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!)

Friday, May 23, 2008

Where it all began

I must have been about 10, and Father Christmas dropped off a blue bicycle with my name on it. I'd had bikes before, a run of hand me down BMX's from my older brother, but this was my first brand new one and it had gears too. It was probably a hybrid of sorts, had downtube gears and standard brake hoods on the drops but was a bit chunky and could even hit the grass here and there. Back then my sporty brother was in a cycling phase, and part of a well trained little squad from school that were doing this massive race called the Argus. They won the junior school section a few months later, but he never raced a bike again choosing golf instead. I vividly remember him explaining how to work these cog things: 'To go up hills you put it in the big one, because hills are big. It's the other way round with the front cogs”.

That little blue guy did miles around the neighbourhood with the street bike gang, but eventually got replaced by one of these newfangled things called a mountain bike when I was 14 and a bit bigger. The new Avalanche 'Sirocco' was also blue, but was built to hit the trail. It wore slicks in its early days as I trained and rode my first Argus with my dad (he on his Diamond Back 'Topanga'). We did a few of the pedalpower races and even a hectic trek up the West Coast all the way to Yzerfontein. On the day we got seperated somehow on Chappies and I dropped him. That was the first bike I did real trails with, especially dodging dog walkers and other ladies on the Alphen greenbelt trail.

Somewhere along the way I used to borrow an old road bike from family friends round Argus time. It was a seventies steel Peugeot and absolutely beautiful. It still had all the original components and only ever needed new rubber, it's always humbling riding a bike older than yourself. I took it into Flandria bike store in Stellenbosch once and they were very proud to see their 'supplied and service by' sticker on the frame, with a 5 digit phone number. When dad swapped cycling the Argus to running it as a Rotarian (co-incidentally the same year mom nudge ahead of him, according to winning time), I pilfered his Giant OCR3 and have put thousands of kays into it ever since. But maybe I'll borrow that Peugeot again sometime for old times sake.

Back to the real bikes, I became a matie and lived in an off-road mecca for five good years. The Avalanche eventually got redistributed by the Stellenbosch bike monster and a red Giant Rincon was procured from the papers. This guy stayed with me throughout varsity, but was relegated to commuter status once the MTB bug hit properly. This happened at a very distinct point in time.

One visionary at the Stellenbosch Berg en Toer Klub called Riaan put together a mtb tour. They'd go on weeklong hiking trips every holiday, but this was a first on two wheels. We would go from Stellenbosch to Grabouw, down to the coast and back, most of it on dirt. Another friend offered me his Giant Sedona to use for the trip. This was mainly because it had these front fork shocks and clipless pedals, wild luxuries in those days as a student mtber.

I came back from that bike tour a mtb addict and have been sick ever since. After much searching and questioning, a Diamondback Vectra Comp found my fancy and budget. An RST front shock with 38mm of travel, a tektro cable disc brake (but V on the rear) and Shimano Deore derailleur being big smile producing highlights. The next six years found many dirty kilometers rolling under those wheels all around the western cape. Pappegaaiberg, Jonkershoek, Coetzenberg, Eden, Botmaskop all found a special place as great rides in their own right, and Stellenbosch remains one of the best places to ride.

After varsity I did a spot of working and travelling and found myself at the end of a ski season in Whistler in Canada. Not a bad place to be if you like bikes. I left whilst the snow was still around but the bikes were already coming out of hibernation. Just a walk in the village square at the base of the ski lifts will see any mtb enthusiast dragging their jaw on the ground as the quality and quantity of bikes around is just like nothing else on earth. Luckily I picked up a well battered Mongoose full susser at the bike-swap for a steal of a deal at $50. Unluckily it only lasted about three weeks of Vancouver before some hobo showed his adept skills at lock picking.

A visit to the consignment (second hand) stores and a great die-hard Diamondback Topanga was picked up for another bargain deal. The name 'Raven Spirit' was scratched into the handlebar by the previous owner, and travel is what he did best. I acquired all the necessary for self-supported bike touring and started taking short trips whenever time allowed between all my odd jobs. Bicycle can be the greatest form of travel if exploring is your desired quest. Add a network of busses and ferries to British Columbia's forests and islands and you'll quickly find that one lifetime is not enough.

I had decided on a really simple idea, to bike all the way to Alaska and the Yukon territory. The simple plan was to go as far north as I could pedal in the limited time. There was the right amount of eyebrow raising from those in the know to make it an adventure of sorts, even if it was mostly tarred. I cheated and used ferries as well as a boatrace down the Yukon River to reach Dawson City (site of the Klondike gold rush), but a lot of brilliant pedalling was sweated on some desolate roads inbetween.

It wasn't exactly Africa, but the ever present fear of a bear encounter played on the mind. The respected opinion was to place all food (as well as any clothing worn when cooking) out of reach in a tree. and pray! Of course there are too many stories to fill in here, but it was a disappointing feeling to put the bike on a plane and head back to Vancouver and a wedding and the next part of life when there was so much more to see out there. It's amazing what you can squeeze into your day when the sun is up till midnight and your main expenditure is one almighty large meal at the end of the day. I feel I earned my bike tourer's stripes on that trip.

Back home I finally joined the real world, and with it came real money. The Diamond Back came out the loft and did quite a few more miles before ending up in the CapeAds, fetching 70% of her original price. It was probably in the mtb section of the Totalsports challenge where I ended up contending with no brakes and a lot of muddy downhill after 7 hours of racing that I decided that the sell by date had been reached. The new steed who replaced her was a beast of note – a Specialized Rockhopper, my first ever decent fork and hydraulic discs to put a fullstop to any madness. Dark, curvy and seemingly bombproof, she was an instant hit. Any race worth doing within driving distance was entered and somewhere I decided that this whole freedom challenge was not a question of if, but rather when. This was the bike to take me across the country, the next June.

Pity that plans don't always play out, especially when it involves exclusive ownership of your own bike and the 'hopper got liberated after just being washed as I popped inside. Lucky for me, a very nice racy full susser came onto the market from a friend. It had done a lot of miles, but had been looked after like Mugabe's trust fund. Enter the Santa Cruz Superlight. If it was any omen of sorts, just like the 'hopper she was Jet Black too. Jet, as in colour and swiftness. It was acquired with the race in mind, probably a little bit too fancy for such an arduous trek as the conventional thought seemed to be towards a lightweight no-frills hardtail. With endless days in the saddle, comfort becomes a priority and the full suspension provides just that.