Saturday, September 24, 2016

DAY19 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 19

Day 19 RONDAWEL TO GAMKASKLOOF 130KM

We were out of Rondawel and into the cold blackness of the Karoo at 5am. Still pitch dark, we made our way along the almost straight stretch of farm jeep track that would take us to Prince Albert. The dark night sky was clear and when Gerald turned around to back track and retrieve a map he thought he had dropped from a fenced farm gate we climbed over earlier, Neville and I waited for his return but at the same time witnessed a clear run of a shooting star off the horizon as it burnt out in a fizzle of light. It had been a long time since I had witnessed one so clear and out here in the Karoo one could see the galaxy of stars spread out for ever!

With Gerald back on track, the ride onto Prince Albert was cold, fast paced but uneventful. There were just the endless tracks and the odd sliver through sand along with gratitude when the sun broke the horizon to start warming up a cold start to the day.





We eventually arrived at the main district road coming off the farm track and a little more compacted surface. Prince Albert in the distant, we could smell breakfast coming and at the same time the sensation of lifted spirits. We eventually arrived in Prince Albert at 10.30am and then moved onto Dennehof Guest House, the checkpoint, for a much needed energy breakfast. En-route through the town, we decided to stop at the local post office to purchase three boxes so we could sort through our spares and gear and send some of it back home. This was to lighten the load. We were now in the Western Cape province and shedding some weight off the back pack and bike could prove beneficial for the last stretch to Diemmerfontein.

At Dennehof we tucked into breakfast and then set about sorting through our belongings. Boxes packed and sealed we asked our host if he wouldn’t mind posting them for us of which he obliged and us so grateful.








At 12pm we saddled up and rode out of Prince Albert, our next stop the infamous Gamkaskloof and into Die Hel (English translation: The Hell)! To get here we would have to negotiate the fabulous Swartberg Pass seeped in history and hand built by prisoners many many years before. The afternoon was going to be testing as there was plenty of climbing in store.

Gerald rode well ahead of us for some time while Neville and I opted to ride and walk some of the way. I was in total awe of the natural beauty around me. The road up the pass was dotted with the one or two cars as tourists made their way on a sightseeing tour. One even stopped to chat to Neville and I and were gob smacked at where we had come from and where we were going. On a bicycle that is! They had witnessed madness first hand!!

We eventually reached the pass summit and then a right turn off the main pass road showed us the way to Gamkaskloof where signs warned of using the road at your own risk. The ride seemed endless and I started to fatigue again as mid afternoon approached. An eventual fast, long and fantastic descent after some endless climbing laid way to another climb before us which would be the last for the day before dropping down into the Gamkaskloof valley. This was an endless twisted line that seemed never to end, climbing higher and higher looking at it on approach. On the final climb, light was fading fast and Neville had pushed ahead leaving Gerald and I to make it on our own. Gerald and I made the summit just as last light faded.










We still needed to drop down into the valley to our overnight stop and a long descent off a narrow rutted dirt road with endless switchbacks would require concentration and responsible choices in the dark. Gerald’s light was not the brightest and I surged ahead with my 1000 lumen beam shouting out to him just behind me of every switchback we had to engage when turning so he was aware. I kept to the inside lane and wall of the mountain we were dropping off, faintly making out the sheer drops and dark abyss on the opposite side. I would have loved to have seen this in the day time.




























As we popped out at the bottom of the mountain, so we were hit by a wall of freezing cold dense air as well as dense vegetation all around on either side of the road. We followed the road for some distance until we came to our destination checkpoint which was a little confusing as we were not too sure what we were looking for. There is no power in the Gamkaskloof valley and much primitive setup.. Generators and gas was probably the key source of power and heat.

We eventually found our host at 19h00 who was not even aware we were coming through even though race office was notified of our plan to stop over. We met up with Neville and were taken to our sleeping quarters for the night and advised that food was on the way. It was freezing!

The food arrived. Piping hot homemade wholesome food and lots of it! We were advised that we could only get breakfast at 8am the following morning and so we needed to make a call to leaving early with no breakfast or staying and having breakfast.

All fed up, cleaned and prepped we all staggered off to our individual sleeping quarters which by way were old stables but converted into small rooms, just big enough for a single bed or two.

Gamkaskloof, a valley seeped in a lost era of history, was quiet. The cold was numbing as I pulled the blanket up after blowing out the candle.


Laying in the dark I recall my last thought before drifting off …This has been one incredible journey so far!....

Monday, September 19, 2016

DAY 18 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 18

DAY 18 DAM SE DRIF TO RONDAWEL 180KM


At 12am the alarm on my phone went and I was up, packed and ready to roll. It may have sounded like I was all fired up to get going but in actual fact my mind was not in a good place. Stepping out the house, the air was warm, swirling around us as the wind storm prevailed. At exactly 1am we left the small holding of Dam se Drift and turned south onto the main Baviaans district road, straight into the puffs and windy blasts of resistance that would prevail the entire length of the early morning dash to Willowmore.

About an hour into our haul, fatigue set in quickly and I felt like I had been drugged. My eyelids heavy and not even the wind smashing my face could snap me out of the slump I was feeling, I remember my head dropping, like when you dozing off in an arm chair. My subconscious mind quickly realized something was amiss and it was a surreal sensation. Like someone experiencing a loud bang, I immediately ‘shocked right and could believe that I had almost fallen asleep. All in a matter of seconds, and I was aware I was feeling despondent, angry, tired, frustrated and maybe nervous because I didn’t know for sure how this was all going to end.

I trailed Neville whilst I sailed between highs and lows. At one stage I felt like I was running on auto pilot. I was wishing for day break and tired of the blackness that lay before me and the beam of light I was following feeling like I was getting nowhere. We stopped a few times, it could only have been once as I cannot recall. Slowly the silhouette of the Karoo landscape was starting to form in the east as the sun edged its way forward around the globe depicting that dawn was near.  Day break was forming just as we started seeing the village of Willowmore in the distance.  There was something about daybreak and the alluring ability to lift you up. Sunrise over the karoo was pretty awesome as always!





We eventually found ourselves riding down the main street of Willowmore looking for the Willows Hotel at 7.50am and my request being granted to have ice-cream served for breakfast. We found out on arrival that Gerald had made his cutoff and had left for Rondawel at 6.30am already.

Sitting at the breakfast table we met up with Mike Roy again. We were also met by curious patrons coming into the dining hall for breakfast. Two weathered cyclist and curious onlookers made for some interesting conversation as well as the icecream that Neville and I were wolfing down before the usual egg and bacon treat. There was one guest who came and spoke to us and knew about the Freedom Challenge. He was also offering advice as well as giving us a weather forecast and a dim outlook on Stettynskloof, yet I guess he had never been there.

Neville and I eventually decided to pack up and move away from the warm fire that was threatening to harbor us for all eternity. We needed to get going and the day wasn’t going to get any easier by dragging it out. I am not sure what time we left Willowmore but I guessed it was around 9am.






The rest of the next hour went like this as per my update posted: …“Just want to thank you all again for your prayers and support. Today for the 1st time since I have been on the Freedom Trail I slipped into a "dark place" and I slipped quickly! Leaving Dams se Drif at 1am this morning in the Baviaans Kloof for Willowmore I hadn't slept a wink worrying about the hectic winds blowing all night. I even nearly fell asleep while riding. Throughout the morning I was not in a good place until we arrived in Willowmore before 8am. Thereafter we left at 9am for Rondawel. 5km out of Willowmore I started to "choke". My mind just snapped. My body was exhausted. My legs were heavy and I came minutes away from calling it a day. My awesome wife and as well as my riding companion, Neville at this point were instrumental in getting me going again. Hard line approach is the only way to deal with this form of mental collapse! And that is what I got! Keeping this dream alive was important to me, but I am also only human and have endured some of the hardest tests in my life in the past 18 days and managed to slay a couple of 'demons' in the process. Lastly, overall! All of you are also instrumental in part of my success this far through all your messages of support and encouragement. For that,I am truly grateful…”

I sank into a bad place. I just sat on the side of the road quietly while the wind tried to rock me every now and then from my seated place. My thoughts were blank. It’s amazing how the human mind can just shut down. I will always remember, Neville saying to me at that moment, something like “this was not part of the plan”. It was also amazing that around another hour in, I was back to riding and refocusing on moving ahead.

We rode the whole day. Miles and miles of nothing but an endless sandy jeep track stretching across the flat land of the karoo landscape. We stopped at a windmill to see if we could get water but testament to the drought gripping the country, dry. From Willowmore to Rondawel, there was nothing but the odd abandoned farms, no shops. Nothing. As the day turned to late afternoon and then the vastness of the land slowly engulfed by the shadow of the setting sun, I started skirting the horizon ahead to see if we could spot Rondawel. I wasn’t sure what we were looking for. Neville had pulled ahead and I followed, keeping him in sight. Eventually the light of a building flickered and we were near. There popping out in the middle of absolutely no where, was the stand alone farmstead of Rondawel!






Riding in and getting to the door at 17.55, exhausted after a 186km slog, we were greeted by out host and our riding partner in crime! Gerald!






I proceeded to flatten a whole 2L coke during the course of 3 hours at Rondawel as well as polish nearly a quarter pot of pasta! It felt good that the trio was back together again. Gerald had had an agonizing day riding into the headwinds all day on his own and went through his own mental fatigue battles. He was also delighted to be back together with his riding companions.



A reminder is that, Freedom Challenge race across South Africa is an individual event but when three strangers come together and share the trials and tribulations together, it cannot be helped that a bond be formed. Your goal to get to the finish became everyone else’s goal. Your commitment to help each others to get through a hard day became their commitment to you too. 



DAY 17 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 17

Day 17 CAMBRIA TO DAM SE DRIFT 85KM

Waking up was a slow process even with the knowledge that we had to be out of Cambria by 5.30am to make the Baviaans Reserve gate which would be about a half an hour ride to get there. From there we would be escorted until we made the exit out the other side via the western gate. Mike Roy would follow some distance behind in his SUV and not be interfering with our progress but merely keep an eye out and hope we would have no confrontations with wild buffalo in this majestic reserve.

The previous day through the Osseberg and GrootRivierpoort was still pretty much evident in my sore muscles and aches but there was a job to be done and that was to keep moving forward and pushing on south. The temperature was rather chilled which was normal this time of the morning and the Baviaans kloof with its towering mountains all round would ensure daylight would still be a little way off from the 6am morning darkness.



The ride though the Baviaans kloof was nothing but tranquil. The beauty and unspoilt nature along with the incredible mountains flanking both sides of you as we made our way through is a feeling best described as peaceful. Climbing up the “big dipper” to the top of Bergplaas was an incredible feeling as I broke away from Neville and Gerald earlier making the summit on my own. I fielded a call to my wife as I hadn’t heard her voice for some days and with minimal signal managed to get through from the top of a windy mountain top. Sheltering out of the wind, huddled up against a bush to break the jet stream while waiting for the other two to summit, it was good to hear her voice and catch up on some quick news and hear words of motivation and encouragement.






The descent off Bergplaas was long but swift. All 10km of it! We stopped for a quick break to replenish lost energy reserve and were then off again. The wind had picked up considerably and the dash to Willowmore was slowly becoming a questionable exercise. Gerald had no choice and would have to push on as he had to make Willowmore before 6am the next day otherwise his race was over if he missed his cutoff. Neville and I still had two days in the bag.

We eventually passed through the Western gate and were on our way to Dam se Drif intermediate stop. The wind was really starting to become a challenge coming in straight from the front.  My body and mind was continually trying to sync but it wasn’t working. Two short breaks again and we eventually arrived feeling a little weathered, turning down to the smallholding and entering the yard.





We quickly sat down to some delicious soup, breads and even a chocolate brownie type pudding along with coke and other refreshments. The mind was darting all over the place and it was past 15h00 and Willowmore was still another 90 kilometres away. Neville and I took the decision to rest up a bit and leave at 1am for Willowmore and then make a run for Rondawel after that. A massive day of 180km. Gerald had no option and it was sad to see him go as he rode out the gate at 16h00 making his dash for Willowmore in appalling windy conditions. To be on your own and tired as he was, the pressure was on!

Nev and I settled down for the night at around 7pm after all arrangements were made by our host to have breakfast pre-prepared for us and delivered to the little house we were staying at away from the main house. The wind blew the whole night. Gusting and at high speed. It was disruptive and I battled to lay down for the night and ending up not sleeping at all.....





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...