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, 11 September 2013

Riding bikes and raising money

The Freedom Trail passes through some remote, rugged and spectacular parts of South Africa. Some of these areas are also home to some of the poorest communities, whose opportunities are limited by the remoteness of their location. Yet despite the sometimes insurmountable odds, people from these areas have risen above the challenges and gone on to achieve success. The common thread in these and similar stories is 'opportunity' and the will to work hard to make the most of it.

The Freedom Challenge Scholarship Fund was established to provide such opportunity. It came about after riders on the Freedom Trail decided to do something to help those communities they were travelling through and the plan was to make a lasting difference by offering children a good education.

Maria Zell High School

The Fund raises money to send learners on a three year scholarship to Maria Zell High School, near Matatiele. Promising candidates are selected from within the area and awarded a full scholarship for Grades 10, 11 and 12, covering tuition, lodging, books, uniforms and a travel allowance.

Over the last 3 years, many riders taking part in the Freedom Challenge have taken the opportunity  to raise money for the Scholarship Fund. There have also been significant contributions from corporate donors and private individuals. Recently a fund raising evening was held in Johannesburg - organised by Andy Masters, with help from Ben de Lange and Allen Sharp, (both involved in the administration of the Scholarship Fund) and a host of other blanket wearers (it seems that being awarded a blanket for finishing the Freedom Challenge merely signals the beginning of a longer term involvement with the event and the communities it reaches). The draw-card for the evening was getting to hear the story of the 'Honeymooners,' Martin and Jeanie Dreyer, as they recounted their experiences from this year's race.

Jeanie and Martin with the autographed race jersey. (pic S. Kellerman)

They took us on a journey of 12 and a half days, during which they experienced many highs and lows: the pain of Jeanie's aching knees; sharing the moonlit nights riding together under the stars; the food and hospitality of the support stations; Martin getting sidetracked watching Saturday afternoon rugby; passing up on a champagne dinner at Toekomst; hypothermia in Die Hel; thawing out with waffles and ice cream at Rouxpos and nearly succumbing to the final hurdle of Stettynskloof... a remarkable journey that brought them closer together the further they rode.

The main fund raising event took the form of an auction of various items - autographed race jerseys, Freedom Challenge memorabilia and also a raffle. In the end, a total of over R35000 was raised on the night, enough for a full scholarship for another deserving learner!