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 -

Monday, 15 July 2013

The 2013 Race Dinner

Look how far we've come in 10 years! From a 3-legged, 3-man race across the country, to a clan of nearly 150 blanket wearers with a boat-load of adventures between them and countless stories to share. The place to share those stories is the 'Race Dinner,' which also serves  as the traditional wrap-up for the event.

About 50 clan members and their families, spouses and friends gathered at Diemersfontein in Wellington over the weekend to share some fine food and wine. Dressed in their bright red race tops, the riders were there to feed their still hungry race appetites and to relive the adventures with those who understood what they'd been through. The wine flowed freely and war stories were swopped until the early morning hours.

Looking back over 10 years

During a brief talk, race director, David Waddilove, highlighted some of the developments and personalities that have grown out of the Freedom Challenge over the last ten years. He also looked into his crystal ball, suggesting that the way to possibly grow in future would be to expand the online following of the event, rather than the actual number of riders taking part - a wise option for an event that relies on the hospitality and goodwill of others.

All riders who have have completed the Freedom Challenge get the same thing - a finishing time, a pizza and a blanket. A more recent tradition has been the introduction of the 'Stone Saddle' award. This floating trophy is awarded to the finisher who best embodies the spirit of the event each year and is decided on by a vote from fellow riders. This year it was awarded to Avril Metelerkamp - a truly deserving winner. (More about her ride here)

Avril and the Stone Saddle

A new award for this year was the 'Vasbyt' award - with a trophy supplied by sculptor Eric Tollner, one of this year's riders. The winner this year was Roy Mottram, who despite not finishing, showed incredible tenacity out on the trail. (More about his ride here)

And so, after welcoming some new members to their ranks, the clan of Blanket Wearers has dispersed once again - back to normal lives with fond memories of an amazing journey completed and truly enriched by the their experiences. Who knows what the next 10 years will hold for the Freedom Challenge... the race format may change, the route itself may evolve and the coverage of it could surely expand. No doubt, the Clan will continue to grow, both in number and in spirit and the future of this remarkable event looks as bright as the sunny winter skies under which they rode in 2013.

Sunday, 7 July 2013

The Sweepers are home

The last group of riders in this year's Freedom Challenge are finally at Diemersfontein - the Sweepers have been together since Willowmore and true to form, arrived together at the end.

Chris and Julia Fisher have had a wonderful honeymoon, making the most of their time out on the trail together and loving every minute of it - they rode well, navigated well, ate really well and slept well on their way to Wellington. They probably would have gone on for another week if it were an option but the adventure has finally come to an end after 20days 9hours 48min. Friends and family welcomed them home and there were smiles all around as they received their blankets - well done guys on a great ride.

Chris and Julia at the finish.

The other two members of the group were Leon van der Nest and Andries de Villiers, they also finished in 20days 9hours 48min. Although they also had a large group of supporters to welcome them home, there were no blankets for them, at least not yet... as the only two entrants in the Extreme Triathlon this year, Leon and Andries still have to paddle the Berg River Canoe Marathon to complete their challenge. With the trail run and mountain bike legs now complete, they were at least allowed to enjoy their pizzas with the others. Tomorrow its off to trip the river before they start their four days of paddling on Wednesday - and only then their blankets. Well done so far guys and all the best for the final stretch.

David gives Leon and Andries some encouragement for the final paddle.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

Daily Report - 6th July

Only one group of riders remains out on the route - Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia have been riding together at the back of the field since Willowmore and tomorrow the four of them will take on the final stage, starting at Trouthaven and making their way up the infamous Stettynskloof portage. It's not a long stage, barely 50km in total but will still take most of the day to complete, with the bulk of it spent carrying bikes up the kloof (4-7hours). After that it's about a three hour ride to the finish and then its all over...

Two more arrivals

Eric Tollner and Gaeren Wilkinson arrived at Diemersfontein at 17h45 this afternoon. Eric started in batch D and claims a finishing time of 24days 11hours 45min while Gaeren started in batch F and finished in 22days 11hours 45min. They only joined up right near the end and hiked through Stettynskloof together but clearly they both enjoyed each other's company.

They both had their fair share of hardships along the way - Eric falling victim to a tummy bug which slowed him down for a few days and Gaeren struggling with knee issues and later sleeping out in Karoopoort - all of which made the going hard for them. But they both soldiered on and today they proudly wrapped themselves in their new blankets - well done!

Eric and Gaeren at the finish

Friday, 5 July 2013

Daily Report - 5th July

After the arrival of Robbie McIntosh at Diemersfontein this afternoon, there are six riders still out on the trail. All of them are currently in the Breede River section of the trail and if things go according to plan, they should all be home by the end of the weekend. The only thing that can really slow them down now is rain but Robbie left Trouthaven in the pouring rain this morning and still managed to get through Stettynskloof - so it seems the pull of the blanket is strong enough.

Thinking about that blanket tonight will be Eric and Gaeren, they are spending the night at Trouthaven. Eric should have a bit more spring in his legs after a short day today but his full Kasra belly may slow him down... That would be a good thing for Gaeren, who doubled up again, this time from Montagu and will no doubt be feeling the effects of three long doubles over the last few days. But the end is near now and only Stettynskloof stands between them and those blankets.

Not far behind them in Montagu are the sweepers, Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia. They completed a successful double from Rouxpos today and are probably getting ready for a big night out in Montagu tonight, it is Friday after all. If they don't go too big tonight, then tomorrow they'll head to Kasra for the now famous lunch on their way to Trouthaven.

Great pic of Julia by Chris - heading into Montagu

Robbie is home

Robbie McIntosh arrived at Diemersfontein at 16h30 today which gives him a finishing time of 20days 10hours 30min. He was all smiles and has clearly enjoyed himself out there on his bike for the last 3 weeks. Team Aramex were there to welcome him home and now its time to relax and enjoy his pizza and a well earned beer - well done Robbie.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Daily Report - 4th July

The race office didn't manage a ride today - no bikes. Also didn't manage a run today, too cold and dark when the alarm went off. And we really couldn't risk illness or injury when there are still riders out there on the trail, it would have been irresponsible. So after a successful day of loafing, it's time to catch up on the exploits of our intrepid cyclists:

As expected, the sweepers swept through Gamkaskloof, cleaning out Hell's Kitchen on the way and then continued to Rouxpos. Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia were rewarded with waffles and warm beds for their efforts. Tomorrow it's off to the bright lights of Montagu and back into civilisation.

Gaeren staying over in Montagu tonight after a successful double from Rouxpos. The strong winds didn't make things any easier for him but he'll be glad to be there because he's set himself up for a push through to Trouthaven tomorrow and a possible Saturday finish at Diemersfontein.

We thought Eric would try to join Robbie at Trouthaven tonight but it seems he's enjoying the solo gig too much - he left Montagu at a leisurely pace this morning and pulled up the handbrake at Kasra. Who can blame him when the food and hospitality there are so good.

Robbie obviously never got the memo that the race office was closed today - he phoned before 7am from somewhere in the vineyards around Ashton to ask for directions. Once back on track, he made quick work of the good roads to McGregor but then did a bit of exploring on the Kasra portage before arriving for lunch. He had no hassles getting over the next portage at Trappieskraal, possibly because he's been there before on the Epic. Tonight he's at Trouthaven trying to figure out how to turn his cycling legs into walking legs for tomorrow's big hike up Stettynskloof.

Looking at the weather report for the weekend, it seems Robbie will finish dry and the others might get a bit wet, with light rain predicted for late Saturday and Sunday - no real cause for concern though, the riders all know that this thing ain't over until that blanket's wrapped warmly around your shoulders.

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

Daily Report - 3rd July

The daily reports are getting easier to write because there aren't that many riders left out there and those that remain aren't doing anything exciting except riding their bikes everyday and eating too much. Now and again some of them try to get themselves lost, or take the scenic route between support stations but every evening they manage to find themselves a warm bed to sleep in.

Our sweeper bus hopped on their brooms today and swept across the flats to Prince Albert - the coffee bandit was at his post and the rusks were washed down with a steaming roadside brew. Leon, Andries, Chris and Julia all enjoyed the Karoo hospitality from Voorryer Rissik and soon afterwards they arrived at Dennehof. Tomorrow they're off to Gamkaskloof, The Ladder and maybe Rouxpos? Then again maybe not, Hell's Kitchen serves a mean burger that could derail those plans...

Gaeren rode solo through the Gamkaskloof today, stopping off the customary lunch at Hell's Kitchen. He was last seen heading for Rouxpos in the late afternoon, determined to complete another double up. He seems to be in a bit of a hurry to get finished now as he's done a few big doubles over the last few days - he will most likely aim for Montagu tomorrow - good for him.

Robbie rode that double today and seems to have finally cracked "this navigation thing." He made it through all the scratchy bits around Anysberg and cruised into Montagu by mid afternoon - probably didn't take him long to find the hotel bar for his customary post ride beer.

Eric did the same thing but at a slightly more sedate pace and with a few more photos and coffee brews along the way. He made up a day by doing so which he was quite pleased about. Tomorrow Trouthaven beckons.

Which means that tonight Trouthaven is empty and tomorrow there will be no riders bashing their way up Stettynskloof . It also means that the race office can take the day off, maybe watch Wimbledon or dare I say it, 'Le Tour'  or better yet, go for a ride!

Six more arrive at Diemersfontein

A bit of a nip in the air today at Diemersfontein but nothing the riders would have noticed - not long after they rolled across the finish line, they were wrapped up warmly in their blankets.

The first to arrive today were Andy and Peter, their finishing time was 24days 10hours 10min, well within the 26-day cut-off but maybe some evidence of a bit of loafing at the end there... Who can blame them, they decided there was no need to rush and too much good trail food to pass up on in the last few days so they took their time and really enjoyed it. Well done guys, you finished in fine style.

The remaining riders arrived as a group of four, although they hadn't started out that way. Philip Kleijnhans started in batch E and finished in a time of 20days 10hours 10min, tired after Stettynskloof but glad to be finally done. The father and son pairing of Ted and Shaun Adams arrived with their travelling cohort of many days, Guy McKechnie - all notching up a finishing time of 21days 10hours 10min. They've had a fun and eventful ride, with much laughter along the way.

Shaun, Ted, Philip, Guy, Andy and Peter.

2013 Rider Profiles - Avril Metelerkamp

If there's one person who'll have some stories to tell after this year's Freedom Challenge, it has to be Avril. She started out with Batch B and made good progress to Rhodes, relying on a pre-dawn start time. A few hour's riding in the early morning darkness seemed a good way to ensure she would get in comfortably before nighttime.

Avril half-wheeling her husband John

Two days out of Rhodes, she came a bit unstuck on the two big portages of Slaapkranz and Bontehoek and only made it to Moordenaar's Poort for the night. The following day, after stopping in at Brosterlea for lunch, she set off to conquer the Stormberg, still hoping to get to Romansfontein that night. The wind had picked up and the light was fading, so she made the first of many wise decisions and turned back to Brosterlea. She faced a similar situation again after leaving Grootdam a bit behind schedule but this time pressed on and found herself coming down the Struishoek in the dark... the white rocks must have helped because she found her way down without incident and then continued on to Pearston. Exhausted now and with flat batteries in both her tracker and phone, she found accommodation in the little town instead of pushing on to the next support station at Gegun, nearly 2 hours away - another wise decision.

The remarkable thing about her ride is that she had been riding mostly on her own since Moordenaar's Poort. Added to this were the various bike troubles she was having, first the rear brakes went, then she lost a cleat. Although she met up with other riders now and then at support stations and they helped where they could - John and Barry managed to sort out the brakes - she was riding big days and taking on the tricky navigation with nothing but the wind for company. The Hout Bay Boys tried to help by leaving a few crucial arrows in the sand for her to follow, which she was really grateful for!

"Now I'm scared. Alone in Baviaans valley and don't know which way to go, please can you help..?" The message came through a few hours after she had sent it - the race office was on the road from Rhodes and signal was patchy - we tried to reach her but by then she had gone into the dark zone. The story that emerged the following day was one of true courage. Avril had found her way to about the sixth river crossing, by which time she was exhausted and thrashing about with no real idea of where to go. She still had the good sense to stop, find a place to rest and light a fire, hoping that in the morning she could continue or at least keep a look out for other riders coming past. Morning came and with it the sound of birds  - also eventually, the sound of voices - her 'rescuers' were the guys and gal from Batch E and when she saw them, they were greeted with tears of joy and relief. She had survived a dark and cold night in a cold, lonely kloof. They all made their way through the remaining river crossings to Cambria, to hot food and a warm bed. She then latched onto her new-found friends and rode all the way to Willowmore, a long 170km double up, which meant she had caught up a day on her schedule. The next day the party continued as she tailed them across to Prince Albert: "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..." Well it did work and she went all the way to the finish with this group. They were not the only riders who commented on the tenacity of Avril, others who had finished earlier had also been impressed by her efforts.

The Freedom Challenge produces it's fair share of war stories every year, the adventures and misadventures along the way. It also produces it's fair share of heroes, people who when faced with the hardships, stand up and take it on the chin. Occasionally it also produces legends, people who do all these things and more - whose fighting spirit inspires everyone they encounter on their journey and touches their lives in a positive way. This lady is one of those legends. Well done Avril!

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

Daily Report - 2nd July

With eight more riders arriving at the finish today, those that remain out on the trail are now officially in the minority.

The Sweepers have picked up the Honeymooners at Willowmore - Leon and Andries pulled off the big double through the Baviaanskloof today, with a  brief pitstop at Golden Crust for chocolate pudding. Waiting in Willowmore were Chris and Julia, who arrived earlier this morning but decided to stay: "We're having such a good time, we don't want it to end..!" they said. Tomorrow the four of them can form a nice little paceline across the desert to Prince Albert - the earlier you arrive, the more time for pampering at Dennehof.

The Fishers having fun on their way to Willowmore
Gaeren seems to be feeling the effects of yesterday's big ride, he moved slowly across to Prince Albert and kept the Koffie Korporaal waiting but no arrests were made and coffee was served in the end. He will be trying to double up again tomorrow, aiming to go through Gamkaskloof to Rouxpos.

Robbie left Prince Albert early this morning and made it to Gamkaskloof without incident. After brunch he went on to Rouxpos - the waffles and an afternoon beer seem to have kept him there, so the sandpits of Anysberg will have to wait until tomorrow.

Also at Rouxpos tonight is Solo Eric - he came through from a night in Gamkaskloof and after many photos and home brewed coffee stops along the way, eventually rolled into the support station by late afternoon.  Eric may not be solo for much longer, he knows the Anysberg area well, so Robbie would be wise to follow his lines through the sandpits tomorrow.

Eric's roadside coffee stop

Moving up the trail, there's quite a big gap until we find the next riders - all the way to Trouthaven in fact. Overnighting there we have Guy and the Adams Family as well as Philip. They came through from Montagu today, with a lunch stop at Kasra along the way. Andy and Peter are also there, having left Kasra this morning after a hearty breakfast. These guys will probably stick together up Stettynskloof tomorrow - unless Guy decides to drop the 'old guys.'

A festive day at Diemersfontein

Race office birthdays and big group arrivals - seems to be a recurring theme on this year's Freedom Challenge...

The group who arrived today included three from Batch E: Dave Bell, Janine Stewart and Doug Kennaugh. Their finishing time was 19days 9hours 15min. With them were three riders from Batch F: Coen de Bruin, Andrew Bradford and Colin Anderson who all finished in 18days 9hours 15min. The other member of the group was Avril Metelerkamp in a time of 22days, 9hours 15min - a remarkable ride by a very brave lady.

Avril, Colin, Andrew, Dave, Doug, Janine and Coen.

Half an hour later we welcomed home Martin Ciolkosz, who after hiking through Stettynskloof with the group, had decided to slow down, smell the roses and take some photos on the way down to the finish. His time was 20days 9hours 45min.

A happy Martin gets his blanket.

Today's finishers are a festive lot and the Diemersfontein Pinotage is going down well with the pizzas tonight - well done to all of you.

2013 Rider Profiles - Charles Mansfield

Charles in Rhodes

To say Charles had a tough Freedom Challenge this year would be an understatement. He faced many physical setbacks on his journey, first serious knee issues and later on his neck muscles just stopped working - towards the end he was only able to ride by holding his head up with one hand, while steering with the other. These physical difficulties made the last three days of his ride a bit of a nightmare and when he finally did get to Diemersfontein, there were tears of relief on the finish line.
(He's not the only rider to show some emotion at the end - this year's race winners are members of the same club.)

Apart from sheer grit, one of the things that kept him going was also a deeper purpose to his ride - he was raising money for Project Rhino KZN, a group co-ordinating the anti-poaching efforts within KZN. His ride has raised in excess of R60 000 for the fight against rhino poaching, a fantastic effort!

Coming into the race, Charles had set his sights on the rookie record and was aiming for a sub-15 day finish. He rode hard on the first day, a bit too hard and when he got to Allendale, wisely opted to take a 2-hour break to recover. His plan was still to get to Centocow though, so he rode out into the late afternoon sun to test his navigational ability - a few hours later he was there, having found his way through this tricky forest section in the dark. This was a small personal victory and gave him the confidence to push on in the dark if necessary.

Not long after that, he hit a low point in his race - the knee trouble had started and while crossing the Knira floodplains, he encountered mud and slush all around him. He knew that not far away was a perfectly good dirt road but he had to follow the race route and wade through the mud or face a time penalty. Why? What for? It was one of those moments which could have signaled the end. But he dug deep and went on. Later that night he got into Malekholonyane where Jack's Army were all asleep - when they made an early move the next morning, he went with. That arrangement lasted for a good few days, only coming to an end when Charles hooked up with Scott James near Slaapkranz. Scott was racing hard and knew the route and when Christo joined them, the newly formed trio stuck together for most of the rest of the race.

Some of the highlights of his ride were going over Lehana's in the gale force wind and the beauty of the Baviaanskloof. One of his most memorable moments was stopping to look at the sunrise with Scott - they saw the sun rising on one side, the moon setting on the opposite side and the silhouette of mountains in between. Despite the racing, these moments forced them to stop and look on in awe.

For Charles, this race was very different to the usual mountain bike stage race - as a veteran of many such races, he knew about riding hard and suffering. Only a few years ago he was a workaholic who weighed 140kg but riding bikes had reshaped him into a lean, strong rider. By his own admission though, that speed and strength didn't help much on the Freedom Challenge because it's such a different kind of event. Mentally, the other events are a drop in the ocean according to him and being able to deal with adversity is the crucial difference. He described it as "an unbelievable journey of endurance" which often had him "facing his own personal demons and fighting off the evil forces that wanted him to quit."  Clearly, he's learnt a lot from his journey and redefined the limits to which he can push himself physically, mentally and emotionally. Considering the hardships he faced, his finishing time of 15days 19hours 5min is not far off his original goal. But on reflection, his journey has been such a positive experience that the time will be of little importance.

Well done Charles, when the aches and pain are gone you'll think back and remember more of the good than the bad and you can be exceptionally proud of what you've achieved.

Charles wrapped in his blanket

Monday, 1 July 2013

Daily Report - 1st July

With nearly half the field home already, the question is "Who is still out there?" Well the other half of the field still have some work to do before the pizza and blankets, so let's break it down:

Leon and Andries went through the Grootrivier Poort today without incident and are sleeping at Cambria tonight. They're getting stronger as they go, a good sign for the big stages still coming up.

The Fabulous Fishers, Chris and Julia, are having so much fun that they decided not to drop the hammer up the Baviaanskloof today, rather opting to stop at Golden Crust to sample the chocolate pudding. They must have liked it because they decided to stay for the night. Gaeren, on the other hand, used the chocolate pudding to power himself on to Willowmore, completing a big 170km double in the process. He faces the long haul across to Prince Albert tomorrow with rumours of a coffee ambush somewhere along the way...

Today Robbie faced that same stretch and went ripping across the rugged landscape in his big blade. There must be something wrong with his brakes because he overshot a critical turn by about 10km before he was able to reign in his steed and turn around. Back on track, he got to Rondawel in time for fresh vetkoek before charging off again. He was tracked by Voorryer Rissik doing 45km/h after the roadside coffee stop and just managed to throw out his drag chute in time to stop himself at Dennehof. His big blade may get a rest tomorrow as he makes his way up the Swartberg Pass to Gamkaskloof.

Solo Eric went up the pass today and and will spend the night in Gamkaskloof. He seems to be enjoying himself again, stopping to take pictures and smell the flowers. He might go as far as Anysberg tomorrow but it takes a strong will to bypass the waffles at Rouxpos.

Back in civilisation in downtown Montagu, four riders are recovering after a long ride from Rouxpos today - Guy, Ted, Shaun and Philip. They survived the sandpits of Anysberg and arrived just before dark. They can look forward to a scrumptious lunch at Kasra tomorrow on the way to Trouthaven.

Having supper at Kasra tonight though are Andy and Peter. Lunch was great so they decided to stay. Tomorrow's a relatively easy day for them to Trouthaven, with only the sneaky little Trappieskraal portage to worry about but they'll have more than enough time to scuttle across in the morning and then rest up for Stettynskloof.

Already settled in at Trouthaven is another large group of riders - Dave, Doug Janine, Coen, Colin, Andrew, Avril and Polish Martin will take on Stettynskloof in the morning, aiming for a mid afternoon finish. There should be a bit of a path forming by now and there were reports of some cairns marking the way, so all that's left to do is hoist up their bikes and put one foot in front of the other, then freewheel down the hill to collect their blankets - easy as that! (Good luck guys & gals, it's one helluva hike.)

The pizza oven at Seasons Restaurant here in Diemersfontein has been working overtime today, eleven hungry finishers are hard to satisfy and Chef Andy has been cooking up a storm - hang in there Andy, the hungry hordes are dwindling and the race office don't eat much, pretty soon things will be back to normal.

A busy day at Diemersfontein

Today has been a busy day on the finish line: First arrival was the low flying Anton Wood, missing a turn in the forest and heading towards Paarl, before he came to his senses and found his way via a sneaky service entrance into Diemersfontein. He made really good time up Stettynskloof and arrived in the glorious sunshine by early afternoon. He's had a solid ride - no major errors and some consistent riding all reflect in his finishing time of 19days 7hours 50min - another great effort by a rookie.

Anton gets his blanket

Later this afternoon, Gavin Robinson and Henry Angove arrived - looking a little weary after spending an extra hour down in Stettynskloof exploring some alternative paths. But they were soon smiling again and reliving the adventures of the past 3 weeks - the Trolls on the Schurfteberg, making a fire to keep the Swampthing at bay down in the Grootrivier Poort, riding straight past Hell's Kitchen in Gamkaskloof, all the way on to The Ladder before realising that they had missed lunch and were now quite hungry. After proclaiming that "night navigation is a no-no" they spent the next few nights doing exactly that. Despite the misadventures, they always emerged the next morning no worse for wear and just got back on their bikes and carried on riding. Well done guys, your finishing time of 21days 10hours 40min was jam-packed with fun and laughter, for you and all those following.

Soon after Gavin and Henry arrived, the Peleton swept across the finish line - 8 riders, all having ridden together since Prince Albert, some of them from long before that. The group consisted of most of batch A - Pierre Singery, Dave vd Westhuizen, Ansa and Sarel Smit and the father and son pairing of Bruce and Charles Hughes. Their finishing time was 22days 11hours on the dot. It's evident that they had formed a strong bond in the group and always discussed the day's riding plans among the members - strength in numbers in this case. Also arriving with them today were batch B riders Dave Moberley and Pete Button - they started out as the 'Fat Farmers' but judging by their appearance on the finish line, they no longer are. They finished in 21days 11hours and looked like they could have gone on for a few more without too much effort - farmers are a tough breed. 

Charles, Bruce, Dave M, Pete, Dave vdW, Ansa, Sarel and Pierre

2013 Rider Profile - Roy Mottram

Dr. Roy Mottram

Doing the Freedom Challenge is tough, ask any finisher and they’ll confirm it but doing it at the age of 70 beggar’s belief – who in their right mind would attempt that? Only one ‘Crazy Old Man’ according to his friends - Dr. Roy Mottram. This is how his friend and regular riding partner, Rob Fincham, described him:

“Naked buttocks bristling in the breeze of a remote Lesotho gorge, fishing rod searching out giant trout in the river’s crystal clear waters – aha it’s that crazy old man Dr. Roy Mottram - training for the Freedom Challenge Race Across South Africa (RASA). His sons, Sam and Matt, horse backed with him into Lesotho as a present for his 70th birthday, just prior to the race. Based at Camdeboo Lodge on the outskirts of Hilton, KwaZulu-Natal, this is a military man,  a graduate of Natal and Free State universities and a respected agronomist with water-related work his speciality. He has an often questioning twinkle in his eyes and has a great sporting background - a former Natal rugby player, deadly accurate with a rifle and a deep sea fisherman.  He is also known to enjoy an occasional party. Participating in RASA represents yet another personal challenge for this iron man and we salute his free spirit.”

Roy and Rob started out together in Batch C. Their first day saw them get to Allendale, tired but happy to be there. The big climbs in the Sisonke section of the trail had taken their toll though and it took them another 2 days to get to Ntsikeni. A few days later they got lost descending off the Black Fountain ridgeline and ended up sleeping out in an old ruin. They arrived in Rhodes after 8 days, a bit behind schedule but still within the 9-day interim cut-off.

Over the next few days, both Rob and Roy fell ill and picked up stomach problems. They stopped short at Kranskop to rest and recover. By the next day, Roy’s condition had improved but Rob’s had worsened – Roy decided to wait it out with his friend, hoping to continue together the following day. Rob’s condition was no better by morning and he was forced to withdraw from the race.

So Roy continued down the trail alone, passing Brosterlea that day and ending up at the foot of the Stormberg, on the farm Weltevrede.  The next day he got to Romansfontein by early afternoon and pressed on to the Aasvoelberg portage, hoping to get off the mountain before sunset and ride on to Hofmeyr in the dark. It was slow going though and he only picked up the rough, boulder strewn track off the mountain at last light but he lost the track when it crossed a riverbed and spent the rest of the night slowly picking his way down in the dark. By first light he had found the road at the bottom, so he made his way to Hofmeyr, arriving at midday. Exhausted after the long night, he stayed over there to recover.

The next few days went well and Roy made steady progress towards the Baviaanskloof. Along the way he was joined by Robbie McIntosh and they shared the support station at Bucklands. Robbie rode away the next day to Cambria. It was a tough day for Roy, who was once again struggling with a tummy bug and he decided to sleep at the top of the Osseberg jeeptrack, rather than descend into the Grootrivier Poort for the night. The next day he took on the river crossings through this infamous section and only crawled out at Cambria late that night. By then the damage was done, his body robbed of all strength and now also nursing knee and ankle injuries. 

After soldiering on for so long, his decision to withdraw couldn’t have been an easy one - it wasn’t his indomitable spirit that had been broken, just his body.  This was his message when he bowed out:
“Hi Meryl – thank you for all your help and inspiration – sitting on the top of Baviaanskloof, I am sorry to say that the body has told the mind ‘enough of this.’ So sorry to disappoint you and others but just not enjoyable anymore. Will take my time to next stop and make a plan to get a lift back to Cape Town. My knee and ankle sore, shoes broken, back suspension of bike gone.”

Roy left his mark on this year’s Freedom Challenge with his positive attitude and fierce determination when the going got tough. He also left a lasting impression on his hosts at the support stations – Sandra from Kranskop was so impressed that she lined up all her children and told them: “you see this man? When you are his age I want you all to be like him!” He also earned the respect of his fellow riders – they simply could not believe how a man of his years was still out there riding alongside them.

Roy emptying his Sealskinz socks

Whether or not he will return to try again will likely be a carefully considered decision but everyone will agree that he would be most welcome back on the trail and there will always be a blanket waiting for him at the finish line.