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!)

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

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

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