Tuesday, October 25, 2016

DAY 24 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 24 + 11 HOURS


Day 24 + 11 Hours TROUTHAVEN TO DIEMERSFONTEIN - FINISH 56km

Day 24 had arrived!

I would have been lying if I said I was perfectly fine walking out the door of our lodge... I think I was slightly numb, maybe slightly petrified of the unknown that lay ahead. The short ride up to the dam was strangely quiet and I was trying to picture the beast that would lay before us. I was also excited at the same time about finishing this epic race!

I wrote a short piece from my notes about the experience the day afterwards and the full version went like this....

Leaving 'battle station Trouthaven on Sunday morning at 6am, many before and many experienced, frowned upon this late advancement onto the 'battle ground which was to become the Kloof all known as Stettyns! Our strategy was to arrive at the gateway of this Kloof at 1st light for the simple reason being we were not going to mess around in the dark on foreign grounds we had no inclination of as had been the planning of the Trio throughout our journey together. It was not a late embarkment because of being naive of what was to come, it was just the way it was.

We had heard all the "horror stories" of those who went before us. Those who stumbled. Those who emerged victorious. Those who fought a gallant battle and lost. Those who fought a vicious battle with the 'Kloof and won. The 'Kloof was not to be underestimated and her magical beauty also harbored the ability to bring on unimaginable suffering!




The first of the river bed crossing. The start of Stettynskloof portage 

The Trio had discussed at length 'battle plans and in the end opted to enter the Kloof and go up the middle as per map indications. That was plan A.

Having covered the first 10km in the dark, we opted to go around the dam wall and not over it. We picked up the single track path that would lead us onto the start of this incredible portage and the mouth of the Stettynskloof corridor.

On a clear lit sky, dawn breaking we started at the base at around 8am, standing at the mouth of the corridor staring in awe up the Kloof to a far off saddle silhouetted against the skyline we were to head for around 6-8km away. You could practically pick your own line or use the map as guidance. But one thing for sure, there was no way of finding an easier exit as they were all the same. Looking up the corridor, it looked pretty simple, yet we would later find out it was by no means by any standards.

A lone jet passed over high up in the sky and was almost a trigger the battle had begun! We started out as the instructions given according to map and plan. It was a matter of minutes and we found ourselves in thick vegetated growth. A couple of paths littered the way from those before us. We picked one and a few metres in we were deadlocked. It was like the vegetation swallowed us up! Nervous looks gave way to an almost synchronized thought process. We switched to our plan B almost instinctively! We were going 'high and right' on the eastern slope of the Stettynskloof corridor. We literally started laying our bikes down in the path we were on in thick vegetation, running and throwing body and limbs into what lay in front of us to clear a path for exit to the outside and light. We were not going to cover 1km in 4 hours like some of the previous 'warriors had done. We needed to try move faster as we knew we only had limited day light hours to contend with.



Overwhelmed 


Its a bloody jungle! 

We broke through this thick vegetation, pulling, throwing our bikes forward and started the clamber up the mountain to our right, away from the river and thick vegetated growth! The going was slow as we started to make our way up the 'field and climbing high up onto the side of the mountain, encountering a number of rocky ravines with thick growth one after another. Some of these were also feeding water from high up in the mountain to the main river below. The terrain was wet. The vegetation generally waist high but forever changing in among rocky crops. The mountain tops had sprinkles and dusting of snow in places. The air was constantly chilled in the shadows.

Around late 3pm, the battle having raged on all day, we had made half way. There had been stumbles and small falls as we fought forward. The saddle was closer but still yet so far. Neville trailing a short way behind, let out an agonizing scream just as he had slipped and landed in between some boulders, bearing in mind his injured hand that was continually throbbing with pain. I put my bike down and ran back, thrashing through the thick grass after him to pick him up and check he was ok. The sound of his 'scream didn't sound good and I was praying he hadn't broken anything otherwise we would be in some serious trouble. Relieved he was just bruised and in pain for a short moment. We picked out a dry river bed on the mountain higher up and a point we needed to cross over yet another ravine. We were heavily fatigued. Sitting down, Neville was trying to recuperate lying in the long grass nearly towering over him. We gauged at the time we had around 3 hours of day light left. At our current pace, we weren't going to make our exit point before then! We made a combined call that we were going to bunk down for the night. We had found a somewhat reasonable place to shelter and why not take it than start thrashing around at nightfall.



Halfway 



Cruel valley

We made it to the river bed higher up in the ravine and set about getting ready for a long cold night. Wood stockpiled, a fire pit established we settled down in a somber mood making fire. We were so badly hoping for a Sunday finish! I myself fell into deep silence the rest of the evening feeling dejected. There was no way to notify anyone we were safe and those following the tracker would only see a non moving blip and have to draw their own conclusions.











Dinner coming up!!

The Stettynskloof fell into darkness quickly and so we sat huddled around the fire, sitting on ice cold rocks. There was no real place for a comfortable place to sleep but it was what it was. Between the Trio we shared a 'meal of cup a soup, a few biltong strips and nougat bites along with rationing our water. We were on a dry river bed. We were very far from the river below. We would gather more water in the morning. We donned all the clothes we possessed which wasn't much. Emergency blankets wrapped around our bodies and the fire constantly fed, we sat and tried to sleep in this position throughout the night. The night was long. The night was quiet. The night was dark and like an abyss before us. The sky was clear and one could see forever. A million more stars than you've seen before could be seen in that absolute blackness!

Surprisingly we were kept pretty warm with the fire going all night. There was no violent shivering like the many nights back when we slept out in the Bosholweni forest. We also put it down to choosing a fairly well sheltered spot high up against the mountain and far from the river edge at the bottom. Taking turns through the night, we fed the fire constantly.

Dawn broke as majestically as all the other mornings and with the fire allowed to burn right down, heat minimal, one could feel just how cold it was. 3 mini packets of instant coffee mixed and heated in a tin bowl became our breakfast. We were low on any form of nutrition keeping our packs light the day before and discarding items and much needed food that would weigh down progress....and for a Sunday finish that didn't happen. My energy now was reliant on eight energy gel sachets that I started sucking on every odd hour to keep us going once we started moving.

It would take us another 6 hours to get out the Kloof. Fighting one last mass of vegetation, more ravines and then also finding a literal clear tunnel of overgrown ferns leading us to the 'promised land' right next to the water edge and last river crossing. It was then a steep, I would have imagined 600m, straight line, back breaking portage out Stettynskoof!

We emerged at the summit exhausted and on low energy and being totally sapped from the night out lack of proper recovery. Yet! We felt victorious! a rejuvenated energy source from just that! We made it out!

Looking back from the summit, down the valley to where it had all started, I silently nodded at my thought process, looking down with a probable blank stare and in agreement of what a previous Freedom Challenge competitor had quoted when posting his analogy of the Stettynskloof... "How can so much beauty behold so much suffering!"



The summit 

We made our way off the backside of the mountain, got onto some jeep track and started riding for the first time in nearly a day and half. We snaked through the mountains and eventually ended up on the main route to take us 'home'! The finish line - Diemmerfontein.

The last 6km on tar was a time for real reflection for me. I was exhausted, hungry, bruised. It didn't matter anymore! I had coupled and done this journey with 2 incredible guys, Neville Higgs and Gerald van der Merwe and together we did it our way!

All the pain and suffering gave way to an emotional elation that I had followed a dream, and more than one dream in that my fundraising for Carel du Toit centre was part of this. I had failed on the first Freedom Challenge attempt in 2014 but came back to complete unfinished business and finished it I did! As I found myself reflecting, I was sure that even my mother in-law who was one of those that supported my adventure endeavor and who was cruelly taken from us by the ravage of cancer 10 months earlier, was watching over me with a smile on those last few kilometres.

This journey was just that! An incredible journey of self discovery and learned experiences. Places been and incredible people met. I even lost 12kg in body weight! Stettynskloof broke me over and over but failed to destroy me. The Freedom Challenge race across South Africa had certainly humbled me.

Neville, Gerald and I, un-beknown to waiting family and friends stopped at the gate way before we entered Diemmerfontein after the forest descent exit. We shared a prayer of thanks and a hug. Yes, it was a personal emotional moment for us. A massive milestone. We had come so far together and the journey was about to end. Grown men cry? Embark on a journey like we have and we can talk again!

The power of 3 strangers that came together and became the power of one!

2300km, 33000m of ascent, 24 days, 11 hours, riding into the finish was a radical feeling! From a tearful wife, an in awe son, my own father telling me how proud he was, sisters, friends, it was fanfare all round!



Stettynskloof 



Stettynskloof up the valley 



The morning after my finish, I picked up a piece my twin sister had written and posted on her facebook page while we were stuck out in the Kloof on that Sunday night and very appropriately written which left a lump in my throat.

....."Friends, family, race followers and fellow cyclists who have already completed the race watch with us and each has their own opinion of how they have chosen to approach this challenge. There are those who see this race/challenge as a race to be won with the breaking of records, setting faster times and speeds. There are those that just hope to get as far as the next checkpoint and see what happens from there. Each one has paid their fee and planned as they have seen fit with their own personal goals in mind.

As I have followed Clint’s (and the Trio’s) journey I have been struck by many things. The Freedom Challenge means different things to different folk. To one it means being number one, to another it means testing oneself to see how far one can go, to yet another it is a journey to realizing a dream...

Clint set out to ride this challenge not only for himself but also to raise awareness and funds for Carel Du Toit Centre Cape Town because it is a cause very close to his heart. This was a dream he wanted to fulfill for a while now. As Clint’s twin, I saw first hand what it was like to grow up being hearing impaired and so while I do not know what it is like to be deaf, I understand his passion for this cause...

I have learnt…
- That you have to be brave when you “fall off a saddle” and that just because you may have failed before, does not mean you give up on your dreams.
- That for some; slow and steady wins the prize. Not everyone is built or wired the same. Knowing your strengths AND weaknesses and planning accordingly is wise.

- That being the fastest doesn’t necessarily mean you are the only winner, but that helping someone else reach their goal to make it to the end with you makes you a hero (all three of the Trio fit that bill)

As I wait for the sun to rise and think about the three guys out there in the cold, (the Sweepers as they are now known because they are the last cyclists to complete the 2300km race/challenge) I was reminded of days and how I felt in my own failures. I wish I knew then what I have learnt from my brother today. Being last is not failure – finishing the race is winning. I am so incredibly proud of Clint and what he has achieved. I am also proud of and grateful to Neville Higgs and Gerald Van Der Merwe for the support they offered him and each other." - Jackie Beavers






Before the last climb out - Monday morning 





Victorious!


The finale - riding into Diemmerfontein

The video finish - 4 July 2016 17h00


The Trio!


Finale 

The race, finish and completion of Freedom Challenge race across South Africa was everything I had dreamed about, everything I had wished for and more.....














DAY 23 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 23

DAY 23 McGREGOR TO TROUTHAVEN 110KM

We were in some form of jubilent spirit because we knew we were close to "home"! We were saying we could smell Diemmerfontein! We spoke about what the moment would be like and if emotions would run high once we cleared the "kloof" on Sunday, all going well. There was plenty apprehension for the final onslaught onto the finish line and it didn't sound pretty. The three of us had endless discussion about what lay ahead in the next 48hrs. We agreed we would stick together as a unit of three. We would leave no one behind. Even through we would be going into the 'forsaken' Kloof blind, we would be doing so, determined!

We had passed the 2000km mark of this journey and embarking to Trouthaven 108km away where we will spend our last night on the Freedom Trail. We would be prepping everything. Stripping bikes down so there was nothing hampering forward movement while fighting thick vegetation and getting stuck the final leg Sunday morning. We want to be out the Kloof before sunset..... God willing!

We left McGregor at 5am on a dark, freezing cold Saturday morning. The Cape cold is different and it gnaws at you like a throbbing, dull pain. Just before dawn, I swear it must have been the coldest I had felt in a while and may have been reason we blitz the first half the 110km dash to Trouthaven. At sun up, we had the second pit stop but not for long as realized that movement was the best solution to stay warm. I think in the end, the shivering on the bike was the combination of cold and the excitement of finsihing this epic journey! The ride through to Trouthaven was uneventful with the odd dogs getting near to chase us and the majestic beauty all around us with the towering mountains and fresh water lakes all round.


At around 55km - dawn 



2nd Pitstop 


Beautiful surroundings 

We arrived at what I dubbed 'battle station' Trouthaven at 12.30pm after a solid 110km ride in from McGregor. We settled down for the afternoon and last evening and at the same time prepped for the coming final day. I set about removing saddle bags, handle bar ends, map board stands on the handle bars and it would later be the lights and onboard computer all in the effort to aid our trek.


Outside Trouthaven 

This journey I have mentioned more than once, has been incredible. We would all take something away from it in the end. I have had many highs and many lows on the trail. The biggest low, Having being solid in my mind prep and positive outlook coming into Freedom, I had that one very dark day around day 18 outside Willowmore. I was so heavily fatigued having left the Baviaans Kloof at 1am and making a run for Rondawel at 180km away. My mind 'snapped' and it was really touch and go. You don't reason properly. You don't think rationally. I was ready to pull the plug just like that! That day I had Neville to thank! I have really appreciated his no nonsense approach to me! There is no time for pity parties on the trail. You were either in or you were out! Incredibly, he got me going. and I never looked back after that!!

As a Trio we have complemented each other quite well and have shared long days in the saddle and gone through the battles as one. There have been good days. There were also some hard days. We have shared many a laugh and it is so important as an ordinary cyclist attempting an adventure like this to carry a pocket of humour with you.

We had been blessed with good weather even though we had some heavy days with constant headwinds to contend with. Mechanically, our 'machines - and bodies had held together mercifully looking at some of the terrain we transversed with the minor common breakdowns occurring and seen to.


Our humble abode - last night out on the Freedom Trail 




Yes! There was apprehension in the air by late afternoon.

Yet, we all had one thing in common. Determination!
With eyes are on the prize we're going for it!!!





















Friday, October 21, 2016

DAY 22 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 22

Day 22 MONTAGU TO McGREGOR 55KM

I awoke early and as we had decided from the night before, we were going to really just take it easy and have a short day, we wouldn't be leaving too early. Neville had arrived back from the hospital just as Gerald and I were sitting down to tuck into some dinner the evening before. All bandaged up and the deep cut accounted for the four stitches he was given, Neville was not completely free of pain. We decided to embrace the day and take a leisure trip through to McGregor and stay over at Pony Cottage.

We had 26 days within to complete the race across South Africa and we still had four days in the bag to cover the next two hundred plus kilometres to the finish. We guessed the race office was not going to be too thrilled with the idea as they would have to sit for a few days more to wait for our arrival and monitor our movement in the process.

I lay awake in the dark of the room with the almost predawn shade of light wanting to start forming. I had had a good night's sleep. The wind was blowing outside but I was no longer apprehensive. I stared up at the ceiling and found myself reflecting on the journey this far.

Each day leading up to now had been different. There were the highs and the lows. The laughs and the sullenness. The endless roads and daunting climbs. The riding and the walking. The animals and the warmth of the people. The friendship and the loneliness. The calm and the rough. The cold and the warmth. The pain and the desires. The encounters of the jungles and the bareness of our countryside. Most of all, there was yearning for my family I had not seen in 22 days even though we had spoken rarely along with a number of messages. All in all, I felt an inner peace and a feeling of pride and privilege that I had embarked on a dream and it was about to conclude with a happy ending, hopefully.


I felt a deep sense of gratitude for the opportunity I had been blessed with and the people that had shared my dream, even counting Neville and Gerald.

Once all up and our 'famous coffee maker" Gerald had delivered our coffee in his usual unselfish way as he had done throughout this journey together, we packed up, chains lubed, said our thanks and headed out at 8.30am, destination McGregor.

The trip took us through some tar road sections and through a number of roadworks which proved beneficial to be on a mountain bike as we could get through all the traffic while the actual traffic had to wait at the stop go's.

We passed through some wine-lands and even had the odd farm dogs chase us as we raced away in glee and laughter. The weather was twirling all around and it was almost like having four seasons in one day. Neville, in a little silent discomfort with bandaged hands on the handlebars was pushing on bravely.  

The ride to McGregor was pretty effortless compared to what we had acheived in days gone. There was rain clouds all round not far from McGregor and we eneded up putting on rain jackets but only for a short while. We were graced with an incredible display of natures way in the form of a majestic rainbow appearing.

Not long after this we were heading on the steady descent into the valley that harboured McGregor, a quaint little town establishment. The town itself, clean and quiet was what I noticed. We found our stayover just off the main street and walked into Pony Cottage at 12.30pm





After settling in we decided to go on a walk about into the main street and visit a coffee shop we had spotted. Milkshake and ice-cream celebrations all round! Later, early evening we went on to visit a local pub, ordered dinner and indulged some of the locals about our adventure endeavor. Again! looks of madness as well as in awe of our achievements so far, yet, we felt pretty normal in our madness this far.


Back at the cottage, having prepped for the next day's section of a 110km to Trouthaven we decided to push off at 5am the next morning. It had been a restful afternoon and a happy one too!







Wednesday, October 19, 2016

DAY 21 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 21

DAY 21 ROUXPOS TO MONTAGU 130KM

The routines were pretty much tuned at this stage of the game and getting up to head out was purely on habit. Rise and shine. Breakfast. Last thank you's and goodbyes for awesome, unselfish hosting and incredible warm people!

We departed Rouxpos farmstead at 6.30am and made our way though cultivated farmland on farm jeep track dodging sprinkler systems spraying water across portion of land until we reached the main district road.

Outside Rouxpos
We would ride a short distance on the main road and then turn off left onto another section of rough jeep track for a number of kilometers to link us to another section of dirt district road. The terrain was becoming a little easier in places but still rough. The frost was thick and the air chilled as we made our way along this section which effectively was along a dry river cutting through the valley.



Somewhere along this section, I went into a small panic as I realized after covering all this distance from the start I was faced with my first mechanical. I had no compression on my gear shifter, hence no gears. My cables were intact but my shifter was delivering no reaction to finger command. I could see myself having to move into a single speed setup  and there was still a bit of climbing to be done. This was going to slow me down for sure.
I echoed my nervous aura to Neville and Gerald and realized that I could possibly find myself alone for the first time during the entire race as I couldn't expect them to wait for me if I was slowed down.

I immediately felt a little hopeless and also realized and felt how dependent I had become on my compatriots throughout this journey and maybe so all of us on each other. I was going through my gears hoping it was all just an over shift or something and that I would have gears. For a few kilometers I rode effectively single speed style whilst Gerald and Neville pushed ahead slightly. My head was registering negative thoughts but I kept trying to convince my mind that all will be ok.
The sun was coming up and then something happened which I am not even too sure of what and how. The only thing that came to mind was dirt and ice that could have made shifting sticky. On one of the climbs, out of habit, I shifted to an easier gear and my gear shifted!
I was so elated but said nothing to the others as to avoid disappointment again should the gears not shift again. I would only go on to use around three gears, carefully for a number of kilometers and I believe by a stroke of luck the gears held. I also believed my shifter was on it's way out. My gears would eventually return to some form of normality and I would just get on with it, pushing the issue out of my mind.

Once we reached the district road link we rode for a few more kilometres and then took a left
turn onto a really rutted, rocky jeep track that would take us deep into the Anysberg Nature reserve.

My distinct memory was not long after we were in and riding we had a big herd of around thirty Gemsbok with their long straight horns running along side us and eventually branching off to the right away from us up the mountain plateau. Nature at its natural best!
Things were getting warm and with clear skies and miles of nothing before us other that karoo bush, dust, rocks, shale and the target of getting to Anysberg checkpoint lay before us.
Eventually out beyond us on the horizon of the flat land of the karoo we could see a plume of tall trees and a building. Anysberg was coming up!

ANYSBERG



We arrived at the reserve office at 11.45am, got some cold cokes, rode through to out unmanned checkpoint cottage just a short way from the office and quickly signed in, freshened up, ate up and saddled up to make the dash through to Montagu.
We departed Anysberg at 12.30pm. 


The track was pretty much the same that we had ridden on to get to Anysberg. We were headed for another main dirt district road that would take us onto Montagu eventually. 
Somewhere out in the middle of nowhere before this, things took a turn when a small accident happened and it happened fast!

I was belting it ahead with my MP3 player blaring the AC DC track Thunder Struck and its amazing how music can take your mind off the fatigue and sore body you may be experiencing. At one stage I looked back to see where Neville and Gerald were and slowed down for them to catch up. When this happened I started picking up the speed again and belted off again. Unbeknown to me a brief few seconds after this, Neville crossed jeep track and his front wheel slipped from under him on the loose rock. He hit the ground hard and instinctively put his hands out to break his fall. 

In the very far distance. Neville - man down. 
I had pulled about four hundred meters on Neville and Gerald and crossed a small dry river bed and when I looked back, the two of them were sitting down, obviously after the fall and Gerald attending to Neville. I couldn't see clearly and thought maybe they had just stopped to eat something or fix something quick so I thought I would wait from where I was. 

Eventually, they came riding along and I realized something had happened and it wasn't a sit down lunch snack. Neville didn't look good. He had split his hand open right though his glove and was bleeding pretty badly. This would later earn him four stitches. The hand all strapped up and pain meds retrieved from a medical bag, we needed to get to Montagu quickly so Neville could get some medical treatment.



The pace definitely quickened and we set off, all the while keeping check. By late afternoon we were outside Montagu with the Ouberg pass seperating us from isolation and civilization. The Ouberg pass was an incredible twenty five kilometre plus descent and in some places a real blitz of a descent. You practically did not have to pedal, hardly ever until reaching the bottom of this incredible descent. Clocking close to just under a 100km/hr on one section of the pass, this rare moment was more than exhilarating!

Getting near to Ouberg Pass
Sadly, Neville did not get to share the same sensations as with one hand immobilized it was only one hand on the handlebars effectively steering him. His descent was approached with caution.






















We rode into Montagu and immediately saw a hospital signage that indicated where the 
nearest hospital was. Neville moved on in the direction of the hospital. Gerald and I moved onto the stop over for the night as moving onto McGregor was not on the card and we were not going to leave Neville behind.

After asking for a few directions in the town, a 130kms and 10.5hrs of riding later,we rode into out establishment, Die Bos at 17h00 with a misty, cold scene engulfing the mountains around us and the town of Montagu.... 


Vastness of the Karoo









DAY 20 FREEDOM CHALLENGE RACE ACROSS SOUTH AFRICA - 2016 DAY 20

Day 20 GAMKASKLOOF TO ROUXPOS 70KM

The sleep in was rather welcomed due to only grabbing some breakfast at 8am. The Gamkaskloof was cold. Bitterly cold! In the valley seeped in history as we were informed partly by our host over breakfast, we hurriedly made hast as we needed to get going as an after 8am start to the day was pushing it rather late.

We needed to cover a little bit of distance along the valley floor first and make our way to "the ladder" which would be our exit point out of the Gamkaskloof. As we packed our backpacks with offered sandwiches for along the way we saddled up and made our way through the valley passing the odd isolated houses dotted around dense vegetation along the way, it was incredibly cold! In the valley with damp and mud patches littered on the track we were on and with no sun up yet, the massive shadow deep in this vegetated valley harbored cold that bit right down to the bone and all the gear donned wasn't helping to ward off the onslaught. It became a small battle to keep the handle bars focused on the path we were on with the never ending shivering while riding. Shoes, long tights, bib shorts, thermal top, ride top, fleece top, glove liners, winter gloves, a wind proof jacket and two buffs covering head, nose and mouth to stay warm didn't help much.

We were praying for sunrise!

After a short while riding undulating jeep track, we entered a section of road and then a descent further down into another section of valley with towering mountains all round. I seemed to recognize by pictures I had seen whilst studying the Freedom Challenge route that we were nearing "the ladder" also known as Die Leer. The height of the mountains around us made me a little apprehensive. "The ladder" was a 1.3km single track from the bottom to the top, of loose rock, gravel and stone which one had to negotiate and could take over an hour to summit. Once on the bottom of the valley floor again and riding close to a stream flowing nearby, we found the poplar trees we had to seek out and headed for them. 

We crossed the flowing stream through dense reeds and tracks probably made by challengers before us. We pushed around the poplar trees and found ourselves standing in front of a solid wall of rock. On this wall, we found a small ledge, not much wider than two shoe breadth which ran up the side of this wall about 5m to another upper ledge.  

Behind the poplar trees. Photo - Courtesy P Oosthuizen




With bike over the right shoulder and placing one foot in front of the other while leaning against the wall to the left edging upwards, it was concentration tuned. One little slip and you would find yourself sliding down the side with definite consequences for sure.

Once all three of us were on the upper ledge, it seemed there was a gradual track veering off to the right with a very subtle climb to it around the mountain before us. I was thinking and probably hoping that the track to the right was the one to be taken, yet it turned out a rough, dilapidated, rocky, loose track to our left going straight up the mountain was the track we were instructed to take as per map. This was the start of an incline of note.

And so the onslaught began!


The Ladder - "Die Leer" was used many years ago in the war between the Boers and the British and served as an escape route for the Boer army. Gerald sprang into "mountain buck" mode and was moving rather quickly up this treacherous climb. There was no place for riding. There was no place to just stop and rest based on the steepness of the climb and the obstacles that one had to get over and overcome. I had been nervous about this climb from day one. There were ledges one had to lift your bike onto and then body had to follow. Being hearing impaired my balance was my biggest concern and I had to overcome my fear of falling backwards which is a form of bathophobia, while climbing some of the steep inclines. We were basically climbing the sheer face of a mountain at one small stage of it and became quite harrowing at times for me. About half way up we managed to find a spot and stopped to take a quick break and induce something to eat for energy.

Sitting and looking out from where we were sitting it was incredible to think how we were managing the climb so far, even though slow going, when far below we could see the farmhouse just before the poplar trees we had started from. 

Up the Ladder - Photo Courtesy Andrew King

After a couple of minutes, we were up and at it again! After a few slips and stumbles the terrain started to become a little easier and finding a more distinct path made for easier trans-versing. Around an hour and half later we popped out at the top at the picnic table summit of The Ladder to much jubilation. Another quick break and photos all round we were on our way again with still some ground to cover. The Ladder had certainly sapped some of my energy reserves.















Our plan initially was to push through to Anysberg after Rouxpos. We would see how far we 
got. The loose shale jeep track went on endlessly through continuous flowing landscape with ups and downs and eventually through the warm midday and early afternoon sun Gerald and I were chasing Neville off the last of the descent down to a main district road that would take us onto Rouxpos.

A quick lunch snack at the "to hell and gone" sign post and we were on our way riding a better tempo than experienced earlier. Its been one hell of a ride so far and whilst riding the open district road en-route to Rouxpos I couldn't help but reflect on this a few times. 


About 8km from Rouxpos we left the district road taking a left turn. Immediately after this we managed to find a farm house with a big Coca Cola board which would reflect that there was a shop on the premises. We pulled into the farmyard and were delighted to find a fully stocked tuck shop. Cokes, bar ones were bought and were wolfed down while entertaining some spectators who were in awe about our journey so far and at the same time thinking we were mad.

A steady climb out from here and we were met with an awesome descent for about 5km. I recall for no rhyme or reason, I felt an overwhelming sense of emotions flowing over me while hurtling down this descent. I think the build up of getting through the Gamkaskloof, The Ladder and just generally how far I had come on a bike just hit home! Without holding back, I indulged the sensation and wasn't sure if it was tears from the cold wind dusting my eyes or if it was tears of achievement this far having attained, brushing off my cheeks.

We arrived and pulled into the farmyard of Rouxpos just before 5.30pm with the intention of leaving around midnight for Anysberg and then onto Montagu.

We met our hosts and explained to them what our plans were. Over some cold juice they pointed out a few logistic reasons on why we should stay and rather leave in the morning. Anysberg was in the middle of nowhere and unmanned. It would be better to have a good meal and sleep and a hearty breakfast and then push off in the morning. We could then push through to Montagu. We were persuaded!

All settled in, a hot shower and unpacked and repacked for the following day we sat down to awesome fresh farm food and good company around the dinner table. Ronnel's waffle and ice cream was the final nail after a fairly hard day! And she nailed it!

Neville , Gerald and I closing down for the night, knew now, we were nearly home! 

Yet, we just didn't know it yet! It was still going to take us another four and a half days to conclude our chapter on the Freedom Trail.....










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...