Our Steppes Travel team join the Ride4Rangers peloton on Day 5 – Bath to Cheltenham.
Ben Morison, owner of Far & Wild, first called me in mid-June, at a time when travel was completely paralysed by the coronavirus crisis. His words were, “I have an idea and it involves cycling. I’ve been told to talk to you.”
Two months and just six Zoom calls later, I roll into a car park in Bath at 09:30 on a Wednesday morning. Rain is hammering from the skies and I’m already soaked to the skin. Ben is standing there, barefoot and grinning. Around him, people are busy getting ready to cycle. A branded Land Rover acts as a support vehicle and “Ride4Rangers” cycling jerseys are the fashion accessory of choice.
What began as a crazy idea to raise money for conservation through cycling has quickly snowballed into a united effort by the Africa travel industry. Around the car park, I spot competitors, colleagues and suppliers – all coming together to help Africa’s wild areas in their time of crisis.
In partnership with Tusk Trust and with the help of dozens of willing volunteers from across the travel industry, Ride 4 Rangers has become a reality.
Whilst the overarching message is to get on your bike wherever you are and support however you can, the main event is a Land’s End to John O’Groats ride during the last two weeks of August. A hardy few are doing the whole thing, which began four days previously, with countless others joining for sections – like me.
As I look at the bubbles of people setting off to cycle, I’m slightly nervous to meet those who have already cycled the four days from Land’s End. Having planned the route from start to finish, I could be a villain by now. They were at my mercy through the hills of Devon and Cornwall, after all. Fortunately, the smiles and friendly elbow greetings swiftly allay that fear.
The rain does not abate, but the mood is a buoyant one as we hit the road, climbing out of the Avon Valley and up onto the Cotswold Escarpment. We follow the old Fosse Way – a road that has led travellers north from here since Roman times.
Normally, the beautiful views on the climb would strengthen tiring legs, but today it is the knowledge that Ride4Rangers has already raised £48,000 towards conservation. With every donation pledged to be match-funded by a Tusk donor, this means that we are nearing £100,000 in funds for vital conservation projects across Africa.
What I have found so inspiring about this project since its inception is the selfless nature of those involved. It is no secret that many of those riding today face an existential threat to their businesses, jobs and livelihoods. Yet, they are all setting those concerns aside to focus on the preservation of Africa’s vulnerable habitats in this time of crisis.
As if I needed further reminding of this, I strike up conversation with a fellow rider and Africa-based safari operator as we bounce over the potholes and puddles of the Fosse Way. “Our bank accounts are empty.” He says, simply. “There is nothing we can do about it and now we have to decide whether to try and honour the bookings we have left this year or pass them over to a third party. We lose money either way.”
But despite this desperate situation, he remains stoically optimistic. No one I have spoken to wants to dwell on the current situation. Instead, they are looking forward to better times. It is for these better times – and for future generations – that we need to protect Africa’s wildlife. It seems a fitting sentiment as we follow a road that has survived the ups and downs of 2,000 years.
As we roll into lunch in the quaint market town of Tetbury, the now wavering smiles – the rain hasn’t stopped once all morning – are reinforced by warm blankets, hot chocolate and the knowledge that we are over halfway.
After lunch, the splintered peloton makes its way to the northern edge of the Cotswold Escarpment, before dropping down into the town of Cheltenham. Enthusiastic supporters welcome them into Cheltenham, having braved the rain in acknowledgement of this exceptionally worthwhile cause.
And by the time the bikes are packed away and wet lycra is starting to be peeled of shivering bodies, yet another milestone has been reached. Another day in the saddle has encouraged a fresh rush of donations: the total now stands at over £55,000 – a staggering amount with so much time left.
From Cheltenham, the riders will keep heading north, as they spend the next 10 days slowly progressing towards John O’Groats. All being well, they will reach the famous signpost on Saturday 29th August. Until then, company on the roads is more than welcome and you are encouraged to join for as little or as much as you would like. Visit www.ride4rangers.com for more info.
And if you haven’t yet donated, please do so, if you can. Our team total contributes to the overall Ride4Rangers page here. All funds go directly to Tusk Trust, who have identified 52 projects in 18 countries that most require assistance in these challenging times. This means that each donation will have a real impact on conservation in Africa and that together we can ensure these wild places survive for your next safari.