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 -

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

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

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