2300km, but where to start?

As you can imagine, a 19day epic generates a fair amount of copy.

You can go right to the beginning of the whole ordeal, or the startline/day 1.

I'm looking at moving from a general ride report to a more up to date what's happening site. Yes, Freedom Challenge doesn't just finish in Paarl! When i get round to it, there'll be a PDF of the 19days reports.

Send some feedback (I'm aware that the whole layout is just, well kinda rubbish!)

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Day 11

ready for ackshin
sirk loots

andrew king

I got out of bed with renewed vigour. Sure I had slipped from 2nd to 5th place in one day, but I had some strong riders to hit the course with and the prospect of some fun times was evident. It wasn't even that cold for once as darkness slowly peeled to daylight. Before long we arrived at the first obstacle of the day, yet another valley dead end where the only forward was mostly up. The jeep track looked much better in real life than on the map and pretty soon the view back was worth stopping for. There came a split where the narrative and the map differed, and we elected to follow the text as we could see the saddle mentioned in it. A few days later, the comedy kings Errol and Carinus took this turn off and rode the whole day ending back up at their starting point, Rietfontein - that has got to hurt, and i can only imagine the language that night.
matt and andrew

we be chillin'

looking back

Even though they had started together in the same batch, the other three hadn't actually spent much riding in each other's company. Andrew sports the legendry #2 numberplate as he was one of the three pioneers of the first race in 2003. This time he'd roped his friend Matt in for the ride, who was more used to a rugby field than a bike but it was obvious he is quite a natural athlete and looked strong enough to go all day long. They were creating awareness for a charity close to their hearts – Walk for Peace. They seemed to like riding during the night, and didn't even stay at one of the allocated SS on the way to Rhodes. Sirk is good friends with the 2007 winner, Maarten van Dalsen, so we knew he'd have some secret race winning tips. He had made his charge a more calculated affair after slowly easing into the race. He was absolutely fearless to the point of insanity on the downhills.
on top of the world
it became a habit
boys still fixing bikes up there

I was feeling frisky and reached the saddle first, so got some great pictures in. We had some good high jinks after conquering the day's first and biggest bump, and on peering down into the abyss we were headed, decided that maybe Matt would need back brakes. Out came another set of brake pads, my V-brake setup had proved that to be a lot more reliable than hydraulics in general. It was indeed another really thrilling fling down. and we regrouped at the bottom to knock off the remaining km to lunch. 'put it in the big one' was the call for Matt to shift into his highest gear and we all did our best to hang on behind. We cruised the slightly undulating roads at an average I surely hadn't hit in the preceding week. Keep this up and the gap to the race leader would shrink by the hour, we dubbed our peleton 'the Tim James train' (I lost my ticket a few days later and got kicked off).
no budget for roadsigns in E.cape
chasing hard

The video crew appeared and soon we got to the station, for a solid meal of left over pasta and a plate towered with delicoious Kudu schnitzel (which was duly replaced when we scoffed it away). It was great to be having an early lunch at a spot we could have been sleeping at, it seems like a kilometer in the malutis is worth two in the Karoo. We'd been warned that the terrain coming up was quite rough, so got going west where we could see a sheer mountain and no sign of a path. The climb up was on a very rocky jeep track. I really enjoy these sections, where its a challenge to keep the bike upright and you end up spinning a low gear and concentrate on the line ahead. Of course its not much faster than walking, but that's not the point.

Once over the top we bid farewell to the TV crew (did I mention I had now joined the upper class with a Toyota Hilux bakkie intercepting our movements?!) and wound through yet another isolated valley. We were looking for another old farmhouse from more prosperous times that had been left derelict probably due to the hardships of ekeing out a living in a remote valley. Funny how city people even the balance by escaping to these places. I overshot the mark to the entrance of the Struishoek descent to scout out the other route indicated on the map. Either way it was dead straight down on a really rough hiking trail. The route had been well marked with white limewash, but it was painful walking down the steep rocky path. Most likely my worst 4km of the whole trail. To add insult to injury I picked up a nosebleed halfway down somehow. There's bar talk of building a downhill route here, lets hope it remains a dream, as I don't think Gregg Minnaar would touch that gradient without a 6 inch travel bike and a full face helmet.there's a kinda path there - struishoek descent

into the sunset

Sirk had bolted for home at the bottom (a familiar pattern, it seemed) and the three of us got into a rhythm of sorts on the decent road to Pearston. That road became tar, which is a godsend when it arrives in small portions. Pearston was my favourite dorpie right now, as the post office there had received my parcel and the farmer had picked it up earlier in the day (I hoped). We didn't actually even go into town, turning off just before it. For such a small settlement they definitely had a cellphone mast to be proud of and Andrew took full advantage to try do a bit of business on his handsfree kit!
bloody hell, not bad photo whilst riding(on tar)
I was losing pressure in my tyre somehow (slimed tubes??) and had to stop to change it with about 15km from the stop. I was quite glad that the boys waited for me, as it meant they weren't pushing all the way to Toekomst and I'd kinda joined the team (for now at least). The nav in the dark was a bit worrying as the distances between turnoffs were huge and markings not really making sense but when we saw a sign with an Eland and the rusty sign with Vandeventerskraal on it there was a collective cry of relief.

The farmhouse was once again a surplus building from a consolidated farm that was rented out to hunting parties and silly tourists like us. We had caught up with the farmers, but the other half of the group were only 50km up the road. The farmer had left us a meal, beer, koeksisters (which rapidly disappeared) and a package for me. I felt like a four year old at christmas as I opened up to reveal a new tyre, sealant, chain and shifter. I got settled on the fluffy carpet next to the fire and got my bike back to 100% working order. It had been a long day starting and finishing in darkness, and tomorrow would be more of the same so a tired body drifted straight to bed.

Rietfontein to Vandeventerskraal via Grootvlakte- ~2120m of climbing
~145km, 13 hours door to door

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Day 10

I woke up to the smell of frieds eggs, things had turned out quite nicely. I'd have liked to have made an early start as I was pretty sure the guys who made Elandsberg would be planning a double day and I had fallen off the pace. There would be more chasing from behind and my position in second place was now quite vulnerable. My sludge filled rear tyre had survived the previous night's bundu bashing but had flatted overnight. A sludge tube is nowhere nearly as puncture proof as a tubeless setup, and it seemed the luck had slowly leaked out.

After a quick chat with the farmer (and his reservations about our permission to be there in the first place), I decided to take the long way round to Elandsberg. I got there just before 10, about 15 hours later than I wanted, and was now about 4 hours behind the group. There was a report (incorrect) that the chasing bunch was already at Hofmeyr, putting me only half a day ahead of them. I decided to take an easy day and hopefully arrive at Rietfontein in the early afternoon and rest up. I could continue the charge from tomorrow.

Brunch wolfed down, it was time to get out of there before the rest arrived. The riding was relatively easy and before long I had knocked off a fair portion of the day's riding. We crossed over the Fish River, which should really be the reclassified as a stream, and then the N10. I stopped in at a farmstall (very hard to give these a skip when they come by) and a 150kg 20 year old sorted me out with some good biltong.

game fences

I had some time to think about the previous night's antics and where I went wrong. It was irritating to find the rest of the map and I still wondered why I hadn't looked for it at all in the first place. I also came to the obvious conclusion that the 'flashing' light was most likely my own superbright headlamp reflecting off a water tower or similar structure. That made me feel really stupid.

puncture fixing in a game area

The next section went through a game farm, and passing some farmers I was warned about the Rhino! I hadn't got far when I got the sagging feeling from my rear tyre. Time to find some shade and give that sludge tyre another bash between sarmies. I've never really used them, and couldn't understand why it would hold its air and only lose to pressure 500m down the road. After much frustration with my terribly inadequate mini pump I got to a farm and pulled in to fix the tyre properly. To my dismay, the race crew had been waiting for me and with all my stopping I had missed an extensive lunch spread. Much joking about my shenanigans the previous night too.
our stop from afar
time to rest
The afternoon dragged on and I just couldn't knock these easy kms off. I got to Rietfontein with not much daylight left and put my feet up as it looked like we'd landed in luxury. It's a game lodge that caters mainly for overseas hunters who pay BIG money for their holidays. The owner couple Roy and Jenny where quite special. Jenny got me sorted, but really reminded me of a Herschel mother the way she went on about the tribulations of the race logistics. Roy is a true old salt hunter and possesses the dirtiest mouth i've heard in a while! They said he could sort me out with a decent pump when he was back from riding. When I first met him, I couldn't believe he was also a biker – it turned out he was riding horses and wouldn't be seen dead on two wheels and no motor!

mounted Rhino

By the time Sirk Loots (start batch 3) rolled in after dark I had chilled enough to be doing some bike tlc next to the fire. It was an awesome dining room/bar/ with every animal possible mounted on the walls. He'd had a 200km day and didn't really have the patience for the incessant ordering. His remark of “as sy nie vinnig stilbly nie, gaan sy ook op die muur hang” made my day. I'd made my way through some bar stock and was getting nicely into the Euro 2008 semifinal with Roy when the next riders arrived. Matt and Andrew( also start batch 3) were doing the race for their chosen charity and looked really swish in their matching kit and helmet cams. They'd done some serious night hours since the start but looked fresh and strong. I liked the look of these riders and was confident we could overhaul the bunch I had just fell back from.

Speelmanskop to Rietfontein via Elandsberg- ~1000m of climbing
~90km, 9 hours door to door

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

l*o*s*t and found

So I’m an electrical engineer, and love fooling around with technology and gadgets in general. I’ve worked on a project where the GPS system was quite crucial. It’s one of the more amazing systems ever put together, and it’s actually rather affordable. Quite how the rf design engineers managed to squeeze all the high frequency electronics into such a small package is something I can only marvel at. It was only a matter of time before they squished them into cellphones and it looks like garmin has done the same with their watches.

When you add GPRS to GPS you end up confusing most people. What you get is a system that tells people where you are (and have been), as long as you have cellphone reception. That’s the beauty of the Sportstrack system - it’s simple, yet highly effective.

Another great little locally made product, in case of emergency we can push a magic button and a distress signal will be sent with current location. Just make sure you run into trouble within cellphone reception! It can operate on a very weak signal, so you might not be able to phone or sms, but the gprs data can get through.

It’s definitely one of the ironies of the race. I’ve told people it’s the same as some bush ranger tracking a leopard with a collar. You carry a GPS that to all intents and purposes is useless to you, might as well be a brick. A clever brick.

Day 9

our heavensent hosts
I let the rest go ahead of me, as I still had a tyre to seat and I was at the farm best equipped to do that. If I incurred any time penalty for backtracking off the Stormberg the previous day, then this 8:30 start would probably qualify. The day started off through the farm and then leading up to a steep jeep track up and over the Aasvoelsberg. I made good time up the mountain, eager with the rest two hours up ahead.
go down there? the hofmeyr 100mile trail

The view from atop was once again beyond superbole, and plunged down a rough track that formed part of the Hofmeyer 100 Mile trail, a famous equestrian endurance event. I was buoyed by the feeling that my bike troubles from the last few days were passed and I could concentrate on charging up ahead on the trail again. The steep and rocky descent had other ideas for me, and I managed to tear a hole in the brand new tyre not even 500m down.

It was a terrible feeling when the setbacks just keep piling up, it's as if the whole world has conspired against you. My best idea right then was to sit down out of the wind and eat my lunch, a slab of chocolate and ponder the options. The just settled tubeless seal had broken too now that the tyre had no pressure, so the plan was to boot the tyre and put a tube in again. I also had low confidence in the tyre even making it down the hill (misguided, but heat of the moment thinking). The good thing about being near the top of the hill, was that signal was a close walk away. I got hold of Will from the previous night to discuss my local options, it turns out that the next town Hofmeyr was very basic and I should get something sent out from Cape Town. So it was code red to mobilise the back up team at home. Shopping list was a shifter, new tyre, more sealant, and whilst we're at it throw in another chain. If all goes to plan, then Pearston post office would have it the next day. A day quicker than I could get there.
crayzee descent

Well I did get down the hill, walking down the really rocky stuff. The road was fairly decent and I adjusted my goal for the day to try reach Hofmeyr. It was now noon and that was 65km on hopefully decent road. Then a familiar bakkie pulled into view further down the road. Will had sorted some sheep out and then loaded up some spares and driven round to help me out. So I picked up my old tyre as a spare backup and got the tyre rock hard with a decent floor pump (the compressor was on the back of the bakkie too!). I had to be insistent not to accept the kind offer of a lift to the top of the next hill. All too soon it was back on the road and I'm on my own again, enjoying a mad crazy downhill on one of those no name passes.

die PIENK ng kerk
For what seemed like the first time on the trip, I made really good time. On loooking at the day's profile it's obvious to see the flat section where the kays just flew passed and the clock hovered around 30km/h – really good going. I reached the drag into Hofmeyr just on 4, with a huge smile on my face...STEVE is in HOFMEYR. How I laughed. I couldn't resist the farmstall in town, to find out I wasn't the first patron to arrive by bike that day, but I was a bit behind the rest. That lamb pie and ginger beer was worth the day's ride (but apparently 'ons wag nog om die ander Steve te kom besoek'!).

Steve, Hofmeyr

I pushed on in the knowledge that I was risking a scratchy section in the dark if I didn't get motoring. The legs got me there with the sun low in the sky, and I checked out the abandoned farmhouse just incase disaster struck and then got going on the old wagon trail, 6km from the support station. As expected I had other bike tracks to help guide me and I could see the nek to get over. Once over that, the farmhouse lights would lead the way.

Just checking my backup accom plan

Cresting the nek, the light was getting dim, the track faint and no farmhouse or even lights in the next valley. There was a large group of trees in the distance which I headed for. The house must be in there, and my spirits soared when I rejoined a road with tracks on it. The trees turned out to be not hiding a house but just an empty dam. I realised that there was a second nek still to cross, but I'd follow this overgrown jeep track south to its logical conclusion.

Now in full darkness under a clear starry but moonless Karoo sky, I got worried when the track turned left and up toward the mountain but there were still bike tracks to follow. It was about here that I stopped thinking straight. I knew I had to in a southerly direction, and the 6 stars of the Southern Cross were now behind me. My map setup had eveything in A5 or smaller laminated sections, for the life of me I never switched to the second half of this detailed map – it was on my handlebars the entire time.

I stopped when the route went north for sure and petered out, but then to the west I could see a light. Finally humans! It was faint, but definitely there, I swung my hand in front of my headlamp and it flashed back. Turning my light to strobe mode, they signalled back, sometimes two lights coming back. It could only be the guys up ahead showing me the way. I figured it was about 2km away and I could get there quicker by backtracking on the road I'd been riding. I hadn't got far before I had a puncture on my good front wheel. What a time to run out of sealant! I did the ultimate MacGyver thing and got the ziploc bag that had the rescued sealant from my back tyre earlier in the day. and restocked through the valve core using a syringe. It lasted all the way home.

I quickly returned to the same spot as before, and the guys were still there flashing me, so I chose to bundu straight there instead following a star constellation for direction. It was pitch black, so I was surprised to climb up a small hill and down the other side and find nothing. I soldiered on through the veld for what seemed like hours with no luck. When I got to a massive donga, I crossed it knowing I was well and truly LOST and the phone had zero signal. I was a bit short on water, otherwise I might have bunked down immediately and even got a fire going. It's funny to analyze how you react in moments of despair, my situation was easy to handle as it wasn't too cold and rain was unlikely. I conveniently forgot about game farms and lions. What I wouldn't give for another of those Hofmeyr pies now, but I had stockpiled my daily chocolate slabs to a rapidly dwindling collection of three. I would get through this ordeal, 100g at a time.

The 4m deep, thron protected DONGA

The one thing in the background was a barking dog, it now became my beacon. Find the dog, find a farm. After a while I got onto a farm field of sorts and some roads so could even ride again. My ears led me to the dog, it was clearly from the workers cottages. I found the main buildings, three of them all well kept but unoccupied (and locked!). So it was with hat in hand that I eventually went back and knocked on the worker's door. He took a while to get up, as he's actually the only person living on the farm (Spes Bona, my latin's not that good) – the owners stay in Cradock and visit on week-ends. I came close to demanding a spot on his floor, but he sidestepped and sent me down the road to the next farm which had...people living on it. Well his 5km became 9, but those farm lightest were the brightest I saw all trip. I pulled into the first decent looking building and checked my watch 10:30pm. I'd traced a silly line with my GPS for a good four hours now, and seem to have provided entertainment for a few diehards. Luckily the inhabitants were awake, surprised of course. I'd knocked on the farm manager's door, he was very reluctant to let me in – but his wife was getting the kitchen going and talked him into it. At first I was irritated I hadn't gone to the owner, but on meeting him the next day I seemed to have made the right choice – he was quite alarmed by all the trespassing I had done with my veld stumblings. Back in the kitchen I got a decent cup of moerkoffie, some bread and a huge lambchop from the pile sitting in a frying pan. They had just hosted a large hunting party so had the beds to spare.

red is me!

Mike Woolnough sent me this, I had probably come within a km of being able to see the farm lights, ouch that hurts.
Blue is the correct route, i never saw that yellow line of the fence (crossed one earlier) and the orange star bottom corner is the support station!

I had a shower, and flopped onto probably the best mattress of the whole trip, when an hour earlier the likely outcome was a flat patch of grass. ZZZzzZZZzzz

Romansfontein to Speelmanskop - ~1600m of climbing
~120km, 14 hours door to door

Thursday, July 24, 2008

And there was light

One of the obvious features of holding the race in midwinter (is that a solstice I see in week1?!) is the cold weather and real possibility of riding in snow. Another factor that gets overlooked is that the days are short, nights are long. So if you want to ride big miles, take it easy or enjoy getting lost then you’ll need some way to see in the night.

I’ve done enough nightriding in Tokai to know that the theorem ‘there is no such thing as too much light’ holds true in those conditions. Out here on the trail things are a little different, and 600 lumens is a luxury not worth carrying. So what’s in my light kit?

The handlebar has a Blackburn quad road light. This baby never seems to run out, and is easy to remove during the day. It takes 4 AA disposable batteries. This snaps on only when necessary, and is really a back-up.

at the start, with batteries still on top

On my helmet is a brand spanking new Petzl Myo Xp, which takes 3 AA’s and has a brighter light than the quad, but a shorter battery life. This was a bit of a grudge buy as its one of the tried and tested lights on the market and it’s a brand with a great reputation. With the rapid way LED lighting technology is improving, I feel silly picking something that’s been around for two years.

Helmet lighting is quite important, firstly to see exactly where you going and secondly so you can read maps and speedometers in the dark. I feel I could get by with just the headlamp if needs be. I’ve chosen to run everything off AA batteries. None of this having to rely on rechargeables and a 220v plug in nonsense(chargers weigh too!). The camera has the same battery, and I could even end up switching batteries between photos in the day and lighting at night if desperate. A lot of headlamps run off AAA batteries, which are one of my pet hates. They are less efficient, much lower capacity yet surprisingly cost more.

Interestingly a lot of the headlamp electronic circuitry found in most of the top brands is actually designed in sunny South Africa. There’s a small but focussed company called Azoteq with a few of my friends on their payroll, all in a little dorpie called Paarl. (I remember hearing about that place somewhere).

Being an electronic engineer I’ve fooled around with homemade lights, and they can be done at a fraction of the cost. But I don’t really have the confidence to take their weatherproof and durability testing to the full. It’s nice to sit behind that CE label sometimes.

Day 8

Just because a habit is hard to kick all were up bright and early and I pulled myself out of bed to join the chaingang once again. I'd steal a few extra minutes under the cosy duvet, using my (very necessary) achilles tendon stretches as a ruse. I hated the early mornings, and this was one of the dreariest. There was a bit of a new section and some riding across farm fields. Once again the mercury dipped into the negative and my brakes froze up, and to compound things we had a bit of a difference over what constituted a westerly track. Things got a bit heated (phew) and its a good thing no one listened to me, because I was wrong.sunrise, riders at bottom of photo

I quickly realised that my legs would not be joining the party today and I felt tired keeping up, so I hung back with the farmers when the group split after about two hours. We'd definitely moved into easier terrain, as the odometer rolled on with less effort and the hills just all crested with less sweat. We even got onto some tar (for 10 points - anyone know where the N6 goes?) for a brief while. The first group were just leaving as we arrived at the lunchstop, and we got treated to excellent soup for the umpteenth time. We also heard about Tim battling to find it in the dark, more reason to stay in bed when the sun goes down.
puddles still frozen

Fueled up the next spot was the Stormberg loop, an Anglo-Boer war battle site. The rest of the guys elected to give it a skip and shoot straight through to Molteno and visit the pharmacy, I took the green route turnoff alone (buoyed by passing a herd of Eland, the adopted animal/mascot for the route). Seems my luck ran dry pretty soon after that. I hadn't gone too far when my rear wheel made this terrible puncture noise of air escaping. Normally one spin of the wheel and Manny's does the magic quick fix. I spun in vain as only air came out till it went as flat as my spirits. I had just filled the tyre the previous night (a precaution I had planned to do twice during the trip). The worst thing you can do to a tubeless tyre is break the seal, but there was no other option.

The tyre was indeed bonedry, but all the sealant had seeped in a cricc-cross pattern following the threads of the tyre. I'd clearly ridden too far on a totally pap tyre and the entire sidewall had deteriorated. Unequivocally my own fault, and my risky decision not to carry a spare tyre was now biting me hard. Crisis management is an important skill in this game, as its very easy to lose the plot when the world is conspiring against you and the spirits are low. My best option was to pull out the cellphone. Not to call mom and cry, but I had loaded some music onto a memory card and it was time to play the blues. Delta blue to be exact, Oreo cookies if you know what I mean. Tube went in and we were 'On the Road again'. Now you have to realise I was now riding a scratchy path in the karoo with a tube and no tyre liners. So not even five minutes later I have another puncture to deal with. I switched tubes, but decided not to mess around further on this scratchy section and get to Molteno the easy way. This was off the race route, but I had to try get there during daytime to see the mechanic too and try see if we can get the shifter working. I might incur a time penalty, but the repair was more important to me.
the hub of Molteno

Well my route into Molteno was quite quick - maybe because I was chasing time, but probably because it went through the township. Big bummer was that the mechanic was not available and I'd have to try sort it out myself. Consolation was a pie and coke, hadn't seen a cafe for a very long time! The first group rolled into town just as I had finally worked out the right road out (took three attempts), luckily they had picked up some info about the accommodation from some tannie they bumped into and it was very different to the map. Of course I punctured again on leaving town and they went off ahead whilst I pulled out some tunes and threw Stu's spare tube in my tyre.
where's the time machine?

sunset and still on the saddle

Every now and then the support stations really kick ass. Romansfontein was one of the best. Will and Steph looked after us like kings, food was awesome, laundry was done and we had a real garage with tools to play with bikes. Will has done the Epic before, so knows his bikes. One of his friends Rudi de Wet happens to be a leading sports doctor and gave us a free consulation. So bike and body got fixed. We opened up the shifter and a whole chunk of plastic had cracked off. In a brilliant boer maak 'n plan involving drills and chicken wire (and a real boer), we got it working with 6 gears, which was a huge improvement. I also got a new tyre that was waiting for summer, to replace my deteriorated Larrsen TT. The Kenda Karma is a little bit lightweight, but with the use of the farm compressor I could go tubeless again.

the sneaky fix
The doc was another story, looks like an overuse injury to the achilles. Combination of so much walking in cycling shoes and long days in the saddle. Not going to stop the ride, but would have to be managed with anti inflammatories and some setup adjustments to reduce the load on the achilles. Once in cape town it's time to head to physio and start the recovery.

Stormfontein to Romansfontein – ~2000m
139 km, 13 hours door to door.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

The Good Stuff

There are two types of mountain bike riders. Those who ride tubeless, and those who will in some time in the future. Even non riders know that the ultimate riding curse is the puncture and resulting flat tyre (‘pap wiel’ will make sense even to our english viewers).

There are two types of tubeless setups. Tubeless specific rims with tubeless specific tyres, and the cheaper option of tubeless conversion strips. Both take the addition of latex sealant that rolls around inside the tyre.

There are two main types of punctures out there. The ‘thorn’ and the ‘snake bite’, tubeless almost gets rid of both.

The thorn will puncture your inner tube and air escapes. With the tubeless system you have some magic goo that just seals the hole. Magic it is indeed. I’ve ridden on weskus winefarms and pulled twenty thorns out of my tyre at the end of a ride, without having to stop once.

The snakebite is a puncture caused by the innertube getting squeezed between the tyre and the rim. It seems impossible with an inflated tyre, but it happens in rocky surfaces. It won’t happen with tubeless, because there is no tube! You might get what they call a ‘burp’ with a little bit of airloss but it won’t end your ride.

Many baulk at the initial cost of conversion to tubeless. It’s worth every cent in the long run. There are two main options – Stan’s no tubes (the original); and Joe’s no flat’s. The only maintenance cost is the addition of the liquid sealant. Fortunately now we don’t have to pay dollar prices for this, as a new product has come on the market.

Manny’s “the good stuff” is what’s rolling around in my tyres. For some reason all the tubeless stuff comes with a first name – go figure. You’ll find it in the corner of your local bike store (if not – demand it). It comes in a bottle resembling Alcolin Cold Glue without the sticker. Look for the sticker with the friendly face and legendry ‘stache on it. If rumours are to be believed, he mixes it in his garage. It’s passed my initial satisfactiory test and we’ll see how it holds up to 2300km.

I have no links for Manny's - just get it from your LBS.

Joe's no flats

Day 7

terrible photo, but frost all around

I'd merged with quite a large group now, we had to actually count up the numbers before we started in the freezing cold outside. The ten of us left the warm and cozy lodge and headed down into the dark valley for the start of two portages. It's always a struggle trying to dress for the very cold, you walk out the door to the bleak outside temperature and try generate some body heat. If you have too much kit on then you get very hot very quickly. The windchill factor plays a huge role too, you overheat up a hill and then its brass monkey down the otherside. It’s also possible to have freezing hands and sweaty torso at the same time. Zips, roll up sleeves and easy to remove gloves all help.

barely rideable downhills

Well this morning was really cold as we got down into the valley, with that windchill doing its thing. First up my back brakes weren’t moving at all, I immediately thought it had something to do with yesterday’s crash. Then I couldn’t shift gears at the back either, but manually moving them they would stick. Then a freewheel went totally free and the cassette just spun. It took a while to work out that it was below freezing, and any moisture on your bike had FROZE solid. Someone had picked up -4 on their bike computer, definitely time to get back in bed. I’d obviously got some water ingress in my cables and would have to wait for it to warm up and thaw. That was fine, as we would be walking up the next portage very soon anyway.

Frost was all around as we trundled up the valley and the group spread out as the path steepened. There was a bit of nervous energy flying around, as the previous year saw some competitors doing great circles and doubling back here. With much haste we caught up with our today's tour guide (Tim) and did our best to find a way down the otherside.
still frozen, 3hrs into the day
It involved a lot of damned if you do, damned if you don't options but eventually we could stop walking the bikes down and actually ride again. We'd been going for two solid hours and it was still frosty. I now worked out that in the big chill i had broken my rear shifter. I was now down to one gear at the back, so I got my multi-tool out and chose a better one. This would give me three gears to play with. I'd survive on all but the gradual descents where the group would pull away and my legs would spin wildly.

MOOve cow
In the pause between the Loutebron and Bonthoek portages it became apparent that the group had split into two and we couldn't really wait for the 'farmers' so headed off to do our last really tough section for a while. Once again there was pushing, but not really much carrying for once as we followed another ridge straight up. On arriving at the nek, there was a definite feeling of achievement as a huge part of the challenge had been accomplished. We duly rewarded ourselves with lunch. It was great having Tim there, and I'll do my best to paraphrase what he said to us at that nek:
“if you look behind you, we can see all the mountains that we have been through and we all know how tough they were. If you now turn around and look at the road ahead, you can see that we enter the Karoo and the roads that will take us through it. From here the kilometers get easier and you can do days of big mileage”. After much munching and general picturing we left our 360' viewpoint and proceded to spend the next half hour looking for the way down. Danie managed to wipe and partially dislocate his shoulder. Being the tough bugger he is, he just shouldered soldiered on. We eventually found a mad trail mud avalanche path and walked down. Maybe the easy kilometers will start at the bottom rather (they did!).
looking back
looking forward

If we kept to a solid pace, it was quite possible we'd arrive at the support station in daylight (now there was an incentive, as that had only happened twice in a whole week). We'd started early and had only covered 21kms by lunch, if that's any indication of the terrain. I was taking a bit of strain trying to stay in the group (which was working quite well on the flats) but managed to hang in there and even jimmied it into a 6 speed with Cable tie use #1542(put cable tie round gear cable on downtube, and pull it over water bottle spout to change to a higher gear). We went over MacKay's Kop (couldn't find a sign board anywhere, sorry dave) and then I led everyone astray to the wrong farm road following two bike tracks. Funny that those two tracks were indeed our guys, and the right farmhouse was locked. Took us an hour till we eventually got it all sorted and I had managed in this time to ride on a really pap rear wheel, too lazy to pump it up so close to home. Tim had made the decision to push onto Brosterlea, 70km down the road, and was looking for anyone to join. We all shook our heads and this time he was gone for good, blazing a trail to Paarl – which was the next place I saw him.

ande he's gone

Stormfontein lodge is an abandoned farmhouse that has been done up for self catering guests. So for the second night in a row we had the place to ourselves and started attacking the fridge (supplies to last all 25 riders took a serious decimation from the first wave of 8). I had a few things to fix on the bike, number one priority being opening a trigger shifter to see what goes on inside. I was cautious, as there was the chance of hooking up with an experienced mechanic in Molteno the next day.

Rus de Winter to Stormfontein -
70km, 1768m altitude gain
10 hours door to door

Tuesday, July 22, 2008


Well I live in cape town. People start moaning about the cold when winter hits us solid and the mercury drops to single digits – the DRAMA! How the hell do I train for some cold weather riding, and what should I even take?

Well this little gem came in the inbox a while ago. I’m not sure I’ll use any of pete’s tips. In fact I’m still not sure he isn’t just taking the piss. Just remember your Fahrenheit to Celsius conversions and you’ll see why.

Cold : greater than 15 degrees F
Very cold : 0 through 15 Degrees F
Extreme cold : -15 through 0 degrees F
Insane cold: below -15 degrees F

In the metric world that is
-9 => -17
-17 => -26

Who actually even leaves the house when it’s 26 below freezing?

Okay, maybe the one about the third sock.

he has put some pics up here too.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Day 6

So I woke up a little late (probably 6am, all things relative here) and sauntered/trundled up the road to the main house and breakfast. All the R2R crowd were there and more questions about my biking career followed – fame and the spotlight when you're second on the leaderboard! Somehow I had lost a pair of cycling shorts (way back in Masakala it transpired) and hopefully would intersect them (well the bakkie they were in) somewhere on the route, but it was wet shorts for today! The group had about 90 minutes on me when I got on the road. I hadn't realised it but today was a little bit longer than I had hoped for so got into a nice steady rhythm from the start.

looking back in direction of Rhodes

The riding was totally different to what had come before, almost featureless and dare I say it . . flattish. At a junction after about 30km I came across the widely publicised 'fat farmers of the' umzimkulu valley taking a break on the roadside. I'd scrubbed away the timegap rather quickly and got going further up the road (note: now that I reflect on it, they must have been really chilling out that morning, as they rode like demons the rest of the time I was with them). The scenery got much more interesting down into the valley, even if it stretched from the narrative's 8 to the road's 18km. Stopping for a quick phone call, Oom Danie from Wellington pulled in right behind me. He'd conquered the Comrades and would prove to be no slouch on a bike either as he rode me into the ground with shocking regularity on the way to Paarl.

A very rude and nasty climb arrived and eventually we were peering into the next valley. And what a surprisingly beautiful valley it was. Danie and I shot down to the valley floor and kept an eye out for the farm where the possibility of lunch existed. I had the one in a million chance of a twig getting caught in my spokes and staying there, weaved between five of them and only rattling when I slowed down – never heard of that before, and a sure sign of things to come.
Oubaas' ride
Well lunch presented itself on a scale that would excite us to the genuine Karoo hospitality. Christo the farmer has a collection of at least a thousand caps nailed to his bar roof and we'd been warned to be wary of getting stuck here by this amorous family. Some heeded this warning to the point of not eating and riding on, but I personally got stuck into all the lasagne and mielie koekies I could handle whilst my shoes got cosy in the Aga oven. One could really chew the fat here all afternoon, but urgency was the overlying call as we still had 30km to get through before a tricky portage and subsequent descent that would be dangerous after dark.
the stunning Rytjiesvlakte
isolated farm down there
A little trip on tar brought us once again to a valley of 'just can't describe' splendour, the Rytjiesvlakte. I suffered the indignity of a wipeout at speed trying to negotiate a muddy corner and supermanned flat onto the ground. Having the camera bag on my waistbelt meant I landed flat on it. My 'brandnew before the trip' Canon A470 dusted itself off and worked without skipping a beat, but a large roastie remained on my stomach the whole trip home. This might also be the time I banged my right knee (which only really swelled once I stopped riding once finished – funny that).

yet another tafelberg miles from cape town

The rivers levels were all very high here, mostly flowing over the concrete causeways and we passed a bloated cow that must have drowned in the past 48 hours. We started hard up the portage mindful that any mistakes could put us fumbling around in the dark. We all seemed to split up, as there were many cattle paths up the valley and I suppose we all took the 'best' route as we converged at the saddle. Some of the farmers were lagging back, but we couldn't wait with darkness looming. We hiked most of the way down the otherside as it was pretty rough going down to a river crossing. We were now at an old abandoned farmstead and followed the track that would lead us out the valley. It was interesting winding up a river to the cul-de-sac of a valley and popping over into the next one to do the same but in reverse.
cresting the hike

abandoned farmhouse

The track improved the further we went (ie. went from a stream to a road), and we saw the farmhouse that had our support boxes. At this juncture I opened the gate for Danie and a grey rhebok popped over the fence and bounced and pronked away from us as we rode on. At some point he decided that he actually didn't want to go past the farmhouse and turned around to run past us with fences on either side. I thought little of it, as I just kept a straight line following Danie's wheel. The bokkie got very nervous as we approached and the next thing I noticed was him springing in the air clearing past Danie. The thing was that I was also behind Danie and he came into my view with no time to react as he came hurtling into my handlebars. I was stunned on the ground to the right, the bokkie was equally dazed behind me and Danie had turned around with his jaw almost hitting the floor. Well there was no blood and bokkie got up and hightailed it before we could swop insurance numbers. Danie picked me up and we both shook our heads in amazement. I was uninjured, the impact had bent my back brake lever hood (which I bent back that evening) and bokkie seemed alright. My map holder design had specifically been to have everything behind the bar so no bushes and trees would would damage it, this I had not been expecting! The poor guy lost some fur on my wheel, which I put into a ziploc bag for 'show and tell'.
traces of the hit and run
Rather stunned we picked up our goodies and headed on to our accomodation, and old farmhouse now run as a slef catering hunting lodge. We came in just after dark and the earlier guys had got a cracking fire going. It was good fun with the general banter from the day, and we'd caught back up to Tim who'd had a very adventurous trip to Doukrans falling into a freezing river at midnight and given himself a 'rest' day.

Rhodes to Rus de Winter
108km, 3216m altitude gain
9.5 hours door to door