One of the great horseback adventures of the modern era has drawn to a sad close, with the death of respected South African Long Rider Billy Brenchley.
The death of Brenchley on May 10, at the age of 45, after a long battle with leukamia, closes the last chapter in a remarkable journey of exploration on horseback. It was an adventure that claimed the life of his fiancee, Christine (Christy) Henchie, 29, early last year in a horror accident involving a bus.
The couple had set off in 2005 with ambitious plans to complete the first ride from Cap Blanc in Tunisia – the most northern point in Africa – to its southernmost tip, Cape Agulhas in South Africa.
They crossed 10 countries during their epic Long Ride, which they dubbed pure adventure.
At one point the pair were detained in the Sahara desert for 75 days while Libyan authorities pondered whether to allow them into the country.
Their journey through Egypt proved harrowing on another level, battling sandstorms, tick bite fever and heat waves.
They crossed Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and northern Sudan, before being halted by the impassable swamp known as the Sudd. The pair loaded their two horses on to a cargo barge which took them south to Juba in a thousand mile nautical journey.
They entered Uganda, where they were astonished to learn that horses had disappeared under the rule of Idi Amin. The sight of their mounts caused pandemonium in the countryside. They were at times followed by hundreds of curious onlookers.
It was in Uganda that Brenchley became ill with the acute myeloid leukaemia that was to ultimately claim his life.
He flew to South Africa for treatment and 16 months later the pair were in a position to resume their journey in Uganda.
They completed their Ugandan leg and entered Tanzania, where tragedy struck. On January 8, 2013, an out-of-control bus struck the pair and the onlookers following them as they walked with their horses through the small village of Isela.
The impact killed Henchie instantly and Brenchley suffered a broken leg. The accident killed two villagers and injured others.
Brenchley was later to report to the Long Riders Guild that the bus driver involved faced three counts of causing death and two counts of causing injury arising from the accident. He pleaded guilty and was fined 250,000 Tanzanian shillings – the equivalent of 1658.34 South African rand or just under $US154.
A memorial service for Henchie was held in South Africa, attended by Brenchley, who was determined to heal and finish the ride in honour of his fiancee.
It was not to be. His leukaemia returned. More chemotherapy and weekly blood platelet transfusions followed. He mustered enough strength to pay a final visit to see their horses, Chami and Nali.
They have been in the care of friends in Tanzania since the accident.
After seeing his horses a final time, Brenchley returned to South Africa.
In Cape Town, he contracted an infection that his weakened body was unable to fight.
Guild founders CuChullaine and Basha O’Reilly, in reporting on Brenchley’s death, said: “Life is full of forgettable people, who fill the world and our lives with trivialities and trouble. A handful of us were blessed, for too short a time, to say we were enriched by knowing Billy and Christy. They were heroes on so many levels.”
Thanks to the Long Riders’ Guild for contributing to this report.