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, September 3, 2008

Day 19

I need an alarm to get up at the hours we've been waking. I've had a song from a local Cape Town band jacSharp to wake up to everyday. It's a beautiful melody called 'tonight' that puts a smile on my tired face everymorning, but it's an irony too hard to miss - you know your body clock has been hit for six when you smile to 'tonight' when waking up.

On the fridge is a map of the farm, and I really don't know where the guys have been bunked, as we seemed to have found them all. I quietly make myself some toast for a hasty breakfast and don my damp gear. Clearly not quiet enough I get a quick goodbye to my guardian angels. It's rained a lot last night and hasn't stopped either.

I stop in at the locked cottage on the way, and the big mystery is solved. The guys got in two hours ahead of me and went to bed early leaving a light outside. Unfortunately the door got locked somehow and didn't knock loud enough to wake them. I could justifiably get really hacked off with them right now, but that's no way to start a day that is hard enough without pre sunrise temper tantrums. Plus I'll really need friends today, and the lucky buggers are getting a tour guide for the kloof too.

There's no time to mess around but I hastily get my box emptied of all the final day treats I sent and have my maps inplace. I've put a pair of really old throwaway jeans in for the bundu bashing. Not sure if I'll be wearing them in the wet, you can't plan for everything.

We get to the dam manager's house in time, but late enough to knock on the door. He comments that a LOT of rain has fallen overnight. Us bikers are crazy, but to go through the kloof today is just insane. He doubts we'll make it over the first river crossing, and will have to bundu on the eastern bank till the path rejoins. We leave with his wishes and a still shaking head.

There's a longrunning debate on how to get your bike up this kloof. Some dismantle it into various parts and attach to your backpack. None of us have ever practised it, and we all decide instead to keep the bike in one piece and carry just like in any other portage. I get some raised eyebrows when we get to the path entrance. It's an eroded jeeptrack that has deterioated to a big donga, but I assure them its right. It's mostly walking from here, with a few spots of riding thrown in. Oom Danie is full of beans today and goes on like a chatterbox. It's wonderful to listen too.
The troops hit the trail
We get up to the first major nek and look around at this awesome valley. The water level has risen a good 5 metres since I was last here, maybe some of it last night. It's amazing to think that we're probably only 15km from Paarl mainstreet, yet this is as isolated as it comes. Before the freedom trail was started, we would have been in a solid bundu already. Maybe only a handful of people would venture here each year. In the inaugral trip, David had banked 2 hours for this unscouted section. During the trying day in this jungle with his two companions he 'struggled to look them in the eye'! I've spoken to Andrew King about it over the time we've ridden together, and its a memory he'll never forget.

Waterflow on the main river

We even manage to ride some of the path down to the river. It's hairy stuff as it winds through the bushes, handle bars reaching out to grab holds the whole time with spectacular results. Sure enough the river crossing is not an option in any way. For the last six weeks I'd been thinking of a way to cross here with a bike without getting feet wet! The video explains it all, Andrew Pollock the cameraman is an ace whitewater kayaker, he must be turning inside today wanting to 'break out the plastics' and play in all this cape wild water.

stu in the undergrowth

still there

So we bundu through the impenetrable bush. Attempt one has Stu making a good 20m in 15 minutes, so we send scouts for another route. It's a case of finding the least impossible path, and the vegetation is the limiting factor. Close to the river and it's thick, further up its not that better. Being The largest specimen of our group Andrew Barnes makes a nice big path for us to follow, but all to soon we reach a tributary that is coming down the mountain to join the main stream. The water isn't the main problem here, more that the vegetation is insanely thick. Some tree surgery creates a passage and its through to the next section where thankfully we can head up. Altitude and contours mean nothing here, it's all about the path of least resistance. The last kilometer has probably taken an hour.
waterflow on the tributary

We drop down the little ridge to join back up with the path that has crossed to the eastern side again. The push continues but its slow progress in the pouring rain. The next tributary we come to is much bigger than the last. One would probably get washed away in this. We have a look around for another way over it, as we have to cross it somehow. Looking at the map it drains a much larger area, but it's burst it's banks by a long way.
sit down and contemplate
We have to sit down and make some big decisions here. We could risk crossing it at another point higher up that seems to be narrower and steeper. Its reckless for sure without any equipment(but so is riding from maritzburg to paarl). Even if we make it to the head of the kloof, there's no guarantees we can cross the main stream there either. If we can't cross there, then we have no option but to come back out. The time frame on that would maybe end up with a wet night in the kloof.

We chose instead to turn around and cycle through to Rawsonville and up the N1. This option of a hasty retreat and backtrack from a difficult situation is definitely the soft one. We hadn't even got to the rocky scree that signals the start of the really insane stettyns circus. What would the race director say? What would the alumni who battled through the kloof and soldiered on when the going got rough say? At that point it didn't matter, to go on would be irresponsible. The clever BASE jumpers and big wave surfers woose out when it goes from crazy to just plain stupid.

So the 'easy' option started and the smiles had disappeared. The guys pulled my leg by suggesting we reconsider the decision, I fell for it hook, line and sinker. They knew I was disappointed by the retreat. The current score stands at Stettynskloof 2- 0 Me. We still had to bundu our way back through all the rough stuff we'd done earlier and it wasn't easier the second time.

We considered a short stop at Trouthaven, as Danie was getting really cold but chose to find somewhere in Rawsonville instead. We still had the small matter of a 60km plus ride in atrocious weather. And that sting in the tail, Du Toitskloofpas.

In Rawsonville we find a cafe and Andrew takes over clearing out the stock of pies, fish, chips, coffee, droewors and anything else considered essential. We get some locals giving us a hard time, we're not a common sight and who doesn't want to start an argument after a morning of Autumn Harvest? I reluctantly tell Kiwi Stu that Rawsonville is in the Guiness book of Records – for alchohlism and it shows.

Some of the guys go off ahead as its cold, but I wait for Andrew to finish his coffee, and we head off for our final ride together. We've inform race control of our movements and have been told to be careful on the N1 section. It's a busy road and exactly what we've been avoiding for three weeks. We take turns pacing, but its soon obvious that he'll be dragging me all the way home. My body really is finished, and I urge him to go on and i'll finish at my own pace. He's having none of that and promises to ride with me to the end. Even the pace slows down, but I don't get much in the way of breaks. I've been through the Molenaars river valley on the N1 countless times in my life, normally coming back from a holiday somewhere. Never have I seen so much water coming off the rocks, waterfalls have just started where they shouldn't be.

view from N1

We make it to the old road, that is now the 'alternate' to the Hugenout tunnel. It's a long hike to the top, but I've forgotten how long and it takes forever today. Andrew literally drags me up, even offering to take my bag (I stubbornly refuse, of course!). I smile for the cameramen, good to see Andrew King smiling(who finished yesterday). We catch up to Danie who's on the phone at the summit. The view is a murky 5m viz cloud, no table mounain sunset today. Danie knows the way down to Ashanti through the forest roads.
looking back at the old tunnel
try crack a smile

Near the bottom, we are greeted by the sight of David, diverting us onto the dam wall as the other road is apparently too muddy. Danie promptly falls over into a pile of mud on the dam wall, far too funny.

Halfway round the dam we can hear cheering, clearly our lights have been spotted, but it sounds like a thousand people have turned up as the sound carries over the water. We get closer and all the farmkids have arrived, for some reason I am ahead of the rest and get 20 kids running next to me, shouting the immortal words:”hou bene, hou”. The one guy asks if I can slow down a bit as I'm losing them!

Then we round the corner and I almost choke up over the final 100m on seeing the line. There's a whole crowd to see me after waiting all afternoon. We move onto the restaurant and theres so much to tell. Pizza arrives and is duly despatched. Andrew and Sirk have come back after finishing yesterday. Tim is there, as is Maarten van Dalsen (2007 winner).
say cheese
done, finished, klaar, kaput

with mom and dad
mmm, pizza
debating that some green line issue
the blanket saga support crew

There are a few photos and speeches, and we get our blankets; and just like that its all over. My bike is loaded into my parents' car and I'm driven home. It's said that as each journey ends, another begins.

showing off my blanket to my legend grandfather

Trouthaven to Paarl via Rawsonville- ~2300m of climbing
110km 14 hours door to door


Glenn said...

Hey Steve, really enjoyed reading your story - great effort and well done on finishing the race

steve said...

Thanks to all who have read it, i just tweaked the design a bit to make navigating easier!

oh, yes btw i left that last line a little bit open. . . . on purpose

Carl said...

Reading this now in 2011. Very well documented and inspiring to say the least. Thanks very much for a great read.