The Race Across South Africa Part 5: Beauty and the Beast

In the bitterly cold kitchen of Pony Cottage – the penultimate checkpoint of the Freedom Challenge – I cursed my ignorance and the lack of cellphone signal for the umpteenth time.

On the counter in front of me I had lined up the necessary ingredients to make the uber cup of plunger coffee I had been so craving for the past 60km. I had the milk, sugar, plunger, boiled water and coffee beans ready to go. The only thing missing was the requisite knowledge to turn these ingredients into a potable cup of coffee. One I sorely needed. I knew the interweb could enlighten me on the proper technique for brewing plunger coffee but not surprisingly, signal was as sparse as the instructions on the coffee packet. It was an appalling time to stumble upon an realisation of my own knowledge gaps. Despite my best efforts to manage my energy stores over the 130km from Rouxpos to Montagu my legs had decided to go walkabout on the rolling district road to Mcgregor, the end result of which was a lot more walking about and a lot less cycling than I like to admit. With 110km still to go  to the next checkpoint at Trouthaven, on any other day I would have called it quits and gone in search of food and a bed. A further 6 hours in the saddle was neither enticing nor smart. However, this was not any other day. Trouthaven was the final checkpoint before the finish and I knew that all I had to do in order to finish in under 12 days, a time I had previously thought of as existing only within reach of the legends of the sport, was to get there before sunrise the next morning, even if that meant walking every climb between the two checkpoints.

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The approach to Stettynskloof. Its malice is hidden under a blanket of beauty

It is trite to say, but I am going to say it anyway; the mind and body are strange things indeed. The smallest change to the state of the former can have immeasurable effects upon the state of the latter. Start your next ride at 2AM, feel your legs disintegrate as the morning wears on you, then notice the change in mind and body as the sunrise creeps over the horizon and warmth leaching out of your very bones is slowly restored. This day was no different. One small cup of coffee so bad it would have made a barista cry, a 5 minute nap, the tiniest adjustment to my seat height, and I veritably flew over the stretch to Trouthaven. I had not been looking forward to the new route between the final checkpoints, dominated as it is by district road, but I could not help but smile as I soaked up the sunset which shaded the jagged Winterberg mountains orange and purple as I waved it farewell one last time.

10km from my Trouthaven I took a few minutes to myself on the side of the road. I lent my bike against a signpost and collapsed into the soft roadside grass facing the familiar lights of Rawsonville. It was a surprisingly warm night for winter, the stars were out in force and the wind had long since retreated around Brandvlei Dam in search of the next group of participants to frustrate. I thought about that day, and the 9 before it. I thought about my goals at the beginning of the race and everything that had been condensed into the short period between then and now. I had entered the race with the vague notion of testing my own limits. Whatever that meant I had hoped it would result in a sub 14 day finish time. Now, staring down the barrel of a sub-12 day finish I could not deny that I had achieved everything I had set out to. I had by my own admission coped admirably with the solitude; I had faced up to multiple time penalties, broken frames, a broken body, and once or twice a broken mind, and yet I had persevered. If the race finished right then and there, in the dark somewhere outside of Rawsonville, 10km short of the lead, I would have had no regrets.

Without going into the nitty gritty, this is largely why the final day played out as it did. I was more than happy with the race I had ridden. Chasing Theo over Stettynskloof or sneaking past him in the dead of night, did not appeal to me in the least, less so if I had actually beaten him (which was by no means certain). He had ridden a fantastic race, had selflessly helped me out when my own navigation had let me down, and though I had rarely seen him since Rhodes, the knowledge that he was somewhere up the road had often been enough to force me back onto the bike to log a few more hours than I thought possible.

These are a couple of the reasons I made the decision I did; to stop Theo as he walked out of the door of Trouthaven and propose we share the trail on the last day. To tackle the beast that is Stettynskloof together. I do not regret that decision for a second.

Stettyns cannot be described, it can only be experienced. It is a place where you begin to understand what it means for something to be both beautiful and cruel. It is the kind of place that will take your breath away, then kick you in the crown jewels whilst you’re gasping on the ground. It is on the face of it a beautiful kloof and we should thank our lucky stars for the privilege of experiencing it, and we would, but for the malice hidden under the surface. It strews a million rocks under thick fynbos, forcing a stumbling gait as you trip on alternate steps just avoiding the clutches of its spiky fynbos arms that threaten to retain you in their grasp for all eternity. Without an existing path there are multiple navigational options but each harbours its own challenges and it is a fortunate participant that is released from Stettyns in fewer than 8 hours. This year a number of participants spent more than 24 hours in her bosum. Theo and I were lucky to escape onto the final kilometres in 8 hours.

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Theo tackles the west ‘Tiger Line’ up Stettnskloof – a route not recommended for those with a fear of heights.

Finally exiting Stettyns via the concrete strips of Fisantekraal onto DuToits Kloof Pass, we separated briefly, each setting our own pace up the twisting climb. It was an opportunity for one last exercise in introspection; to reminisce about all the moments that had lead to this one. I don’t think Theo doubted that I would wait for him at the top – where regrouping amidst high-fives we paused to take in the view of a Cape Peninsula blanketed in an unusual afternoon fog. It was a brief but emotionally charged moment before we started the plunge into Wellington where family and friends awaited our arrival.

Circumnavigating the Diemersfontein Dam, the finishing flags in view off to our left, I applied the brakes and gave Theo the 30 second lead I had promised him. As I inched my way along the alleyway of trees lining the final approaches to the finish I listened to the cheers as Theo crossed the line – and I smiled. I was just about ready for that blanket and Pizza.

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Blankets and beers  at the finish- a moment I had been dreaming of for two weeks

The Race Across South Africa Part 4: To (Die) Hel and Back again

THE FREEDOM CHALLENGE

 

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Welcome to one of the 9  river crossings in the Grootrivierpoort. If you’re lucky you’ll find a corridor of water between the forest of reeds through which you can wade. 

I sat resting with my back on the cool stone wall of the Hadley Farm House. It was the morning of the 8th day of the race. The cool brick wall was heating up quickly and it promised to be a relative scorcher of a day navigating the Osseberg and the Grootrivierpoort. For the moment however I was content existing in this moment as I made my way through a leisurely breakfast on the lawn high up against the Baviaanskloof mountains. The view over the hills receding back towards Darlington Dam and the Addo Elephant Park was as remarkable as the hills were jagged. It was the perfect location for a rest and an exercise in introspection.

 

The sub 14 day finishing goal had not left much room for conversation or sightseeing and this saddened me. Checkpoint stops had been reduced to rushed sub 30 minute affairs as I tried to inter alia eat, re-provision, re-lube, and exchange old maps for new ones. Where I stopped overnight the process was much the same, only instead of climbing back onto the bike I climbed into bed, desirous of eaking out as much sleep as possible in the few hours before I had to return to the trail. A part of me longed to linger at the checkpoints enjoying the famed hospitality of the hosts.

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Taking a second to snap a selfie and take in the view from the top of Mt Everest-fence; one of many similar game fences that have to be scaled before reaching the Baviaans.  There is a technique to getting your bike over one of these monsters but it is not pretty nor easy on the bike. 

Now, slurping the dregs of my third bowl of Weetbix it was nearing time to leave this small slice of paradise. The Osseberg waits for no man and I still had to get through before sunset and an impromptu napover in the Poort became a certainty. I had one more task before I returned to the trail. At last I had the time to send a voice note to my friends and family.

I have listened to this voice note since finishing the event. It is important to me as a reminder, unaffected by the ravages of my rose-tinted memory, of the low I was experiencing at the time. Earlier that morning, dizzy, nauseous, and feeling – as Bilbo Baggins put it – “like butter spread thin over too much bread”, I had passed out in the cold and dark under a thorn bush, unable to go forward or return back to the checkpoint at Bucklands. It was a dark moment followed by many more as, suffering the consequences of severe dehydration, I had walked every hill between my little thorny bushcamp and Hadley.

I will not expand on the content of the note save to say that it was the moment I was possibly at my lowest and I am glad it was recorded. You see, It is easy to start a race with the goal of pushing your limits but it is much harder determine whether you actually achieved that goal. These limits are context dependant  incorporeal perceptions that we so often create to protect ourselves. In hindsight it is easy to doubt our own experiences – especially when we extend those limits during a later event. This is precisely why we return to such events, understanding that we can indeed extend our limits. Yet, listening to that voice note it is hard to doubt that I had reached some sort of real barrier, that I was sitting in a very deep and dark hole, and I am proud of the fact that I dug myself out.  

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It was beautiful morning for an ascent up Swartberg Pass – one of a series of brutal hills that lead you inexorably towards Die Hel. 

So I returned to the trail with a new goal and spent the rest of the day enjoying the solitude of the Baviaans where it easy to believe you’re the only person left on the planet.Remarkably I didn’t even actively hate the traipse down the Osseberg and through the Grootrivierpoort. Confident in my navigation and the fact that I would be at the next checkpoint before dark, I stopped regularly in an attempt to eat and drink my way back some semblance of recovery.

I have experienced some difficulty describing much of the rest of the ride into the Western Cape. In reality it was a case of simply taking it one pedal stroke a time. I stopped fixating on stop strategies, hours of sleep, average speed, and without the added stress of navigation (there is only one road running the length of the Baviaans) I started really enjoying my surroundings and the uncomplicated existence on the trail.

What was later termed “the chase” by many dot-watchers started with a gate, a long climb up what many Transbaviaans finishers will know as “The Mother of All Climbs”, and a remarkable sunrise. It was re-energizing moment, both physically and mentally, helped somewhat by the enforced sleep-in. it was a moment that would perhaps set the tone for the rest of my ride through the reserve itself, and even on as far as the finish.

Arriving at the next checkpoint at Damsedrif before lunch, I reduced my planned extended “death by chocolate” break to take advantage of the legs I had found in the reserve and pushed on to Willowmore for an early dinner. Yet, once in Willowmore and having fairly cruised the 90km gravel grind through the Baviaanssleutel and up Nuwekloof Pass it seemed a shame to end the day so early. So I continued riding on to the next checkpoint at Rondawel, where after a brief sleep, I was awoken by fellow participant Chris Morris who had planned an early departure. Figuring that since I was up I might as well be doing something, I got back onto my bike and carried on to Prince Albert. I didn’t stay long as the allure of Swartberg Pass and Gamkaskloof vistas called.

There wasn’t much to do at the Gamkaskloof checkpoint and I had arrived earlier than expected so I made that a brief stop as well. In any case, it seemed to me that the famous waffles at Rouxpos would be a nice way to end that day.

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Oh look, another selfie, this time on top of the descent into the majestic Gamkaskloof (Die Hel). This is a somewhat ironic name given that it is a 30km long cooler box of a valley. 

I was surprised when I found trail legend and current 3rd place rider Time James at Rouxpos later that evening already a few forkfuls into his waffle. I was even more surprised to learn that Theo had departed for Anysberg only 15 minutes before and that Tim would not be following him out the door but was intent upon instead joining me in departing the next morning (Tim is not known to be one for sleeping). 

The possibility of achieving both an 11-day finish and a win seemed now to be back on the cards, leaving me with a worryingly restless few hours of sleep as I churned through various strategies for the final two days.

The Race Across South Africa Part 3: Into the Baviaans or Broke

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Skirting the barrier of spears on worn out roads

I wish I had more time and more space to write about this race, but I do not, and picking out the parts I believe to be worth reading or that will appeal to your sense of adventure is incredibly difficult. You must understand that what I write is but the tip of the iceberg. The result of my fumbling around this keyboard will be something akin to a picture painted using a cricket bat held between one’s toes whilst blindfolded. It’s a crude blur of colours where there was a rembrandt of emotions. I say this because I have written this leg to my blog about seven times and scrapped each one before I came to the realisation that the best way to do this is simply to say, “get out there and do it yourself, you will regret your decision for anywhere between 11 and 26 days, and cherish it everyday thereafter.’

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An early morning navigating through the Stormberg – pic cred Hugues Clauser

Speaking of regrets, I harboured two inextricably linked regrets on day 7. The first was that I had not carried enough water for the 130km stretch from the checkpoint at Toekomst to the next one at Bucklands, on the border of the Baviaanskloof. The second was that I had chosen to combat the dehydration and mild heat stroke (I know right – who suffers from dehydration during the Freedom Challenge??) with a bottle of sparkling water and a Red Bull snuck out of the Kleinpoort Padstal just before they shut their doors for the night. This combination of poor choices struck me like a runaway timber truck on the grind into Bucklands later that night. Feeling distinctly nauseous and unsteady on my feet I struggled to keep down dinner. More than that I struggled to hold onto a single train of thought. Answering questions posed by the wonderful hosts was like trying to grab fistfuls of mist. Lucidity flowed between my fingers like vapour and the harder I tried to squeeze sense out faster the thought squeezed through them, escaping my grasp. “You’re on record pace” I was told, but in that state it failed to strike a chord with me. I think I already knew I was in big trouble.

 

Why had I carried so little water and how had I gotten myself into such a state?

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Grass tracks lead the way out of Ntsikeni Reserve – pic cred Hugues Clauser

To answer these questions requires a quick reversal of the clock; back to 5AM on day 4, where somewhere in a drizzly Stormberg I lay dozing under a tractor waiting for sunrise whilst trying to keep the shivering down to a minimum as I caught up on  a miniscule amount of the sleep I had not gotten at Rhodes the night before. It had not been the cold and wet that had kept me awake the night before and but the stress of not knowing the outcome of the committee meeting that had been convened to decide upon the future of my race. An outcome that had frustratingly not been communicated to me come my scheduled departure time at 2AM, leaving me to press onwards in a sleep deprived state of limbo, still unsure if I was going to be disqualified.

 

To answer them requires turning the clock back once more to 4AM on day 6, standing atop a blustery Asvoelberg staring down the barrel off an exceptionally tough day as, having lost the lead on the muddy roads to Chesneywld 2 days prior, I had briefly regained it before Romansfontein mid-afternoon on day 5, only to lose it again 30km later as the committee released their decision in respect of my irregular wheel change handing me another 3 hour penalty, the result of which had been an enforced 12hr stay at Romansfontein as Theo rode on into the night to Hofmeyr. To be honest, there are worse places to serve out a time penalty. The hospitality at checkpoint 9 is legendary and sharing it with riders for an earlier batch for the first time in the race was a blessing idisguised as a curse. However, a fire had now been lit in my mind and legs. My inner competitor which had been supressed in favour of a fault-free ride approach, had been awoken and it rebelled at the time penalty pressuring me into turning the pedals in anger for 17 hours as I set a rather brisk pace through Hofmeyr, Elandsberg, and Newlands’ checkpoints, eventually rolling into checkpoint 13 at Grootdam an hour after Theo left for the next checkpoint.

 

Finally: to answer this question means one more time warp to 3:30AM on day 7, as some 3 hours into my ride I stare into the pitch darkness of the Shurfteberg portage; a boulder strewn gully down which one seems to be in a perpetual state of free fall as one trips over rocks, bushes, or one’s own darn crank arm. I had not planned to be up at midnight nor to be mashing my big blade through Tollies Safariland  but I’ve mentioned enough times about the results of the best laid plans of mice and men.The ‘race’ had me tight in its grip now, and I did not know how to escape. Indeed the inner competitor in me did not want to escape. The longer my days and the further I rode each day, the further and harder I wanted to ride the following day. I am young and recover well. I am an endless well of energy and power. Limits? What limits? Had I not come here precisely to see how far and fast I could go?

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the open roads stretching towards Darlington Dam and the Addo Elephant Park – pic supplied

And then the lights went out. On the barren rollers around Darlington Dam, having closed a 90km gap to take the lead, I was swallowed by the pain cave and spat out into some hell hole my map labelled (rather appropriately I thought) ‘The Schiet Hoogte’ where a series of 3M game fences that had to be scaled bike-in-hand robbed me of my final reserves of energy and the last dregs of my water. In vain I climbed roadside Jojo tanks looking for something to top up the reserves before finally resigning myself to a parched crawl to Bucklands where I began to understand the depth of my folly.

Race Across South Africa Part 2: The Many Roads to Rhodes

The Race Across South Africa (RASA) and it’s fledgling brother, The Ride to Rhodes (R2R), are run concomitantly starting in a reverse order format with the most leisurely Riders to Rhodes off (this year) on the 1st of June and the last batch being the sub-14 day RASA batch (hereinafter “my batch”) on the 13th of the same month. This gave me time and lots of it to engage in lengthy period of “dot-watching”. This intensely addictive past-time is characterized by hours spent on the race website specifically not doing work whilst watching the early batches on the live satellite tracker make their way to Rhodes via any number of creative routes. With successful completion of either RASA or R2R hinging on one’s ability to engage in spatial reasoning and to navigate by map and compass, the live tracker plays an ever more important role in the attraction of this event to its supporters. It was noted multiple times by the online peanut gallery that the live tracker elicited a certain schadenfreude in the watcher as one sat in gleeful expectation of the next navigational error – of which there were many. Unbeknownst to me the live tracker would play a large part in the development of the narrative that characterized the final days of my RASA.

 

I digress. Having been reminded by the earlier batches that there are many ways to skin a cat, and equally many roads to Rhodes (ok in truth this is a poor comparison, I know there are infinite ways to get to Rhodes and only two ways to skin a cat), it was my turn to take on the cattle tracks and no tracks of the first 450km. The somewhat ambitious aim was to do a ‘double’ (two checkpoints in one day) every day and reach Rhodes in 3 days. This would mean a faultless navigational ride and most likely a charge for Ntsikeni on day 1 – an idea my strategy consultant aka the super ballie, was against. Finishing in Ntsikeni on day 1 is to many of the more combative participants a bit of sub-target in itself. It is a massive 200km day including five monstrous climbs totaling over 4000m in v(hurt)ical ascent. Nevertheless, it appeared from the outset that there would be 3 of us in H batch going for Ntsikeni or bust; Theo Van Dyk, Tim Deane, and myself.

I have little to say about the first 150km of day 1. Bar a chamois-wettingly close call with a Puffadder in the Umkomaas Valley and the standard motivational collapse up Hella Hella Pass I had a relatively smooth run. Having over 100 riders bashing their way through the trickier navigational sections before you makes for a somewhat less thorny passage for those of us following in the later bunches. That being said, by the time I was spooning the now famous Centacow soup into my dirty face in the early evening of the first day I had already experienced the roller coaster of physical and mental highs and lows that would characterize the days to come. Legs that had been pleading poverty of energy until a grateful rest and refuel at Allandale had come alive on the district roads to Centacow. Arriving there twenty minutes before trail veteran Theo and rookie Tim, I had time to consider my one major setback, a broken spoke. I had not brought spare spokes on the professional advice that 90% of the spokes I could possibly break could not be replaced without a cassette tool or rim tape, neither of which were practical backpack supplies. A couple of calls to the support team and race organization and I thought I had (successfully) arranged for the collection of a newly spoked wheel in Glen Edward early the next morning and tried to think no further on it.
The rest of day one’s ride amounted to an enjoyable night jaunt into the Ntsikeni reserve, arriving well before 9pm and in time to be informed by ineffable host Mr Ncgobo that I had broken the informal record to Ntsikeni. Great success. This race is easy I thought.

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Taking a brief minute to absorb the vista’s on top of the spine of the dragon

Up at 3am the next morning I was through a chilly Glen Edward with a new wheel in time for breakfast, and at checkpoint 3 in Masakala in time for a lunch of Vetkoek and more Vetkoek. I had ridden hard in order to serve the 3 hour daylight penalty and still pass through the wetlands of Queen’s Mercy and get on top of Mparane ridge before dark, which I did, just.

Going ‘flatbox’ is not a term you will hear associated with The Freedom Challenge as the generally accepted theory is that you ride long and slow with the aim of constantly conserving energy for the days to come. Be that as it may, combating the descent off a windy and dark Mparane Ridge was not an appealing thought to me, so it was head-down into TT position as I dropped multiple so called ‘watt bombs’ all over the district road to the start of the Queen’s Mercy flood plains racing the driver of a beaten up Toyota Corolla who clearly had little confidence in his car’s ability to make it to it’s destination on such rough roads.
Rolling into checkpoint 4 at Malekgholonyane later that evening I rejoined Theo and Tim (aka TnT) for a cheese sandwich fueled reunion. It seemed at the time that I had escaped the potential fallout of my time penalty scot-free.

TnT were departing for Rhodes via Vuvu and Lehana’s at 2:30 the next morning. Truth be told I had planned a slightly later start but re-thinking the exceptionally difficult night-time navigation onto and over Black Fountain Ridge I decided to join them for the day. “I’m a light sleeper I’ll wake up when you do anyway” I cheekily told them.

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All sunrises are equal but some sunrises are more equal than others. This shared sunrise on Black Fountain Ridge was particularly equal

Despite the tough hike-a-bike out of Vuvu Valley and the even tougher 3 hour hike up a windswept Lehana’s Pass, I enjoyed a day that would be one of only 2 spent in the company of others. We shared jokes as we clung to our bikes over Lehana’s, shared amazement at Theo’s tiger line through Vuvu, and shared the simple pleasure of a Ham and Cheese sandwich next to a crackling fire at Tenahead lodge before the final 35km slog into Rhodes. A classic RASA truce had been called. Though we all had the virtual lead of the race our thoughts extended no further than getting ourselves through what was objectively an exceptionally tough day. Such camaraderie between competitors is another unique element of this race.
Arriving at a drizzly and dark Rhodes with a total time a smidge over 60 hours I had good reason to be satisfied. The first hurdles had been dispatched with despite the wheel replacement and subsequent time penalty. How blasé I had become, this is RASA I should have reminded myself.

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Theo Van Dyk leads the way through his uber tiger line out of Vuvu Valley

With departure set once again at 2:30AM the next morning I was mentally preparing myself for the cold and wet Stormberg when race director Johann Rissik pulled me aside to inform me that a rider had lodged a complaint about the fact that I had phoned race office and not the race director in respect of my forced wheel change. In light of the complaint the committee would be sitting that night to decide upon my fate. “This matter has now become serious but I will let you know before you leave tomorrow” were roughly his parting words. The 5 hours of planned sleep evaporated before my eyes as I broke out into a cold sweat. Was my race already over?

The Race Across South Africa: Part 1

Theo Van Dyk and I took what he liked to call a “strategy break” half way up the steep ridge up the west side of Stettynskloof. It was the last day of our respective Races Across South Africa (more commonly known as ‘The Freedom Challenge’) and we were understandably tired. Resting with our backs on our bags we turned to face eastwards, the way we had just hiked, and watched the sun rise perfectly through the ‘V’ between the Hawequa Mountains. It was a moment of silent appreciation as we took in the raw and cruel beauty of the surrounding mountains that would hem us in for the next 8 hours.
“Have you found in the last few days that when you take a break from the bike your vision tends to go blurry and your mind foggy?” I asked Theo. “Ya, that sounds familiar” he replied. “I think it’s sleep deprivation, I’m not feeling so lekker, do you think we can take a quick nap?” I ask. Theo agrees and we shelter from the cold wind in the lee one of the many fallen boulders. Ten minutes later I wake myself up snoring. “Time to go” I say to Theo, rousing him in the process. Smirking to myself I remark on the fact that this is probably the first time in history that the first and second placed riders have shared a power nap 40km from the finish. Yet, I am not surprised. This unique moment would not be the last and was certainly not the first in an endless list of strange and unique moments that I – and every participant – had experienced as we had raced across the country. That is the nature of the Freedom Challenge, it is utterly i
ncomparable to any other event.

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One final photo opportunity before the grand departure. Pic cred – Cherie Vale

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 2300km solo unsupported non-stop ‘mountainbike’ (I use the word loosely given the amount of time spent pushing and not riding one’s bike) race from Pietermaritzburg to Paarl has long been revered by the cycling community as the singularly toughest race on the calendar. Almost every element designed by former race director Dave Waddilove seems hand-crafted to make the race tougher to complete. From the sub-zero mid-winter temperatures, to the map-and-compass style navigation, to the myriad of mountainous hikes, everyday on the Freedom Trail brings with it some new and exciting/terrifying challenge to conquer. There is no such thing as a free kilometer in this race.
Yet it is these very factors and their inimitability that draw the small field of hardy competitors back into its fold year after year to test themselves against the elements, and quite frankly, against themselves.
I cannot say for sure what drew me back to this race. I suspect it was not the ‘usual’ reasons that saw me standing on below the Pietermaritzburg City Hall Clock on the morning of the 13th of June. I didn’t return because I had unfinished business or because I have some special affinity to the race like so many of the returning participants do. I left the 2013 edition quite adamant that I would not be returning. Spending 22 days and some spare change on the bike and near hypothermic had been a trying experience, and one I had remember having little desire to repeat. Having body fat percentage in the single digits does not predispose one to cold temperatures. I think ultimately this race, it’s length and it’s difficulty, regardless of the name given and the exact route traversed, provided the platform I wanted to test myself in the ways that I had not been over the past 3 years. I had arrived on the start line with a somewhat hazy goal of extending myself physically and mentally. I wanted to see if I could ride my own race strategy uninfluenced by others. I wanted to know if I could cope with long hours on the bike in the back of beyond by myself, and if I could deal with the copious hurdles that would undoubtedly arise along the road to Paarl. I have done this race and harder before but always accompanied by others and always at their pace. Now it was my turn to find out what I was made out of. I suppose that at the end of the trip and after countless hours of introspection, I wanted to learn a bit more about myself.
The factors outlined above combined with the leave days left to me meant that I had set myself a goal time of 14 days or less. Anything over that and I would either be booking ‘sick leave’ or catching an early uber back to work. A sub-14 day goal had landed me squarely in the last batch to leave Maritzburg – the “racing snakes” batch as it were. This presented some theoretical challenges for me insofar as being the competitive person I am I would have to avoid the undoubtedly strong temptation to race those in my batch and not myself. After all, over 2300km it makes no sense to race anyone’s strategy but your own.
So there the 6 of us were; the veterans, Theo Van Dyk, Gawie Du Plessis, Jacques Tattershall, and myself I suppose, and the newbies, Tim Deane, and Gavin Horton – all lined up like nervous school children in front of the Maritzburg City Hall on a dark but surprisingly warm Monday morning.
Nervous laughter passed through us like ripples of wind as we tried to avoid thinking about the impending journey by passing it off with humour. It was only a month ago and yet I wonder how I could have been so ignorant.

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Batch H – ‘the racing snakes’ ready for the off

 

 

IN THE BEGINNING

In the beginning there was the word, and the word was’blog’ and blog was  the word, and it was spoken thusly, ‘let there be a blog’, and then there was a blog.

At first the blog was ungainly (ham-fingered some might say) and unseemly to behold. It’s creator was in the experimental phase.  He attached words where there should have been pictures and vise versa. The interface was cold and monotonous like the sea. Yet all thing must start somewhere and given enough time and patience they will evolve. The words will depart from the sea and find the multi-hued land in which they can thrive and multiply, and it follows that the blog too will change as it adapts to its environment.

At least that is the hope I have for this blog…just another wordpress blog, but not…A blank canvass in which the amoebic words have a place to settle and become comfortable before they grow restless and desire a change of landscape; a new challenge to overcome. In time this space will evolve to suit the development of the blogs. You see, words are important, they have power, the power to change not only their readers but their surroundings too. Terry Pratchett knew this. He writes,

books must be treated with respect, we feel that in our bones, because words have power. Bring enough words together and they can bend space and time.’

I want to ride the wave of this power. To use its force to share with you my experiences on and off the bike  in the hope that my words harbour enough power to change you even one hundredth as much as the experiences they shall describe have changed me.

A LITTLE BIT ABOUT THE AUTHOR

The author – yours truly as I shall later refer to myself – is a one-time aspirant journalist, very briefly professional cyclist, and a soon-to-be-attorney. When not chained to my desk I can be found traversing the fairest Cape by bike, boat, or foot, alternatively planning ‘the next big adventure’.

My Palmares albeit not extensive is fairly unusual insofar as it contains successful completions of Two Freedom Challenges (Race Across South Africa) and a Tour Divide (Race Across America), and at least a successful start to the Transcontinental (Race Across Europe).

Other noteworthy cycling achievements include

  • South African Junior Mountain Bike Marathon Champion
  • Silver Medalist at the South African Student Mountain Bike Championships
  • 2 x Transbaviaans finisher
  • 5th and 3rd places in the Transkaroo Marathon
  • Winner of the Homeward Bound Challenge
  • 2 x Cape Epic Finisher

Let the Journey begin

Bruce


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The author and sponsors on the start line of the 2016 Freedom Challenge.