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 21, 2008

Day 16

I'm up in the dark,pack my bags and ride to the guesthouse for breakfast. The group 1 boys have got their act together quicker and are just leaving as I arrive. Breakfast is a nice spread, but not feeling too good I battle to get anything down. Nevertheless I'm out into the murky darkness and soon at the turnoff to the Swartberg pass. I know its a big climb to the top and expect about 20km of uphill, but none of it is visible.

hello darkness my old friend

After a while I can hear a car coming and its easy to tell that its a windy road by the accelerate and brake repetitions, a long time passes before a bakkie swings past. Otherwise I am completely alone out there and night slowly turns to day as I make my way skywards. I stop on a false peak and take some photos of the early morning light. There's a slight descent and all of a sudden a turn off to the right. The pass continues further, so I'm very suspicious that the race director has given us a route of it before the summit!

I feel very ALIVE right now

My camera seems to have broken or at least shifted some prisms inside. I've had it in a small bag attached to my shoulder strap for easy access to get those must have pics. After rubbing against my thigh about 300 000 (guesstimate) times it's got irritating and I put it in my stem bag on the way to Prince Albert. Not a very good idea as the corrugations shook it funny! Anyway, excuse the dark sections in the corners. And then later it went blurry, only to fix itself after a good rest. For that reason I have pulled some pictures(credited as AH) from a group who toured the Trail in March/April, taking the leisurely(and wholly more senisble) time of 35 days. They skipped a bit of the Karoo and went via Knysna, but then rejoined from the otherside of the Swartberg Pass and went all the way to Cape Point.
Find Andrew Hagen's photo's here:

It's a myth that it's all downhill to Die Hel, but it's well advertised that it's a myth so I knew i was in for a bumpy ride. Once again it's a valley not short on views and there's plenty of time to stop and stare. There's two main climbs (scattered with lots of smaller ones too) on the way in, and I caught up with Stu on the second.
looking west into the valley
AH-looking east another day

I'd been to Die Hel once before, in 1999 on a hiking 'toer' with the maties hiking club (the BTK). It's got quite a history and was for generations a very isolated farming valley that got cut off by the buildng of the Gamkaskloof dam(or so i'm told). That time we came up the river, and now I'm approaching by the road that was built to help the valley, but caused its downfall. The residents were happy with their isolation, the government thought they were living as sub-class humans and built the access road. A few years after it was completed, they had all left.

I now got to enjoy this road in the best way possible, tearing down it and high speeding the many switchbacks. In the valley floor itself its quick to see that a lot has been done since I was last here. Cape nature has refusrbished all the deserted and dilapidated buildings and very tastefully turned the whole valley into a large scale museum. Well worth a visit if you're ever in the area, I'd return just to sit down for a meal at the Hell's Kitchen restaurant.

AH - ou ossewaAH - restored house

The farmhouse where we camped all those years ago is now the head office, and the rest of the boys are there at what is the Support Station. I'm still not feeling great, but manage to get some sarmies and a cup of tea down before I rejoin the main group on the way out of Die Hel (I'm sure there's a craftier way to phrase that!).

AH - Die Leer track is past the right post

There's a short little nasty ridge to cross before getting to the bottom of Die Leer. This is the historical 'donkey track' that was used for generations to access the outside world. If Stettynskloof is the chinese water torture of the trip, then this is the thumb screw. It's a 400m vertical rise on a rough track that is almost undefined at times. The only reason we know its possible is because its been done before. The bilingual readers will laugh at the afrikaans bystander who asked in astonishment as we started from the base in his very crunchy english “are you going to carry your bike up the leather?”.

AH -David's famous grove of poplar trees

I quote from the narrative here:
“When you get to the stream look on the opposite side. There is a small group of poplar trees. You must cross the stream and climb up BEHIND the trees. As you go behind the trees you will experience a moment of magic. There will be a foot path. You are now on The Ladder. Pick up your bike and carry it upwards until you emerge at the top where there is the ruin of an old garage.”AH-the slog uphill

look carefully for the bike wheel of Stu the Kiwi

Maybe I have gone out too fast earlier this morning, but I'm not feeling too good or experiencing any magic and really take my time stopping for a view break on numerous occasions. I spend a lot of time wondering what happened to the donkeys that took this route. Stu seems to have a similar problem and in all it takes us about 80 minutes to complete it, whilst the other guys did it in about 45.
down to the valley floor

From there it is a very rough track that is flattish but unrideable in large parts. We've been warned that the farmer who owns the land contends the access to this right of way, and if he is in a bad mood he might be on his side of the fence with a shotgun and a hand pointing to a no-entry sign. As we approach a group working on a fence I take the lead as the afrikaans speaker of the two. They are only too happy to chat but we rush off before they change their mind or mention the landowner.

At this point Stu goes on ahead as I decide to ease the pace for the remaining 50 odd kays to the support station as I'm feeling very week and there is no hurry. It's a terrible slog getting to the road, and looking at the profile now I realise it was all uphill. Once on the road it's relatively easy riding but theres a little wind blowing straight into me. I have a few reminiscent moments as we pass places I hiked all those years ago and a field that we turned into a campsite for 50. We also go past Seweweekspoortpiek, highest mountain in the western cape (but not even given a passing reference in the narrative – local knowledge helps).

Quoting from the narrative again:
“When you reach the top of Horlosiekrans prepare yourself for one of the fastest downhill rides around. The gradient, the surface and the camber combine to draw you into a great descent. Top speed reported on the downhill is currently 78 km/hr. Minimise the braking and enjoy the wind in your face. Emerging at the bottom you might want to head back up and do it again without touching the brakes.”
I have to admit that amidst the 37 pages of broken english, generalisations, assumptions, blaring errors and downright lies this paragraph is without a doubt the most accurate piece of text I have ever read from a lawyer. Unfortunately my trust in his words is not yet whole and I do brake a bit on the early corners only topping out at 65km/h. Turning back to do it again is a good idea, but will have to wait for another day.

Once again its spellbinding scenery picking through the Vleiland valley and then turning into the Rouxpos valley. I'm treated to an african sunset of reds and pinks reflecting off the sheer mountain face and its unfortunate that I miss the last of it in the darkness.
AH - Rouxpos homestead,look at the date
The Roux family homestead is an engaging haven of warmth in both climate and hospitality. After four days of dirtyness we have laundry done for us two days in a row, what a pleasure. The food is great and waffles hit the spot for a weak rider. The hollywood boys come in a bit later and it looks like Andy has recovered from the Baviaanskloof low sufficiently that they are going to push on and try catch Sirk. I wish good luck to them (and shake my head) and offer some tips of the final route. They will be riding basically non-stop from Prince Albert, and there's a chance we might still catch them if they miss the window on the stettyns timeslot. My likely finishing place of fifth or worse is sealed at this moment, but its the furthest thing on my mind right now. Another early start is planned to make it to Stettyns in two big leaps, so I get to bed early.

Prince Albert to Rouxpos via Die Hel- ~4638m of climbing
157km 15 hours door to door

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