Dave and Lyn McIlvain
ONE TEAM’S BLUE CROSS, August 2017.
Updated: Feb 4, 2018
500kms to raise funds for the SPCAs of ZIMBABWE!
We all have some form of a bucket list. Disneyland, a cruise, The Pyramids......but hopefully, if you have a small sense of adventure, you will include parts of our own beautiful land in yours. The back-roads, the off-the-grid Zimbabwe has some of the loveliest scenery imaginable. You may need a robust vehicle, and a pack of cheerful mates, Google maps, and a stocked coldbox, and if this is sounding like a great idea, look no further than combining an epic expedition with a good cause and DO THE BLUE CROSS for SPCAs of Zimbabwe. Its only 500kms long, it’s only an elevation of 80m short of two and a half kilometres, it’s only through remote regions, and it’s completely self-supported. Though it can be a physically challenging event, it is really within the reach of the average person with good preparation, a supportive team, and some determination. Be assured, I am here as proof positive that ANYONE can do the Blue Cross in the relay format.
The regulations of this extremely tough Ultra distance event have been relaxed, and although we stand in awe of those foot soldiers who toughed it out at 50km per day, carrying their lives, tortoise-like, on their back, changes had to be made to keep the Blue Cross alive. This plus 20 year old event, born in the ‘90s by Colin Anderson, as a physical challenge to the finest of athletes, simply had to morph to survive.
With huge respect to the former participants, it was LUCKY FOR ME! Our team (The Waifs and Strays) decided to join forces and commit. The treadmill was pounded daily, (in my case 40 minutes at 6kph) and the 4 kilometre path circumnavigating the Golf Course could take a fair while to rehabilitate. Suddenly, the departure date was on us. Two teams, 3 per car, left Mutare early, and about 5 hours later, we reached the Save riverbed, thinking about a quick turnaround to get the first few kilometres done, but there, in the bright sun, the Mutare SPCA team had created a sandy guard of honour in colourful flags, happily flapping farewell. We were really doing it!
Divided into two groups, we separated, as the first walker from each group set off. The bush is quite thick, and in that early stage, it’s possible to encounter some big game. The vehicles travelled fairly close to the walkers in that leg. Excited to be on the way, a big rustle from the leaf litter to my left had me executing a stylish Fosbury Flop, only to discover the offender was a chicken! And later, it was a bit embarrassing to discover that the wildest wildlife on the entire Blue Cross was a feisty Turkey! Our first campsite was on an old track far from the madding crowd, and when camp was set up, and the bucket bathing ritual begun, a fire-red full moon lifted through the drying leaves and branches, and gave the night that comfortable feeling that remoteness and adventure brings. We realized that an indescribable experience lay ahead of us.
In all, we had 4 wonderful nights camping out under the stars at the end of each day’s trail. This format of two teams of three sharing the load proved a great relay version of the Blue Cross. Enough people to share the walking, the camp chores, happily reliving the day’s best moments, prepping dinners and lunches for the next day is team work. Although our campsites were informal, we never felt unwanted if local residents were nearby, as was the case one night and every day. Our other sites were wonderfully remote, isolated and perfectly quiet, as we fell asleep to new Nightjars and Owls, and awoke to new Robins and Thrushes. Every night we had attained higher altitude, more miles closer to Mount Nyangani, less hours of this phenomenally beautiful walk to do. We had one night at Fiddlers On the Green, with catering by the welcoming David, and the ladies of Chipinge. In Chimanimani, we were had a cosy night at Kweza Lodge, which we can highly recommend. Across the road is the delightful Frog and Fern for all the extra walkers next year!
Sadly, the Chimanimani Mountain range and park are under stiff pressure from gold mining. Is the desire for a few people to own a couple of glistening baubles really worth the total destruction of this exquisite natural resource? Have National Parks really put personal wealth above the very reason for their employment mandate? Are we really to forfeit the health of the people living downstream to gold processing poisons, and their quality of water to the siltation of the destructive methods. It’s tragic and Chimanimani stands to lose its whole tourism industry, and related income. We found this destroyed river flowing into the Nyahodi.
We left with lots to think about, but as we rose higher and higher, over Tank Neck (which had initially given me thoughts of self sabotage) and on through Cashel Valley, the dramatic and stunning views filled us with pride that we live in what must be generally the loveliest region of Zimbabwe. The Blue Cross takes you to amazing places.
One night was spent in Mutare, and the last camp was actually in the garden of Edone-Ann and Aubrey Logan, who kindly opened their home to us in Juliasdale. Meeting fine people like we did that night had to be a highlight.
The walking format keeps you off the tar almost entirely, and the route mapped for us this year was mindful of the landscape. How privileged were we? Sometimes the concept, (as we sat in Chipinge, being told that we will be in Chimanimani the next night,) seemed just too unreal, but the miles flew because of the scenery, the friendliness of the people, and the fun of walking in a team.
The mature Miombo, gallery forests, deep gorges, unreachable waterfalls and layered mountain ranges, there was no single outstanding day, as every day was a surprise and as beautiful as the last.
Moving North, we exchanged mountains for Dwalas, trademark Zim landscape.
The Cyclists, The horseriders, everyone who does the Blue Cross will defend their method as the best way to do it, but in fact EVERY way is the best way. It is a spiritual thing to do. This year, unbelievably, about $30,000 was raised for the widespread SPCAs of Zimbabwe. They certainly need it, each one of them. And in the same way, every person who elects to take part may be raising money for the SPCA, but they are doing a phenomenal thing for themselves.