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, 30 June 2013

Daily Report - 30 June

Another pearler of a day out on the trail today and the march towards the finish continues.

The sweepers, Leon and Andries are enjoying the hospitality at Bucklands tonight - tomorrow they should get to Cambria and then start the journey up the Baviaanskloof.

In Cambria tonight are the Fishers, Chris and Julia, as well as Gaeren, who rode with them for company today. They got in well before dark, so there will be no camping out in the kloof tonight.

Today saw the unfortunate withdrawal of Roy - he had been nursing a damaged ankle and then picked up a tummy bug which had made the going particularly tough the last few days. It was with great disappointment that the race office accepted his withdrawal - he had been soldiering on through thick and thin, always with a positive attitude and a smile on his face. The 70-year old had also become a firm favourite at the support stations, earning the respect of the hosts wherever he went. Well done Roy on an inspiring ride and a truly remarkable achievement to have gotten that far.

And then there's Robbie - today he finally got to shift into the big blade and crank up the watts, cruising from Cambria to Dam se Drif in a swift 6 hours. Hestelle was impressed enough to give him seconds of chocolate pudding and he then powered on to Willowmore - he went so fast in fact that he missed the last turn off to Willowmore - but a quick phone call got him back on track and he got to the Willows guesthouse before dark after a great day's riding. Let's see how he goes across the 'vlaktes' to Prince Albert tomorrow.

Solo Eric has been steadily riding himself back to good health - leaving Willowmore this morning, he stopped off at Rondawel for some vetkoek. He continued from there to Prince Albert and was ambushed by none other than Voorryer Johann Rissik, lurking in the bushes after a triumphant return from the Battle of Ketoorskop. Poor Eric was forced to have coffee and rusks before being allowed to continue. He will be heading for Gamkaskloof tomorrow.

Guy and the Adams Family continued on their merry way today, with Philip in tow. According to Guy, "the old guys were pretty slow up The Ladder" but they all made it through to Rouxpos and tomorrow they will be heading off to Montagu.

The Montagu Country Hotel is a busy place tonight - the guests include Dave, Doug, Janine, Coen Colin, Andrew and Avril who seemed to have formed a nice group. Lunch at Kasra for them tomorrow, yum yum, and then on to Trouthaven. Also in Montagu and probably at the bar tonight, are Andy and Peter. They arrived from Anysberg just in time for the Sunday lunch buffet and are cruising from here to the finish - goal for tomorrow is lunch... and then supper in Kasra.

Polish Martin is just up the road in McGregor tonight. He had a rough day coming into Anysberg yesterday but recovered a bit today. Tomorrow he'll pass through Kasra for a second breakfast, before pushing on to Trouthaven. - Nearly there Martin

Trouthaven is packed to the rafters tonight - a group of eleven riders will be trying to get a good night's sleep before the massive haul up Stettynskloof in the morning. Ansa, Sarel, Pierre, Dave, Bruce, Charles, Pete and Dave all arrived together. They were beaten to it by Anton, Gavin and Henry though, so guess who got the best beds.

At Diemersfontein today we welcomed Marnitz home and then just before dark, the Hout Bay Boys rolled in, Barry, John and George.

And that leaves only Charles - he's on his way to Diemersfontein, expected to arrive just after midnight. He's now down to walking pace, with his neck and knees caving in but that's not going to stop him - so the pizza is ready and the race office waits...

The Hout Bay Boys are home.

The Hout Bay Boys

The trio of Barry Futter, George Evans and John Croasdale  have arrived at Diemersfontein, just in time for supper! They started in Batch C and finished in 19days 12hours 25min, a great time for these FC rookies. They've ridden together since the start and were all in great spirits when they crossed the line.

Their's was a well thought out and executed ride, without any major setbacks and very little scratching around in the dark - proof that a level headed and steady approach can lead to a successful and enjoyable Freedom Challenge. George commented that at one point he was having so much fun that he felt a bit guilty because he had thought it would be hard all the time.

Along the way they tried to think of a nickname for themselves and eventually came up with 'The Onions - many layers on the outside, a bit smelly inside.'

They rode from dawn most days and usually managed to get in before dark - just in time for supper. Their longest day was in fact their last day where they pushed from Kasra this morning, starting at 01h00, all the way to the finish.

Well done guys, you can be proud of what you've done, hope you have many fond memories whenever you look at those blankets.

Marnitz die Nag Apie

Marnitz and his family reunited

The first finisher of the day has rolled across the finish line at Diemersfontein – Marnitz Nienaber, the Lone Ranger, the Sleepwalker, the ex-tandem rider and now the proud owner of his fourth blanket – an honour he shares with FC stalwart Tim James.

He started out on a tandem with his brother Werner and they pushed hard from the start. They were making good time but at Glen Edward on the third morning, things started to fall apart. Werner had developed major knee issues and they limped into Masakala. It was clear he couldn’t continue – what now? Marnitz was determined to carry on and after consulting the race director about his options, he decided to get hold of a spare bike and take a 6 hour time penalty. The bike arrived early the next morning and after waiting out the required penalty, he made his way across the floodplains to Malekholonyane. Along the way he had a few mechanicals, so had to rebuild the bike with some spares he got from another rider who had just pulled out. By the next morning he was ready to roll and immediately started his charge. A big double to Rhodes, briefly interrupted by a long ‘kuier’ at Slaapkranz and then many ‘slaapies langs die pad,’ saw him move steadily up the rankings and slowly start to reel in the riders ahead of him. He chose to ride at night and because he carried a sleeping bag, was happy to bed down whenever the sleepmonsters paid him a visit. Once up to speed, he managed to keep the wheels turning on only 2-3 hours sleep a night, stopping only to raid kitchens at support stations and to nap along the way, with Klaas Vaakie as his only companion.

The tandem brothers together again.

To come back from such a setback at the start and go on to chase down the rest of the field in the way he did and then finish 5th overall in a time of 15days 8hours40min, is a really impressive feat – ‘knap gedaan Nag Apie, slaap lekker vannaand .‘

Saturday, 29 June 2013

Daily Report - 29 June

Much excitement here at Diemersfontein today - just before midday we welcomed Martin and Jeannie home after 12days 5hours and 55min on the trail - a new record in the women's category. They were relieved to get off their bikes after the long, intense journey and were looking forward to catching up with family and friends - well done guys.

For the rest of the riders, it was another day at the office and there was work to be done:
Nearly 1000km back from today's finishers are Leon and Andries - they completed another double today and went from Grootdam, through Gegund to Toekomst, arriving comfortably by late afternoon.

Ahead of them we have Chris and Julia, who caught up to Gaeren yesterday - the three of them left Toekomst early and all got through to Bucklands before dark, another good effort.

There was a bit of action in the Grootrivier Poort today - Robbie survived the night having slept out at the first river crossing and managed to get through to Kudu Kaya for lunch. Having missed out on breakfast, he decided to stay over to catch up and then stuck around for supper. At least tonight he will sleep in a warm bed. He should get some company later tonight when Roy arrives - he emerged from his 'hidey hole' at the top of the Osseberg jeep track this morning to take on the multiple river crossings on the way to Cambria.

At the other end of the Baviaanskloof in Willowmore, Eric will have the whole place to himself tonight. He had a fairly easy day and arrived early. After all the good food stops he's passed through recently, he should be back to full strength and ready to pedal across the flats to Prince Albert in the morning.

Guy and the Adams Family made that crossing today and got to Prince Albert in the afternoon. There they found Philip - probably in a dressing gown with cotton wool buds between his toes after his massage and rest day at Dennehof! Well, there won't be any time for lounging around tomorrow, they all have to pedal up the Swartberg Pass and get into Gamkaskloof and there are some pretty big mountains to conquer along the way.

Last night's Prince Albert crew all left early and made the big double through to Rouxpos. The group now waffling at Rouxpos includes Dave, Doug, Janine, Coen, Colin, Andrew and the intrepid Avril. They will most likely have Montagu in their sights tomorrow but they'll first have to get through the sandpits of Anysberg.

Recovering from those sandpits tonight are Andy and Peter, who chose the rustic isolation of Anysberg over the Saturday night bustle of Montagu. Their's was a relatively short day, so tomorrow they may try for a bigger push. By all accounts, Martin is with them, as he hasn't popped up in Montagu yet - maybe the sandpits got the better of him...

Ansa, Sarel, Pierre, Dave, Pete, Dave, Charles and Bruce are all in Montagu tonight. They've been riding together for a while now and will probably continue on to the finish together - tomorrow they'll aim for lunch at Kasra and then push on to Trouthaven. Also in attendance is Anton, so if he joins the group tomorrow, there'll be a race on for beds at Trouthaven - overindulge at Kasra and you might end up sleeping on the floor...

Not far up the road in McGregor are Gavin and Henry - they made use of this interim stop to avoid stumbling around in the dark on the Kasra portage - a wise move. Tomorrow should see them getting to Trouthaven early and grabbing the best beds in the house.

At Kasra tonight are Charles, John, George and Barry. Charles had another tough day out, battling knee and neck pains, so his plans tomorrow will be based on how he feels when he wakes up. The other three are planning an early start, with the hope of getting through Stettynskloof before dark and finishing tomorrow night at Diemersfontein.

Our Lone Ranger Marnitz is still on the move tonight, he's been on a long push from Anysberg since early this morning and after grabbing supper on the run at Kasra, was making his way to Trouthaven. Its his last chance to use his sleeping bag and it wouldn't be surprising if he marches straight up Stettynskloof in the dark and curls up to sleep in the fynbos when he runs out of steam. Whichever way, he is determined to sleep with a Blanket tomorrow night.

The last bit of late night action has just played out at Diemersfontein - a very tired Scott James and Christo van den Heever have finished their epic journey. Scott finished a fine ride in third position with a time of 13days 15hours 20min and Christo was right behind in fourth, with a time of 14days 15hours 20min, a great first effort. They were greeted by an enthusiastic group of family and friends  - the pizza is nearly ready and then they'll probably want to sleep - well done guys.

The Dreyers arrive.

Home at last - 12d 5h 55min

Martin and Jeannie Dreyer's honeymoon just ended at Diemersfontein - and now the celebrations begin. They finished their amazing ride in 12days, 5hours 55minutes - which gives Jeannie the new women's record by more than 7 days. A small group of friends and supporters welcomed them home and both were quite emotional, having reached the end of this long and intense journey. As they received their blankets, they spoke of each other's strength and how the bond between them had also been strengthened by the last 12 days together. They also acknowledged the other riders still out there riding, with Jeannie singling out Avril for her courage in doing so much of the trail by herself.

The Blanket Ceremony

Today is Jeannie's birthday, so in addition to the traditional finisher's pizza, there's also birthday cake for dessert. No doubt the eating will continue for a few days until their appetites are back to normal.

Pizza and cake

This has been a remarkable journey for the happy honeymooners - well done Martin and Jeannie!

Friday, 28 June 2013

Daily Report - 28 June

Just when we thought the weather was finally going to become a factor in this year's race... the sun came out! It was a return to the normal balmy conditions out on the trail today after yesterday's brief flourish of rain and everyone made the most of it by getting their wiggle on.

Starting with our sweepers for a change, Leon and Andries did the double thing today, going from Elandsberg to Stuttgart for a late brunch and then on to Grootdam. Tomorrow they will probably try it again and should get to Toekomst comfortably.

The Fishers, Chris and Julia are the real honeymooners this year - they are riding comfortably between support stations and getting in with time to spare. After their first double up yesterday, they did it again today, going from from Grootdam to Toekomst. It must be quite interesting for the vegetarian Julia, travelling through mutton and Kudu country during the hunting season but so far there have been no complaints from either her or the hosts. We know Chris has a soft spot for pies after his feast at Hofmeyr, so he must be loving it out there.

Julia in portage mode
Also at Toekomst tonight is Gaeren - not really part of the plan but he decided to rest up there after spending the night out in a riverbed at Karoopoort. That's a wise move as tomorrow he will feel strong again and also have some company from Chris and Julia on the trail.

The next two up the road are RobRoy 2.0 - an interesting duo who have had their fair share of adventure up to now. Well the adventure continues tonight: Roy is spending the night in a 'hidey hole' near the top of the Osseberg jeep track after struggling today with a tummy bug. Robbie is spending the night in the Grootrivier Poort slaying trolls and the Swampthing after deciding not to wait for Roy and heading down the jeep track in the late afternoon. The monsters down there must be pretty tired by now after all the riders who've kept them busy over the last few nights, so hopefully Robbie will  be left alone and can get some sleep but who knows, he may even sneak through to Cambria tonight.

It's chocolate pudding time for Eric and he can go back for seconds because he has the whole Dam se Drif support station to himself tonight. If he doesn't overindulge, he should have an easy ride through to Willowmore in the morning.

Guy and the Adams Family are in Willowmore tonight - steaks will be served and tummies will be full. The weather looks kind for them tomorrow with only a light breeze predicted, so hopefully the crossing to Prince Albert will be enjoyable for them. 

Its another busy night in Prince Albert - Dave, Doug, Janine, Philip, Coen, Colin and Andrew are all lounging in luxury at Dennehof, after arriving there by mid afternoon. They successfully employed the 'leave really early to beat the headwind' tactic which seems to be a popular option this year. Leading the charge across from Willowmore was Avril - she gets stronger every day and had this to say about today's ride: "Yeowsers! - flew with racing snakes today. Was so lekker to have company. Going to leave an hour before them and try make Rouxpos. Hope it works."

After all the drama yesterday, today was a relatively uneventful day in the Gamkaskloof. All of the fifteen riders who slept there last night got up The Ladder without incident and went on to Rouxpos. Staying over there tonight are Andy, Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Bruce, Charles Dave, Pete, Pierre and Dave. A later arrival was Anton, who rode through from Prince Albert, completing a big double. Martin (Ciolkosz) went with him but only as far as Gamkaskloof.

The rest of the Gamkas gang pushed on to Anysberg. Gavin, Henry, Barry, John and George are expected to arrive there later tonight. Tricky place in the dark that, but food and a warm bed will be their prize when they do eventually get there. They may be woken up by Marnitz later tonight, who is heading towards Anysberg a few hours behind them. He'll probably stop for koffie with Tannie Fourie first and just push on through to Montagu tonight with a few cat naps along the way.

Already in Montagu tonight is Charles - he's had a rough day battling neck and knee pains. Hopefully once he's replenished his Myprodol stocks and gotten a good night's sleep, he'll be firing again tomorrow but if not, he'll opt for a short day to Kasra - sleep well Charles, no Friday night jol in Montagu for you unfortunately.

Christo and Scott had a big day today, starting at Rouxpos and ending at Kasra. They both went over their bars coming through Anysberg earlier today but fortunately no harm done. The haute cuisine at Oestervanger Guesthouse will go down well and they'll make an early departure, with the plan being to get through Stettynskloof before dark and on to the finish at Diemersfontein - nearly home!

Martin and Jeannie have kept their noses out in front today and are almost at Trouthaven - they will have supper there, catch a few hours sleep and leave really early, hoping for a mid-morning finish at Diemersfontein. Its been an incredible journey for the honeymooners and I'm not sure they'll be entirely happy about it coming to an end.

The race office is settled in at Diemersfontein, awaiting the arrival of the first lot of riders tomorrow. We can say with confidence that the pizza's are up to scratch and the coffee is good - but that's enough for now, time for an early night before all the excitement of tomorrow.


The skirmish at The Ladder

The top of the Ladder

This year's Freedom Challenge will be remembered for the fine weather and distinct lack of clouds - except for the strange little mushroom cloud that popped up over Gamkaskloof and hovered over The Ladder.

Two members of the Dikwiel Kommando rode out to investigate - Warrant Officer Waddilove and his trusty sidekick, Voorryer Rissik. They smelt a rat, so had the good sense to check in at the Prince Albert police station on their way out and notify the authorities of their plan.

They arrived at the first Big Gate - now electrified, barricaded and very locked! Waiting on the other side was a menacing pack of Mountain Men, intent on keeping them out. Words were exchanged but it was clear that these guys didn't want to be friends... Since the gate was locked and the fence was high, they set about finding a weakness and came upon a ditch through which they could crawl. The Mountain Men scurried to block their way with thorn branches - but unperturbed, the Kommando dismantled their steeds and crawled through. Once back on the road, a stand off ensued. The Mountain Men were led by a particularly fervent young upstart who tried to body block their progress - he managed to succesfully obstruct WO Waddilove but seeing the gap, the wily VR Rissik darted through and rode like hell to the base of the Ladder. He never looked back, so he never saw them 'arresting' his compatriot and escorting him to their lair at the base of The Ladder. In the meantime, VR Rissik arrived at the base of The Ladder to find the way blocked by razor wire. He whipped out his standard issue Dikwiel Kommando fencing pliers and set to work liberating The Ladder! His job done, he returned to the Lair to find his now detained partner.

Voorryer Rissik in detention

Warrant Officer Waddilove waits for tea

With the two of them under house arrest, awaiting the arrival of the local police, it took a woman's touch to ease the tensions - a Mountain Man's wife offered the prisoners a cup of tea and a pumpkin fritter. It was a long wait, punctuated by brief verbal exchanges but I don't think it ever really got to the point of being 'chatty.' Night fell and after four hours, it became clear that the police were not coming, so the Mountain Men spoke and told the captors they were free to go. The ever determined WO Waddilove informed his captors that he was proceeding up The Ladder, which they briefly objected to but realising the futility of further detention, objected no more. (Quite possibly, they realised that if he stayed any longer, their tea supplies would be decimated, so were more than happy to get rid of him). Looking outside, the mushroom cloud had started to disperse but was soon replaced by rain clouds. VR Rissik, returned to home base to report back on the mission, while WO Waddilove proceeded up The Ladder into the cold, wet night. He got through to the first inhabited farmstead on the way to Vleiland, where he was collected by Gerrit Roux (from Rouxpos) and taken home with the promise of waffles and ice cream for breakfast.

With the matter seemingly resolved for the time being, riders have been passing through the Kloof and up The Ladder unchallenged - possibly the Mountain Men are not as menacing as we all thought, or maybe they decided that a few weary cyclists were really not worth the trouble. VR Rissik reported that the pumpkin fritters were delicious, so who knows, the Lair could even become a support station one day... No doubt the Men of Law will have been consulted and have given their opinions and the skirmish may ultimately be resolved by the Men with Wigs but for now there is peace in the valley where, after the rain clouds finally dispersed, only clear skies remained.

Thursday, 27 June 2013

Daily Report - 27 June

Today things changed – a cold front finally arrived and the rain came tumbling down…  There were a few other happenings and a skirmish in Gamkaskloof but that’s the subject of a separate blog post tomorrow. For now, we focus on the riders and their progress along the route.

The first victims of the cold and rain were race leaders Martin and Jeannie Dreyer – after a beautiful evening under the stars going up the Swartberg Pass and a cozy night in Gamkaskloof, they awoke to take on a cold, muddy and wet trail down the kloof, up The Ladder and across to Rouxpos. They were snowed on at the top of a now wet and slippery Ladder and were soaked through and miserable by the time they arrived at Rouxpos. But after a warm shower and a dozen waffles, they were smiling again and slowly got going in the direction of Anysberg.

Martin and Jeannie recharging with waffles at Rouxpos

Not far behind them are the trio of Scott, Charles and Christo. They left Prince Albert early and got through The Ladder without any trouble, before pushing on to Rouxpos for the night. It was a cold, wet ride up the Swartberg Pass and a cold, cloudy day for the rest but the sun did peak out in the late afternoon, so they will be looking forward to riding in warmer, drier conditions tomorrow.

The rest of the Prince Albert crew also left before first light and despite some of them intending to push through to Rouxpos, they all ended up staying at Gamkaskloof. The effect of the rain was immediate, as no-one was keen to carry on slogging through the mud. So it’s full house there tonight with Andy, Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Pete, Dave, Pierre, Dave, Bruce, Charles, Gavin, Henry, Barry, John and George all opting to rest and rather take on The Ladder in the morning.

On his way to Gamkaskloof tonight is Lone Ranger Marnitz – he had a long sleep at Dennehof after a long night ride through from Willowmore. He’s been doing most of his riding in the dark and pushing constantly since Rhodes. But tonight he rides again and this may signal the start of a long push to the finish.

Also in Prince Albert tonight are Anton and Martin, who arrived there from Willowmore just before nightfall.

The Willows Historical BnB in Willowmore is once again busy tonight – Dave, Doug, Janine, Philip, Coen, Andrew and Colin have all checked in and they are no doubt listening to tales of bravery from Avril, who completed the massive double from Cambria in the rain with them today – less than 24 hours after spending the night down in the Grootrivier Poort taming the Swampthing.

The Golden Crust at Dam se Drif is a bit more peaceful tonight after all the traffic of the last few days. Guy, Ted and Shaun are all snoring away happily after stuffing their faces with Hestelle’s chocolate pudding. Will they take a short day to Willowmore tomorrow or try to go beyond? The weather will probably decide that for them…

Eric is alone in Cambria tonight at the Kudu Kaya support station. His tummy bug seems to be a thing of the past though, so if he’s up to it, a big double to Willowmore tomorrow could put him back together with his group – but is it really worth sacrificing the chocolate pudding at Dam se Drif just to ride with your friends? Decisions, decisions.

At Bucklands tonight we have RobRoy 2.0 – the new version with Robbie the engine and Roy the wily navigator. I’m pretty sure Rob will stick to Roy like velcro tomorrow through the Grootrivier Poort to Cambria but after that who knows, when they hit the open roads, Robbie may shift into the big blade and start charging towards the finish.

Then there’s Gaeren, who was still on his way to Toekomst tonight after a cold, wet day coming over the Struishoek. His knee was acting up today which didn’t help but he soldiered on nonetheless.

The Fishers, Chris and Julia have been going along nicely – they left Elandsberg this morning for brunch at Stuttgart, then went over a wet and muddy Schurfteberg on their way to Grootdam. That’s the first double for them – possibly a sign of things to come?

Our sweepers, Leon and Andries had a little navigational wobble on their way to the Elandsberg today – It cost them an hour of wasted daylight but they regrouped quickly and made it off this tricky portage at last light. Tomorrow could see a double from them to Grootdam – weather dependant.

The race office had an eventful day too, it started in Prince Albert and ended at Diemersfontein, with a detour to Laingsburg to collect a fugitive race director – but more about that tomorrow.

Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Daily Report - 26 June

The race office had reason to celebrate today - it was Meryl's birthday and to mark the occasion, we stopped in the middle of nowhere whilst travelling through the Karoo and switched off all cell phones and computers and went for a 10min stroll along the road - just to enjoy the mountains and the big sky surroundings. Then it was back to work and we proceeded to Prince Albert where we set up shop in anticipation of the arrival of a large group of riders.

And the race stopped for 10min...

The large group started trickling in by mid afternoon: Martin and Jeannie, Dave vd W, Dave M and Pete. The farmers immediately went off in search of food and beer and a place to put their feet up,  the Dreyers skipped the beer and left an hour later with full tummies, heading to Gamkaskloof for the night.

The Honeymoon Dreyers

Then came Ansa, Sarel, Pierre, Bruce and Charles. They had no plans to go any further, and after some soup, were shown to their comfy rooms at Dennehof.  Next we had Gavin and Henry, who uncharacteristically arrived well before dark and actually saw the support station in broad daylight - they must have liked what they saw because they also stayed put. The later arrivals were Andy and Peter, who had cruised through comfortably from Willowmore and shortly afterwards, the Hout Bay Boys, George, John and Barry, also looking quite relaxed after the 160km 'rest day' from Willowmore.

The long road to Prince Albert

The talk around the dinner table was on whether to double through to Rouxpos tomorrow or take an easy day just to Gamkaskloof - as they shuffled off to bed, it seemed like a roughly fifty fifty split.

Shortly afterwards, Scott, Charles and Christo waltzed in, looking a bit weather beaten and hungry - they'd had a hard morning battling headwinds from Willowmore but then had the chance to play in their big rings when the wind died down after Rondawel. These guys are pushing for home now so will continue to do some big doubles on the way to Diemersfontein.

Back at Willowmore, we have Anton and Martin, who came through from Dam se Drif today. Tomorrow should see them take on the headwinds to Prince Albert - good luck guys. We also have Marnitz there but the carrier pigeons brought word that he was planning a night raid across the Moordenaars Karoo and could well pop up in Prince Albert for breakfast.

There was some late night action in the Baviaanskloof yesterday - the intrepid Avril spent the night out in the Grootrivier Poort after getting shut down by the dark at the sixth river crossing - a cold and lonely place indeed... She kept her wits about her though and survived the night to emerge the next morning, where she was picked up by Batch E on their way through from Bucklands. She spent the rest of the day recovering at Kudu Khaya, the Cambria support station. Tomorrow she can pick her riding partners from the large group that arrived there today: Dave, Doug, Janine, Philip, Coen, Colin, Andrew, Guy and the Adams Family (Ted and Shaun) are all there tonight.

Eric is staying at Hadley tonight, hoping to get an early start down the Grootrivier Poort in the morning - he seems to have recovered from his tummy bug after an easier day today.

Robbie had a good day today, getting through from Grootdam to Toekomst. He passed Roy along the way and Roy is still out there, making his way slowly to Toekomst (if he gets it right, it will be his first double and he will have gained back one of the days he lost on the way to Rhodes) - Go Roy!!

Gearen had an easier day today, getting through to Grootdam from Stuttgart - that sets him up nicely for a double through to Toekomst tomorrow.

Not far behind are Chris and Julia - she managed to drag him away from the pie shop in Hofmeyr today with enough time to get to Elandsberg in the light - where to tomorrow..?

Leon and Andries are our sweepers - they had a long and windy day to Romansfontein today, arriving after dark again. Tomorrow they'll drop down off the high plains and hopefully have a break from the icy cold wind for a bit - and if they're lucky, Chris might have left some pies for them to eat in Hofmeyr!

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Daily Report - 25 June

Today the wind really started blowing… for some riders it helped but for most it made the going harder.

For Gearen and Robbie, at times the wind actually blew from behind.  Gaeren went from Hofmeyr to Elandsberg, had a quick breakfast and then went on to Stuttgart, a good day for him. Robbie left Elandsberg quite early and made good time to Stuttgart. He took a bit of time finding his way over the Schurfteberg and missed the new route into Grootdam, going around on the road instead but got there not too long after dark. (When we spoke to him at Elandsberg last night he was in good spirits and really enjoying himself immensely but admitted that he was finding the navigation a bit of a challenge.)

Behind them, Leon and Andries went over the Bontehoek today – The wind was howling up there too and progress beyond Moordenaar’s Poort was slow. They got into Kranskop after dark after a long, hard day in the saddle.  

Chris and Julia battled strong winds on their way from Kranskop to Brosterlea and then continued over the Stormberg to Romansfontein. They were actually blown right off their bikes a few times during the day but being from Cape Town, they’re used to the wind and merely described the conditions as “breezy”

The unstoppable Roy kept marching on and today advanced from Stuttgart to Grootdam. We bumped into him there just after lunch and he looked ready for more – tomorrow it’s a double over the Struishoek, via Gegun to Toekomst and if successful, he’ll snatch back a day in his schedule – go Roy!

Ahead of him at Kleinpoort is Eric. He had a rough day dealing with the infamous tummy bug that’s affected many riders this year – he started out late from Toekomst and opted to stop at the interim stop at Kleinpoort, about 3 hours short of Bucklands. If his troubles continue tomorrow, he’ll most likely stay over at Bucklands to recover fully before pushing on to the Baviaanskloof.

It’s a full house at Bucklands tonight, with ten riders staying over tonight. From batch E we have Dave, Doug, Janine and Philip. Then there are also the three musketeers (formerly Jack’s Army) Coen, Andrew and Colin.  Also in attendance are Guy and the Adams Family, Ted & Shaun. As if that wasn’t enough, the race office put in a late appearance, stopping for some ‘sop en skinner’ with Hannes and Rienie – they’ve had their hands full with the big groups this year but are loving every minute. We were also able to deliver a new set of tyres to Guy, so hopefully his tyre troubles are a thing of the past.

At Cambria this evening , Anton and Martin checked in just after dark. Avril was a bit behind and was last seen tracking down the Osseberg jeep track in the early afternoon. That’s a tricky section but she’s done her fair share of solo riding this year and always made good decisions, so is capable of getting through.

Marnitz continued his charge across the country and left Bucklands early this morning. He got through to Cambria without too much trouble but complained about being a bit tired after the last few day’s efforts – he may opt to rest there but who knows, when the moon begins to rise, he may just slip out into the night and do what he does best  (“I ride at night“)

The racing trio of Scott, Charles and Christo left Hadley this morning without breakfast and went on a kitchen raid when they got to Cambria – sufficiently refuelled, they went on to Golden Crust (Dam se Drif) After a bit of indecision, they eventually decided to stay, planning an early getaway for Willowmore.

The Willows Guest House in Willowmore is bursting at the seams –seventeen riders plus the race office!! Batch A has Andy, Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Bruce, Charles, Pierre and Dave. They are joined by Pete, Dave and latecomers Gavin and Henry from Batch B. Then there’s the threesome from Batch C, John, George and Barry. Also in attendance are the racing Dreyers, Martin and Jeannie, who are grabbing a few hours sleep after today’s long haul through the Baviaanskloof. All the riders have had something to say about the energy sapping strength of the wind today – this section is notorious for it – will it give them a break tomorrow? We’ll have to wait and see...

2013 Rider Profiles - Guy 'Happy Feet' McKechnie

Guy having some fun at Elandsberg

Guy McKechnie is 31 years old and hails from Muizenberg in Cape Town. He works in event management and his job has taken him all over the globe. He's basically a logistics guy, following the big sporting events around, putting up media centres and temporary grandstands. He did the 2010 World Cup, the Commonwealth Games in New Dehli, the Rugby World Cup in New Zealand and most recently the London Olympics. If he wasn't doing the Freedom Challenge right now, he probably be in Brazil at the Confederations Cup - this guy gets around!

He's actually a fashion designer by trade and is pretty handy with a sewing machine, having made himself a few custom bags and gear holders for the race.

He's also a keen adventure racer - which means he can read a map and stay upright for for long stints - he recently did Expedition Africa, a mean, long sufferfest in the high altitude Drakensberg mountains. Unfortunately he picked up a lung infection in the icy conditions but he was back in shape and ready for RASA in the knick of time. He rode gears for that event but decided to go back to basics for Freedom Challenge, choosing his rigid Niner singlespeed for the job.

In the words of his brother-in-law Steve Burnett: "If you've met Guy, you've heard his enthusiasm and only a fraction of his energy will be spent riding his bike! He lives for music and has an encyclopedia brain for lyrics - he will definitely have some soundtracks for the ride."

Guys race expectations before he started: 
"The sheer challenge of the event. The planning and navigation aspects married to the physical and hugely mental challenge of keeping going when you really don’t want to. Doing it on a fully rigid single speed will definitely add to the experience!"

I met up with Guy during my Race to Rhodes - him and Anton Wood had been riding together and were approaching the descent off the mountain to Tinana Mission. They followed me down the tiger line without thinking twice and when we stopped at the mission for a snack break, Guy immediately asked " Dude, can I buy your shoes!?" He'd been riding in open mesh shoes and his frozen feet hadn't thawed out since his first night out wandering around Ntsikeni. Well, the deal was concluded a day later in Rhodes and ever since Guy has had happy feet. In his own words: "Hi Meryl, tell Glenn that I feel like I booked my feet into the Tenahead Lodge! They are having little discos in his shoes every day they are so comfy!"

It hasn't all been plain sailing though - he had some puncture issues going into Grootdam and basically his tyres are wearing out fast so he's been trying to get some spares sent through to Willowmore. He's also had to deal with tummy trouble which meant a short recovery day to Toekomst. But he seems to be over the worst of it and on the go again - heading towards the Baviaanskloof.

No matter what still comes his way, Guy will take it on the chin and finish this thing with a smile.

Monday, 24 June 2013

Daily Report - 24 June

Race office in transit

Too many tea stops later and with bellies full of 'beskuit,' the race office has caught up with all the trail-side gossip and have found some elusive internet in Hofmeyr.

Meanwhile some people were riding their bikes - here's a quick recap of the day's action:

Batch A - Andy, Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Bruce, Charles, David, Pierre and Pete & Dave from Batch B all moved swiftly through the Baviaanskloof and arrived at the new Dam se Drif support station a.k.a Golden Crust by mid afternoon. They are planning an early departure for Willowmore in the morning.

Gavin and Henry followed a few hours later - they crawled out of the Grootrivier Poort sometime this morning after spending the night somewhere down there - brave men indeed!

The Dreyers are next in line, they are currently making their way down the same Grootrivier Poort section tonight and are headed for Cambria.

Just behind them, we have Scott, Charles and Christo, who left Toekomst this morning and got to the interim stop at Hadley, no promises of food there tonight but at least there are warm beds.

At Bucklands tonight, we have Anton, Martin and Avril. They rode comfortably through from Toekomst today and I'm sure Avril appreciated having some company for a change.

Just behind them and charging hard is the Lone Ranger, Marnitz. His day started at the foot of the Struishoek, (where he overnighted with local farmers Dave and Verity Hobson) and he's aiming for Buckland's tonight - still a few hours to go but he's on track and seems to be riding strongly.

Batch E: Dave, Doug, Janine and Philip have checked in at the lodge at Toekomst - where they reported temperatures above 30degC on arrival today! They had another good riding day, despite rumours of a tummy bug doing the rounds...

Guy 'Happy Feet' plus Eric and the Adams Family (Ted + Shaun) are also holed up at Toekomst tonight. Guy still has tummy troubles and had some punctures to deal with today but he's trucking on and determined to have fun.

And fighting for the last few beds at Toekomst are the remnants of Jack's Army: Coen, Colin and Andrew. Andrew hit an Angora goat today although there was no long term damage to report. Best he get out of that habit before he gets to the rhinos in the Baviaanskloof... 

Roy recovered well after a late night chasing trolls over the Aasvoelberg yesterday. He stopped in Hofmeyr to lick his wounds and then marched off to Stuttgart.

Not far behind are Robbie and Gaeren - they parted company after the Aasvoelberg today, with Gearen stopping in Hofmeyr after battling strong headwinds and Robbie going on to Elandsberg, just managing to sneak off the mountain after dark.

A way behind them are Chris and Julia, happily honeymooning their way across the countryside and still looking strong - they sleep in Kranskop tonight.

And bringing up the rear are Andries and Leon, who left a freezing cold Rhodes this morning and got through to Slaapkranz by late afternoon.

The weather's holding and the wheels are still turning, these riders are all going well and Diemersfontein is inching ever closer.


Sunday, 23 June 2013

Daily report - 23 June

Another glorious day on Lehana's

It's been an action packed day which started with the race office scribe going for an early morning run in Rhodes - it was freezing cold and numb ears, nose and hands were the result but after a nagging feeling of guilt from too much sitting in front of a warm fire, at least now the training for RASA 2014 has started...

But back to the more important race action: Batch A all had a great day taking on the infamous Osseberg jeep track and the Grootrivier Poort on their way to Cambria. Andy, Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Bruce, Charles, Dave and Pierre were the first lot into the Baviaanskloof this year. They were also joined by Batch B members Dave and Pete, aka the Fat Farmers. The rest of batch B are scattered across the countryside - Avril still going solo and sleeping at Toekomst tonight, Roy recovering in Hofmeyr after crawling off the Aasvoelberg early this morning where he spent the night and the fearless Gavin and Henry, who just yesterday proclaimed that "night navigation is a no no," heading straight into the bowels of the Grootrivier Poort at last light..! That's a scary place at night so beware of the Swampthing, tiptoe quietly past the river trolls and wherever you do choose to lay your heads tonight, sleep with one eye open gentlemen...

Batch C are down to half their original number but that half has been together since the beginning and tonight George, John and Barry are enjoying the great hospitality at Bucklands.

Batch D are also all over the show but still moving along steadily. Eric, Ted and Shaun are taking it easy at Grootdam tonight after a relatively short day today but no harm in saving the legs for a few bigger pushes later. The more ambitious members of the batch Martin, Anton and Guy all left from Grootdam this morning but things started to unravel a bit for Guy when he succumbed to a tummy bug and had to nurse himself along as far as Gegund - he went to ground there determined to recover enough to catch up again tomorrow. On a more positive note, he reported that he still has 'happy feet' thanks to his new pair of shoes. Martin and Anton steamed ahead and got through to Toekomst , completing a solid double stage today.

The ever steady Batch E had a spring in their step today, leaving Elandsberg early in the dark and doubling through to Grootdam today, their first big push so far. Dave, Doug, Janine and Philip made steady progress all day, despite some puncture problems and a cut tyre along the way.

Batch F, formerly Jack's Army, are still operating as a tight knit unit - Coen, Andrew and Colin took an easy day today, possibly to regroup for a big push sometime soon? They stopped at Grootdam after a relatively short day from Stuttgart.

The other batch F member is Gaeren - he's currently in the running for the title of  'most miles to Diemersfontein' although his competition for the title, Robbie, has been marking him every step of the way. The duo took a wrong turn on the way to Brosterlea today and ended up doing a grand tour of the Stormberg region, adding an extra 30kms to their day and eventually being rerouted by the race director via Molteno to Romansfontein. Hopefully tomorrow they can stay on track and get cleanly over the Aasvoelberg and Elandsberg portages.

Batch G has some of the racing snakes among their number, notably Marnitz, who is on a mission to catch up to the rest of his batch. He grabbed a late afternoon snack at Grootdam today, before racing off towards the Struishoek portage in fading light - after a late night last night and complaints about being kept awake by snoring from other riders, he may well decide to curl up in his sleeping bag on the mountain tonight.

The guys he is chasing are Charles and Christo, who under the guidance of Scott, made it safely to Toekomst today after a successful triple stage push from Stuttgart.

Race leaders Martin and Jeannie had to fight off all manner of distractions and creature comforts as they tripped their way through the Swaershoek farms and luxury hunting lodges today. Jeannie kept cracking the whip though and they set off around the Darlington dam in fading light, traversed the Gwaas valley under a canopy of brilliant stars and should arrive in Kleinpoort by midnight for a well earned rest.

The other honeymooners, Chris and Julia, said farewell to Richard (who was presented with his well deserved whip last night) and left Rhodes early this morning - soon afterwards, their water bottles were frozen solid and their fingers too - they had decided to leave their warm gloves behind, thinking that they wouldn't need them much after Rhodes. They have since been reunited with their precious gloves and are ready for the next early morning start but tonight they sleep at Slaapkranz.

The last arrivals in Rhodes today were Leon, Andries and George after a relatively straightforward walk up Lehana's. For George its the end of the road and he was all smiles when he got his whip at dinner. For Leon and Andries, the journey continues and if they can reign in their appetites at the Chesneywold lunch stop, they should get to Slaapkranz before dark tomorrow.

Spare a thought for the race office tomorrow, its time to leave Rhodes to make the great trek south - this is a tough job, many courtesy calls at support stations have to be made along the way and its virtually impossible to pass through without the offer of 'koffie, beskuit en ietsie lekker vir die pad...' We'll have to eat our way southwards as we search for elusive internet coverage on the way - tough job but someone's got to do it.

Racing to Rhodes as a trail rookie

Day 1: dropping into the Umkomaas valley

Jerrard Le Roux is an avid rider from Johannesburg. He took part in the Race to Rhodes this year, riding together with his friend Anton Maybery, who is no stranger to the Freedom Trail. The plan was to race hard with Anton and although it was Jerrard's first attempt at the event, he was prepared to give it a good go - hoping that his previous experience at solo 24 hour races might come in handy. They finished in about 84 hours and rode some long, continuous stretches, often in the dark. I chatted to Jerrard about some of his experiences:

What made you decide to do R2R?
Curiosity initially. I'd heard about it via friends and seen some reports of the Freedom Challenge. When my son was born, my riding time was restricted to early mornings and on one of these rides in the dark, I bumped into some nutters out there riding with these big backpacks. When I started chatting to them, I found out they were preparing for Freedom Challenge. I started riding more regularly with them and they spoke of the trail and the adventures and misadventures of riders in previous years - the sense of adventure really appealed to me. I couldn't see myself being able to commit to the long event but the Race to Rhodes seemed doable.

How did you prepare?
I spoke to people with experience of this event and researched the gear online. Looking at all the specific gear required was an enjoyable part of the process as I'm a bit of a gear junkie at heart! I realised that the navigation was a big factor and this not being my strong point, decided to rather ride with with someone who knew the route. As far as the physical preparation went, it was a case of putting in the long rides on weekends, riding with a full backpack and testing out lights on night rides. Having finished it now, I'm amazed at the intensity of the event - its an almost non-stop assault on the body and mind - riding, walking carrying, navigating, all the while trying to stay mentally focused.  It has shown me the difference between riding hard and riding long and what's required for success in this type of event.

At what point did you realise that this was going to be a bit different?
Right on the start line actually - there was no fanfare or loud music - just some nervous banter and a small group of riders. 

Was it physically tough? 
Much more than expected, not so much the riding, just the all-round body strength required for portaging, pushing and carrying your bike.

And mentally?
Mentally it never lets up - It's very tough because nothing is predictable out there and your ability to adapt is constantly being tested. The riding conditions are varied, the navigation is tricky, the terrain and temperature constantly change throughout the day and night. There are also other surprises like arriving at a support station to find there's no hot water and you are left with a freezing cold bucket shower! When you aren't sleeping enough, all these things start to wear you down and make it really tough.

Scott and Anton
Highlights of your race?
The last step up Lehana's Pass - after battling up the huge portage, it was a relief to know we were over it and could ride on from there to Rhodes. The views up there are also incredible. Another highlight was the interaction with the people I rode with - riding with Scott and Anton gave me the chance to literally watch the race from the inside out. These guys almost operate on autopilot, going through the hourly and daily routines without having to think.

Tell us about some of the more bizarre moments of the race?
Sleeping 3 in a bed at Mrs Kibi's house in Tinana Mission, that was a first! The bucket shower at Masakala, that was really cold! The beauty in the ice crystals on the ground and the cold morning air when we rode across the Knira floodplains, wondering if we could ride over the ice layers over the puddles without breaking them. Trying to climb over the high fence into Ntsikeni Reserve with my bike and realising that I just couldn't do it on my own - the other guys had to help me down. Going 36 hours without sleep - your reactions become so heightened and the smallest things can become so irritating but everyone's feeling the same way and you just get through it.

Crossing the Knira floodplains

Are there any lasting impressions?
Yes, it was incredibly humbling to go into some of the overnight stops and be taken care of by people who have very little. At that point you are totally dependent on them and they are vital to your survival and they give freely and generously. I also have huge respect for those who have finished this event - it was an eye opener for me. All the amazing scenery along the way was also a highlight. You are taking six days worth of riding experiences and cramming them into three, so it becomes really intense. Its the type of event where gods fall apart and the ordinary peoples become heroes.

Did you ever think of stopping or encounter a personal limit?
No, I got frustrated and even angry sometimes  - for example after taking a wrong path going up the already difficult Lehana's Pass - but the thought of quitting was never there.

Slogging up Lehana's Pass

What advice would you give to people who are thinking of doing it?
Just do it - its different because in a way its the people that become a part of this race, not the other way around. After you've done it you have a real sense of achievement and because of the shared camaraderie amongst the riders, you feel like you've been invited to join a very special club.

Can you sum it up in one word?
That's really hard but I guess I would say "privileged" I feel privileged to have shared it with the people I did and humbled by the experience.

Nearly there...

Saturday, 22 June 2013

The Daily Report - 22 June

Sitting here in balmy Rhodes, its hard to believe just how good the weather has been. When Batch I riders Chris, Julia and Richard came over Lehana's Pass today, they were in shorts and T-shirts and stopped to make tea and take in the views, cooled by a gentle breeze coming up from the valley - a far cry from the gale force winds and white-out blizzards of previous years. As we sit here debating it, local farmer Ray Sephton confirms that these are exceptional conditions that they haven't seen in the area for many years, certainly not during any previous Freedom Challenges.

And yet less than 100km away, reports were coming through today of strong headwinds making the going really tough? Maybe the riders have been a bit spoilt this year, so that the merest puff of wind is called a 'headwind.'

However, despite a few 'puffs' of wind out there today, many riders have been making steady progress across the country. Looking at Batch A, they had a solid day and arrived at Bucklands this afternoon  where Hannes and Riennie are taking good care of them. Andy (who had a few problems with loose spokes which were sorted out in Kleinpoort) Peter, Ansa, Sarel, Pierre, Dave, Bruce and Charles seem to spread themselves out during the day and then regroup at night to share the same support station, so it's a bit of a bun fight for beds... Batch B riders Pete and Dave are marking Batch A closely, so they joined in the bun fight when they got there.

The remnants of Batch B are spread out across various support stations - Avril has stoically been forging a path on her own, with a few wise decisions helping to keep her on the right track - she was racing to beat the sunset off the Struishoek portage today with the intention of staying at the new Gegund support station tonight but phoned in late this evening from Pearston where she stopped for the night. Gavin and Henry are still recovering after being chased around by the trolls on the Skurfteberg a few nights ago and have decided not to attempt any more night time navigation for a while. They also decided to avoid the bun fight at Bucklands and are staying over in Kleinpoort tonight. Roy has been riding solo (since his mate Rob had to withdraw at Kranskop) and making steady progress. He had an early lunch at Romansfontein today, before boldly heading off to tackle the Aasvoelberg portage, aiming to get off the mountain before dark and continue on to a warm bed in Hofmeyr.

Batch C has been whittled down to only three riders after all the withdrawals yesterday - Barry, George and John are settled in at the lodge at Toekomst swopping war stories with some hunters after a good day's riding.

Batch D:  Ted, Shaun and Eric had a relatively easy day today which ended at Stuttgart before lunch.
Guy, Anton and Martin have been together for the last few days and after having brunch at Stuttgart this morning, carried on over the the Schurfteberg to get to Grootdam.

Batch E:  Dave, Doug, Janine and Philip indulged in some of the famous Hofmeyr pies this morning before moving on to Elandsberg where they arrived comfortably by mid afternoon. This represents a new milestone for Dave, as he has moved past the point where he had to withdraw with illness last year - well done Dave!

Batch F: Jack's Army (Jacques, Colin, Coen and Andrew) enjoyed their last few km's under the command of the inimitable Jacques - he lead his troops as far as Elandsberg today where his sortie ended and he retired to enjoy a holiday with his family. He must have given them a rousing pep-talk because they refilled their ration packs and carried on marching towards Stuttgart - where they were due to arrive later tonight. The other member of Batch F is Gaeren, who together with Robbie, got over the Slaapkranz portage on their second attempt today, picking up their bikes along the way. They scuttled over the Bontehoek portage without too much drama and battled a headwind to Moordenaar's Poort but still had enough riding in them to get to Kranskop by early evening.

Batch G+H: The trio of Scott, Charles and Christo had a big day today which started at 3am from Romansfontein and ended at Stuttgart by late afternoon. What plans will unfold tomorrow for these three Musketeers? Marnitz was charging today - he started out at Brosterlea, cleared the Stormberg, stopped in at Romansfontein for lunch, Hofmeyr for a late afternoon pie and then boldly headed off to take on the Elandsberg portage in The Dark... Will he get to use his sleeping bag tonight?

The sad news of the day was the withdrawal of Andrew King with severely swollen wrists and hand problems. He started out with Marnitz from Brosterlea but after a moment of introspection on the Stormberg, decided that risking permanent injury was not worth it. He detoured into Molteno to make arrangements for a lift home.

The Dreyers seem to finally be enjoying their honeymoon. Martin and Jeannie left Hofmeyr early this morning, had breakfast at Elandsberg, lunch at Stuttgart, (where Martin almost got a bit distracted by a big screen TV and the rugby) before finally getting to Grootdam and settling in for the night.

The backmarkers of the bunch are Batch I - the triathletes Leon and Andries, together with George, who is going as far as Rhodes. They got to Vuvu this evening and will be heading up Lehana's tomorrow on their way to Rhodes.

Ollie's Race to Rhodes

Ollie battles the wind on Lehana's Pass

Oliver Burnett did his first Ride to Rhodes in September last year - this was the guided option over 6 days, fairly standard stuff. This year he decided to join me on the Race to Rhodes and to have a bash at the non-stop approach. Things didn't quite go according to plan but Ollie ended up have an amazing ride anyway - here is his account of the adventure:

"I arrived home last night to a hero’s welcome from my wife and three daughters. My Race to Rhodes had, it seemed, as big an impact on them as it had on me. They did not care that I had not achieved my very ambitious time goals to Rhodes or that the “real” riders were still in the thick of battle on their way to Cape Town with the threat of a cold front approaching, all they cared about was that I was back home safe and sound and in one piece. In terms of the achievements and struggles of others I hardly felt I deserved the title of hero.

My friend and short lived riding partner, Glenn Harrison, had persevered alone through extreme physical discomfort, lack of sleep and freezing conditions to get to Rhodes in a remarkable 65 hours on a single speed bike. He had suffered through three long nights battling stomach problems and hardly eating when I had taken the “soft” option at the first sign of illness, resting at each overnight stop and riding to Rhodes in a very unremarkable 6 days in the comfort of a group.

Undoubtedly Glenn and I have had very different experiences on our separate journeys to Rhodes. Although I cannot begin to know what Glenn actually went through I believe, at the very least, he has learnt a great deal more about himself and his ability to push beyond what some would consider possible. Personally I have had my eyes opened to other people’s capacity for kindness, love and selfless support. I believed that my decision to stop pushing hard once I felt ill would be perceived as somewhat cowardly and defeatist by others but I could not have been more wrong. Kirsty, my wife, saw it completely the opposite way round and somewhat paradoxically she absolutely understood the courage it took for Glenn to continue and also the courage it took for me to put personal goals aside and supported both decisions equally without passing judgement.

Once Glenn soldiered on from Allendale I rested and waited to face the music from Jack’s Army who I had ridden away from earlier that morning, and now hoped to attach myself to. I would have fully understood if they were less than thrilled to sweep me up in light of their own goals and my “windgat” burst out of PMB. Jack’s Army marched to Jack’s constant cry of “toughen the f… up” and consisted of people I knew reasonably well as well as total strangers and apart from some completely justified piss taking when they saw me still at Allendale when they arrived I was immediately accepted as part of the group and despite being ill the next 5 days of riding were the most enjoyable 5 days I’ve ever spent on a bike.

Jack's Army having drinks at Queen's Mercy: L to R: Ollie, Adriaan, Jack, Colin, Andrew, Coen and Jaco

Due to my overly ambitious plans I was travelling somewhat light and without hesitation or exception I was offered whatever I needed from Jack’s Army’s well thought out supply’s, my immediate needs put ahead of their possible needs down the trail and the RASA guys had a long trail ahead! My wellbeing was now their genuine concern. What has been confirmed by my now good friends Jacques, Adriaan, Collin, Coen, Tom, Andrew and Jaco is that to “toughen the f… up” you must leave your ego at home.

We had an amazing adventure together, sometimes suffering, very often laughing but always taking time out to picnic look at the view and ask each other if you’re ok. But back to the hero thing, Glenn and his ilk are certainly hero’s, Jack’s Army and the many other selfless riders out there are also hero’s for understanding that ego’s have no purpose in attaining meaningful goals and helping others, Meryl and David, the race organisers are also hero’s for being brave enough to let us go out there and bump our heads. The undoubted hero’s in my little story however are the people I leave at home, Kirsty and my three girls, fretting over my wellbeing and praying for my safe return sending me encouraging messages and then treating me like the conquering hero upon my return when all I've really done is ride my bike around the hills for a few days and complained when I got a runny nose."

Well done Ollie! Having some company may have made it easier but it was still up to you to get yourself to Rhodes and that you did in fine style.

Friday, 21 June 2013

The Daily Report - 21 June

Sunrise over Lehana's Pass

It's been a while coming but the race office is finally able to start doing the daily wrap up of action for this year's Freedom Challenge. There are many characters taking part in this year's adventure and already many stories of near misses and bold moves are emerging - we'll catch up on some of those over the next few days. One thing that has been evident so far is that the weather has been exceptional this year - in celebration of the tenth anniversary of the race, David has turned off his weather machine and allowed the field to proceed under clear and sunny skies so far...

Batch A still have their noses out in front, not having been hauled in by the racing snakes yet.
Amongst them are Ansa & Sarel, Dave & Pierre and Bruce & Charles and Andy & Peter. They have all arrived safely at Toekomst. Joining them are some of the members of Batch B namely Dave & Pete. They're going well and running slightly ahead of schedule at this stage, having already put in a few sneaky double stages earlier.

The rest of Batch B are strung out not far behind them - Avril got to Stuttgart quite early but opted not to take on the Skurfteberg portage until tomorrow, a wise move since she has a few long, hard days behind her and some rest would be good. Gavin & Henry are making their way to the new support station at Gegund - they had a very late night last night after getting lost on the Skurfteberg portage and eventually sleeping out near the Buffelshoek farmstead. They made a good recovery today but will be glad to get into bed tonight and catch up on some sleep. The other members of Batch B, Rob & Roy, have been struggling a bit, with a few navigational mishaps and other setbacks. Yesterday they stopped at Kranskop because Roy had a tummy bug. He recovered but when they wanted to proceed today, Rob wasn't feeling up to it and decided to stay - and so the partnership split, with Roy going on past Brosterlea as far as the Weltevrede Farm at the foot of the Stormberg.

Batch C has had a number of withdrawals since they left Aintree last Tuesday. First it was Paul Erasmus who got sick and then his riding mate, John Loos. They took rest days to recover but eventually called it quits and headed home - it's a pity because at that stage they were going along nicely  a few days ahead of schedule. The next casualties of the batch were Erika & Coen, also riding together, also going along nicely. Erika picked up a problem, resulting in a very swollen leg and on the advice of a doctor, decided not to continue. So that leaves only George, John and Barry from that batch - they had a good day, riding from Elandsberg, through Stuttgart to Grootdam today.

Batch D also had a withdrawal today, with Pawel being forced to pull out due to knee problems. That leaves his riding partner Martin to continue with the other members of the batch - Ted, Shaun, Guy, Anton and Eric. They all went from Romansfontein to Elandsberg today.

Batch E: Dave, Doug, Janine & Philip had another steady day and got to Romansfontein without incident, well before dark. Having a few trail vets in the group is clearly the way to go.

Batch F has had a rip roaring time of it up to now - under the guidance of Jack Black, "Jack's Army" has been marching steadily along without a hitch - but Coen, Andrew and Colin will have to find a new sergeant once Jack's jouney comes to an end in Hofmeyr. They've had the company of Christo from Batch G for a bit, maybe he'll step up to command the troops? Late arrivals at Romansfontein today were Charles and Scott. Charles nursing some ITB issues and Scott putting in some really big pushes. It's a full house at Romansfontein tonight and the late night hospitality may make it hard to get going in the morning but this large group will most likely splinter up during the course of tomorrow's ride.
There is another member of Batch F - Gaeren, who fell back due to a knee problem. He's since made steady progress and today he rode out with Robbie from Chesneywold - but they came unstuck on the Slaapkranz portage and when the light began to run out, the stashed their bikes on the mountain and beat a hasty retreat back down to Slaapkranz for a second night.

Marnitz has had a great day today, leaving from Slaapkranz, clearing the Bontehoek portage cleanly, snacking at Moordenaar's Poort and Kranskop before continuing on to Brosterlea. He's making a bit of a charge in an attempt to make up for lost time after the demise of the tandem - go Marnitz!

In contrast, today was a slow day for Andrew King - he's been on the gas since the start, so its not surprising really. But Andrew is having issues with sore, swollen wrists and a tummy bug. He kept soldiering on though and got to Brosterlea - he will join forces with Marnitz here, so tomorrow could be interesting...

The Honeymooning Dreyers have had an incredible ride so far - thanks to the good weather, they've been pushing hard and as a result have been slightly ahead of record pace. They eased off a bit today when they got to Romansfontein but only to snack and chat before heading off to Hofmeyr. With Jeannie nursing a knee strain and the pressure from behind easing off for the moment due to Andrew slowing down, they may well elect to take a few easier days from here on.

At the back of the field we still have two groups of riders, some of whom are taking part in the Extreme Triathlon. Chris & Julia, together with Richard, rode the brilliant Black Fountain section today and are now in Vuvu. Just behind them at Malekholonyane are Leon, Andries and George. Both groups should pass through Rhodes without too much trouble in the next two days.

Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Just get back on and ride.

The Race to Rhodes: Last Friday I left Pietermaritzburg on my bike at 6am - the plan was to ride to Rhodes as quickly as possible, even non-stop if it came down to that. The incentive was to try and get close to the record of 56 hours. I chose to ride a singlespeed, hoping that a lighter, simpler bike would help. Well today I sit in Rhodes in front of a warm fireplace and how I got here is all a bit of a blur...

Things started off OK and I rode together with Oliver Burnett to the first support station at Allendale (110km). Unfortunately Ollie felt a bit off colour by the time we arrived and decided to stop there and rest. I made sure he was happy with that decision before pressing on to Centocow, (an interim stop at 150km) where I grabbed some soup for supper before continuing to Ntsikeni (the second support station at 200km). Along the way it got dark and cold, very cold. It also got increasingly difficult as nausea set in - my stomach wasn't happy and I began to suspect the soup may have been the culprit... so I crawled into Ntsikeni at 00h30 and stopped. At first I just lay down on the floor for 10min. That seemed to help, so the next task was to try and get some food in - the only thing I managed was a few more spoons of soup! No choice really, I needed some nourishment. An hour later, I felt OK, so I put on all my layers of clothing  and slowly headed out into the cold again.

There's a portage section out of Ntsikeni which involves a grassy jeep track and a trek across the open grasslands - not too bad in daylight but very tricky at night. A mistake here cost me more then an hour - frustrating for both the time lost and the energy wasted. The energy cost was significant and I was battling to stay awake now, despite it being well after sunrise. When I got to another interim stop at Glen Edward (235km), I needed to rest again. Another snooze, this time for 20min in front of the fireplace, a few more sips of soup and I felt a bit better. So I headed off to Masakala. The sun was warm and the riding was good but I still couldn't eat anything on the bike, so I just sipped a very diluted energy drink and kept the pedals turning as best I could (with plenty of walking up the steep hills along the way)

I got to Masakala (285km) later than intended and managed to eat a bit of bread and drink a cup of tea before heading out the door again. The next section to Queen's Mercy involved some fast singletrack across the floodplains into the fading light and it all went by too quickly. But I guess you can only ride so far on bread because after two fun hours of smooth fast riding, the tank was empty. I was feeling grim again and on the point of vomiting. Up ahead lay the tricky Mparane Ridge, more great riding but difficult to find the right paths in the dark. I pedaled on into the second sunset of the ride - still alert but now very low on energy. Just before the turn-off to start the climb up to Mparane, I had to pull off in a hurry as the nausea overcame me and I started to vomit. I was in no shape to continue so I made a call to race director David Waddilove, to discuss my options. I didn't want to throw in the towel but I had to stop and recover before carrying on. The decision was made to proceed along the shorter touring route to the next support station at Malekholonyane (345km) with the proviso that I return to the point I left off the next morning and rejoined the route there.

After the initial push of 38 hours, I felt disappointed at having to stop because I was still within striking distance of the record - but the choice was the only realistic one to take, as I was in no shape to continue then. Arriving at the support station, it was a full house with most of the other riders already asleep. I chatted to some of those riders (from previous batches) who were still awake, while I sipped tea and nibbled on some rice, then I found a bed, set my alarm for 4am and (literally) crashed.

Six hours of sleep felt like a luxury and when I awoke at 4am, I dressed up warmly once again and had a cup of tea. Not having any appetite yet, I packed up and left to retrace my steps from the previous night, rejoining the route at Mparane Ridge. By the time I got to the tricky navigation section, first light was approaching, so I snapped a few pictures and found the right path down without too much trouble.

Once back at Malekholonyane support station, I bravely asked for breakfast and for a change, ate it all with glee - my appetite was back which meant there would be fuel in the tank for a good day's riding. I made up my mind to get going and keep going until the end in Rhodes - the weather looked good and barring any major catastrophes, I had a chance of finishing before midnight and at least improving on the current singlespeed record to Rhodes. The route of the day took me over the brilliant singletrack ridgeline called Black Fountain, where I passed some of the riders from the night before, down to Tinana Mission (with Guy and Anton in tow), across to Setabataba, where I stopped for a spaza Coke before heading up the valley portage to Vuvu village. Here I stopped briefly to refuel again, before continuing to the final hurdle , the big climb up Lehana's Pass.

Starting the last portage in fading light enabled me to at least scan to ridgelines above and trace out the intended route. For the rest, it was just a case of putting my head down and one foot in front of the other, while paying enough attention so as not to wander off track into one of the deep adjacent valleys. The night was cold and clear and the stars and moonlight sufficient to see without the need for a headlamp. Walking slowly up in the dark, I enjoyed the peace and quiet and had time to reflect back on the mad dash that had started in Pietermaritzburg the previous day.

As I climbed higher, the temperature steadily dropped and despite having all my warm layers on, I couldn't stop for more than a few minutes at a time before starting to shiver. Once over the mountain, it was after 9pm and I still had to get back on the bike to ride the last 35km stretch into Rhodes. I thought it had been cold coming up the mountain but the added windchill on the way down had me looking forward to every uphill climb so I could get off and walk a little to warm up! On the way down, the bit of water left in my bottle froze solid, the dreaded nausea returned and my stomach started going into a knot but none of it mattered by then because I knew I was close to home.

And home appeared out of the dark almost by surprise, when my lights lit up the signboard to the village of Rhodes. It was just before midnight and the Freedom Challenge sign on the gate signaled the end of my ride - 66 hours, about 500km, not quite non-stop but a cracking adventure nonetheless.

As I sipped warm tea in front of a crackling fireplace, I was tired, stiff and sore. My mind was a bit fuzzy and my stomach still tight - but I was happy, already playing back through some of the highs and lows of the ride - it felt like one long ride and despite the setbacks and breaks along the way, all the different stages had merged into one. If there was a message in there, it was really quite simple: no matter what, just get back on and ride

Sunrise on Mparane Ridge