We were quite literally blown away interviewing the guys behind Cycling For Rangers – who cycled over 7000km’s from Johannesburg to Nairobi, through 9 countries and 10 national parks, fundraising for Anti-Poaching Rangers. Wil Addison, Charlie Rose, Will Johnston and Theo Bromfield took their combined passions of cycling, endurance, film making and adventure to Africa to give the Rangers-those on the ground who are involved in directly protecting Africa’s wildlife- a voice, documenting their stories as they went. Though their filming they tell the story of human sacrifice that is often forgotten in the greater conservation story. If you’re looking to do something different, we cannot recommend an interview more. As told by Will Addison.
Name(s): Will Addison, Charlie Rose, Will Johnston and Theo Bromfield.
Ages: All 23.
Tell us what Cycling For Rangers is and its aim?
Cycling For Rangers is a team of 4 individuals who cycled over 7000km from Johannesburg to Nairobi, through 9 countries and 10 national parks, fundraising for Anti-Poaching Rangers and telling their stories through a feature documentary film or series.
How did the idea to do it come about?
After watching the film Virunga, about the Democratic Republic of Congo, we wanted to do something to raise money for the Rangers that were helping look after the park and specifically the Gorillas.
During our research into the role of a Wildlife Ranger, we realised that there was very little coverage on what it actually takes to be a ranger. So we decided to combine our shared passions of cycling, endurance, film making and adventure into a project involving cycling across Africa, telling the story of Rangers we met along the way.
The organisation we partnered with is called ‘For Rangers.’
Based out of Kenya, every year, they complete extreme endurance events to raise money and awareness for the welfare of Rangers all over sub Saharan Africa. Thus, we became “Cycling For Rangers”!
Did any of you need persuading?
The four of us didn’t need any persuasion… however two of the guy’s girlfriends took a little more convincing. Once they were on board though, we knew it was happening!
What were the challenges in embarking on this challenge?
The main challenge pre departure was the unknown. Something which is very difficult to prepare for. Due to the nature of the expedition, we were embarking on a journey for 5 months using a method of transport none of us were familiar with, especially for film making, which is cycle touring.
We even got in contact with the director of Virunga, the film that had inspired us, to get some advice. His message was clear, “What you’re trying to do is impossible…”
How much planning went into the prep?
Really rather a lot. The idea was originally born 18 months prior to leaving. But it was really in the 3 months preceding it, that all the strings had to be pulled and we had to get things off the ground. We spent a long time on the phone to sponsors, parks, academics, film makers, security advisers, anyone in our lives that had ever been to Africa or knew someone who had cycled through it…
This however did mean we neglected one of the perhaps more important factors… Training. With only 1 training ride which ended up in the pub after Charlie crashed into Theo(breaking the rear section of his bike!), we decided that we would just have to train as we went along! Thankfully, somehow it worked out.
Was it difficult filming in the places you were in and had you all had experience in filming before?
In some places the terrain was really tough. We would be out on patrol with Rangers for between 4-8 hours. We would often go deep into the bush surrounded by wild animals and in one case, we discovered a pride of lions that were just a mere 20 metres from where we were standing…
Other places, we simply couldn’t get permission to film- but not from lack of trying! In Uganda we were denied access by the Park Manager. So after several unsuccessful calls to the Ugandan Minister for Tourism, we were worried we might have made the situation far worse for ourselves.
Charlie, who is a director at home, led the filming side of things. He was supported by Waddi, a qualified drone pilot. The two of them had experience running a production company together in Edinburgh. Theo’s photography skills meant that he was very quickly able to lend himself to the filming. Johnno, another drone pilot, was predominantly the man asking the questions as journalist and interviewer.
How much money have you raised so far and how much are you wanting to raise altogether?
So far we have raised over $55,000 dollars and we are hoping to raise $100,000. This will be through doing talks and hopefully some proceeds from the documentary once it comes out.
How have you gone about raising the money?
Predominantly through social media, newsletters, blogs and more recently public speaking engagements. We made sure that we kept the story of our progress as current as possible, throughout our journey. And with the help of our incredible team back home, who we would regularly send updates to, they would post it across our various platforms.
How did you go about obtaining sponsors?
We started off by emailing small, local brands that might be interested in supporting our trip. Once we had one or two on board, other slightly bigger brands became more interested, and then it was down to making phone calls and keeping up good email correspondence in the lead up to the trip.
You cycled over 7,000 km in 5 months. How much cycling would you do in a typical day?
Day by day it varied hugely. Before setting out we were expecting to have to cover 65km a day, however we knew that some days would be taken up with just filming. So immediately this meant our average had to be a lot higher. Due to deadlines of reaching certain parks in time to film, we ended up cycling around 90-100km a day. Our longest day cycling through a national park was 157km which took just under 13 hours. Not one to be repeated…
Could anyone ever have an ‘off’ day?
Every time we stopped after several weeks on the bikes, we would go straight into filming at a national park. As we were only a small team, we were all needed for every section of the trip. So after one and half months of back to back filming and cycling in Zambia alone, we decided as a group to take some time out. When we reached Malawi we gave ourselves a couple of days on the shores of the lake to relax. This was good timing, as after Malawi we went into Tanzania, the hardest section of the trip for the whole group.
What advice would you give other young professionals looking to pursue a challenge of this ilk?
No matter how silly the idea, talk to as many people as possible about it. Often you don’t realise how many people know someone who has done something similar and can help. Don’t be afraid to ask people for advice, very often they can end up helping you themselves.
The time, cost and risk it takes to enter into something like this will undoubtedly pay you back in a manner of different forms. Don’t not do it because your worried about missing out on what’s happening at home. Life’s too short.
Were there any ‘we can laugh about them now- but not then’ fuck ups on the trip?
After 21 days of cycling straight through Tanzania, that involved extreme illness and several near death experiences, we were on our last day cycling through towards the capital of Rwanda, Kigali. Theo who was in charge of the maps for that day (and never again after this episode), decided to pull us off the main road, in what we hoped was a 2 hour short cut. Charlie was on his second bout of the incredibly nasty gastro flew (that we’d all savagely, endured), so we decided saving time was worthwhile pursuit.
This involved plummeting down several hundred metres of a dirt road towards the bottom of a valley. Before we knew it, the road disintegrated into a goat path covered in rock outlets that sent Johnno doing a front flip over his handle bars, as he went crashing into the bushes. Bear in mind by this stage our brakes had not been working for at least 2 months – this nearly lethal descent into hell could have been the end of the trip.
What were your best memories from the trip?
Finally reaching the end of cycling through South Luangwa park game management areas. We travelled for 190km over mountains, off road, along goat tracks at the end of 11 days riding on the Great East Road in Zambia. We had been surviving off nothing but peanut butter, budget pasta and coriander seasoning. Our water filters had broken so we resorted to mosquito nets. There was elephant shit everywhere, so we were on watch around every corner. The road disintegrated beneath us into sand for large durations. It was 35 degree heat. Charlie’s bike had snapped in two. We were exhausted, hungry and terrified. Finally we went through the gates of Kapani Lodge. We were greeted by a full table of food laid out for us, real beds and thankfully a shower! We had survived. It was a monumental moment for us.
Day 37 was also pretty incredible. We were up at 4am out on an anti-poaching patrol in Zimbabwe for 7 hours walking through dense bush. We filmed a vet darting and successfully recovering a wild dog that had been caught in a snare. It’s one of only 7000 left in the world. That same afternoon we were out with a specialist drone operating team in Hwange national park, filming their anti-poaching operations. As we rode back through the park on top of their vehicle, with the wind whistling in our hair,a huge, blood red moon appeared behind the trees. Set against the incredible African savannah was a breaktaking end to a day like no other.
If you could all tell yourself one thing then, that you know now in regards to the prep of this particular challenge what would it be?
Not having brakes for 3 months of a 5 month trip is not a good way to cycle through Africa….Bring more brake pads!
Is there anyone who deserves a special mention in regards to Cycling for Rangers?
Venetia Higgins, who was Head of Operations. She kept everything ticking over for us back home. Including checking up on our tracking system daily to make sure we were not where we shouldn’t be!
Katrina Rowe, who was our head of social media. She kept a consistent thread of photos and stories coming out about our journey for 5 months. So that meant every day having to think about what photos should be going up. Everyone who followed our journey was only able to because of her!!
Marina Martyn Hemphill, who was head of the Newsletter and PR. She provided hilarious and incredibly informative instalments which captured a lot of peoples attention, including our own!
Without these guys, we would have been isolated for weeks at a time without being able to let our family and friends know what we were doing.
Finally, what is the ultimate goal?
The ultimate goal is to give a voice to the people on the ground who are involved in directly protecting Africa’s wildlife. But also tell the story of human sacrifice that is often forgotten in the greater conservation story.
Just for fun …
The scariest part of the trip was…
Getting charged by a 20ft male bull elephant on the side of the road, with nobody around and in the middle of a national park. Later that same day we realised we had a female lion stalking us for most of the afternoon.. After finally reaching the end of that traumatic day. We woke up the following morning and had to back out into the park and do it all again.
The one ‘luxury’ we talked about the most on the trip but didn’t have was…
Once again, more brake pads. Flying down mountains at breakneck speed, excuse the pun, using our shoes to slow us down was one stress we could definitely have done with avoiding!
The food we were sick the most by the end was…
Breakfast: Porridge and Baked Beans. Never again!
Dinner: Goat and Chip Omelettes. NEVER, EVER again!
The Twenty Mile Club is….
A journey of discovery, inspiring more people to take risks and do something that makes a difference.
If you want to follow Cycling for Rangers you can find them on their social media handles here