all things considered.
That would change with the afternoon game drive. After a typically stomach packing lunch, Mom and I spotted a monkey making a snatch and grab play for sugar off the coffee table. I missed the photo pop, but here’s the little guy getting s sugar high on the roof.
Later, I grabbed some photos around the main reception lodge as Mom went back to put on a few extra layers for the jeep.
The drive itself was to the lower escarpment where we were bound to see more animals as there are more plentiful water resources there. To get there, however, we would be driving the infamous Big Five Marathon hill that had spooked me on the elevation chart and had been the whispered stuff of legends amongst participants. It’s not kidding around — the jeep kept having to downshift to get down and later back up it. I laughed aloud a few times, prompting a few fellow increasingly pale passengers to look at me funny. I told them I had to laugh now as on race day I’d be cursing the damn hill six ways to Sunday. My confidence shook with each passing bump in the road, with each passing altitude incline moment. I’m rethinking the aspirational goal time — I had been hoping for a 4:30 but I suspect a 5 or even 5:30 may be more realistic.
But it’s all part of the adventure. Veronica mentioned at lunch that the Rangers over the next few days have to identify where the lions are so we can have the race; if they can’t find them and know what part of the reserve they are in, the race cannot safely occur out of fear for random lion attacks. Rhinos have been known to spear the race markings and move kilometer signage. Elephants have blocked paths and led to delays as well. You can run 42.195 km anywhere, but how often can you run one that may have rhino delays?
During today’s drive, we saw a variety of wildlife — rhinos, warthogs, wildebeests, kudus, sure. But we also saw hippos. Straight out of the Jungle Cruise only these didn’t involve animatronic stage craft. When this hungry hippo wiggled its ears, it was REALLY wiggling its ears!
And then there were the elephants. What do you get why you cross an elephant with a rhino? “Elifino.” That’s my favorite Pepe joke from Muppets Tonight. And spotting the elephants was probably my favorite part of today’s drive. At one point, an elephant seemed to be making a beeline for us but our driver Steven told us to just relax and enjoy taking our photos. I tried, but it’s hard to be relaxed when a massive elephant is approaching.
We took a break amidst the setting sun and Mom and I once again toasted our South African Safari… And the fact that mom heard another ranger over the radio uttering the phrase, “Hakuna Matata.” So not only did the Animal Kingdom get a lot of the details right on lodges and safari jeeps, but Disney itself kinda nailed it with the Lion King soundtrack.
But as we enjoyed the silence of the bush, our guides heard a distinctive call of the wild — Lions! Hopping back into our jeeps, we began a wild goose chase for the king of the jungle… Other groups apparently saw them but despite Steven’s off road trek into the very thicket of bush, we weren’t able to spot them. Mom’s favorite moment of the drive came when over our radio a fellow ranger said to our off-roading trail blazing driver, “Uh, Steven, I don’t think that is advisable. If the lion is unhappy you don’t have any room to maneuver.” And yet, we kept going just a teeny bit farther in before
Steven ultimately gave up and executed an Austin Powers-Ian multiple point turn trying to extricate us from the bush and back onto the road. Turns out he really didn’t have much room to maneuver!
Driving back up the marathon route hill, darkness surrounding us as much as trees, rock croppings, and who knew what wildlife, I could tell this would be a tough climb on race day. But I also could tell it was going to be a helluva story when all was said and done.