Saturday, June 30, 2007

Drama, drama, drama..

When I spoke to Andre yesterday morning at 9:15am, he was sitting at a hotel in Craddock having breakfast and waiting for this blessed parts to arrive at the post office from Johannesburg. The lady at the post office said that parcels arrived at 10:30am so Andre was going to wait. Andre was in good spirits and said he had forgotten to charge his tracker so that's why we couldn't see him on Thursday but all was well yesterday morning and he was going to fix his bike and carry on riding. At this stage he was on his own.

The next time I heard from him was this morning and all is not well. The parts arrived, but they were wrong. So Andre rode yesterday on his "spinning" bike without having a chance to rest or coast....he has to keep pedalling.
So I got involved this morning and called a million people....!

First, Gerrit. Gerrit is the guy that Andre rode most of last years Freedom Challenge with until Andre had to pull out. Gerrit had been asking about the parts, so I phoned him first for advice.
Second, David, the organiser. I explained the situation and got advice from him.
Third, Olaf. I told Olaf the drama and he gave me some advice.
Fourth, Adele Tait, the editor of Ride Magazine. I explained what I needed and Adele helped me.
Fifth, 5 bike shops in PE, looking for parts. No luck at all at any of them.

So the situation is this....the part has been bought from Linden Cycles by Gerrit. Additional parts were bought from Olaf and Gerrit collected some more parts from my house this afternoon and from Olaf's house. Gerrit, our angel, is driving right now to a place nobody has ever heard of in their lives - Toekomst - to drop off the spare parts so Andre can fix his bike and continue.

Andre arrived in Toekomst at about 7pm and when I told him Gerrit was on his way, he literally couldn't speak. He was so overwhelmed and grateful and can't actually believe that Gerrit would drive 10 hours on his weekend to help Andre out. I can't believe it either and it just shows you how amazing people can be.

Thank you, Gerrit, you really are very special and you are our angel. Thank you for taking your time to help Andre and I hope one day you are as blessed as we feel today.

I can't update Andre's blog today because day 11's information didn't come through properly and I want to keep the sequence correct. As soon as I have it, I will do the post so everybody can be updated again. But for now, Andre is fine except his legs are starting to hurt from the very high cadence over the past few days!!!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Day 10 - Everyone has a story...

Before the race started, Mike told me that he was worried that he would not have a fantastic experience, as advertised by my blog last year. My reply to him was that it is virtually impossible to get through this race without something worthwhile happening. Needless to say, Mike ended up wlaking for 10 hours earlier in the race when his shock broke. Today was my chance.
We had an early morning portage planned, so we were going to leave at 6:30am. We slowly crawled out of our sleeping holes, to be greeted by hot coffee, and a shrug of the shoulders towards the kitchen window - the whole farmyard was covered in a blanket of thick snow, and it was still coming down. We quickly worked out an alternative route, that was mainly farm roads to our next stop, and the start was pushed out to 8:00am.
After many photos we left the farm, and started up the road. It was quite a novelty riding in the snow - not as difficult as it seems at first. The wheels cut through it quite easily, but boy does the snow clog up the derailleurs and gears. I was just starting to think what a good option the singlespeed was for this type of riding, when I lost all power to the backwheel - my back cog was stripped, and the bike was going nowhere. The rest of the guys were in front of me, so they continued without knowing my problem.
I made my way back to the farmhouse, where repairs were made, which failed, and after a few phonecalls some parts were found in a town about 60km away. David took me out there to pick up the new gear and a chain, which cost about R40 for the lot. i was a bit sceptial, but with no other choice we headed back to the farm, where I re-assembled my bike, and hit the road again.
5km and 4 broken chains later I turned round and made my way back again. I have now welded my old gear into a fix ( I can't stop pedalling - something like a spinning bike), and will attempt to move on again tomorrow, with Kevin who arrived this afternoon. Parts are being couriered to Craddock, so hopefully I will be back to normal again by the weekend.
This race does not take prisoners! Just when you let your guard down, it comes and slaps you on the back of the head. Many of the guys are saying that the race is far tougher than they ever expected - initial plans of racing, and records have become survival plans to just make the finish.
The Freedom Ride will bring out the best and worst in everyone!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Day 9 - Snow!

During the Ride to Rhodes finishers' dinner, David mentioned how this race brings out true character. Today was one of those days that does it's best to do an impromptu character test.

Andy walked out the door this morning and said that it was spitting - I think he meant with rain. I started riding and realised that the spitting was in fact light snow. The possible wind nightmare that I mentioned yesterday gave way to an overcast cold day - the maximum temperature was 1C and the minimum was -1C. The day started as a normal cold Karoo day which gradually transitioned to a white winter wonderland.

I didn't know that there are different types of snow - it starts as big flaky drifting snow, then when the temperature drops a bit and the wind picks up you get horizontal sheets of ice which catches into into your face and into any exposed skin. The last type is the dreamy balls that is advertised in American movies -it really is like that and quite mesmerising.

All 3 types are really, really cold and my feet were so icy and sore. For the first time in the race, my mental resolve wavered but a hot cup of coffee and a chat to Corrinne put me back on the road.

Can't say much about the terrain today but the fields were white and the roads were muddy.

Our overnight stop is the same one that I stayed at when I was sick last year. Steph and Bill are looking after us like visiting royalty - washing is being done, bikes are washed and I am expecting a super meal. I don't know what the snow equivalent of an oasis is but this is it.

The guys all had a hard day but the spirit in the group is still good and we are progressing well. Apparently Kevin is quite close to catching up again but unfortunately Dillon has withdrawn.

Day 8 - Wind + 1 gear = ouch

What a day! When you finish 2 portages at 12:30pm, then have to ride another 80km, then you know you are on the Freedom ride. I don't think many other races in the world have that element of toughness to them.

Our stop last night was fantastic - Lizzy, our host, managed to wait on all of us without a problem including a full cooked breakfast and packed lunches. The niceties stopped soon after leaving with a harsh hike-a-bike up an unused jeep track. Strangely enough all 9 of us suffered up the climb but not one person complained. All you heard was, "where to now?" as each person arrived at the top.

By mistake, luck or skill, our navigation was spot on for the first difficult section and we had completed this by 9am. We also had the luck of meeting a local farmer who gave us some tips for the second scratchy bit. This was also a major slog but once again we came out at exactly the right spot. It was at this point during lunch that we still had 80km to go. During the portages the wind was gale force but we hoped it would be better lower down. Sorry for us!
The entire 80km's to Boschofskraal had a hectic side wind and a number of us ended up in ditches on the side of the road. On rare occasions I was being blown uphill unable to pedal but most of the time it was really hard work. I rode most of the last 80km on my own as I could not ride as slow as the others. I would ride hard, then rest a while then do it again. 80km of interval training.

The views were awesome over the 2 portages with scenery all the way back to the Southern Drakensburg and on into the flatter portions of the Eastern Cape. The terrain is slowly becoming harsher and grasslands are slowly being replaced by Karoo bushes and some barren areas. Huge mountains are being replaced by dispersed mountain clusters and koppies.

Tomorrow is supposed to be an easier day but I think it will be a nightmare if this wind persists.

Xolani pitched up tonight after 2 nights out in the cold - he is unsure of where he was but seems none the worse for wear. Dillon's knees gave problems so he got picked up in a town before the support station so he will need to go back there if he wants to continue. He will lose the group but could link up with Kevin who is still trailing the group by a day.
I am feeling relatively better than the others everyday and with reports that some of the lead group are struggling, I'm considering a push, but we'll see.

Day 7 - Change of scenery

The real Freedom Challenge started today. All the backup teams were pulled out as the ride to Rhodes is finished and we are now on our own. We have decided to ride together as a large group and try to push through to Cape Town together. Glen is withdrawing so we are with 10 riders leaving this morning. The guys left between 4am and 6am and by lunch we were all together bar 2. Kevin was sick and Jannie took a wrong turn and he's still out there somewhere.

Adam was sitting here when we arrived after zig zagging behind Xolani for a few days. He was constantly off course so there are 9 of us now. The riding today was chilly but pleasant - most of the terrain was very hilly but no big climbs, just short sharp bursts. It was hard going on the single speed but it seems everybody is starting to hurt so I don't feel too bad.

The valleys that we rode in are pretty deserted. It seems that the entire valley is bought out by one farmer who then farms all the remaining properties from one farm. We stopped at one of these farms for lunch; the guy has about 1000 caps hanging from the roof of his pub - the lunch was awesome, by the way.

Our portage for the day went really well with no problems and this guest house is top notch. We are being treated like kings. I am dead tired so bed for me. Tomorrow is a big day with 2 big portages and bad weather on the way.

P.S. Jannie has just arrived after 9pm.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Continuation problems....

I waited anxiously for Andre's blog to be sent through to post for him which is why there was an absence of posts at the end of the week. Eventually Andre sms'd them to me as a voice recording but could only get Day 5 and 6 to me - Day 4 would have to wait for the mail.
I received it today and have posted Day 4 although it's now out of sync. Apologies for the confusion, but it should be resolved now. It still makes for fascinating reading!

Hearing Andre's voice is so bitter-sweet for me. It's wonderful to hear him so alive and happy and while I was typing out the blog while listening to his voice recording on the speaker phone, even the dog was whining! I miss him terribly though.
But it is nice to have the remote all to myself.

I have to wonder how my dear husband must be smelling at this stage....hmmm, I know he has a razor and a toothbrush but I definitely know that a can of deodorant weighed far too much for his precious cargo. When I asked him he simply said, "you don't want to know"! Lovely.
There are about 9 of them in the riding group today so you could probably smell them coming over the mountain loooong before you spotted them!

Thanks again for the awesome messages from everybody. It helps Andre tremendously and keeps him going.


Day 4 - Plain sailing

Today was heaven once again - the plains around Matatiele are made for mountain biking. It is unfair that 90% of South Africa's singletrack is concentrated in such a small area. I was fortunate enough to get one of the local MTB gurus to mark my maps with as much singletrack as possible. Earle, Andy and I left after the main group at 7:30am and were immediately singletracking our way to our next stop at Malekholenyane.

For those who are not used to MTB terminology, singletrack is the be-all and end-all of most MTB fanatics (there are other breeds of animal that prefer steep downhills as well). The tracks are basically made by pedestrians and cattle walking across the veld, and are flat, flowing and as smooth as silk. At one stage we rode on a section that was smoother than tar!

So during the day we suddenly decided that even the marked maps were unnecessary, and just headed in basically the right direction, picking up any and every track we could find. We flew through villages amidst the "how are you" calls again, where there are no roads, just thin trails between the huts, wide enough for a bicycle or two. The different trail options were endless, allowing us to skip long sections of district roads and cruise along like there was no tomorrow.

In a day of 70km we did probably 5-10km of road, the rest was through villages or on track. Oh yes, and the temperature was -4degC this morning.

We had lunch at a place called Queens Mercy, where the shop owner told us about his life being detained in the late 70's by the old SA "regime". He has owned the shop for 34 years, and sat and told us many stories. Also in our stop was another mission station - Marizell, with a staircase carved out of solid stone, and awesome stained glass and murals. It amazes me how much effort goes into constructing these huge mission stations in the middle of nowhere, but they are exceptionally well maintained and good to look at.

I don't really have any info on the other riders, other than there are 7 of them a day ahead of us. Our GPS units are probably working properly now, so you'll be able to see us again on the web.

We're in for 2 really big days, then we're at Rhodes and then the fun can begin. Maybe there are a few racers that I can chase across the Karoo.

P.S. Anyone want to buy a Giant Anthem? (My old geared bike)

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Day 6 - Decision confirmed

Some carried, some pushed, some cried but in the end everyone made it over Leana pass. This is a 6km footpath over the mountains that took us about 3 - 4 hours to do.

After supper last night, we were all shipped off to various huts around the village and everyone reported that they'd slept warm even though the beds were a bit worn and 6 bricks high off the ground to ward off the tokoloshi!

Before sunrise we headed to the base of Leana pass and were slogging away at first light. The weather was clear but the wind was icy cold and blowing a gale - we hardly stopped to take photos - we just pushed on.

At the top we passed the spot where I turned around last year and then made our way to Tenahead lodge for coffee and coke. My decision to turn around last year was a good one as the navigation in this area was quite tricky and I would have been seriously lost.

So we are in Rhodes now where we have caught up with Glen who is sick and are watching Xolani and Adam chase off in the wrong direction. There are some minor ailments in the group but everyone is basically okay. I broke a bottle cage today and have nearly worn through the plastic water bottle but other than that, I am super healthy and Chocolate Brownie is going like a Boeing. Tomorrow we have a hard slog across to Rust de Winter.

Day 5 - Revenge is sweet

But the Freedom Challenge gives nothing away for free. The section of trail that took 24 hours last year took me 4.5 hours this year. It's amazing how easy things are if no navigation errors are made and the single track entry points are located on first attempt.

I nearly sat down and cried when I got to the place called Black Fountain which I had struggled so hard to get to last year. But the riding was worth the effort. The track was 13km of downhill on a ridge - heaven. There were some slightly steep sections that I had to think twice about but other than that, I was in my element. I was alone at this stage because I wanted to try an alternative route that had not been used during the Freedom Ride last year. As I said earlier - nothing is for free. I got to the new section at 1pm and was soon up the creek without a paddle (as usual). I had mud squishing through my toes while crossing the river and the so called path was so overgrown that I decided to back out while the going was still good and I had light. I joined up with the official route and started a mean climb up to Vuvu.

I stopped at a shop where the shopkeeper looked after me last year and his first question was, "where is your blue bike?" He was so happy to see me and the little kid that had felt my hair the year before was back excited as hell to see me again.

The rest of the guys caught up with me at the shop so I managed to garner some business for Christopher, the shopkeeper, before heading to the support station at Vuvu. We have now had a hand shower and are using a classroom as our accommodation so things are quite elementary. The spirit of the group is great and the conversation is continuous. Hennie and Dillon arrived at about 7:30pm so it was a really long, hard day for them but they are here and safe. Mike's shock is broken and he is currently walking up a hill to here. Who knows how far he is but the new shock is on it's way - he just has to push through.

We are all off to sleep at huts around the village and then tomorrow we have a monster portage. Leana, here we come.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Lonely, oh so looooonnnnnnellllyyyyy.....

I can't believe it's only day 4 when it feels like weeks and weeks. Everyday I keep my phone close just in case Andre calls but I have missed some of them. I didn't hear from him on Tuesday at all and tried to go onto the tracking site that is set up for the riders but it's a nightmare. It wasn't updated, looked like Andre wasn't moving and it's difficult to read. I can't read a map that has contour lines only either...I need something with street names and landmarks for it to be understandable!
But Andre called yesterday and said that the tracker site link had been removed from the Freedom site because it's inaccurate and causing too much drama for the families trying to track their riders. Apparently it is sorted out today and will be fully operational tomorrow. But that still doesn't help me with the contour lines.

Andre called this afternoon and is so joyfully happy. He is riding well with Earl and Andy and just loves the Chocolate Brownie! He asked me to put an ad in the paper for a Giant Anthem for sale.....hmmmm...I don't think so!
But he said that he had one of the best riding days ever today. They tackled single track for hours and did his famous, "I wonder where this path goes....." and had a absolute ball. They arrived at support station 4 at about 1:30pm and has been washing clothes, eating vetkoek by the dozen and chatting to all the other guys. He had to walk to a remote area about 60m away to get cell phone signal but got freezing standing in the chilly breeze.

So far, so good and Andre is in really good spirits. Thank you to everyone who has left messages of support and encouragement. Andre really does appreciate it.

Till next time,

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Day 3 - Cat and Mouse

Once again we had some early leavers trying to make the break again - Lee and Glenn have tried to get out of the Ntsikeni Reserve to catch the others who are pushing on to the 4th Support Station. We eventually caught them just before our coffee stop at Banchory. I have sort of teamed up with Andy and Earle, who seem to be riding a similar pace to me early in the day, and then later in the day I have been pushing on alone to the support station.
Today we started before dark with a navigation section and portage out of the nature reserve. It went surprisingly easily, and before long we were back onto district roads heading into the heart of the Eastern Cape. It is wonderful riding through the villages - we had kids cheering us on, and one guy claims to have been pushed up a hill! Time penalty?
The villages are alive, with the constant hum of chattering ladies, and kids playing soccer. Each person that we ride past calls out with a friendly wave and a "How are you", which seems to be the only english that they understand. Turqoise paint seems to be the fashion of the season, as all the houses seem to be painted in patterns with this blue paint. One thing that did concern me was that very few kids were at school at 11 in the morning - I hope it is school holiday!
Our stop today is a traditional guest house in a village, complete with black steel pots, singing ladies, and steam bread. Our room overlooks the local football pitch where we have had the wierdest game of soccer on the go. It seems there is a goalie, each person is his own team - if you have the ball you try to score, if you don't have the ball, you defend. You can join or leave the game whenever you want - sometimes there were 3 boys playing, sometimes 15.
Some of the guys I arrived here with have pushed on the the next stop, so the tactical game is really starting to hot up now. It appears that Tim and Hanelie have finally made the day break and are sleeping at the next support station. There are 5 guys chasing them down, and the stage is not too difficult, so there might be a surprise in store for those already at SS4. Ah yes, and Dillon, who hurt himself yesterday, and is a day behind now, but pushing on.
So the state of the race at the moment isHannelie and Tim at SS4Xolanai, Adam, Glenn and Lee on there way to SS4The rest of us are loafing here.

Day 2 - what a difference a year makes

Waking up this morning, we got news that another 3 riders had gapped it in the early hours of the morning in an attempt to make up ground on those that had doubled-up the night before. It turned out to be a day of collapsed strategy.
The riding started with some good singletrack through tyhe neighbouring farms, and then we linked up with the Sani2C route, and did some of it in the opposite direction. (Note to self: Do Sani2C at some stage). There was some really tricky navigation, but a fair sized group decided to stick with Ian, who knew the trail really well. This was a good decision, as we soon caught up with the 3 early risers, and made up valuable time. Our lunch stop was at Centacow mission station, which was built pre-1920's - the stained glass windows, and murals are exquisite, and in pristine condition. I'll post some photos after the event.
From there our group split up a bit, and we went through towards the end in smaller groups of 3's and 4's. From this stage my past experience really paid off, as we quickly moved up to the big portage of the day. We passed one of the previous days breakaway riders, Glenn, who had spent a night in the forest - he did not look too happy, but was still moving and I expect another breakaway attempt from him soon.
I got a tactical advantage accidently by teaming up with Andrew, who can speak fluent zulu, so within minutes he had arranged a guide up the portage section for R10 and we were home free. The stop we're at is Ntsikeni, a nature reserve owned by the local community, where there is a wonderful guest house, and well worth a visit if you are in the area.
So that's all for tonight. Tomorrow we're going to start a bit earlier just to make sure that we get to Masakala in good time. No chance of doubling-up yet. The riding is too good in this area.
Earle says "Hi" to his fan club which is apparently quite extensive.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Day 1 - A journey of 1000 miles begines with a single step

Hi Everybody,

Andre sent me the following post to be published but I can't remember what his password is (it's at home) so I have logged on as me for now...enjoy!

The clock struck 7, and nothing happened. The Freedom Challenge was waiting for the TV crews to finish their interviews, and finally amidst blaring sirens from a police escourt 16 Freedom Challenge riders and 6(?) Ride to Rhodes riders started the adventure of a lifetime.

There was plenty interest and chirps about my bike, but these were generally subdued once the guys picked it up and felt the weight of it. The variety of bikes and configurations was fantastic - from superlight backpack only setups, to paniers and bike mounted carriage options. It seems like it is important what you do have, not what you don't have - gas stoves, tackies, any thing you can think of will be loaded on one of the bikes if you look hard enough. Although I think that Allendale (our overnight stop) will have a year's supply od deodorant when we pull out of hear tomorrow.

We left Pietermaritzburg at about 7am and the group soon split up into tourists, and those pushing to double up on the first day - the rest of us somewhere in between. I rode with a group on the Ride 2 Rhodes route for the first few hours, which was stunning, up through plantations on logging roads and jeep tracks. We finally dropped down a new hardpack racing track down the side of a mountain to our lunch stop in the hamlet of Byrne. Yummies - butternut soup and bread rolls. From there we used a sneak through a little forest back to tar, and a long slow drag to the top of Hella Hella pass. It was here that I rode away from the group - not by choice, but just to keep moving.

Hella hella pass was not the nightmare that it was last year - the single speed actually makes things easier - just ride until you can't, then walk. No problem. So I finally arrived at about 3:45, which is about the same time as last year.

As I was arriving, Hannelie and Tim were leaving for the next stop, with Martin in hot pursuit. Glen left soon after to chase the whole lot down. I can see there are some itchy feet here, as some of the riders left behind were hoping to be with that lead bunch.

In terms of the single speed, it makes things really easy and stressless - just ride until you can't, then walk. In a short portage today I shot away from the others, so the lack of weight is definitely an advantage.

Tomorrow we're off to a place called Ntsikeni, which is a nice days riding provided you don't get lost. There is a portage late in the day, which might make things really interesting.

So far I am in much better condition than last year (mentally and physically), so I'm going to keep plugging away - Rhodes in 6 days. Then we'll see.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Day 0 and day 1

Yesterday was very strange. I dropped Andre off at Mike's house at 9am since they were all travelling together from his house. By 9am we'd already had a tight word, a tense moment, a clenched jaw and an exasperated sigh. Tension has a funny way of coming out....

But I waved Andre goodbye with a lump in my throat. And then I went shopping!

Andre called last night to say that they had arrived, had finished the lasagne and the speeches for the evening and were getting ready to go to bed. He was in good spirits and very happy to almost be on the starting line.

Day 1 was a very good day for Andre. He called a little after 6 sounding relaxed and confident. He arrived at support station 1 at around 3:30pm - similar time to last year - and had an awesome ride. He forgot to set his tracker until about half way through the day and they have had problems with some of them. Hopefully all of them will be working tomorrow and then we can track exactly where in the world Andre is.

Andre said that he was very happy with his "silly bike" since there was no pressure to climb any mountains at any particular speed. He just rode until he couldn't anymore and then walked. He said that walked quicker than most people anyway so is in really good spirits. 4 riders have pushed on through to the next stage but Andre is happy to be sitting around the fire, eating up a storm and waiting for his just-washed-in-the-bath clothes to dry on his makeshift line. It's still a long way to go.....

As with last year, there is no deodrant this time. Andre says that that Allendale is going to have a years supply of deodrant as the first timers decide what it is they actually need. Personally, I think that's ALL that I would carry, but then again I am a girl who just doesn't get it!

Tomorrow they will travel to another unpronounceable place in KZN but it is sure to be another blissful day in heaven for Andre.

Until next time,


Saturday, June 16, 2007

Ready, steady, go

Everything is checked, checked again, and ready to go. I'll be leaving tomorrow morning with some of the other racers from around here. We're all travelling together in Mike's passion wagon, so there will be plenty time to spin a yarn or two, and get the others more nervous - all in good spirit of course.

Thanks to everyone who has wished me luck - I hope all of it adds up to give me a safe and successful race this year. The interest and support has been phenominal, and I hope it will inspire everyone to have a go at something that they always thought was impossible to achieve. It is good for your "head space" and gives a wonderful feeling of achievment. My mom always said, "If you don't try, you will never know"; I think she was refering to eating veggies at the time, after I said I didn't like the taste of any green food, but the idea stuck anyway.

For those that are around my wife, please give her lots of support - I know the next few weeks are really tough on her, but without her love and tolerance, I would not be able to follow my dreams and achieve the seemingly impossible. Many hours and sacrifices go into preparing for an adventure like this and she is always with me every step of the way -always with an encouraging word and a "Just be safe" to send me on my way.

Next time I post will be from somewhere in KZN after our first stage, and from there on in the fun begins.

PS. The security light is fixed.

Friday, June 15, 2007

2 more sleeps...

2 more sleeps for me and 3 more sleeps for Andre until it all starts. I have been feeling anxious for a while but now that the bag is packed, the sunglass lenses have arrived and we are having our "farewell" breakfast with the parents tomorrow, I am really nervous.

I still can't believe Andre is doing this race on that silly bike. I mean really, it looks like a bike we used to have in standard 2 that we messed around on. The only difference is that this bikes brakes are activated from the handlebars and not by pushing the pedals backwards! But there really isn't much a wife/partner/supporter/whiner can do about it. Other than wish him luck and look forward to the occasional phone call and mms.

I am very proud of Andre and he has been like a kid looking forward to Christmas morning. The months and months of preparation and the hours of training will all be worth it when Andre starts off in PMB on Monday morning. I was initially going to take him to PMB but it hasn't quite worked out that way so I so goodbye on Sunday morning at 9am. Tomorrow will be spent with friends and family and I wonder if Andre will remember to change the security light globe before he goes....I doubt it!

I will be updating the blog for both of us over the next few weeks so be sure to check occasionally to catch the latest gossip, trials and tribulations and happenings in "Days of Andre's Lives and Wives"

Till next time,

Monday, June 11, 2007

Waiting, waiting, waiting....

There is nothing else to do but think of worst case scenarios, or worry about things I haven't considered. Driving me nuts!

I went for a final test run this weekend, late at night, full pack with my bike set up as I will ride. The map board, which was my biggest concern seems to work fine, even at high speed. My new handelbar light is really nice, but it was vibrating a bit much, so I made some further modifications over the weekend and it should be OK now. The headlight is good enough to be used without the handlebar light if necessary, so I think my light planning is good this year.

Finally got all my kit together, and it seems like I'll have a total pack weight around 11kg, including food and water. That's pretty much the same as last year, but I have a lot more warm clothing this time, and also beefed up my emergency food department. I think I can comfortably deal with temparetures around -10 to -15degC this time, and I have enough food to spend a night out without worrying too much about nutrition.

I've also got all my spares with me - there are no extras waiting in my 2liter boxes.

Seems like the final count for the race is 16. I see Xolani, who raced last year, has appeared on the start list, so it looks like he is going to tackle it again - I really think he could challenge for the win (if he doesn't get too lost).

Does previous experience count? There have been quite an array of questions from the 13½ first timer's, many of which bothered me last year (the questions, not the riders), but this year have been non-issues for me. The questions have, however, stimulated some thought about certain topics, which has helped me refine my kit a bit more, and work on my race strategy. I am really hoping that knowledge of the route will be an advantage, and that my mental archives have not failed me. So in terms of the physical side of things, "Yes - experience counts".

Mentally - I don't know. After some one beats you with a baseball bat, do you go back and ask for more? Maybe the second time you think you can dodge the blows! At least with this race there are periods of ignorant bliss - days when real life takes a back seat, and with little else to clutter your mind, you can experience nature at its best. And then someone takes a crack at you with that bat again!

In some ways the mind is settled because the unknown component of the race is not that big, but in another sense, the mind is in revolt trying to persuade you not to put it through hell again. We'll have to see how it goes in the brain drain department.

Kevin is the ½ referred to above. He did Ride2Rhodes last year, so has a good idea of what can be expected

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Final preparations

Thanks to Mike, who's also competing, our 2 liter boxes have arrived in Cape Town and will hopefully end up at the correct support stations. The boxes have the following in:
Race food / drink
Restocks of soap / chamois cream
Restocks of my emergency food
and a few other secret ingredients.

There are no bike spares in the boxes this time - I decided to carry everything that I might need from the start, but there's not too much stuff for the singlespeed - brake pads, spare cleats and a seatpost bolt.

Last year I gathered spares along the route, and probably had 2kg's more equipment at the end than the start (finished with 2 bicycle chains). Everything in this year's boxes can be dumped if not used, so I will know my pack contents from day 1.

Also made a map board this weekend, mmm... well my dad put most of it together - I just did the design. I'll put some pics on the blog when we're back, with comments about how well it worked. I modified my maps to work in conjunction with the board (I hope).

Other than the bike, a major change in equipment has been in the lighting department - the big handlebar lights were really fantastic last year, but they took too long to recharge, and as a result I had to ride using only a small headlamp on some nights. I have split my risk this year by getting a better headlamp, and downgrading the handlebar lights to a smaller unit with a quick recharge time. The handelbar light runs for 7hrs before it needs recharging, and the headlights have replaceable batteries, but does not last as long, so I think I have all my bases covered.

So now its down to the final packing - I'm really trying to go with the minimalist technique inspired by Cornel (Freedom Ride record holder). I think I can get my bike and kit to less than 20kg, which will make the many portages more bearable (also keeping in mind that I will probably need to walk more with the singlespeed). Of course I won't be dumping any critical clothing / kit, but I've seriously considered all non-essential and luxury items.

So now its just wait, wait wait until we hit the road in 2 weeks time. Once I've finalised my backpack I'll put more up about the kit I will be taking.

Monday, June 04, 2007

Refresher course: Freedom Trail Race 101

As a refresher for those not sure how the race works here goes:

The race starts in Pietermaritzburg on 18 June 2007 and we have 24 days to complete the route, ending in Paarl near Cape Town, a distance of about 2200km. There are no marshals or route markings - navigation is done using 1:50 000 topographical maps, or 1:150 000 Map Studio maps. Most of the route is done on dirt roads, jeep track, hiking trail and what we like to call "Scratchy bits" (check the footnote)

Every 100km or so there is a Support Station, which is usually some sort of B&B, guest house or game farm. We can send a 2 liter container to each of the support stations with supplies for the next leg of the adventure. Each leg can take from about 5hrs for an easy leg to 20hrs+ for a difficult leg.

Participants can decide for themselves how far to ride each day, whether to sleep, or ride through the night. Sleeping out is common, as sometimes the support station cannot be reached - usually bad navigation, or bad weather results in this.

This year there are about 15 participants (including a lady who will probably kick our butts), but this number will change as we get closer to D-Day. It's a huge under-taking, and you only put your wheel on the startline if you are 100% confident in what you are doing. There are no teams or support vehicles - each participant is his/her own master and slave.

Scratchy bits:
This refers to any part of the trail that may once have been used by humans. David ( the race organiser) once walked within 50km of this point, which therefore makes it well used and perfectly suitable for mountain bike riding. The reward is usually a mgnificent view, fantastic downhill, or a good story once you find where you really are and get back to civilisation.