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, August 7, 2008

Day 13

i'd like to thank my sponsors


By now you could say I am really into the swing of things on the race. Getting up from a cosy bed, hobbling around picking riding gear and squeezing everything into a bag is a routine. I'm almost always the last to leave, but not by much. Its easier now to plan today, tomorrow and the next as you have an indication of what is possible, and what's coming. We've been on the run for almost two weeks now, and there's nothing left to hide.

Of course I have race strategy in the back of my mind. Barring a major catastrophe, Tim has first place sewn up as he's now sitting two days up the road, effectively three days ahead of me. I'm riding in fifth, but have positions two to four under my eye. The chasing pack behind me is also now under the same roof. I've got a day on them, and could safely sit tight there.

And that's my plan, sit tight. I'd have been happy with fifth place before I started, but having luckily got into 2nd I've seen what its like at the front. My trump card is my knowledge of the last two days of the course, having scouted it in a training weekend. Hell, I've dipped my hiking shoes into the bloodbath that is Stettynskloof and come out alive (albeit the way we went in). I'll have to see how the race for second goes, if the group splits I can follow the leader and maybe jump into third or fourth. If it all stays together I can lay a late charge and bank my gap on doing the last section in the dark. There is a time gate at the Stettynskloof dam, if you don't get through it by 8am, then you wait till 3am the next morning. That gives me 19 of the 24 hours I need to catch up on the boys ahead, the rest will have to come from a fast passage through the kloof. It's a gamble and most likely won't come off. But if the unmentionable happens to Tim and he's forced to pull out, well then its racing for the win and worth the risk.

But for now, I shut up and ride. I'm pretty damn tired anyway, so this racing thinking is unhealthy to say the least. Today is kind of a rest day, we're only doing one 'stage'. Tonight's support station Cambria is seen as a bit of a bottleneck, as it's hard to double up past it in one shot. There is a bit of a route option today, some were told that we could skip the 'green route' scratchy section through the Perdeberg due to there being Kudu hunters in the valley. The group one boys opted for the longer route around the mountain and we took the short and sharp track through the veld.

The path takes us under a fence, with a vervet monkey taken by a gin trap to remind us that this is rough country.
poor guy

We've got to be careful of not getting caught ourselves. We then managed to curse our option as there was no real route through the valley, and we ended up walking up a dry riverbed. It was very slow going, having to duck under low branches and negotiate smooth rocks now and then. It took us a while, but eventually a track to nowhere emerged, and yay we were on the bikes in a flash.

We were heading towards a farmstead, and of course when we got there it was dead locked and empty. Once again we were off the bikes and hiking up a steep hill. It wasn't far to the top, but the first section of a portage is always the hardest. The top tube digs into your shoulders and neck, and your arms are bent awkwardly in balancing the bike behind your head. It gets easier for some reason, maybe because you start huffing and puffing or maybe because everything just goes numb. Once on top we found a path of sorts that lead through a plateau. As Newtown would attest, we then got to go down, a thrilling charge switching between a jeep track and a footpath that wound next to it. Of course Sirk beat us to the bottom, despite stopping for his daily trip to the bushes!

We rejoined the main road and it hugged a contour along the valley side.
big country
Andrew had warned us about some impending monster hills and the general topography was indeed just sheer valleys all around. I'd heard about the Baviaanskloof (mainly from this insane race that goes 230km through it in one go), and I could feel it was just around the corner. Have a look at the days profile below, we shunted down the twisty steep Grootrivierpoortpas to the river below and stopped to fill up water bottles from a rainwater tank.

crossing over

lunch spot for kings

We'd have to take our time in getting out of this valley, the term describing it in the narrative is 'dramatic descent' and 'equally ridiculous 400m climb'. I was watching the altimeter on my Suunto Observer and we had done the majority of the altitude gain in the first third of the hill, well that's what I hoped as it was brutal. Luckily for the race director his narrative was correct and the road levelled out a bit and on cresting we could even see the sea in the distance. Just a touch down the road we stopped at one of the greatest lunch spots i've had the pleasure to sit at. You get places with 360' views; and others, like here, where you have to think in three dimensions as the splendour is all around you.

We sat in a row lined up together scoffing our sarmies and looking at this crazy track we were to be following next.

osseberg jeep track

The Osseberg jeep track is rutted and dangerously steep in places, it follows ridge lines and valley dips as it falls 600m over 10 glorious kilometers. There are at least five viewpoints where you just have to stop and gaze in awonder at all around you. I'm going to have to go back there sometime to do it again, be it on a bike or even a 4x4 (is it really possible?!). We didn't realise it at the time, but the four of us (plus the cameramen polly and dave) wouldn't ride together again as a group. Looking back I can't believe it was only three days, but it was some of the best times I had on the route.

Sirk got impatient and heaved off, we still had 8 river crossings to do at the bottom of the valley and they are much more fun during daylight! I was next off a bit behind him (the boys were good at post lunch pfaffing), but didn't bother with catching up. Being bumpy double track with a meneer middlemannetjie running down the middle, there's a tough call on which track to ride in. You concentrate on the road straight ahead and try assess if it's better to swap when it gets bad. Of course anticipation is really handy here, but often you've just got to stick with your choice and plug on. Halfway down a grassed hill, there happened to be an unsighted fox/badger/whatever hole on the left track. You could only see it when your frontwheel was in it. I had taken that route and went flying over the bars and landed in a heap that turned to laughter once I knew all was ok. I even looked back a few times up the next ridge to see the boys coming down, camera ready for the unavoidable wipe. They never came, but chatting later it turned out we all hit it!

I'd stopped quite a bit getting down to the river, and the shadows were beginning to lengthen. We had to criss cross the river, and the next 10km could really take anything from 30 minutes to 3 hours. I made sure of counting the river crossings, and after about the third the going got a lot easier and there was still daylight left when I got to the camp site and back onto the road. It was easy to get through the game fence as it had been conveniently left unlocked for us. Finding the actual support station turned to be a mission of note, as the directions were a mess and I was not the first who had gone further up the road and asked a home. Never fun doing extra km and time when you think you're done.

in the valley
crossing number 8

The house was quite cosy as the boys had got the fire cracking. Unfortunately we were a bit overbooked and there was a bed shortage. The camera boys were bottom of the pile, but I felt really bad when andrew and matt ended up on the floor too. Race control had said that the farmers were planning on riding through to Cambria as well. We severely doubted they'd try the rivers in the dark, but things would get very cosy if they did! The general (and respected) rule is first come first served. It gets funny when guys try hedge their bets against keeping a room to themselves, and then the later cyclists start filling the beds up. Worst case scenario – you get a snorer. Sirk and I were happy rooming together, maybe just for the fact that we both knew neither of us snored!

Rest day?whatever – put that profile in front of most hardcore mtb riders and they will cough on their energy drink. Tell them they're carrying a 8kg pack, and also having to carry it up a fairly steep hill and you'll see some excuse coming. It was just an easier day, compared to some of the other hard ones. We demolished the food and desert, and then straight to bed in anticipation for an......early start. Tomorrow was a killer of a day, Transbaviaans backwards/uphill (well 170km of it). If that doesn't keep you awake at night, nothing will.

Bucklands to Cambria- ~2631m of climbing

72km 9 hours door to door

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