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Celebration trip to Kenya! (by Kathi Hayden, AFR guest 2020)

When I asked my daughter, Libby, how we should celebrate our special birthdays, she had turned 30 and I, 60, she answered without hesitation - Kenya. Turns out, she had a very specific trip in mind. She had been following Tara, one of her St. Lawrence college mates, and was excited about a trip Tara was organizing to Africa.

After reviewing the Adventure for Rhinos website, we were excited. The trip looked amazing, but we had a few reservations:

1) Neither of us had hiked above 11,000 feet and were not sure how we would fair at 16,000 feet, what if we could not make it to the top due to altitude sickness?

2) We are recreational mountain bikers and were concerned about the terrain and level of expertise required?

Tara answered our questions and assured us that we were a good fit and would be in good hands, so we signed up for the trip in September. We had 2 months to step up our mountain biking rides before it started snowing and switched to cross-country skiing to keep in shape.

The day we arrived in Nairobi it was raining cats and dogs, what happened to this time of year being the dry season? January had been an unusually wet month and Tara did her magic dance - for 12 days we had perfect weather. Tara had spent two years putting this trip together and her efforts were evident in her planning and attention to detail - making the trip both an adventure and a learning experience. Considering the trip took part in remote parts of Kenya, we were well taken care of - first class guides, entertaining drivers, great accommodations & food - shared by an enthusiastic group of fellow participants.

The biking was strenuous at times and being able to navigate uneven terrain is important, but it was not overly technical. We had a sag wagon following us at all times with the option to load your bike and ride in the vehicle - this took a lot of pressure off and allowed everyone to stay in their comfort zone.

I loved the bike ride - riding together through the countryside and the conservancies, alongside wildlife; a new meaning to "zebra crossing". I appreciated our guides, especially David sticking with me throughout the ride, and drives supporting us and keeping us safe, we were riding among wildlife. It was a treat to have the Nanyuki mountain bike racers join us for part of our ride, not racing but as a support team.

Each day, since the day we arrived in Laikipia, we had a spectacular view of Mt Kenya, our final destination. Each view of Mt Kenya was unique - standing on the equator and watching the clouds fade away, morning glow of the peak through rising mist from a waterhole at our fly camp, a pair of lions resting as part of their mating ritual as the sun is setting on the mountain, watching a herd of zebras with the mountain as a backdrop, riding along and catching a glimpse from different angles, and finally growing closer each day with the peak within our reach.

When it was time for our hike, we were well acclimatized to a higher altitude. Julian (lead guide) warned us, it was going to be slow going - “pole, pole” - up the mountain. Sure enough, it was slow and at that pace everyone made it up to the top! For three days, we had the mountain to ourselves, not coming across any other hikers, taking in the changing landscape. On the third day, we summited Lenana Peak, and returned to camp to have our tents, yet again, setup for us and a feast awaiting us. We were totally spoiled by our camp crew and our porters.

Adventure for Rhinos did not disappoint, along with the biking and hiking, we learned a lot about rhinos and wildlife conservation in Laikipia, Kenya. We had the privilege of meeting the last two Northern White Rhinos, feeding Barack (a blind black rhino at Ol Pejeata Conservancy), and trekking through rhino habitat to observe rhinos. We gained an appreciation of the efforts and programs underway to preserve the rhinos and unique wildlife of Laikipia - a constant balancing act between competing demands - and the continued effort to expand their natural habitat. We not only adventured, but also learned a lot about conservation in this part of the world and how tourism plays a very important role.

Adventure for Rhinos fundraised for the #RhinoRevivalFund, a fund dedicated to support a detailed study to determine the scope and scale of additional rhino territory in Laikipia. The fund is also designed to support wildlife conservation efforts and innovations in our landscape. More than research, it supports practical interventions aimed at securing habitat and safe passage for our many wildlife species, but with a particular focus on our vulnerable and endangered species. The fund provides grants to individuals, communities, schools, and organized groups, with access to funds that support these conservation goals.

What a magical trip to share with Libby, my daughter. Big thanks to Tara, Julian and the team, and our fellow adventurers for making this a trip of a lifetime.

One word to summarize this trip - epic!

Wishing you much success with future Adventure for Rhino trips,

Asante Sana, Kathi Hayden

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