Good weather, route made Great Run IX the best ever

The weather was unusually hot, a slightly uncomfortable situation further aggravated by the fact that I had a black shirt draped over a cotton T-shirt.

I had been here many times before, and I know that the general temperatures around this locale tend to be low. The conditions had always demanded warm clothing, but on Saturday,  May 28, it was so warm that I wanted to take my black shirt off but couldn’t, since it is my official uniform and, therefore, necessary for identification.

It was a beautiful day, which meant dry tarmac roads. A quick glance in the driver’s side mirror revealed a shiny black Volkswagen Golf GTI in the throes of a hesitant passing manoeuvre. I let it pass.

I glanced in the mirror again and saw,  not one, but four Volkswagen Golf GTIs. I waved them past. It was uplifting watching the four Rabbits squat on the road, jiggling slightly on their sports suspensions as they caught up with their compadre in short order.  Always the vigilant helmsman, I checked my mirrors yet again, and did a double take.

Without turning my head, I addressed my back seat passengers:

“Look behind you.”

“Whoa! How many of these things are there anyway?” inquired a small voice.

“I’m not sure. More than 10, probably 15. Could be more than that”

The Volkswagen Golf GTI clique is out in full force. They might not have been here to make a point, but I was happy to see them.  I’m again overtaken by three more Golfs, and in my mirrors, I see even more.

I follow the lot that has passed me in a convoy that included other cars that were not Golfs and we make a right turn into a small dirt road somewhere in Laikipia County in a hamlet called Subukia.

It looks like parking could be problem because there are 90 cars while the designated parking lot now has a large group of boy scouts honing their camping skills. A number of close friends quickly sort the parking issue out. I edge the biturbo double-cab diesel pick-up I’m driving edgewise close to a fence and park.

As I step out of the vehicle, I can’t help but think back over the past five years. My shirt bears a logo, as do the myriad Golf GTIs and the truck I have just exited. That logo, spotted in large numbers, usually means one thing: the Great Run has arrived..

ST JOHN’S SMALL HOME

The plight of the needy can never be overemphasised, no matter how  you look at it, more so when you encounter a situation like the one we did in Subukia.

Destitution is bad enough, but it is much more heartbreaking when we are reminded of St Francis Malindi, when we once again come face to face with orphans on the brink of giving up hope. I found the name Small Home odd, but it was apt.

The place really is small and it caters for 31 kids whose lives we sought to improve. Having been enlisted into The Great Run’s Roll of Honour, we can only hope that things take a positive and upward trend for those poor people.

THE LINE-UP

Ring… ring…. ring….

“Hello?”

“Baraza?”

“Yes”

“Ah, good. Reserve 10 slots for the upcoming Great Run, preferably in sequence. We are coming.”

“Done.”

That single phone call marked the beginning of the most interesting Great Run line-up I have seen since the first one in 2012. No offence to those who drove other car makes, but it would not be entirely inaccurate to tag The Great Run IX as The Golf Run.

The little GTIs were uncountable and they were everywhere. You’d think the owner’s club was having a meet. Golf, Golf, Golf, Golf, Subaru, Golf, Golf, Toyota, Golf, Golf, Golf… Someone even added a bit of colour (not literally) by throwing in the fearsome and slightly rare R32, a car that has long been the king of the hill in the realm of the hatchback.

I was not about to be outdone. Or rather, DT Dobie (yes, the car franchise) was not about to let me be outdone. I might not have had a Volkswagen Golf, but I did have a Volkswagen (What?), and it had a Golf engine in it (Again, what?)… or sort of. Ever seen a VW 4WD double-cab pick-up? It’s called an Amarok, and it is something else altogether. That vehicle defies many previously established norms in the commercial vehicle industry.

It takes the rulebook, grinds it into little pieces, pounds it into dust, mixes that dust with raw torque, shoves the concoction into a concrete mixer and pounds all rivals with it over the head as other drivers try everything, from stomping their accelerators to hectically downshifting as they realise the futility of their actions when it dawns on them that nothing will save them from the inevitability that is being overtaken by what is, in essence, a small lorry powered by the engine of an even smaller saloon car.

I will be submitting a report on the Amarok, but here is a spoiler for you: there is no good reason why you shouldn’t get one. That truck is quite something.

THE ROUTE

Tarmac. Corners. Scenery. The typical mid-year tarmac venue, and this year was no exception. The entire route was tarmacked, except for a small stretch around Nyahururu Town that almost tried our patience.

This was immediately compensated for by one of the most outstanding stretches of road in the country I have seen: Nyahururu to Nyeri via Mweiga. The landscape around here varies from rolling hills to temporary plateaus to small cliffs, having come from one of several viewpoints of the Great East African Rift Valley at Subukia, which, as mentioned earlier, was the town at which the children’s home was located. These mostly took care of the “scenery” angle of the run.

The entire route went thus: we flagged off our admittedly sizeable convoy from the ABC Place on Waiyaki Way and hit the A104 all the way to Flyover on the cusp of the Rift Valley.

A left turn leads you into an overpass (which lends its name to the place, hence “Flyover”) that loops up and over the A104 to the right hand side of this famous thoroughfare, where we made yet another left turn.

We followed this path all the way to Njabini, down to Ol Kalou and into the town centre where, instead of taking the expected straight to Gilgil, we made a right turn that led us to Dundori and eventually to Lanet on the outskirts of Nakuru Town.

From Njabini to Lanet is where we had our corners, and they made for quite an interesting test of brakes and suspension (many Golf GTIs. Amarok performs superbly here, despite its trucky underpinnings).

From Nakuru we turned right to Subukia, piled into the home, did our part and piled out before taking a veritable hill climb to the Subukia viewpoint and into the wonderful Nyahururu-Nyeri B-road. From Nyeri, it was straight back to Nairobi via Thika Road.

THE FUTURE

It was not unexpected that The Paji’s project would inspire many similar event. Since  its inception in 2012, The Great Run has inspired what my colleagues would call numerous “copy-cat events”, but I prefer to think of it as blazing the trail for others. There is no competition for kindness; that is just inappropriate, so I can comfortably say everybody should feel free to start their own road trips with charitable bents as they want.

However, good luck trying to keep up with The Great Run. Five years and nine events mean we have this down pat and have major expansion plans which I will not reveal here.

Our first major milestone was covered last weekend: five years in existence. The second major milestone will be later in the year when we go off-road again for our tenth event.

It’s not something you want to miss; whatever we have planned is unlike anything seen before. It should be quite a spectacle.

VOLKSWAGEN ANONYMOUS CLUB

This might start to sound like an ad, but bear with me. My professional life at this moment feels exactly like this article reads: Volkswagens here, there, everywhere.

From inspiring a chain of essays stemming from the recent Dieselgate kerfuffle to massive representation in the Great Run (Thanks, Team Bunny, see you next time) to the provision of a test vehicle (Thanks DT Dobie, see you next time too), we now enter the third act of the Volkswagen story, and this is where the VW Anonymous Club comes in.

I am still unsure whether it is an unrelated entity or if it is a faction of the Volkswagen Owner’s Club that we know of, but what I am sure about is that, not only did they make their own Great Run, but they invited me to tag along.

Having barely dusted myself off from my own event, I dived straight into the Anonymous’ one. Anyone would be up for an adventure like the one I will shortly describe, but maybe, just maybe, I should have stayed home and rested, and this is why.

The drive is from Nairobi to Mombasa. Not bad. The drive will not take the A109 all the way; it is a bit convoluted and involves turning off at Emali and heading to Loitokok. Okay. The drive stops over at Chombo Cha Upendo Children’s home run by Teule Kenya for charitable activities, which is fine. If things sound a little familiar, this is because they are. We have done this before in something we called The Next Great Run, or Great Run II for quick reference.  In December 2012, we took the same route (mostly) and visited the same home. I did say that the Anonymous Club made their own great run, didn’t I?

From the home is where things start to get interesting. We intend to drive into Tsavo West National Park, work our way through it and exit somewhere on the south end and into Diani, Mombasa, which will mark the end point of the drive.

Sound familiar too? This was part of the return route (going in the opposite direction) that some of us took during our first two-day, off-road Great Run event back in 2013, The Great Run 4×4, or Great Run IV for quick reference. It seems like the Great Run has been everywhere already.

There are always disclaimers and here they are: first of all, the drive is planned to take place over four days. Phew! The reason is the cars involved: it will be a convoy, yes, and as you might imagine, it will be a convoy of Volkswagens. Okay. Volkswagen Beetles, to be exact. Classic ones.

Driving through a national park in an old saloon car is starting to look a tad suicidal. There’s adventure, and then there’s what might seem like punishment. Depending on your tastes, fitness and readiness to live life to the fullest, this Volkswagen run could swing either way. As you read this, I will be deep in it and I’m not sure what to expect. What I can be sure of is that I will have a story to tell when I return.

Volkswagens here, there, everywhere. Perhaps I should buy one.

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