Friday, August 26, 2016

DAY 16 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY16

DAY 16   HADLEY TO CAMBRIA 55KM



These were the words I posted out on my almost daily 'race report" to family and friends via a chat group after day 16 and what a day it was!

"One word! - Wild!

No one can explain adequately the highs and lows of a day like this unless you were in the storm with us.
Leaving Hadley at 3.15am we headed off into the darkness after a twist & turn of a night wondering what the day would bring. Some serious climbing and a descent on gnarly district road lead us on as we were headed for the Osseberg trail and then drop off into the Groot Rivier Poort for the river crossing portage section of the race.

The aim and plan was to reach the Osseberg trail by 6am and get down to the river by 9am.

We were advised that the Osseberg was not very rideable and very technical in places and the Grootrivier Poort was the worse it has ever been - overgrown and wild!

We hit mist before running into the Osseberg and visibility was down to 5m at times in the dark and made for some challenging riding. This soon dissipated just before we took the turn off to the Osseberg.

Sunrise over the Osseberg


Resting in the Osseberg

















We achieved our target times and at 9am we were searching for our first best option to do the first of 10 river crossings. This would take us around an hour to do so.

The Osseberg and Grootrivier Poort is majestic in their beauty and tranquility. But they are also merciless in their offerings to those that invade their space, and so the morning started to unfold into a very long day!



The Osseberg trail was rideable in places but also plenty walking. Neville AKA "Mad Max" had the time of his life descending like a wizard on his bike. Must have had a bowl of 'no fear' for breakfast! Myself and Gerald AKA Recce, took a more conservative and careful approach.



It was and became an absolute jungle through the portage. Pulling yourself, your bike and pack through dense vegetation, crossing reed covered areas across rivers where one could only look up to see mountain tops around you to keep bearing because the reeds were so high and it became a very "out of your comfort zone" experience the whole day!
Heading over the mountain to the left after doing the 1st river crossing....



In the reeds of many...



We entered the Poort at 9am and we were out the other end at 2pm after much pushing, crawling, pulling, cursing, swearing and not to forget the blood shed, anointing the soil of sacred land while being torn to shreds fighting nature's natural ways. We were informed later, unofficially that we were the second fastest to portage this section, not including the 'race snakes.

With still having to do the final navigation out towards Cambria, and two high fence crossings, we managed to ride into our stop for the night at 5pm.

Totally exhausted, battered, bruised and slightly dehydrated, it was a hard day even though short in distance but has become the norm to what you face on the Freedom Trail. There are never easy days out here but then it also depends how one looks back at it, they can sometimes be worth it!

The nightmare long forgotten, the Poort at peace tonight that we have left, a cold coke in my belly and I am already looking forward to tomorrow...."

After arrival at Cambria at 17h00 we would not pass here as at this time of arrival the Baviaans reserve gates were closed at 2pm already and would only open at 6am again. We would also require an escort in the form of Mike Roy through the Baviaans wilderness for safety reason due to the presence of numerous buffalo in the area.....

It was a great evening chatting to Mike, a past Freedom challenger and he had a wealth of advice to offer along with his experience on the trail......

Thursday, August 25, 2016

DAY 15 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY15

Day 15 KLEINPOORT TO HADLEY 80KM

I had to admit that I had a fairly good nights rest and after gathering our things we were on our way again, riding down the main road of Kleinpoort just on 6am. We were going to push through to Bucklands for breakfast and then onto Hadley where we would stop over for the night for good reason.

The Karoo morning skies were opening up to an array of colours as the sun started it's rise for another day over the African landscape.
We had an excellent run into Bucklands which was rather fast moving and if not the imagination, the feeling was that we were feeling pretty strong for the day even though it would be a short one. If we had known the run to Bucklands would be so fast, we would have pushed through from Kleinpoort on arrival the evening before.

On the way to Bucklands

Blazing morning skies

We blitzed into Bucklands at 8.20am whereby we were warmly greeted and breakfast arranged by the farmer and his wonderful wife. I have felt bad in that I had not taken the time to write down the names of these awesome people that so selflessly gave of their time and hospitality to strangers like us. You sit around their breakfast table and the discussions and laughter flow freely like long lost friends uniting. It opens your eyes wide and the different perspective derived from these acts of kindness are mind blowing. There are good people out there!



Bucklands

After breakfast we were given sandwiches and fruit to take with us and a blessing to a safe ride further as we started making our way further down the trail. We negotiated jeep track behind the farmstead of Bucklands and slipped and slithered through river sand tracks as we made our way along a riverbed. 

I had fielded a call from Johann, the race director just before leaving Bucklands as we would be entering a 'dead zone" over the next 100km or so where there would be no comms. He just wanted to wish us well and give us some advice on the coming terrain we were to cover as it would become very tricky in places. He advised about ensuring we kept notes on the maps where we were at all times to ensure we would not get lost. He wished us well and as we would probably only have contact again in over 36 to 48 hours again. Their only means to know where we were and our movement would be by the blip from our trackers.


The rest of the ride to Hadley was over district road with a few more climbs and of course the downhills to compliment it. We eventually arrived to another warm reception at the farmstead Hadley and another awesome family with down to earth values. We had the rest of the afternoon to prep, and get some washing done with gear that could quiet easily have walked off to the washing machine on their own!




A quick explanation of things and to why we decided to stop at Hadley which obviously resulted in a short day was because the next 55km or so would take us through absolutely challenging terrain. We would need to negotiate the Osseberg which we knew was technical and no riding in places right down into a valley that harbored the Groot rivier "river of which we would have to cross around eleven times! One needs to understand, these river crossings provided no clear pathway way and one only had a map and compass to rely on to get through. We had heard from sources that the vegetated growth was thick and the worse that veteran riders had experienced in all the years. 

The Trio had an awesome dinner with the whole family at Hadley and we practically said our goodbyes before settling down for the evening as we were planning to leave at 3am the following morning.

With all lights out, I lay awake for a short while in the darkness wondering what lay in store for us in a few hours time....

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

DAY 14 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 14

Day 14   GEGUN TO KLEINPOORT 145KM

Still half asleep, I made my way out of bed just after 3am and went through the motions of getting geared up before heading out the door. A cold karoo breeze was blowing across the land under a pitch black clear sky with its sparkles of wonder everywhere, the galaxy above.

Along district road, and a different name on the map created confusion where we should have turned off the road to take a jeep track. This cost us an hour in trying to figure it all out. By now we had adopted a sort of very conservative approach to our race and that was to take one day at a time which is the norm but there would be no chasing any set number of days to finish other than complete the race within the 26 day cut off.

The vastness of the eastern cape countryside, out in the middle of nowhere is pretty amazing. We rode through the darkness, we walked somewhat on the steep inclines and floated off some of the descents. 

On this day it was Gerald birthday! 


First Light


At first light we decided to take our first break and of course a little celebration. No cake but bread rolls sufficed! Our plan was to get to Toekomst and then continue from there.








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Birthday celebration!!
After our festivities were over we were on the move again.
Our next move was to negotiate a section of the Koedoeskop Game Reserve. Winging it on jeep track and dropping gradually into a long and deep valley shadowed by surrounding mountains, it was a welcomed relief from all the climbing. We came across a locked gate which had us crawling under electrified fence line 20m to our right in a small ravine and we were off again!

We eventually popped out of the valley into a dry riverbed with a little river sand to make riding a little interesting. There were a few signs of wildlife around, being mainly buck but no Big Fives spotted. For some or other reason we exited out again to our left when we should have gone right which stole a little more time from our daylight hours.

It wasn't long and we were on track again, even bumping into a farmer and his crowd driving along in the reserve. Keeping up foreign relations we spent a good couple of minutes chatting before we pushed on again with some directional advice.

It wasn't long after this and we were back on district road heading for Toekomst. We arrived at 11am for a quick meal, a map check and we were on our way an hour later pushing for Kleinpoort.



Our afternoon took us through the Darlington Dam and Addo Elephant park conservatory. In rather warm conditions it was rather disappointing not seeing any elephants or finding a shop of sort to get cold coke. The riding was endless. The afternoon would take us to dusk just as we turned and were headed for the "walls" of Perdepoort and then onto Klienpoort.























As the sun whisked away off the horizon and darkness set in, so the endless climbing began There would be no reprieve, so it felt! I still passed comment in the darkness after endless grinding that if we climbed anymore at one point, we could have ended up in heaven! One must also not forget the number of game gates we passed through, and this I lost count of.

Eventually we were descending through a dark valley and in all honesty cannot recall much of it as I was staring to feel the fatigue of the day setting in. As much as the last 5km into Kleinpoort seemed to take forever, so the darkened town with a touch of light appeared out of nowhere as we entered. Normally one could see a town by its lights from a distance in the dark. Kleinpoort appeared magically out of nowhere, as suddenly as it appeared on the map!

As small as the town was, we struggled the first 15 minutes to establish where the accommodation was and being unmanned there was no welcoming life form to welcome us.
We eventually, with help of a local hearing us up and down the short main street, pointed us in the right direction.

At 20h30 we unlocked the door to our overnight establishment.....tired, hungry and another long day out!

Friday, August 12, 2016

DAY 13 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 13

Day 13  GROOTDAM TO GEGUN 85KM
6.10am - 14.30

Tony and Caren had also checked into Grootdam before we had arrived the night before and we spent a brief moment chatting. This was the last time we ever saw them. Day 13, as we left at 6.10am they were already long gone as per the log sheet records in their room. They would go on to finish a few days before us.

True to form as on a winter's morning, it was bitterly cold as we made our way out the gates of Grootdam and headed for Gegun which was an unmanned intermediate stop. The days aim was to get to Toekomst. We all agreed that our bikes were also in need of some overhaul and TLC. My brakes were feeling very spongy and a sure sign my brake pads were worn down.

We had two portages to conclude for the day and one was rideable, with a little walking and pushing bikes up steep inclines and the other was a real hike a bike session off a mountain through thick vegetation.

We had been fortunate up to this point in the race that most of our above average game fences we had to get over were either low fence lines or open game fences where one could just unlatch and move through. This morning was the start of first of a few we had to climb over during the remainder of our journey.

With Neville perched at the top of the gate, Gerald and I on either side, it made for easy going, passing bikes and gear over the high rises. How the guys on their own do it, would take some doing. There was also fair humor with this first crossing. 

Before we had decided to climb over we had heard lions roaring somewhere close to our left and because of thick bush, we could not see much, even in the breaking dawn. So concerned were we for this crossing, Gerald went back to a nearby farmhouse to get some clarity on the matter only to return to be informed we are on course and not to worry about the lions as they are in their own enclosures.

We scaled the fence and I didn't know if I imagined it or not, the pace of the riding was rather hasty as we took and followed jeep track off to our right up the mountain, hearing yet more roars again!







Once through this section and a couple of lion jokes passed we were basically over and through this jeep track section heading for the next. With the sun warming things up, rough, rutted tracks and stunning desolate countryside within a valley, we eventually arrived at the vicinity of the farm Monteaux which was also the close proximity of our portage off the mountain. This was made easier by the local farmer having got his workers to paint a number of rocks white that would become our beacons and lead us on a path all the way down and through the thick vegetation we had to get through. The farm workers alongside the farm pointed us in the right direction as we were passing through and clue to where the start of the painted rock beacons would be.

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There was absolutely no riding done off this portage and must say rather warm as well. I remember thinking how happy I was with the choice of mountain bike boots I had chosen for this race and the amount of support it delivered to my ankles as well while rock hoping from one to the next. Once through and off here we managed to find a farm road which would take us off to a main tar road further on.

On reaching the tar we headed in a somewhat southerly direction and on approaching the town of Pearson which was about two kilometres ahead of the left turnoff we were to take, we decided to ride into town and see what refreshments we could obtain from the local shops. Cold coca-cola was definitely on my mind. Well! we found more than just that! Red bull, chocolate, biscuits, energade, lucky seven sardines for Gerald, potato crisps and the likes. It was like absolute heaven when, as most full days out, you don't have a lot of access to this stuff!

Red Bull gives you wings!

Lucky 7!!

After our frenzied indulgence we headed back out of town the way we had come and took the right turn onto district road that would take us to Gegun.
We decided collectively that we would most probably spend the rest of the day and night at Gegun. The riding was all district road and different scenery as would match the Karoo district description. The Karoo is semi arid and the roads can stretch for endless miles going up and down as well as generally undulating. 
We eventually took the turn off to the left at the sign post indicating Gegun, a lone farmhouse situated in the middle of no-where with its own sense of beauty and peace that only those that appreciate this atmosphere would come to appreciate.

We arrived at Gegun at 14h30

The house, unoccupied and key hidden in a place known to us, was well stocked. We decided and confirmed with race office that we were staying and that we needed to run some maintenance as well on the bikes.
I calculated that I had done over one thousand kilometres plus already and hence my rear brake pads needed replacing as I was down to less than a millimeter of pad before I would be touching steel. Some of those steep descents and gnarly terrain all the way from Pietermaritzburg to here, to this point had certainly played a role.
So there we all were! Outside in the farmyard, late afternoon sun slivering down, pulling water in a watering can from the nearby reservoir and washing bikes along with replacing spare parts as well as tightening up bolts that needed attention and the likes! 
Thereafter it was settling down again for the evening, all prepping done and a plan in motion for the next few days decided on.

There is something about the Karoo and it's silence. Its a place where at times, everything seems to stand still, a moment in time, under an early evening orange lit sky, which brings along a sense of peace, its own landscape peace....

























Wednesday, August 10, 2016

DAY 12 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 12

Day 12 ELANDSBURG TO GROOTDAM 140KM

The road out of Elandsburg was pretty much just that. Just road. We had a long haul ahead of us and left at 5.15am.

Clear skies, full moon and open roads made for fairly easy navigation. The odd stops to take in nutrition and take some photos became regular occasions. We were all in the same train of thought about wishing the sun to come up quicker. That warmth was always much needed to revive the body from its shaking stupor. 






Our first stop for the day was Newlands where we could pick up some more pain meds for Neville and I that had been arranged by race office for us on request. I still battling with my right knee and Neville having developed some form of splints in his shins. Before arrriving at this stop we would pass through miles of farm track, herds of sheep and the beauty of the karoo landscape. It was a rather picture perfect winter's day!

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Trio @ Newlands

After arriving early mid morning at Newlands and a hearty brunch, we moved on to tackle the Schurteberg mountain pass but not before stopping at Rockdale at around 13h00. An unmanned stop nestled just off the route we were on, we found some food and the thought of maybe stopping over for the night here, was abandoned. Out in the middle of no where and a real dead end of a stop over we decided to push on. Off we went chasing the Schurteberg and after an endless grind that eventually took us into the early afternoon, we reached the summit. 

Schurteberg






What goes up must go down and an descent after the Schurteberg summit was a screaming affair. By early afternoon I was already feeling rather fatigued and put it down to the medication, the climbing and the long number of days we had been through already.

The run to Grootdam seemed endless and other than the undulating roads, there were still a number of reoccurring climbs which made it feel like we were never going to get to Grootdam as we were eventually shadowed by the chilling night air and the darkness that set in after sunset.

Out in the dark, there was a slight breeze blowing which did nothing to alleviate the wind chill. I started praying silently that Grootdam would come soon. For some reasons I felt like I had had enough for one day. Its hard when you are in no mans land and never been to the place that you were looking for, especially in the dark. This is where distant splits and keeping tabs on your odometer played a vital roll.

At a 140km for the day and at 19h00 we eventual found the turn to the gate before Grootdam. The gate seemed locked and in the freezing cold, after trying to get some attention from someone to open, shouting and whistling, with the buildings being some distance from the gate, in our fatigued state we failed to realize that the massive sliding gate just needed to be pulled open.....

We were through.

It had been a long, hard, uneventful day and all I wanted was sleep.....


Thursday, August 4, 2016

DAY 11 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 11

Day 11 ROMANSFONTEIN TO ELANDSBURG 110KM

After Gerald had a discussion with the farmers wife in the dark, down at the boundary fence to be shown and to determine the best way out of Romansfontein, we departed at 5.30am in freezing cold conditions. The days were quite balmy but as soon as the sun sets, the evening turns to ice and so you feel it as well in the early morning.

There was a stiff breeze blowing and with that a wind chill trying to cut through our thermal wear. We had to navigate around a dam before we found some district road. On winter mornings like this, right next to an expanse of water, it gets even colder! Much consulting of maps and narrative but always moving, we managed this with no glitches. Our first big portage was to get over the Aasvoelberg mountain and portage. 

(As I write this, I am regret not having taken more pictures of this area and surroundings which was truly incredible)

The start of the climb up the Assvoelberg

Looking back to where we came from.

Some of the gates and fences we encountered and to get through
The Aasvoelberg had us riding, walking and pushing our bikes up some steep inclines but thankfully the tracks were pretty clear and made for easy navigation. We encountered our first little bit of rain which had us donning rain jackets and pack covers, but only for a short while. Once at the summit it was then the long decent off the mountain which made for some tricky and hair raising riding down on rocky and rutted jeep tracks. Some sections so steep you would be forgiven thinking you were riding on your front wheel only! My knee was still plaguing me, yet better than previous days but also not feeling strong enough to hold me out the saddle at times creating a little instability. Knuckles were white with a steady grip over the handle bars, feathering a combination of rear and front brakes and concentration levels were forced to be blade sharp as we made our way down.

Fixing tyres again en-route to Hofmeyr
Before the second last gate we needed to stop and sort out the front tyre problem Gerald was having. After a second stop, a new tube was eventually inserted and we were on our way to the karoo town of Hofmeyr and its famous pie shop but not before dropping off another pass before entering the flat lands of the karoo.

Dropping down to Hofmeyr still 40km away

Running low on water I took Neville and Gerald just off the main district road before Hofmeyr to get some fresh water from a reservoir that I knew of from my training routes over the previous months of training. Fresh water pumping straight out the ground from a lone windmill in the middle of nowhere and one could not ask for better quality!


We rode into Hofmeyr like cowboys on our horses. Found the pie shop in the main street and also found Tony and Caren just about finishing up with their dining. Tucking into some cokes, pies and whatever else we thought would boost the energy levels, it was around an hour spent and we were all packed up and on our way to Elandsberg.
A file pic off one of my training rides in April at the pie shop!
For some or other reason the ride from Hofmeyr to the last portage section was a little bit of a blur to me. Mainly on district road until we entered the track section, it was rather uninteresting. Once on the track we climbed over some fences en-route while we navigated our way through. At some point the track ran out and we had to depend on the narratives to guide us. At the top of the climb we were on, the sun was already setting low and I was starting to stress whether we would get off the mountain and onto Elandsberg before dark, still commenting to the others how much time we had before darkness would set in. I had heard that this was one section where those not in the know were getting stuck after nightfall and I really didn't want to add to any statistics. 

We were to seek out a windmill on the plateau we found ourselves and Gerald managed to pick up this quickly through the dense but shallow karoo bush-veld, as well as bike tracks from previous riders that had moved through, making a statement, that also became well known for the rest of our journey, "the whole of freedom challenge has been through here!" And he would say it like only 'Recce" Gerald could say it! while Nev and I would chuckle!

The air had got noticeably cooler as the shadows started to appear with the sun starting to seek the horizon and dip behind the mountains we were navigating through. 

We knew we had little time. We knew we were close to Elandsberg. We just didn't know what sort of downhill terrain off the mountain we were going to face and how long it would take. As I posted on my whatssup post to family that night, this is how it was; "Risking sidewall cuts and wipe-outs we gunned it off the mountain racing over and through rocky jeep tracks in single file. With rocks and stones splintering in all directions as we hammered down, I think we could have given some pro mountain bike riders a run for their money. It was "do or die" on the mountain with fading light as I really felt we would have got lost after dark if caught up there."

Reaching the last gate to take us down to the district road, a left turn and then right into Elandsberg, my hands were shaking. Not merely from cold but rather a combination of cold and adrenaline coursing through my veins. It was the most excitement I had had all day! Big smiles and screams of exhilaration all round!

We rode into Elandsberg as the winter's darkness blanketed the surrounding karoo just before 18h00.....


THE STORY OF 2016 RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA

The full 2016 Freedom Challenge race across South Africa race report https://view.publitas.com/private-18/2016-freedom-challenge-rac...