“You can’t just wing it. The long driving takes all your energy. Some of the stints can take 14 hours. But we accepted early on in the journey that it wouldn’t be easy and tried to alternate the driving. There are roads that just don’t exist. It’s unbelievable. We laughed the whole way,” is how Karen Petersen sums up her latest adventure – the Put Foot Rally.
She tackled the epic road trip as the captain of the “padvarkies”. Her crew included her 75 year-old parents Bernard and Vivienne (the oldest of the 333 participants) and a group of stuffed pink toy pigs that were strapped to the spare tyre and jerry cans behind the vehicle.
Mud spattered and a bit the worse for wear, they’ll never be pink again, she admits rather wryly.
It’s hard to understand why the first female director of Tongaat Hulett Developments and an award winning leader within the male dominated world of property would put her slick Jaguar F-Pace through the rigors of massive potholes, dust and chaotic border crossings for 20 days when she could just as easily dodge corporate challenges in an air conditioned office.
That’s until you meet the gregarious Petersen who is quick to declare that she “has no regrets” and would tackle the 9 200km ‘rally that’s not a conventional rally’ through South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Malawi and Mozambique all over again.
Founder and owner of SADC Plan, Trivi Arjunan, the town planning consulting company that sponsored Petersen’s foray into Africa, probably sums it up best – apart from being a trailblazer and cancer survivor, she is also “an adventurer with a passion for wanting to help those less fortunate than herself”.
The Put Foot Rally is not a competitive race against an eclectic array of vehicles that take part but one against time. There is no prize and no set route. Crews map out their own journeys in order to arrive at the five check points along the way.
Those that don’t beat the clock, risk being disqualified. The only problem is that a 300km stretch can take up to eight hours. But, at every check point, there’s a huge party and a chance to meet some of the fascinating participants from across the globe.
These participants - affectionately known as Put Footers - each raise money for their own charities as well as for school shoes which are delivered and fitted at schools en route by the crews.
Petersen began planning for the rally six months before she trucked her Jag to the starting point in Melkbosstrand. Hers was just one of 10 teams from Durban and she was one of few lady drivers.
But she finished without so much as a puncture whereas others blew radiators or dealt with broken windscreens and seized gear boxes. “I guess I have angels,” she laughs.
Her worst memory was the 5 ½ hour delay amidst “mayhem and chaos” at the Mchinji border post between Zambia and Malawi. “We were still lucky, some crews waited over 8 hours!”
The most memorable part of her journey was through the beautiful Namibia. The worst roads were in Mozambique, she recalls.
Her most precious memory, though, was being able to volunteer and spending her time teaching 11 and 12 year-old girls the value of communication as part of a “Girl Impact” project in a make-shift classroom in the Zambian bush. While other crews went bungie jumping and white water rafting during a stop-over at the half way mark in Livingstone, Petersen had signed up to spend time with NGO African Impact. She is now sponsoring an 11-year-old girl called Lungisa through the organisation.
But the most welcome thing of all, she admits, was arriving home and sleeping in her own bed, after a rigorous 17-hour journey from the finish line at White Sands in Barra.