Cycling the Garden Route in South Africa in Aid of The Phoenix Burns Project

Having spent much of the previous 6-12 months fundraising for the Phoenix Burns Project, 14 excited and nervous bikers and 4 hikers from Cripps Sears and from outside of the business started the long trip (over 450km over 5 days for the bikers!) along the Garden Route from Knysna towards Cape Town. I was taking part in the cycle challenge and having received limited instructions from our guide Steve, that were to become the norm for the trip, we set off on a gruelling, but ultimately rewarding cycle through the hills of the Garden Route in South Africa.

Many I had spoken to who had completed the challenge previously said that it was a genuine challenge and they weren’t wrong! After torrential downpours in the week previous to our arrival, the dirt track paths leading the way were heavily damaged by rainfall and many of the bridges over the rivers we crossed were still flooded.

We visited Wilderness, Mossel Bay, Albertinia, Grootvadersbosch and Stormsvlei and other towns and villages along the way, cycling through the countryside, through game reserves where we saw Giraffe, Elephants, Kudu, Ostrich and other game. At one stage we carried our bikes through flooded river crossings and cycled through local townships where we were greeted with smiles and cheers. I have travelled across South Africa by a variety of means previous to this trip and have seen much of the country, but can honestly say that this was a truly unique and wonderful way to see it.

The longest day covered just over 100km with a final 5km climb after a long, hot day. Getting to the top of that hill was a real achievement and left everyone who completed it with a real buzz. It also helped that it was followed by amazing hospitality from our hosts on the farm we were staying on that evening- and a well-deserved beer!

We finished the trip back in Cape Town with a visit to the Red Cross Children’s Memorial hospital burns unit where we met some of the children who had unfortunately suffered burns injuries. We learnt that over 70% of the burns are caused by water, with e.g. children pulling kettles of boiling water onto themselves. There are also many orphaned and injured children, a result of fires that often break out in the crowded township communities. Those that are fortunate enough to still have a support network are often left with elderly grandmothers and great grandmothers to fend for them.

We got to see first-hand the passion and the high level of care that Roux Martinez, the senior surgeon at the hospital and her staff provide. Without the inspiring passion and enthusiasm of Roux and Peter Martinez, her husband and chairman of The Phoenix Burns Project, and the incredible support of Margaret Kumalo, a volunteering support of the charity, none of this would be possible. The Phoenix Burns project, which the money we raised goes towards, is involved in the aftercare of the burns victims and fire prevention. They provide various schemes to ensure that those injured recover from their injuries and offer solutions such as vital aid kits to those that are victims of shack fires. There was a feeling within the group that prevention would be a worthwhile cause as well and there is potential for money raised in future years to go towards other charities involved with looking at methods of prevention too.

We then spent time in the St Joseph’s orphanage where two of the children to whom some of the money raised for ABC has gone towards are cared for. Both have been incredibly badly injured and it is amazing to see and to hear how far they have come thanks to the support and passion of those caring for them. To see that the money that ABC has raised has helped to give them a chance for happiness and support in life beyond their initial treatment is very humbling.

Having spoken with friends and family who have been involved in similar charitable work it is very rare for you to be given the opportunity to see where the money is being spent first hand and it does give you a real appreciation for the efforts of those involved in supporting these children in their treatment and recovery and how much of a deserving cause it truly is.

All in all it was an incredibly rewarding, enjoyable experience and I would encourage both those from Cripps Sears and those outside of the business to get involved. I understand that we have already had a good response to next year with a contingent from Woodside Petroleum showing interest. The achievement of raising the money, the achievement of completing the cycle or hike, the people you meet along the way, the chance to see South Africa in a way, the opportunity to give back to a deserving charity and the genuine impact your money can make on the children’s lives make this an incredibly worthwhile experience and one I feel honoured to have been involved with and will continue to support.

I said before I left that I wouldn’t get ‘the bug’ and start doing more of these charity events but having just regained the feeling in my hands and quads I have signed up for the Comic Relief 10km in March!

If you would like to know more about getting involved in our Hike or Bike Challenge in 2014, please contact Laura Gaze at lgaze@crippssears.com.