Sometimes, you need to get away. And so you head out for the weekend to the beach, or your cabin in the country… or to Zambia. At least DRIVEN’s international correspondent, Duncan Quinn, does.
They describe it as Dust, Sweat and Gears. And bloody hell, it is that. It’s also lunatics gallivanting through the bush with stripped-down, juiced-up 4x4s, up hill and down dale—all in aid of some worthwhile causes.
Why the hell else would you get out of bed at the crack of dawn in the Zambian bush to go orienteering all over creation in a 4×4?
The idea of the Elephant Charge is to make it from point A to point Z to a series of checkpoints by the shortest direct route.
The exact course changes every year and is only announced a few hours in advance.
Everything else is up to you; you just have to make it through the course within the allotted seven hours.
No cutting down of trees or blowing up of rock formations allowed.
We flew in the night before, inhaled the requisite medicinal gin and tonic (for the malaria, you understand), grabbed an hour or so of jet-lagged shut-eye and then awoke bleary-eyed to head out from Lusaka at 3am.
As we rubbed our fresh yellow fever jabs and considered the hilarity of “going camping for the weekend in Africa,” we hooned out of town en route to the middle of nowhere.
It’s pretty inspiring driving out as the sun rises to set camp, get a brew on, and crack open the bacon and an early-morning beer to take the edge off. Breakfast of champions, some might say.
With that done, we wandered off into the camp to see if we could find out what this Elephant Charge was all about.
We were supposed to be entered to run it. But sometime between when we got on a plane in New York and landed in Lusaka, Zambia, it became apparent that someone had dropped the ball.
Not only did we not have the 4×4 Nissan had supposedly promised us, we didn’t have a place in the rally, a team or anything else for that matter.
Not to worry. Faint heart never won fair maid, as those chaps who went to Sandhurst say.
So we headed out in any event to do a recce.
Through the bleary-eyed vision of a 24-hour trip, it became apparent that a few things at least were true.
First, this really was quite serious off-road driving and very difficult to do well.
Second, all of the organizers I had been emailing thought I was winding them up—as they explained to me—as there was no way anyone in their right mind would come from New York City to partake in this mayhem.
And third, a white suit in the bush is apparently a novelty these days.
With the help of Vicki, one of the lovely organizers, I hopped in what turned out to be the winning car to attack one of the special stages, “The Gauntlet.”
After about 45 seconds of holding on for dear life, we had gunned it over the side of what looked like a cliff, down through a dry river bed and up a one-in-three rock face covered in trees to reach the checkpoint at the other side at the top.
That was the first checkpoint. Spectacular driving skills.
And some props to Land Rover as well.
Needless to say, we will be back next year to attack whatever the course turns out to be.
If you want to come along and raise some money for a great set of conservation causes in Zambia whilst simultaneously preparing your next set of tall tales for the lunch table, be in touch.
We’re doing it. And so should you.
- Posted November 16, 2012
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- Duncan Quinn