In what many would consider a super-human feat, Isabel Wolf-Gillespie has for the past two months run a half-marathon (21 kilometres) and cycled 80 kilometres or more almost every day. Her total distance covered so far is 3 500 kilometres.
This feat is equalled by her support team, consisting of her husband Lloyd Gillespie and and sister Raphaela Wolf, and their Ridgeback Pula. They manage the campsite domestics and patiently follow Isabel kilometre by kilometre in the support vehicle.
Luxuries are few. Most nights, the team camp next to the road, where they are exposed to cold winter nights without any facilities. And apart from her companions and her beloved dog, Isabel’s one other luxury item is her milk frother. She admits that each morning, she gets up extra early in order to enjoy a small cup of coffee before her 21 kilometre run.
Her run kicks off at around 7 in the morning, and takes about two hours. Then she meets up with Lloyd and Raphaela for breakfast. Isabel is vegetarian so it is critical that she eats enough supplemental foods. They have calculated that Isabel burns around 5 500 to 6 000 calories each day during her 10 hours on the road.
After half an hour of breakfast, she changes and starts her bicycle ride, which is a minimum of 80 kilometres in hilly areas, but can be as much as 130 kilometres on a day. Her cycling portion of the day’s journey takes seven to nine hours.
Looking back over the 3 500 kilometers covered since the launch of the Rhino Knights campaign on May 1, Isabel says she feels fine. “I feel very good. I am energised by it. It’s not a drag, in fact I look forward to each day”.
And on rest days, which are scheduled for every fourth or fifth day, she tackles the other elements of Rhino Knights. She makes sure they rest in areas where there is internet reception, and organises the logistics of upcoming events, talks, fundraisers and media intereviews. She updates the Facebook pages and an focuses on an array of other to-do’s.
When Isabel, Lloyd and Raphaela arrived in Windhoek, she had covered a distance of 1 000 kilometres in a mere 10 days – a journey from Springbok, in South Africa, to Windhoek. During those 10 nights, they camped right next to the road in the bush, except for one night in which they were sponsored a free stay at an established campsite in Maltahoehe. The team says they are eternally grateful to the owners of Pappot campsite, where they had access to the finer things in life – like bathroom facilities.
Many would ask why. It’s simple. Isabel and Lloyd are passionate about the survival and conservation of rhino’s and decided to do something about it.
In 2009, Isabel and Lloyd began a 7 411 kilometre, 581 day journey on horseback around South Africa. That journey was in support of creating awareness around horse sickness.
The journey changed them. “We became aware of ourself, others and the environment. We realised how interdependent we all are. How you treat each other, yourself and the environment,” Lloyd said.
When they finished their journey in 2011, they returned to their Safari business in the Eastern Cape. Sad news awaited them. All eleven of the rhinos which had existed on the land they had leased, had been killed by poachers.
“This had an impact on us. We were angry and we wanted to do something about it”. Their first step was to create a conservation organisation called Earth Awareness. Through this organisation their goal was to “encourage greater awareness of self, others and the environment which ultimately creates greater care for our planet and the living.
Partly motivated by the death of the eleven rhinos, they closed their business and moved to the Natal Midlands. It is here that they met up with Dr Ian Player, an iconic rhino conservationist, who became a mentor for the couple.
From this friendship and mentorship, Isabel and Lloyd began tinkering with the idea of doing a long distance campaign, in order to raise awareness of rhino’s and to seek better understanding of the challenges faced by these majestic pachyderms.
Thus they began to map out this superhuman campaign of covering 10 000 kilometres across South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Mozambique and back to their starting point in Durban. The project was called Rhino Knights. Ninety five percent of the project is self-funded.
Rhino Knights has a two thronged goal. The first goal is to increase awareness, especially amongst the youth, about the threats faced by rhino’s. As such, their journey on the road is interspersed with regular visits to schools, where they address pupils on their campaign and its goals.
“Children are the future of conservation, so they have to become a voice for the rhino”, Isabel explained.
Through their own efforts via Facebook, YouTube and the website, they think that together rhino conservationists, from young to old, can create a “loud virtual voice” to spur governments to action.
“The bigger the voice, the bigger the power, the bigger the demands”, Lloyd said.
Lloyd and Isabel say that it is important to show people that “we are two ordinary, normal people doing an extraordinary thing”. Inspiration for everyone. They understand that sometimes it can feel as if one action is just a drop in the ocean but their campaign is geared towards showing people that the smallest things can have a ripple effect.
Lloyd explained that it’s about developing a collective conservation consciousness, and that anyone can be a knight for rhinos.
Secondly, when they come in contact with those who work with rhino’s in some capacity, they hand out a questionnaire aimed at finding out what people think about rhinos – the challenges they face and solutions.
The results of the survey have so far demonstrated that the issues surrounding rhino poaching and solutions are complex. They want to use the survey results in support of rhino conservation efforts in South Africa once they are back.
A long journey still lies ahead for Isabel and her team. From Windhoek, they are heading north, to the Kavango and then into Botswana. Then they will traverse a section of Zimbabwe – how long they will be there depends on the election mood. Then, onwards to Mozambique and eventually home to Durban.
They are flexible, and depend a lot on locals on the ground, for advice on the routes and assistance.
They welcome any type of support and even encourage the brave of heart to join them on the road for whatever distance they feel like.
All in line with their Rhino Knight motto: strength in unity.
Lloyd adds that the whole concept rests on the fact that “the whole is always greater than the sum of its parts”.
How can you help?
Visit the website: http://www.earthawareness.co.za/ and see regular updates on Facebook. Watch out for regular video logs of the journey. You can assist by donating funds towards the cause (find out more by contacting Earth Awareness) or simply help by hosting the team throughout their journey.
Funds raised on this journey go towards the rhino initiatives of the two organizations, the Magubu Ntombela Foundation and The Lawrence Anthony Earth Organization.