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 -

Sunday, 15 July 2012

Finisher's dinner and race recap.

Ask any Blanket Wearer and they will tell you that the Freedom Challenge doesn't end when the last rider crosses the line but rather, it lives on in their thoughts and memories and it lives on in the stories that each rider has to tell about their own journey along the trail.

Last night, a fresh group of Blanket Wearers gathered at Diemersfontein to mingle with some of the old hands – to get to know each other and to swop stories from the trail.

This year’s race proved to be very close as the battle between Martin and Alex played out. With a gap of only a few hours over the race distance of 2300km (equivalent to only 0.3sec over a 100m dash), the outcome was only decided on the final day. The non-stop racing and different tactics kept race followers glued to their computer screens  at all hours of the day and night and surely put a dent in the GDP figures for the month of June.  They battled through the rain and mud of the Stormberg, fought off sleepmonsters in the Swartberg and in the end, both smashed the previous course record. In total contrast to these two,  Graham Bird came in third, looking remarkably fresh and proving that there is merit in sleeping properly every night – he rode with an average of six hours of comfortable sleep per night and still finished in under 14 days.

This year, everyone suffered in the Stormberg, which was wet, muddy and messy. It took its toll on bikes and bodies and the rider’s progress sheets show how everyone slowed down along this section of the trail. There were other sections which also proved challenging, strong headwinds in the Karoo for some or heavy rains near the end for the later finishers – at some point everyone had to just take it on the chin and decide to keep moving or go home. The stats from this year also tell a similar  story, with 49 starters and only 29 finishers (2 of whom finished via the touring route). But these numbers are no different to previous years - this race is tough and takes its toll! To date there are only 114 riders who can claim to be Blanket Wearers, 13 of whom are women. None of this seems to deter future entrants from signing up for the adventure though – before this year’s race was even over, there were already 46 entries for the 2013 event.

Every year at the race dinner an award is given to one rider for a particularly courageous effort. The Stone Saddle recognises that rider’s determination to finish. This year, the award went to Dino Marusich (and his Alaskan Wolf). He also finished the Extreme Triathlon this year, after completing the Dusi Trail Run and yesterday, the Berg River canoe marathon.  (The other rider to do so this year was Sean Privett). Dino had an interesting ride this year – after being caught out in a storm, he spent a night in the container on top of Lehahna’s Pass (with Jody and Andre), had to have his frame welded at Kranskop, after a crack appeared and seemingly rode most of the way without any functioning brakes on his bike. His Alaskan Wolf, a basic, heavy steel bike with a homemade rack, made for hard work on the portages but despite the adventures and mishaps, he always kept going and often did so smiling. Well done Dino, a proud Blanket Wearer and now a deserved ‘bearer of the Stone Saddle.’

(Special thanks to Blanket Wearers Peter O'Farrell and Andrew King for the photos.)

1 comment: