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

Saturday, 22 June 2013

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.

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