Wilderness guide racks up R400k for Covid relief with gruelling 1,000km garden walk

Limpopo's Bruce Lawson initially decided to walk 150km to raise money for food parcels — and he hasn't stopped walking since

17 May 2020 - 00:03 By Dianne Tipping-Woods
Limpopo wilderness guide Bruce Lawson walks to raise money for those in need.
Limpopo wilderness guide Bruce Lawson walks to raise money for those in need.
Image: Kevin Maclaughlin

On April 28, Limpopo wilderness guide Bruce Lawson decided to walk 150km around a 400m track in his garden over three days, to raise money for food parcels. He hasn't stopped walking since.

More than two weeks later, he's nearing the 1,000km mark, with over R400,000 raised. That's more than 30,000 meals for families in need.

"I thought, 150km to start with, but always had 1,000km in the back of my mind. I know that if you can walk 100km, you can walk 1,000km. If you can walk 1,000km why not 10,000km? That's just the way I am," says Lawson, 51, who's so far lost eight toenails on the walk, and is braving tortuous ice baths to help his body go the distance.

Already a legend in the wilderness guiding community, Lawson has become a minor celebrity on the Hoedspruit Wildlife Estate where he lives, as he uses the lockdown level 4 exercise period between 6am and 9am to expand his route beyond his garden track. "The space gets very small when you're going around in circles," he says.

He started the first 150km with friend and fellow wilderness guide Sean Pattrick, 50, for company. Sean lives 650km away in KwaZulu-Natal. Both have spent the best part of the past 25 years leading trails in the African bush.

Their plan was to raise money in support of the Hoedspruit-based Hlokomela Herb Garden food parcel initiative to get food parcels to families affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. Out of this, the Tshembo Africa Foundation was born to support community conservation projects and livelihoods.

"As wilderness guides, we want the best for our environment and the people living around the areas where we work. We see community and reserves and guides as linked. We do as much as we can to strengthen those links," says Pattrick.

Inspired by Lawson and Pattrick, more than 70 of their former guiding students from more than a dozen countries around the world are following in their footsteps. Together, they've covered more than 5,000km, and counting.

Wilderness guides walk for a living in Africa's wild spaces, and Lawson has completed more than 19,000 hours of walking in his career. He's also walked unsupported from Cape Town to Windhoek (about 1,480km) to raise money for a remedial school in White River, and, almost unimaginably, completed 12,500km, unsupported, on foot from Cape to Cairo.

An accident as a child left Lawson unable to walk for four years between the age of four and eight - he spent two years in a plaster cast and one year in a wheelchair. He was told that he had a less than 10% chance of walking unassisted. "Perhaps I'm trying to make up for that," he says.

I've definitely grown mentally stronger over the years - or just more mental - but my mind can keep going when my body wants to quit
Wilderness guide Bruce Lawson

"I've definitely grown mentally stronger over the years - or just more mental - but my mind can keep going when my body wants to quit," says Lawson, who starts each day at 3am, and tries to finish the 50km daily target by 7pm, with a few breaks in between.

He carries an 18kg pack on his back, saying "the more you suffer, the more interest people take in what you're doing."

And he is suffering: 50km a day for more than 14 consecutive days is hard on the body.

Lawson isn't sure when people will be able to travel again. "I may not have an income right now and possibly for the rest of the year, but I have a roof over my head and food on my table. Some people don't have that. If my stroll around the garden can do that, and give people hope, then I don't see any reason to stop." 

• For more information on the Walk for Hope story, find Tshembo Africa, Bruce Lawson and Sean Pattrick on Instagram. You can also email Tshembo.africa@gmail.com