Northland Challenge: Days 1 & 2


Monday October 20, 2014, Kasese, Uganda

I woke up the Saturday, the first day of the Northland Challenge, thinking about Huck Finn. Toyota Rav4s are our modern-day rafts and our Mississippi is the narrow roads and lush terrain of Uganda.

We traveled more than 300 kilometers on Saturday, from Entebbe to Kibale; and another 100-plus kilometers yesterday from Kibale to Kasese. 

Here’s a sampling of events from the first 48 hours: Cesar and Amanda had baboons jump on the top of their vehicle and refuse to jump off; Vivian and Tim’s car was surrounded by angry, stomping, ear flapping elephants—and after the elephants finally, thankfully, left and they were able to get on their way, another angry elephant charged them; Pierre had a close encounter with a chimp during the chimp tracking. My partner, Guy, and I have traveled “the extra mile” but not necessarily on purpose. (We started off the challenge with a multiple-kilometer detour. Then, we refused to believe a local who told us we were way off course, and detoured even farther.)

We’ve also seen emerald green hillside tea farms, banana tree plantations, very rudimentary indoor plumbing in some locations; beautiful, smiling children; women in gorgeous, brightly colored dresses with coordinated sashes and headscarfs; and we've met many kind, helpful locals.

Not your average day in the office.

A key element of the Northland Challenge is that we only learn our destination for the day at dinner the night before. We’re told the destination and given a map of varying degrees of detail. For example, our destination for tonight is a campsite in Ishasha, part of Queen Elizabeth State Park.

The address? “Unnamed road.”

Then there are “challenge points,” things like: take a photo of a hippo or a photo of a landmark. Yesterday one of the challenge points was a photo of yourself at the marker for the equator with a stranger. We’re given a number of options for activities (ie. do a self-guided safari; take a boat ride); some warnings (“this is not a race; don’t feed the lions; if you reach this bridge you’ve gone too far.”) We're encouraged to explore along the way.

How do the challengers react to this unstructured structure of the Challenge?  Echo told me she finds it interesting. During her travels, she said she remembers advice from her mother to think about the worst case scenario—if you can handle that, go for it. If not, it’s time to regroup.

Amanda told me she finds the lack of structure “freeing.” James C. observed that when you don’t have an exact route charted for you and a strict accompanying timeline, you worry less, he said.

Lacking very specific expectations, you’re free to discover, they say.

Mostly it’s just fun.

I’m sitting in the open air dining area of the lodge right now listening to challengers talking about the yesterday’s adventure and planning today’s.

Would you have wanted to experienced the encounter with the elephants? Who saw the black mamba snake? Will there be beer at the campsite?

Look for another blog in two days. No wifi at the campground tonight. In the meantime, check out Pierre’s blog and some great photos at