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, August 12, 2008

Day 14

dark riding

Up at 4 and out the front door into the cold and dark by 4.30, a long road ahead. Navigation not a problem today as there is actually only one road through the valley. Sirk and I teamed up, the group 1 boys already up the road and the camera two taking their time (after not getting beds, ouch). It was comforting that Sirk knew the names of the climbs up ahead, not good that he also said they were big. Of course when its so dark for so long you have no visual idea of whats coming up ahead. this has its mental pros and cons, normally a blissfully unaware tempo up the first half followed by grimacing and swearing as you will the bike around every corner hoping it to be the top.

The first climb of the day was up really soon, I pretty soon forgot about the very cold (probably two or three degrees celsius) temperature as we got the legs pumping and the heart rate up. It's nice to see the riders up ahead (and above) as the road switched back and forth up the pass. Getting up here took a fair whack of effort, and was probably done a little too quickly. Look at the profile, it's known in the TransBaviaans race as the Mother of All Climbs (MAC) and we were doing it in reverse. Eish, I'm glad I didn't know it at the time!

We actually passed the group 1 guys down the hill (try doing that in the dark) but it all came together again at a river crossing. There was no way around and the only option was to wade through or take shoes off first to keep them dry. The water was really cold (that's an understatement, but my parents have a holiday house up the weskus, so I know my cold water) and my feet just closed up totally. Through the valley dip it got so unbearably cold I relented and pulled out my big luxury of the trip. My CapeStorm Reactor fleece only did this 2km on the road, but kept me snug off the bike every evening.
putting shoes back after wading

By the third river crossing I gave up caring and just waded through to Sirk who was already putting shoes back on. To his utter dismay, he was just on a split in the river and joined me with wet feet after a very uncharacteristic flood of bad language. By now the sun was up, but it remained uncomfortably cold till 10am in the windless valley. We seperated on another large climb and even started seeing the occasional car, being school holidays. The scenery really is too hard to describe fully, and I felt like I was rushing through it and passing some old old farm structures from days long gone that on any other trip would be explored.

looking down and back
riders down there

I came across two other cyclists coming my way and stopped for the proverbial chat.
Me:hey guys howzit going?
Cyclist 1:flippen cold, you training for transbaviaans?
M:hmmm, not sure, maybe I am actually
Cyclist 2:gees dude whats with the big bag, you kitted out there.
M:yeah i'm doing this race from maritzburg to paarl
C1: b l i k s e m
moments silence
C2:when is it?
M:oh i'm about two thirds of the way through it right now.
C1;sh1t that's hardcore. respect dude, you crazy
C2:so how far you going today?
M:hoping to get to Willowmore
C1:oh my sack! that's like transbaviaans uphill with that bag as well. you must be uber fit.
M: cheers, Paarl ain’t getting closer. There’s about five guys behind me.
C2:are you winning?
M: no there’s another guy 3 days up the road.

We went our respective ways, you could just see in their eyes that what had initially been a tough training ride in very cold weather was put into perspective by our dose of insanity. As things turned out, they were the only mountain bikers I saw on the entire route. Plenty of farmworkers on dikwiel post office bikes to put all of us to shame really.
thawing feet
When I saw a capenature work party huddle round a fire next to their green army tent I did the obvious. Throw the bike down and sidle up for a spot in the warmth. I suspended my feet above the coals and finally got some life back into them as they thawed. great chit chat whilst that happened too.
no under 18

Clearly someone has jumped on the Ronnie bandwagon, and opened a ‘sex shop’ here too. Normally we only see a farmstall like this about every 300km, so you can’t ride past. Unfortunately it was only 3kms to the SS/lunch so no point in stopping. A nice surprise to the right was the most beautiful police station in the country – Studtis. They even have Uri’s for patrol vehicles.
studtis copshop
I got to the SS first, Dam se drif is a farm/guesthouse. The owner/operator was awesome, she hadn’t been told we were coming, but bent over backwards getting us a solid meal to die for. Sometimes these awesome lunches are just too much, we still had 90 kays to go! Within 30 mins all the rest pulled in, I managed to squeeze in a sneaky shower whilst we waited on the grass sunning ourselves.

The big drama was Andrew Barnes cracking his frame. The seattube sheared just above the weld, and they secured it by tying the saddle forward to the handle bar (and a lot of riding out the saddle). Now this is drama, he’s a really tall guy and his seatpost was probably overextended (despite the fact that it was within the manufacturers limits). As the experts (not me) would tell you, it’s not that easy to weld aluminium. Enter boer maak ‘n plan rescue plan.

The owner’s father on the farm next door is a legend welder, and even repaired a bike that had cracked through near the bottle cage two years previously! They came to collect the bike, and brought it back 30 minutes later, with a legend repair job that would last the trip. Meanwhile Andrew was on the buzzer and had located a longer seatpost in PE that his cousins would drive out to Willowmore. Drama, what drama?!
boer maak'n plan

I got back on the road first, as it had been a long rest indeed and I was eager to get to Willowmore. The road was very deceptive, and looking at the profile now, I can see that it was really a gradual rise forever even if it looked flat. After 20 kms I really wondered why I was going so slow. I was probably doing 12km on a flattish road. I checked both wheels, both brakes, the chain, the pedals etc for resistance. The bike was 100% fine, and the problem was simply that I was blown. Shattered, with 70km left to go. Hit the wall. Bonked. Monkey on my back. Finished. Faak.

Two of the guys came past and offered advice and support. It would be unchartered territory for me. I would have to just grin and bear it and dig really deep. I hate it when people ride their bikes with Ipods. If you’re on the road you need to hear the traffic, if you’re in the mountains you NEED to hear the nature. It was a bit of a debate to take one along for the long, straight and dreary Karoo roads. My perfect solution was just to get a memory card for the phone and take headphones. This was the first time I rode with it on and this is music got me through the day:
Cake - Comfort Eagle
Counting Crows – August and everything after
U2 – The Joshua Tree
Crowded house – the best of.
changing danie's tyre

I got quite scared of the Nuwekloof pass. We’re in a monster valley and this is the only way out. Luckily it wasn’t that bad, but I wasn’t going to hang around to help repair Danie’s wheel after it picked up a pencil sized thorn. At the top of the pass the road emerged to a plateau of sorts. It looked like about 35km to go with maybe less than an hour of light remaining. Some of the guys came flying (its all relative) past me and I kept plugging away on what seemed the right road. The distances in the narrative stopped making sense and by the time it got dark I felt very disorientated. I couldn’t concentrate, my eyesight went hazy and I was really on my last legs. There was talk before the race that Willowmore is the tipping point for quitting the race as you are sitting on the bus route. I never thought of quitting, but was at my lowest ebb physically. I wasn’t in a good shape upstairs either, but at least I still knew that I could force myself to carry on.

looking back into the valley

What seemed like the first intersection made no sense and I stopped to study it. A bakkie pulled up and asked if I needed help. It turned out I was right, and instead of about 20 to go, I had only 12…almost all downhill. That was good news, but you have to be careful not to count chickens before they hatch. There’s nothing worse than false hopes getting dashed.

Stu the kiwi caught up to me on the tar road on the outskirts of town. The lodge was very well signposted, being the biggest hotel in the town (and maybe even the whole Karoo). It was very different swapping a farmhouse for a hotel bed. I crashed straight onto my bed once I found it. Wary of not recovering properly I eventually moved to the bathroom and had a long and well deserved shower. I rejoined the guys in the hotel restaurant, and got very grumpy when my food took an hour and a half to arrive. The poor manager/waitress/concierge/barlady had her hands full and all I could do was sift through the ‘fair game’ boxes and pass out on the tv room couch! Anything for the days when the food is sitting on a hot tray and you dish up at your own whim and desire.

The past few long days had caught up to us, and Sirk and Andrew King were in a similar condition to myself. Bizarrely (I thought), Sirk announced that he was going to be leaving at 4 the next day and doing the 250km to Die Hel. I wasn’t even sure if I could even get on a bike in 7 hours time. It would be exactly the same move that the 2007 winner (and his Cape Epic riding partner) Maarten van Dalsen did to shake off a certain Tim James. Matt was keen to follow, but Andrew needed the rest (and had their maps!). It was hard to read into the logic, but he was either trying to shake off the boys and move into second outright or he was chasing a finish time and racing the clock. Either way I couldn’t see the logic and wished him good luck.

Cambria to Willowmore via Dam se drif- ~5240m of climbing
171km 15 hours door to door

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