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Mill Valley couple to raise awareness about rhino poaching through mountain bike race

Karrie Hovey and husband Charles Merrill stand on the flank of Mt. Tam on Tuesday in Mill Valley. San Francisco sits on the horizon. Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal

Karrie Hovey and husband Charles Merrill negotiate rocks on the flank of Mt. Tam on Tuesday in Mill Valley. They will be competing in a nine-day, 900-kilometer mountain bike race in South Africa to raise awareness and money to prevent rhino poaching. Frankie Frost — Marin Independent Journal

Consider the rhinoceros … well, it’s probably safe to say that most folks in Marin don’t do that on a regular basis.But Mill Valley artist/environmentalist Karrie Hovey does — passionately — and she has taken it upon herself to change the awareness of the threatened beast, which is being killed, at the estimated rate of one every 12 hours, for the sole purpose of collecting its distinctive horn, which has purported medicinal value in eastern Asia. According to the South African-based 12Hours organization, the illegal poaching of rhinos is multi-billion dollar trade and the animal could be extinct, in South Africa, which has the world’s largest population of wild rhinos, by 2030.
“It’s absolutely barbaric,” she said. “There’s no reason to kill these animals. Their horns are like fingernails; you could chop them off and they would grow right back. You don’t have to kill them to get the horn.
“Everyone seems to be aware of elephant poaching, but so few people are aware of rhino poaching. We’re trying to raise that awareness.”
To that end, Hovey and her husband, Charles Merrill, who is a software professional in San Francisco, will compete in the annual Old Mutual joBerg2c mountain bike race, a nine-day, 900- kilometer off-road event that begins Friday and traverses the bush and mountains of South Africa from Johannesburg to the sea.
The money the couple is raising along the way — from contributions from such local organizations and companies as Mike’s Bikes, the Marin County Bicycle Coalition, Netpulse, Vanderkitten, Equator Coffees and Teas, Specialized Bicycles and OSMO Nutrition — will go to schools along the race route to raise the consciousness of local children on the plight of the rhinos.
“A $500 donation to 12Hours will fund the awareness and art program for an entire school, reaching hundreds of children,” Merrill said. “Although few of the children have ever seen a rhino in the wild, they live in the regions where poaching occurs. We are hoping to fund the project in a minimum of four schools.”
Hovey said she first became interested in the rhinos’ dire situation — and the Old Mutual joBerg2c event — when she was an artist-in-residence in South Africa in 2012. Because the mountain-bike race also serves as a fundraiser for communities that act as daily start and end points, the 43-year-old Hovey, a lifelong cyclist, said it was a natural for her.
“South Africa is a spectacular country, and I’ve been looking for a way to get back there,” she said. “(JoBerg2c) fits my passion for mountain biking and to do things for the environment and art.”
Merrill, meanwhile, was intrigued by the race from the moment his wife began to discuss it.
“I’ve heard so many great stories about South Africa … and I’m interested in wildlife preservation and anti-poaching programs and those sorts of things … that as soon as Karrie started telling me about (the race) I had to interrupt her to say yes,” he said. “I suspect it’s going to be a great adventure. I’m looking forward to it.”
Although joBerg2c is one of the biggest cycling races in South Africa, with a large contingent of professionals in the 800-plus rider field, Merrill, 55, is hoping that he and Hovey finish in the top half of their category (mixed gender team).
“We’re not going to win it, but I would like to beat half the teams in our category,” he said. “My goal is to make a lot of new friends — and then beat them.”
The couple has logged a lot of miles in preparing for the event.
Merrill, whose daily bike commute to the City is more than 30 miles round trip, and Hovey, who generally is relegated to a bike-trainer or swimming during the midweek, spend six to eight hours a day pounding the pedals in the Marin Headlands and Mt. Tam on the weekends.
“We have a lot more climbing around here than in South Africa,” Hovey said. “I’m hoping that translates well in the race. … It’s going to be an adrenalin rush in the extreme.”
“I have a propensity to crash,” Merrill added with a laugh. “Karrie is really strong.”
But no matter how Hovey and Merrill fare on the single- and double-track trails of South Africa, their success or failure in the race pales in the shadow to the rhinos’ predicament.
“We won’t win (joBerg2c),” Merrill said, “but we want to use our participation to help create new dialogues across international communities and help raise awareness of wildlife poaching.”
The race is on.
Marin resident Dan Giesin writes for the IJ. Email dgiesin@gmail.com.

Old Mutual joBerg2c

What: 900 km off-road mountain-bike stage race
Where: South Africa
When: Friday – May 2
Who: International field of pro and amateur mountain-bike racers, including Karrie Hovey and Charles Merrill of Mill Valley. The couple will be chronicling their adventures on their blog at www.3ringcircus.us.
Donations: For those interested in helping the anti-poaching campaign, log on to https://www.indiegogo.com Rhino Art to make a contribution.
Video: Introduction to the Old Mutual joBerg2c race is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hd440Bpiiqc&;feature.