There is a phenomenon that happens once a year. Every year for the past eighteen years. It takes place on the eastern shores of South Africa, between the small coastal town of Kei Mouth and the award-winning resort of Umngazi River Bungalows. It involves two hundred men and women riding their bicycles along nearly two hundred kilometres of one of the most pristine sections of coastline anywhere in the world. These bicycle riders are required to traverse not only the most unspoilt beaches but some tough and testing sections of soft sand pushing, river crossings and hefty hike-a-bike hills for which the wild coast is famous. Along its route, riders pass through the very heart of some of South Africa’s most special peoples. As the former Transkei homeland, the Xhosa speaking people have welcomed these riders and their crews with song and dance and open arms as they progress eastward along the coastline on their four-day trek. It is time for the Imana Wild Ride.
One of the key features of the Imana Wild Ride is the timing of the moon and earth. The apt words of the race slogan ‘Out there alone, racing the tide’ summarise – this event is all about chasing the tide. This year’s race takes place on the back of the full moon and promises some ideal spring low tides. The problem is the flip side of the low is an extra high tide. Whilst riders may wish to leisurely cruise along the hard-packed beaches on the low tide they will need to keep pace with the ever- changing tides to be sure they don’t get caught on a ‘high’ and left straggling and pushing along a beach which would otherwise have been a pleasure to ride!
The introduction of a double start in 2014 proved a winning formula; giving the participants a more enjoyable experience and allowing the hotels to cope with the smaller fields better. The first event, namely ‘Race the Tide’ determines the winners whilst the second event, ‘Ride the Wave’ is more social (without timing) and runs on a tour format. ‘Race the Tide’ will get underway on Sunday 26th August, followed ‘Ride the Wave’ on Monday 27th August. One hundred riders per event. The official start takes place on the eastern bank of the Great Kei River with the first day finishing at Kob Inn Hotel, some forty kilometres up the coast. The second stage is the shortest between Kob Inn and The Haven, taking riders through Dwesa Nature Reserve and the first of the testing hills known in Wild Ride terms as ‘Mother No.1’. The record time for the stage is one hour, forty-four minutes for the thirty-five kilometres but most riders will take between three to four hours. Stage three covers approximately fifty kilometres between The Haven and Ocean View Hotel in Coffee Bay. It includes the famous ‘Hole-in-the-Wall’ landmark where all but the racing snakes are sure to stop for a swim. Riders can expect some testing hills! The fourth stage is the longest at nearly sixty kilometres, with three big rivers to cross (by ferry) and brings the riders to the finish at the beautiful Umngazi River Bungalows.
Whilst the Imana Wild Ride is not so much about the racing, there will be racing at the front end of the field. Warren Price (Safire) is back for his seventh successive title, having won the race every year since 2012 with various partners. Last year he snitched his own record time by three seconds to set a new record time of 9h01.11 with partner Andrew Hill (TIB). Price and Hill will again partner this year as Team Safire/TIB. But the young and hungry are snapping at his heels and he will have to pull every trick in the book to outsmart the pair of Damon Stamp and Darren Lill (St-iLL Wild Riding), who were second last year. Craig Woods (aka Woodsy) is back and racing with Oli Munnik (Team Wildefire) – a formidable pair with Woodsy knowing the course like the back of his hand. 2015 partner to Price, Trevor Rowe, will be on the start line with a top-class partner in Frederick Rossouw (Team Bluff Meat Supply) and these two will no doubt add some spice to the competition pot !
The Imana Wild Ride is a race like no other. Those who are privileged to take part will know by the time they reach the finish that they have experienced something unique and will return home with their souls enriched. After nineteen years, the race has left an imprint not only on those who have taken part over the years but on the peoples of the wild coast. Behind the face of the race there is a bigger movement happening…. The Imana Wild Ride is making a significant difference to educating the youth in this region. Against the odds and having virtually drained the fund-raising coffers in 2017 in order to build two of the three phases of the Bulungula College last year, the race organisers are delighted to have been able to finish the third phase of this high school facility and therefore complete the project. This brings the tally of classrooms built since the Wild Ride Education Company started in 2006, to over forty units and close to a Five Million Rand spend. Participants return home not only enriched by having experienced four days of beautiful scenery and camaraderie but knowing that they have directly contributed to making a meaningful difference to the communities through which they have passed.