They say if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. They also say find a winning formula and stick to it. It therefore followed that both popular opinion and logistical constraints demanded we redo the route previously covered by the most spectacular Great Run even to date: the Nairobi—Malindi via Wote and Tsavo run.
This was a repeat, and many of us bet it would be just as epic as the first one. Thus the “GR8 RERUN” was decided upon.
There was one small change to the programme. We would not be returning to the St Francis Rehabilitation Project. It transpired that the face of benevolence smiled upon those poor, desperate souls and they now receive sponsorship from the UK. They are a lot better off than we found them in 2013, and are destitute no more. Who said The Great Run doesn’t bear blessings?
The beneficiary in our adjusted schedule this time round was Kakuyuni Special School, 12km removed from Malindi town along our path. They received word of our impending arrival and set up a reception worthy of a local dignitary. We were working in conjunction with the same individual who ran the St Francis Project back in 2013, and it was on his recommendation that The Great Run visited Kakuyuni.
But first we had to get there. It was not as easy as we thought.
The brand representation at the starting line was as interesting as it was varied. The lineup came to about 52 vehicles: there was the usual flood of Landcruisers — particularly the Prado —and the Hilux double cab. There was an unusually high number of Land Rover Discovery cars; but the early models (1 and 2). The later ones did not make an appearance. Once bitten twice shy, maybe? The previous Malindi run ate a turbo from a Disco 3, remember?
Everyone was curious to see whether these ancestors would succeed where their descendant had stumbled.
Someone opted for a solo run in a Ford Ranger single cab pick-up. There was a kitted-out Land Rover Defender estate, one of the most uncomfortable cars I have ever driven. I had nothing but sympathy for the passengers, but as it later transpired, their discomfort came from other quarters besides the ride quality.
There were two Nissan Patrol wagons. There were two Range Rover Classics — whether or not they would finish was a matter of conjecture, but they did finish, to the surprise of many. There were five crossovers too: a Subaru Forester (good luck!), a Gen II Suzuki Vitara (not bad, not bad), two Nissan X-Trails, and a first-generation Toyota RAV4, which is the car I was in.
To crown it all off, one enterprising individual brought with him a Porsche Cayenne Turbo; an insane 300km/h bahn-storming sports utility which probably had more horsepower than any three of the five crossovers put together.
If you recall the first Malindi run, you will remember that we got to Malindi very late and had to visit the children’s home in the dark. Time was a major factor this time round: we had to get there in daylight by all means.
The programme as drawn up by our Malindi contact (let’s just call him George, because that’s his name anyway) allowed us nine hours to make an appearance; while it incorporated a variety of other activities to keep the guests occupied over most of those nine hours.
We had to beat the clock, and the first step was to bump up our flag-off time. Instead of the usual 7am, this time the meeting hour was 5.30am, and by 6.30 we were gone. The GR8 Rerun was underway, with an hour to spare. Not a bad start.
There was heat. There was dust. There was tarmac, then there was murram, then there was mud. There were potholes. There was rain, there was heavy rain and then there was frazzling sunlight.
There was thirst, there was sweat, there was fatigue. There was excitement. There was camaraderie. There were photo shoots. There was the KWS office. There were elephants. There were baboons on the road. There were zebras. There were Great Runners.
There were air-conditioned Landcruisers. There were V8 Land Rovers. There was a Toyota RAV4 with none of that.
Then there was more heat and more dust. There were puddles and mud-baths. There was looking at watches, and there was self-congratulation at how bang on schedule the Great Run was. It looked like we would hit Malindi even earlier than we thought.
There was also the realisation that one of the clocks was a whole hour behind, which meant there was a rekindled sense of urgency. Then the challenges arose. Perhaps a little detail would help at this point:
I had contacted the KWS headquarters two weeks earlier to facilitate the acquisition of Safari Cards for my runners. They said fine. Then they changed their minds and said no, to make things easier for everybody, sharing of cards among cars would have to be resorted to.
Their logic made sense: processing 10 cards is way faster than processing 55, so the message was passed along. Fair enough. However, they changed their minds AGAIN, and said no AGAIN: you will have to get your Safari Cards from the park gate at Mtito Andei.
Oh, well; so be it.
The overall result was a slight holdup at Manyani as the entire convoy was processed one car at a time entering Tsavo East; while we stared admiringly at the ongoing Standard-Gauge Railway construction taking place nearby. Eventually we were let through, and that is where the tribulations started for some of us.
A convoy of 50-odd vehicles driving in formation along a dirt road is bound to kick up a veritable amount of dust; and if you are at the back of this convoy you will receive the worst of it. By “you” I mean “me”.
The more luxurious Landcruisers quickly took the lead and left us in the AC-less RAV4 and Defender to eat their dust, literally. We had to drive with the windows down to keep from cooking ourselves inside the car, and we were soon coated with a sizeable layer of grime from dust and sweat.
It was therefore a bit of a relief when one of the cars (unfortunately) had its left rear tyre let go and lose pressure suddenly, bringing the latter half of the convoy to a stop. Aaah, some fresh air at last, and a cooling breeze to boot. My previously sparkling white t-shirt now looked like an oil rag after an engine overhaul. Oh, the adventure!
We were soon underway again. The heat came back, as did the dust. The inside of the car felt like a blend of a sauna and an active quarry. Reduced visibilty. Highway hypnosis — or dirt road hypnosis, to be exact. Tunnel vision. The talk in the car faded to silence. White dust clouds, white murram, white rocks, dry white grass, glaring white sunlight… nothing but whiteness through the windscreen. By the time we saw the bump it was too late.
We caught air, landed with a thump and our drive degenerated into a tank-slapper which ended with about half an acre’s worth of soil coming in through the driver’s window and the car facing the wrong way. The car stalled. The battery had come loose.
A moment of silence, then: “Right, if you’ll just pop the hood I’ll reconnect the battery and we will be on our way”. The people behind us stared at us like we had lost our minds. Had we? In that oppressive sunlight it was hard to tell. There is nothing to make a person stare like a pair of dusty gravedigger lookalikes grinning from ear to ear after going through what felt like freefall and fishtailing like we were trying to win a drift competition.
*Note: it was not intentional. But sheer presence of mind on the driver’s part prevented a more dramatic outcome.
The dust was so much that I had to take a half-bath at the Sala gate after chancing upon a tap with clean water in it. The dust was in our cars, our clothes, in our hair, in our eyes, ears, noses and mouths. We looked like a mining crew after overtime.
We all made it. Eventually we got to Kakuyuni Special School, some of us later than others and some of us not in the same vehicles we originally set out in. If there is one thing that there is no shortage of in The Great Run, it is war stories to trade as we unwind in the evening; reflecting on what we had just gone through.
About Kakuyuni Special School
This is a small institution about 12km removed from Malindi town on the road that leads to Tsavo’s Sala Gate. The enterprise was established in 2010 through the initiative of the Malindi Education Office, Special Education Department; to cater for the hard of hearing.
It is a mixed boarding school managed by parents by way of the School Management Committee, and runs classes 1 through 8, with a capacity for 200, though the current occupancy lies at 60: 32 boys and 28 girls.
Its prominent “catchment” area is the Coast region and parts of Eastern and North Eastern provinces. If you want to do any good in this world, please help those children. The looks of glee on their faces when they see you will be worth every ounce of dust, every drop of sweat, every gallon of fuel and every broken shock absorber you will put on the line to get to them.
Gearing up for the 10th anniversary
Two more runs to hit a ten-count… just two. Come 2016, The Great Run celebrates its 5th year of existence and 10 events of the most exciting driving experience outside of a police chase; with the added bonus of it being perfectly legal.
The Great Run 10 will be a big one, I can assure you. The Paji created a monster, and it soldiers on relentlessly.