Tough News About A Tough Race – EA Lesotho

Adam Rose / 31.12.2020
/ © Terence Vrugtman

Covid keeps on delivering gut punches, this time to the plans for Expedition Africa Lesotho, forcing Kinetic Events on to the back foot. For reasons that shall become clear, just as races are starting to re-emerge from hibernation globally, Lesotho will have to wait until 2022.

The race was scheduled for 8-18 April 2021. That’s just around the corner in training terms, and no doubt teams have been putting in the miles, counting on some light when all around is gloom and doom. 

Yes, there’s a vaccine, hopefully it makes a huge difference, but mass distribution is still a long way off, especially in rural areas, and certainly in less developed areas of the world. And Lesotho holds such appeal for offering just that: true wilderness, rarely trodden tracks, cut off from the outside world and modern conveniences.

I spoke to Heidi and Stephan, and the challenges they listed are not pretty.

There are 35 international teams and 25 local teams. That’s 240 competitors coming from all over the world, before we even begin to add in the friends and family who no doubt would want to join in the 10th anniversary celebrations for EA.

The overseas teams would have the bonus fun of the long-haul incubator (aka flight) and have to provide a negative Covid test done less than 72hrs before arrival.

Then, even if they were Covid-free (who knows?), all 240 people would be in close proximity on the 5hr bus trip to Lesotho, to the race base. Then another cosy 9hr bus trip to the start line – mmmm, breathe in them germs!

Next, the local villagers have loaned 250 horses for the race. Could contamination occur to or from the racers? I wouldn’t bet against it. Then, from the locals’ perspective, imagine watching 240 strangers traipse through your villages for a week, having no idea if the teams are going to gift you a virus for your hospitality?

If someone got the bug, racers would have to be evacuated to South Africa for treatment, while the locals would have no such luck. These are rural people, scattered across inhospitable mountains, with no hospitals or access to Covid treatment - Lesotho is not a wealthy country.

With all races, there is bound to be red tape. Just ask any seasoned race director – you can identify them from the occasional twitch in the corner of their eyes. In this season, the Lesotho government can’t yet give the go-ahead for the race to take place, and even if they did, they might be forced to withdraw that approval at a moment’s notice. Anyone remember what happened in the Altay Expedition Race not too long ago? Not good criteria for teams investing a lot of time and money in their participation.

As Heidi said, “with only 3 months to go, no vaccine in sight [certainly for Lesotho], it’s impossible to host the race we are dreaming of and to our standards.”

“We can’t see things changing fast enough… so we just have to move it forward. No other option.”

Yes, things might work out fine, as has happened at other events recently, but it could easily end up a disaster, and there are no second chances. EA Lesotho can be an incredible crown to the success of the 10-year history of the race, or it can be completely the opposite if we are impatient.

Kinetic Events Africa will be promoting vigorously for 2022 and are hoping to increase capacity for an extra 10 teams.

Last but not least, let’s not forget that for many countries, especially with the new strain of Covid on the rise, many teams would face a 14-day quarantine on their return home (often in a government-controlled facility). The Kiwis face this condition if they visit Australia, while the Aussies aren’t even allowed to travel overseas yet.

So, unpalatable as it is, those teams who have been eagerly looking forward to an old school, truly wild expedition in Lesotho will just have to dig deep, find something tamer closer to home, and play the long game. Expedition Africa is massively popular for good reasons, and you want to be able to enjoy it to the full.

And if I were you, maybe send Heidi and Stephan a message of support for making that difficult call.

 

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