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 -

Wednesday, 3 July 2013

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!

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