In Summary
  • We started off from a fuel forecourt at the Karen Shopping Centre and drove into Ngong town, took a left turn to Kiserian, a right to Kona Baridi and then another left into the wilderness that is Kipeto and the Champagne Park.
  • It is here, while riding shotgun in a Shogun, that I witnessed a Range Rover react to the bumpy terrain in the same way you’d expect a town girl to react when she sees a gecko: immediately catch air and perform a crazy jig with alternate feet touching the ground, one at a time.

Things do not always go according to plan. They sometimes veer off the charted path in a nice way, they sometimes do so in a not-so-nice way and they sometimes end up with the directors of the Great Run completing their own event in several different vehicles as a direct result of a series of curious events. This is the story of the Great Run XII, held last weekend.

 

The Route

We started off from a fuel forecourt at the Karen Shopping Centre and drove into Ngong town, took a left turn to Kiserian, a right to Kona Baridi and then another left into the wilderness that is Kipeto and the Champagne Park.

It is here, while riding shotgun in a Shogun, that I witnessed a Range Rover react to the bumpy terrain in the same way you’d expect a town girl to react when she sees a gecko: immediately catch air and perform a crazy jig with alternate feet touching the ground, one at a time.

When a town girl does it, it is amusing and forms the script of a Tom & Jerry cartoon. When your lawyer does it in his Classic, it is cause for worry and you immediately pray that he is in control.

From Champagne Ridge we took a left until the rough road feeds you into Isinya town, where we took a right and thundered down towards Kajiado, where the children’s home is.

Once done with the kindhearted acts that brought us there, we continued down that same road until Namanga, where we turned left to face the Amboseli National Park.

That road is nasty: Sandy murram in a windy location coupled with sporadic rain means rill erosion is a clear and present danger and the result is that the road turns into an incessant stretch of rumple strips and ridges that can easily break a car on a bad day. Saturday was not a bad day. Someone responsible deployed two graders to try and level things out in the interests of maintaining touristic traffic but in a convoy of 50 SUVs, each trying to drive lead through the hellscape, billowing clouds of dust quickly transform from a picturesque panorama into a real-time hazard and it is nerve-wracking when a massive tractor suddenly looms out of the sandy mists right onto your path and braking is not assured due to the loose carpet of churned up soil underfoot. Let’s just say people woke up and paid attention.

Reach Amboseli, enter the gate and take an immediate right into what looks like a desert, which for all intents and purposes, it was. Flat, dusty and with nothing to see for miles around except Landcruisers, Landcruisers, Pajeros and more Landcruisers.

Through the Amboseli dust and out at Kimana, join the tarmac for 30 seconds, make a left and the nightmare begins all over again as we headed to the Chyulu gate of Tsavo West  National Park. On past the haunting Shetani Lava Flow and finally into the respective nightly pit-stops to recharge our batteries for Day 2.

Day 2 was a walk in the park by comparison. Leave the hotels and take numerous lefts and rights until we found ourselves at Mzima Springs, where coastal people get all their usable water from. From Mzima Springs, we traced our way to Mtito Andei and then hit the tarmac all the way back to Nairobi, where the Great Run XII came to an end. What a drive!

 

CH and The Shod-A-Tod Campaign

KCH could be the number plate prefix of a vehicle registered in Kenya fairly recently, but KCH is also the acronym for Kajiado Children’s Home.

It was founded in 1997 by a missionary couple and cares for orphans and the destitute.  The more desperate cases are the ones given priority admission at KCH. These go on to graduate college and make a difference to society in their own way, their difficult pasts acting as a backdrop and impetus for their later lives. It is very sobering to learn the kinds of hardships people sometimes go through.

The current roll has 63 entries in primary school and 10 in secondary school. Financial constraints preclude the enrollment of more students in college and this is where Great Runners came in handy. Correspondence with the home yielded an entry list of the students with attendant shoe sizes and this is where a light bulb went on in my head: the Shod-A-Tod campaign.

The idea was simple. The number of children at the home was not that discrete from the number of participants in the Great Run. So why not task each participant with finding a pair of shoes for each child? One on one. Car No, 1 would buy shoes for Child No 1 on the roll, Car No 2 child No.2 and so on until we clear the list, and any remainders would be handled separately.

It might have worked, but being the self-effacing do-gooder that I believe myself to be, I think we can do better. I will polish the concept and take it further. Perhaps I’ll ask my lawyer to patent the idea, we have too many unsanctioned Great Run offshoots nowadays...

I may be a sketchy fly-by-night philanthropist, but first I’m a car reviewer and the fact that I rode in four different metal hulks means that the gears of analysis meshed inside my mind-brain as soon as I sat in the first one. So let’s talk about:

  

The Cars

1. Car No 7: White High Mileage V80 Mitsubishi Pajero, 3.2 V6 diesel turbo, Nairobi-Namanga- Amboseli-Kimana

This is the latest version of Mitsubishi’s Dakar-dominating off-road vehicle, and it is a model that has been around since 2006. It is also the most handsome of the lineup. In the hands of a close friend who, coincidentally (or not), happens to be a Murang’a TT champion and has graced these pages twice before (first time was during the Great Run 1, where he was driving a Lancer Evolution IX which is another Mitsubishi; and second time was when he was winning the time trial event, in the same Evo), the Pajero starts showing skills we were previously not sure it had. The car can rise to the occasion when asked to.

The owner says it is a bit down on power, but you’d expect such sentiments from a taciturn individual who drives an Evo. Blame the diesel engine. It is turbocharged and very smooth, but it is still a diesel at the end of the day. He opines that the top-rung 3.8 petrol V6 might be more to his liking. I don’t know; I kind of liked the little diesel with its economy – half a tank of fuel saw him drive around the night before the Great Run and through the entire first half of the Great Run, until the Kimana exit of Amboseli, whereas almost everybody else had to top up along the way. And it is not because we were driving like undertakers; we had a three-hour start-time penalty that saw us leave Nairobi when everybody else was already inKajiado, but he is not a Murang’a TT champion for nothing. By Kimana, we were ahead of the entire pack; it is written that the last shall be first.

(Disclaimer: please note that The Great Run is not a road race, it is an expedition. My driver’s skill on dusty roads is what led us to clear the field, most of whom were unfamiliar with driving on a lunar landscape. We did not break any traffic laws in the course of overtaking the other 49 cars).

 

The Pajero is comfortable and it is one of the few remaining SUVs that is not full-time 4WD. it has the 2-high setting for ordinary use, the 4-high for loose surfaces, 4-low for when the going gets military, and diff-locks in case you want to climb a tree, slowly. The self-shifting transmission has a tendency to hold on to gears even on part throttle, which is self-defeating with a diesel engine because you do not need to rev the beans out of derv-burners to extract performance out them.

The oodles of torque will handle it quite well in the mid range. The cure for this clinginess is to override the automatic and use the tiptronic-style “manual” to short-shift from around 2500rpm.

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