A bead of sweat drips from my forehead onto the screen of my mountain bike’s GPS, obscuring my view of the altitude read out. It’s just as well. Pedaling uphill for over an hour and twenty minutes, I’m tired of knowing how many more feet to the top. I know I’m close—I can almost see the crest of Menoaneng Pass just around corner.
I’m on an epic bike ride I’ve scoped from the air dozens of times. Why this route? It is one of our most frequent Code 1, or medical evacuation, routes we fly. In fact, better than one in three of our Code 1 flights originate from this rural clinic called Manamaneng. It is situated deep in the Lesotho Mountains and serves numerous surrounding villages with primary health care. MAF provides air support, including the critical link between the clinic and a hospital. Of the 296 Code 1 flights MAF Lesotho flew in 2015, 112 originated from Manamaneng.
Why am I out here? I want to feel the desperate distances and heights these mountains impose, and know, at least in part, what it’s like for the people we fly when they need to travel this road with no air option.
The clinic has a road connecting it to a hospital where patients can receive higher levels of medical care than are available at the clinic. Unfortunately, it is in poor repair and appropriate vehicles to transfer patients simple may not be available. MAF planes, however, are uniquely equipped and available when needed most.
I’ve been playing leap frog with a taxi (think old beat up Toyota 12-passenger van loaded with 20+ people) ever since I left the airstrip in Manamaneng. With smoother or uphill sections of road, it passes me. Rougher sections or downhill, I’m well out in front. We crest Menoaneng Pass (9980 feet) at just about the same time. If I were a critical patient (and 10 more minutes of climbing, I would be!) with no air support (MAF), I’d have to travel to the hospital in that van.
After 4 hours 13 minutes, 60 kilometers (37 miles), and 1795m (5889 ft.) of climbing, I’ve made it! Seeing that airplane sitting on the airstrip waiting to take me home is a welcome sight! Coincidently, that’s just about how long it took my 20 new friends in the taxi too! And the same amount of time it would take an ambulance to cover that distance.
By air, the hospital is just a 10 minute flight from Manamaneng. Thank the Lord for MAF! Praise Him for the 296 critical patients we transferred in 2015, saving huge amounts of time, when time matters most.