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!)

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Day 12

shale road riding

There were two distinct groups leaving that morning, the racing snakes and the farmers. Despite that we left as one large bunch in the all too familiar darkness. Try as we might, the farmers (I joined the snakes being a city boy) didn't fall far behind and after an hour we came to a confusing section at a farmhouse and tried to work out which path was the correct one. Eventually we knocked on the door, only to find that it was actually the owners of the Vandeventerskraal house we'd spent the previous night at. The wily farmers had also arranged a full course breakfast for themselves, which we duly gatecrashed. Well some of the guys had remembered their manners, but I knew by now that when there's food on the table you eat first and worry about any consequences later. We did leave some bacon and eggs behind for the farmers to enjoy 'their' spread, that was probably a good thing as the terrain was pretty rugged, and our day's plan involved about 60km more riding.

The road was mostly cleared shale rock and it was quite odd to see how quickly the countryside had changed. Soon enough we were drifting through a lost valley (complete with requisite abandoned farmhouse) and the ensuing descent through the poort brought us to a solid game fence. The directions told us to crawl under it in the riverbed, of course that was misguided advice as that path had been well blocked off. The 3m high electric fence was remarkably silent, and Sirk had scaled it before we drew straws. With teamwork of four people it wasn't long before we were passed, and we were all grateful not to be tackling it alone.

can't go under
let's try over

Before long we were on the short road to brunch but the heavens opened to remind us that there are no easy days here for complacent minds and we arrived at Toekomst with muddy faces and backs from all the wheel spray. After all we'd seen and experienced in the previous two weeks, nothing had prepared me for this homestead. It's a large and impressive red brick building, and its easy to see that the country's insatiable thirst for red meat pays this cattle farmer's bills nicely! For the second day running we were at the first stop by 11am and happy with a morning's hard work. We fell victim to the splendid hospitality again, and I for one overindulged on the impressive meal (don't think liver is on the recommended diet of most elite cyclists!).

The race director had joined us for lunch, and we got the inside track on the progress of the rest of the race. As expected the group 1 boys were only about five hours ahead of us and if we put our heads down we should catch them up that night at Bucklands. Tim James had been riding like a demon and was heading for Willowmore that evening. Due to the backtrack east involved in entering the Baviaanskloof it was close enough for the video crew to intercept him there, but we were unlikely to see him again before Paarl. In the four and a bit days since I shook his hand at Stormfontein and wished him good luck, he'd opened up a gap of two days solid riding. Riding that long and hard, he's on course to obliterate the record.

With Toekomst a thing of the past we moved down to the adjoining Darlington dam and fell prey to a terrible mix up in communications. The map said go east around the dam, the narrative said double check with the farmer. Some of the guys had been told the route and it involved a soon to be unlocked gate somewhere. The one word I never heard was West. So we took the worst route possible, the kind Kingsley Holgate tracks down for Captain Morgan adverts and landcruiser funerals. We hugged the east shore on bumpy dried dam floor and then hit mud in quantity and quality not yet experienced. So much for the karoo and the kzn midlands not having much in common. It was manageable till we had to cross a slow flowing tributary. Forget mountain biking, we now had to wade through that wouldn't be out of place in willy wonka's chocolate factory. Sirk got bogged down first and directed me to try further up. Matt did his best to hurdle the river lower down and landed knee deep. I had some good going on my second attempt, but then slipped so deep it got desperate. I was up to my waist, and had to use the bike (down to hub level itself) just to pull myself across. If a shoe came off now, you could kiss it goodbye. Somehow I saw the humour in the situation and stopped for a selfportrait photo but it got very close to helplessly phoning for rescue!

mud wrestling

Sirk took this gap to charge off on his own (for the third straight day, a quirky habit indeed) but we found his calling card at the bizarre Darlington Dam Lodge. This hotel of sorts was dead empty on a saturday afternoon in school holidays, and Sirk had washed himself in the hotel pool – the everpresent mud was all too obvious. Being younger metrosexuals we chose to keep the mudpack to replenish our skin that had taken such a beating in the race so far.

mud saps energy
look at the spa treatment
where's my sense of humour

By the time we had gotten properly onto the route and found a viewpoint ovelooking the damwall could we actually comprehend the silly route just taken. We'd lost a lot of time, and the energy sapped was all wasted in vain. What other choice but to grin, bear it and push on? At least we had some kickass photos. We then got off our very nice road and over the hill to the aptly named 'valley of isolation'. The hard day had taken its toll and the spirits were floundering amongst us, we were hardly comforted by the comment that the track would be improving. It was odd, as we hadn't seen a soul since leaving Toekomst quite a while back and on arriving at some SANparks cottages there were only Kudus hanging to dry – not even any flies around.

more tough riding

It was late afternoon when we finally got to the turn off out of the valley. The oh so popular race director pulled up in a bakkie to laugh at our mudpacks, we could have started a skirmish but tiredness had set in and the surprise element was gone. We still had to decide between the alternative stop 14kms down the road or Bucklands about 50km past that. The decision was easily made by the next few kilometers winding through the Perdepoort, just a lovely kloof running through the mountains and done at a speed far too rapid to appreciate it fully.
another african sunset

It's important to break down the slog sections mentally into manageable chunks. These normally come at the end of a long day as nightfalls, and the mind wanders to rest and food. Sure we'd just turned both of those down and headed off on a road that seemed like it might spring some surprises in the dark. You also miss the scenery as your focus stays on that yellow blob 3m infront of the bike. I couldn't believe the basic setup Matt was surviving on, he had to follow Andrew down the hills just so he could see, my Myo XP was money well spent indeed, and new batteries got mine even brighter. I'd look into using these new Lithium disposable batteries as they hold their voltage much better over time.

We'd under prepared for water and hadn't found a place to fill since lunch (valley of isolation?), and stopped in at a weather beaten house for a quick refill. The whole extended family poured out and we became the new attraction for a few minutes. Another lovely encounter and always worth knocking on doors if the time or need allows.

We arrived at the Bucklands house and all was dark. That was because the front group had already gone to bed and the homeowners weren't even there! I had caught up to them for the second time now. Sirk showed us around and we polished off what remained of the dinner. Being a muddy muddy boy it was time to get clean, but I battled to get both the hot water and the washing machine working. There comes a point where sleep is way more important than cleanliness.

Vandeventerskraal to Bucklands via Toekomst- ~2141m of climbing
~163km, 15 hours door to door

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