The Freedom Challenge

The Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa is an "unsupported" non-stage mountain bike race of approximately 2,300 km across South Africa. While recent winners have won in around 11 days, the race cut-off is 26 days. The race starts in Pietermaritzburg in early-to-mid-June, and ends in Paarl near Cape Town. Temperatures are known to drop as low as minus-10 deg. Celsius. While there are periodic "support stations" which will feed and accommodate riders should they require, the race is unsupported in the sense that riders must carry their own clothing and equipment, are responsible for their own maintenance and navigation (without the aid of GPS), and there are no marshalls or safety officials on the course (Race monitoring is done by satellite tracking). Estimates of cumulative ascent are around 37,000 metres, and the highest point on the route is approximately 2,700 metres above sea level. See the following link for an introductory slideshow by Mike Roy - http://mg.co.za/multimedia/2010-02-04-extreme-endurance-the-freedom-challenge

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Glenn’s RASA Kit in 2010 (Author: Glenn Harrison)


Many people have asked me about the gear I used for the race (apart from the 32x17) and how I managed to keep the overall weight down to 6 or 7kg. Well I learnt a lot from the the previous year when I rode with Mike (Woolnough) on the tandem and afterwards spent a good deal of time scouring the internet to see what the latest, greatest and lightest gear available was. Having limited access to these products in SA meant shopping online through various online outdoor retailers and that in itself was quite a positive experience. (These guys clearly understand the meaning of 'good service')

I was aiming for a total pack weight of not more than 8kg - having to stand up a lot on the singlespeed meant keeping the weight on my back light to counter fatigue. I also wanted to put some weight on the front to balance things out. Light = fast, so it made sense to just try and minimize weight wherever possible. Biggest decision was what size backpack to use, too big and I'd end up taking unneccessary luxuries, too small and I wouldn't have enough space for even the essentials - in the end I settled for a trail running/mtb pack from British company Inov-8. Their Race Pro 18l pack weighs only 470gr and has a unique wrap-around bladder system which keeps the liquid weight low and proved to be very stable and comfortable.(www.inov-8.com) On the front I used a converted travel pouch of about 1.5l capacity - after a few mods and sprucing it up with a Giant logo, this was attached to the shoulder straps and waistbelt of the pack and carried my maps, narratives, toilet paper, snacks, more snacks, pump,lube, sunscreen, camera and sometimes the phone or tracker plus some more snacks. Smaller things like spare batteries, headlamp battery pack, multitool, some meds etc went in the waistbelt pockets but were not accessed often. The convenience of having all essential items up front in the chest pouch meant I only took the backpack off if I needed to stash or get to extra clothing layers or replenish food supplies from the main bag. In the end the backpack weighed in at just over 6kg (with water) and the chest pouch at its heaviest was never more than 1.5kg. I would use the same system again, with a few tweaks to the way the chest pouch mounts in order to better stabilise it.


I didn't need to use a map board but I did use a small pouch mounted behind the stem on the top tube - this usually held whichever device was being charged by the hub but sometimes also the tracker and even some snacks on occasion. The charging unit mounted directly onto the stem and was the size of roughly 2 matchboxes. I had a Petzl Myo XP headlamp permanently mounted to my helmet - the remote battery pack would either be stashed in a waitbelt pocket or plugged in and carried in my jacket pocket.


Clothing was divided into day clothes and night clothes. My night clothes were a pair of Capestorm furnace leggings, a Capestorm Puffadder fleece, a pair of lightweight polyester Solz overtrousers together with the clean second base layer that I would be wearing the next day on the bike. For my feet I had a pair of thin Coolmax socks and a pair of mid-calf length Sealskinz socks, if I needed to go outside I would put on my riding shoes. The day clothes were: legs - a pair of Sealskinz long socks (to just under the knee), my Hoss Ponderosa 3/4 length baggies and full length Endura leg warmers if it was very cold. On top - a sleeveless First Ascent base layer, long sleeve base layer (alternated between a First Ascent and Endura merino wool base layer) and a long sleeve Giant winter-weight riding top. If it was very cold, I would then wear the Polaris Vortex jacket to cut the wind and keep me warm and if it was even colder or wet, my Golite Virga shell jacket and pants. One of the main reasons I could travel so light was thanks to the compact shell layer - 100% waterproof, breathable and under 500gr for pants and jacket combined and I was able to stow both in the outside mesh pocket of the bag where they were easily accessible without going into the main bag. These items were probably a quarter of the bulk/weight compared to other riders I saw. In the event of more extreme weather, I could have put my night clothes on as well but thankfully never had to resort to this. A big saving too was not carrying extra riding shorts - the baggies have a thinly padded liner which I washed out whenenever possible, when it wasn't possible to do laundry, I used a pair of thin, seamless lycra briefs inside the shorts which worked well. (The worst was not being able to do laundry for 3 consecutive days because I was riding big days and there were no drying facilities at the support stations - not recommended! I also went to bed in my dirty clothes at Bucklands because I was only going to sleep for 2 hours, I stank and the sticky layers felt pretty horrible the next morning but once I warmed up, I forgot about it.)


On my head I wore either a windproof skullcap plus Buff around the neck or a Capestorm balaclava or a combination of all three. (I carried 2 Buffs and on warmer days used these instead of the skull cap and balaclava) There were a few days where I never took the balaclava off because it was too cold! Gloves were my biggest concern, so I had 4 layers to play with - a thin wicking polyester glove, thin latex-free washing up gloves, windproof winter riding gloves (rated about +5C) and Sealskinz winter mtb gloves. I used all 4 coming out of Rhodes, Brosterlea and Elandsberg but most of the time I rode with 2 layers and later sometimes without gloves when it was sunny. Despite the 4 layers, my fingers froze coming out of Rhodes, so there's still scope for warmer gloves or maybe mittens.... My feet were always warm though.

Night clothes and spare base layer took up a bit more than a third of the pack volume and was kept in ziplock bags. Then there was my first aid kit, (pretty comprehensive and maybe a bit bulky in hindsight but glad I had it), toothbrush, small electric shaver and the chargers for tracker and phone (which I decided to take with in case the hub and charger didn't work out) as well as a bag of bike spares (rim tape, bottle of sealant, bomb, cable ties, duct tape, a spare tube, chain links and later a whole spare chain) The top third of the pack was usually taken up by a large ziplock bag of food supplies for a long day - sandwiches from support stations, mini cheddar biscuits, more energy bars, chocolates, nougat etc and small ziplock bags with energy drink powder, recovery shakes etc. This was in addition to the food in my front pouch - I always made sure I had more than enough food in case I had to sleep rough or got held up by the weather unexpectedly.

One the bike, I had a spare tyre strapped on under the seat and a more complete tool kit inside a 500ml bottle in the other bottle cage. The toolkit contained 3x bombs plus applicator, tyre levers, chain break, multitool, patch kit with some large gator patches for sidewall cuts, tubeless plug kit, spoke spanner, spare valve cores and a short length of chain. I never weighed all this but it felt a bit lighter than a full water bottle.


So to sum up, I basically only carried one set of riding clothing with two sets of base layers which I alternated. When it was possible to wash and dry laundry, I would wash everything but if not, I would just wash base layers. The clothing I had was chosen carefully, either to save weight or perform a certain function and I was dependant on doing laundry quite often. In the cold I had to keep moving in order to stay warm but often when walking and pushing the bike up hills I'd get quite hot. If conditions had been much worse with continuous rain or snow, I probably would have gotten a bit cold (especially my hands) but apart from the first stretch to just beyond Rhodes, the cold was still managable. Carrying more weight wasn't really an option though, even with this relatively light load, my back and shoulders were sore after a long day's riding. This was only really in the first half though, later on my body had adapted and amazingly, I hardly noticed the backpack anymore!

1 comment:

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