Saturday, 30 June 2007
Friday, 29 June 2007
Got off to a grubby start slogging through mud. Took us 3 hours to cover the 20km's to the start of the Struishoek portage. The race leaders got lost there a few days ago and apparently took 9 hours to get off the mountain. We took our time getting our bearings and hit the "track" first time and got off in just under 90 minutes. Track is a kind description of the well concealed rocky rabbit trail down the mountain. Having made good time we headed off to Van de Venterskraal, inhaled a plate of food and set off for Toekomst. We expected a quick dull ride but had an amazing ride through a river valley hemmed in by towering mountains. Riding past buck and giraffe as the sun was setting was magic. The splendour of it defies description. Farmers are increasingly turning from traditional stock farming to game farming. As we pedal along we are aware of the good condition of the veld and the amount of game to be seen. Today was a really good ride. We are now being made welcome by our hosts Philip and Lisa Henderson. The first 5 cups of tea just about satisfied me.
What is your typical day like?
We get up at 5, eat, dress, pack and aim to be on the road by 6 - first light is at about 06h30. We ride with lights until there is enough natural light. At the end of a days ride - just after sunset typically - we shower, eat, wash our clothes and prepare our bikes and get to bed around 8-9pm.
Are any of you guys suffering with saddle sores from all that riding?
Apart from some of the leaders I don't think any of the others are suffering from saddle sores. We make a point of keeping our clothing well laundered. We also also spend hours walking every day so are not in the saddle as much as the leaders. The leaders are also bombing through support stations and don't have the luxury of getting their washing sorted out like we do.
How do you know where to go?
We are given 1:150 000 maps showing basic roads, tracks and often very basic tracks(which may or may not exist) We also have a selection of 1:50 000 maps for the scratchy bits. Both of these show contour lines which are absolutely necessary for orienting yourself through tricky navigational sections. We also (not always) get narrative instructions, such as "Go past the brick structure and turning right head west until you intercept a track cutting across the mountain (approx 3 km)" The distances on the narratives are very approximate give or take a few km's. Some of the descriptions are laughable. For example "as you round the corner about 3km from the last junction, turn off right and crossing the stream make your way up the the village." Well the 3km was more like 4km. Crossing the stream means abseiling down a near vertical rock face some 50 metres high, wading through a river and scrambling out of the ravine to the village 1 km beyond. Straying from the official route is punishable by being confined to a support station for x number of daylight hours, the severity of which is decided by the race director.
Are you guys getting lots of punctures?
I am only aware of one puncture and it was a rider without tubeless tyres. Tubeless technology is amazing, you ride over thorns without a second thought. They pierce the tyre but it seals immediately and you just keep on riding.
Where do you stay?
We generally stay in farmhouses. Through the area that comprised the old Transkei around Matatiele we stayed in guest houses mostly catering for traditional cultural experiences. Many farms through consolidation of farms have spare homesteads that they have converted into guest houses or hunting lodges and we are accommodated there. In Vuvu we were fed in the local schools and then billeted out to stay in local families homes. I stayed in a mud brick house with a basic tin roof and creaky door and a rickety bed. It was comfortable and they gave us loads of warm fluffy blankets. Walkerbouts in Rhodes by comparison gave us thin inadequate blankets and no towels!
Any more questions you want answered just add a comment and they will be relayed to me. Have lost my MMS camera phone and updating via my cheap and nasty phone with SMS.
Thursday, 28 June 2007
We had a real good fun ride into the support station after a big climb out the back of the park.
We had to haul our bikes over the 8 foot electrified game fence and were relieved to find they had turned it off for us. After an exhilerating single track descent of about 700m in just a few km's we were like a bunch of school boys racing home, hence the good time. They moved us 12km further up the road but that didn't dampen our spirits.
We have done our first double up of the race and the 7 of us travelling together are all strong. We have ridden a conservative race thus far and apart from being caught in the heaviest snow seen around Molteno in many years we are less than 2 days behind the leaders. They have put themselves through the wringer to get where they are and we have been slow, steady and comfortable with no navigational errors so far.
having burgers for lunch and then hitting the road again to the next station.
Can tell we are in the Karoo because of the thorns. Measured an acacia thorn 4 inches long. These litter the ground and are going to put our puncture resistant tubeless tyre technology to the test.
106km 10 hours. Snowed overnight.
Rode the first 30km through virgin snow 2 - 4 inches thick, with occasional 6 inch patches.
Energy sapping and mentally exhausting.
Visually it is absolutely awesome but for riding it is almost the ultimate challenge. Your rear gear ices up and your hands and feet get unbelievably cold. (Try standing in ice water in one of those caterers tin bath thingies - that's pretty much what we went through today!)
Spent 6 hours grinding through snow and slush and then, fortunately, we were out of the snow and drizzle for the last 4 hours to tackle the final portage of the day.
- The time near Matatiele when a girl flagged me down and asked to ride my bike and then wobbled a few hundred metres down the road and almost managed to change gears.
- The brief stop to play around with some guys playing soccer.
- Sleeping in a mud brick house in Vuvu where the occupants had vacated their home for a night so that their guests could be comfortably looked after.
- The generosity of the people who let us invade their homes.
- Riding through snow - not on my list of things to do but memorable nonetheless.
The list is endless and we are only halfway to being done. This race touches those who set out to do it. We all agree that what started out as personal ambition has turned out to be about the broader experience.
My answer was that if one could do "Ride to Rhodes" then one could manage the "Epic" on a unicycle. Obviously an exaggeration but was meant to highlight the absurdity of the comparison. Neither is for sissys.
The best way of describing the differences is to say that the "Epic" is a mountain bike race suitable for roadies, while the "Freedom Challenge" is more suited to adventure racers.
Self navigation and the terrain are marked differences resulting in much slower average speeds.
Which is better? Depends on how much leave you have!!
Wednesday, 27 June 2007
Left at 6am when the temperature was 2 above zero, the warmest it was to be all day. An hour into the ride it started drizzling. 20 minutes later it had turned to light sleet. Within an hour it was snow and sleet driving right into us.
The snow and ice were packing up on my handlebars, the vents in my helmet and against my chest. My fingers were aching inspite of the fact that I had 3 sets of gloves on. The sleet was stinging my face and eyes. The countryside was being transformed into a postcard quality landscape.
I knew Jenny's Cottages was only 15km's up the road with the promise of shelter. Head down I fought against the head wind counting off the distance all the while my fingers growing colder. Finally riding into Jenny's we were welcomed into a beautiful setting. In the sheltered farmstead the snow flakes drifted lazily, settling on the tree branches. The pathway up to the house was layered with fresh undisturbed snow. We warmed up with tea, soup and sandwiches and sent out to fight on - thanks Jenny.
Within an hour the snow stopped and then we battled through the mud. Arrived just before dark to a warm welcome and a hot bath. Just heard it's started snowing again. Can't say it excites me!
Tuesday, 26 June 2007
Arrived at 17h30. Less than 12 hours today but really tough.
Max temp was 2° and that was at 6am when I started!
It dropped to zero soon after and stayed there.
Rode into a snow storm. Hard grind. Visibility less than 100m.
Even with 3 pairs of gloves (surgical, woollen and washing up) hands and fingers froze.
Tired... Cold... Hungry...
sms from Mike
Took 6 hours, that is considered good. The navigation in this race is crucial. You need to check and check again. One wrong choice can cost dearly.
The population density here is extremely low. You can travel for hours without seeing another person.
After our 6 hour portage we anticipated a relatively easy ride to the next support station, still about 70km's away. However, we didn't figure on a gale force wind.
At one stage we were walking down a hill because riding was too dangerous. One gust stopped us dead in our tracks and we had to lean hard into the wind to stop the wind pushing us backwards!
On the final few km's it got worse. While pushing the bike the wind blew the back end around completely behind me hitting my leg on the opposite side.
Forecast for tomorrow (day 9) is less wind but loads of rain. Not really the stuff fun is made of. Quote of the day is from Rohan. After coming down from the long mountain portage he commented "this really is not a route for recreational riders"!!!
Monday, 25 June 2007
Since just after lunch we have been riding in a very strong wind.
The weatherman predicted wind today of 55-65km/h, and he earned his dinner!
Earlier on while pushing my bike the wind blew my back tyre round - have left the road a couple of times because of the blustery wind.
Hope to get to the next stop in the next hour and a half....
Sunday, 24 June 2007
While on holiday many years ago we were sitting around in the late afternoon and someone asked "what’s the time?" The answer he got in return was "Wednesday, I think!" This pretty much sums up the attitude of the riders in this race. The important time is sunset.
After sunset the portages are impossible to get through. We then have to plan a later start for portages out of support stations, or really early ones to get to portages at first light and then into support stations before dark. This is the reason for the lead changing hands so often, because the placement of portages can trap people at the stations overnight allowing others to catch up.
Kevin got it the worst and I believe he has stopped short of the final portage for the night.
One of the group took a wrong turn and arrived well after dark.
We arrived to find Adam at the support station. He was riding with Xolani but after following Xolani down a few wrong routes decided he would try it alone. Adam is amazing, no other word for it. He only started riding a bicycle 6 weeks before the start of the race!
Glen, affectionately referred to as "Forest" after spending the night as race leader after Day 1 sleeping on the forest floor, stayed back at Rhodes where he has been for a few days and I have heard he has withdrawn from the race because of ill health. He was billeted with us last night and really looked grim.
Today we had a few firsts. First little section of tar road for the last few hundred km’s and first stop since Day 1 to have electricity. Paraffin lamps do create a certain ambience but electric lights are more convenient for our normal rising time of between 4 and 5 in the morning.
Saturday, 23 June 2007
Over the last few days we have trekked over poverty-stricken areas, and people have been incredibly generous and accomodating. Now when we get to a place that should be able to provide a high level of service, they just don't care!
The Onion Award to Mr Walker.
I struggled after only getting one hour's sleep the night before and the altitude of 2600m above sea level. At the top the streams are frozen. Stopped at a really top end lodge a few km's after going over. They welcomed us in for coffee, tea and biscuits following which we then rolled into Rhodes.
The "Welcome" at Walkerbouts Inn was in total contrast to the hospitality we have received along the route. They were unprepared.
When I arrived at a mission station at 3.30pm the race director informed me that I still had 45km's to the support station. He had arranged somewhere for me to stay near the mission. I told him I would rather move ahead because the only obstacle ahead was a river crossing that I could make before nightfall.
I stuck my fork together with duct tape which meant that I could ride, but only slowly - not more than about 10km/h - because every time I hit a rock the wheel would abruptly change direction. I found the steering was a little more reliable when the handle bars were set at about 45 °. Even this was tricky as a jolt would still twist the wheel.
The road sufrace was rather bad in places so riding was often impossible. I arrived at the Vuvu at 10.30pm after 11 hours of walking/trickling down the road, giving me a total of 16 hours for the day.
When the shock broke at 11.00am I put in a call to Eben of West Rand Cycles in Johannesburg. He took the shock off his own bike and put it on a plane to Durban. He arranged for Mike of Leigh's Cycles in Durban to drive through and fit the shock. Mike arrived at midnight and had it sorted within an hour. So I went to bed knowing I could move on the next day.
Friday, 22 June 2007
Thursday, 21 June 2007
Now back to the frozen zone:
We left Masakala support staion at 6h30 toward Mataliele a few km's away across a flood plain. The temperature kept dropping, finally settling at 6 below zero. We were squeeling like pigs, because while we have warm gloves, they are buried away in our backpacks. and they are so tightly packed that finding the gloves on the trail would have been a time-consuming exercise. Eventually we stopped and searched through our packs, and spent a long time trying to put them on with lifeless hands.
Today, while short, included a spectacular section that entailed dropping into a grass-covered plain and heading mearly 20km's using various cattle trails that cross it.The instructions on how to enter the plain were typically imprecise (meaning: every group entered it a sifferent way). All around we could see the various groupspicking their way through the tracks, finally converging on the same spot on the other side. All in all, a great day out! I'm now chilling (editor: haha, funny dad) at a support station overlooking mountain ranges lightly coated with snow.
Wednesday, 20 June 2007
I have had a few sms's today to let me know I made a brief appearnace on tv this afternoon on a short update on the race. It showed me brewing a cup of tea on my skottel sitting on the side of the road on Day 1.
Today we passed a soccer field with a bunch of guys playing with a football. I stopped and showed them how to execute a back flick which was followed by either jeers or cheers, couldn't distinguish which. Later on in a different village we came across a bunch of kids engaged in a game of cricket. I asked if I could join in and was handed the bat. I missed the first ball and was caught off the second. All good fun.
"Where are you going" and "where have you come from? are easier to answer than for the inquirer to believe. When stopping at a little shop to get some coke we were asked the above 2 questions. The youth then settled down on a stone wall a short distance off to contemplate my answers. As we left he asked me what prize money we could win in this race. My answer that I could win a blanket was beyond his comprehension. The question that went unanswered was asked by a crowd of young boys who gathered around my bike and asked "How much does this bike cost?" in this, the poorest part of the country, how do you answer that?
I was sharing a room with 'my pal' Kevin, who proved to be a bit of a liability.
After listening to him snore lazily until after midnight I finally fell asleep, only to be rudely awoken at 2 am, with "Mike, I can't sleep, let's go!" At that stage of the fight I was in no state of mind to make a good judgement call, so I obediently rolled out of bed. And before I knew where we were - we didn't know where we were! We spent hours stumbling around a forest finally emerging at the town of Donnybrook, some 4 and a half hours (and 20km!) after leaving the support station. We were quickly caught and overtaken by fresh legged cyclists, who had left hours after us. So began a day that ended with 105km, 2500m of climbing and just short of 15 hours in the saddle. Sigh...
Monday, 18 June 2007
Their true colours will be revealed tomorrow. The first support station is roughly 90km which is reachable in about 6 hours by the real cycling machines, and 9 or 10 for the average rider. The second support station is another 90km up the road, but is all but unreachable given the cold conditions, moonless night, and really difficult navigation required. There is an intermediate stop between the first and second support stations, which only offers a place to sleep (and no food supplied). Those who push on to that station are out to race! It doesn't matter who gets there first, only that you get there. With the given conditions, nobody's going to push on, so we'll all start off on equal footing tomorrow. At least then we'll know who to look out for.
A fellow competitor commented that you can see who wants to race just by looking in their eyes...I wonder what he sees on mine?
Saturday, 16 June 2007
For those of you who would like to try this at home, here is the secret formula.
Take one state-of-the-art - titanium this, carbon fibre that - full suspension, cross country racing machine and add to it:
Large saddle bag
2 high power riding lights
1 tail light
1 spare tyre fastened to frame
3 assorted bags for carrying batteries, cell phone, energy bars, etc.
1 map board
2 water bottles
Extra sealant in tyres
Mix well together. Add 8kg backpack firmly fastened to 80kg rider (5kg above normal race weight).
The overall effect is to load the bike with 15kg’s of extra weight that would not be carried on a standard cross country race! Super – can’t wait for the portages!!!
Friday, 15 June 2007
POSTED BY MIKE AT 9:34 AM 0 COMMENTS
If you click on the 0 COMMENTS (it might have a number if there are other comments in which case you can read the comments and then add your own) you go into a screen that allows you to add a new comment. Have fun! Look forward to reading your comments when I can get to a PC. Will attempt to keep the blog updated daily via SMS.
Thursday, 14 June 2007
Wednesday, 13 June 2007
I opted for a 30 litre adventure racing back pack as it is lightweight and has a pouch to take a hydration bladder. Carrying bottles is fine but the sub-zero temperatures we will be experiencing will turn bottles into solid ice. My hope is that the bladder neatly tucked up inside the pack will be spared! I will be packing a 1.5 litre bladder as well as two 750ml bottles in the pack. I carry two other bottles on the bike frame giving me just over 4.25 litres of hydration fully loaded.
My aim is to get my back pack weight down to below 8kg. The pack weighs 1 kg (ripped the steel frame support out – uncomfortable and extra weight I don’t need!) and the water will add an additional 3 kg. This leaves me 4kg to pack clothes, nutrition, spares, toiletries, maps and my gas cooker and accessories (pot, gas cylinder, cups – 2 in case I have company, teaspoons etc.), emergency rations, space blankets, medical kit, cell phones, batteries, battery chargers, etc.
The most important aspect is clothing. We will potentially have to deal with temperatures ranging from the mid 20’s down to -10 Celsius. Given those conditions, clothing choice becomes critical. Critical issues are volume (can’t carry a massive pack around), weight (I am not a Sherpa) and suitability. There is obviously such a thing as being too cold, but the opposite is also true. Careful layering seems to be the key. I have selected the following key clothing items – wick dry vest, short sleeve riding jersey, long sleeve riding jersey, long sleeve fleecy riding jersey, wind shell and a warm rain proof outer shell. For the legs I have opted to carry knee warmers, leg warmers and full tights. I will be carrying 2 pairs of riding shorts. Add 3 pairs of socks (1 set thermal), 5 pairs of gloves (short finger, long finger, thermal, wool and latex), balaclava and beanie. Had a long think about taking my goose down jacket but it takes up a lot of space and weight - a hefty 700 grams!
Riders who have competed in the ABSA Cape Epic will know the challenge of squeezing 8 days of riding gear into one of their generously proportioned bags. Well an Epic bag comfortably swallows at least 2 of my packs and I will be on the road for about 3 weeks. What’s more is that on the Epic you don’t carry your bag, it is sent ahead for you.
Once the clothes are shoe-horned into the pack I then take a 15lb hammer and pound away until all the other stuff fits snugly in my little pack.
I will be taking a spare tyre, but unlike Earle – “Man of Steel” Wakeford, a fellow competitor, I will not be carrying it on my back but rather taping it to my bike frame (pictures of the transformed race horse, now resembling a pack mule, to follow)
The good news is that not all the stuff needs to fit into my pack unless I choose to ride naked – apart from being impractical, at my advanced age it wouldn’t be pretty either.
So at least some of the weight is off my shoulders and is evenly dispersed over the rest of my frame. Shoes are a good example. I downgraded from my normal racing shoes to shoes that will do both on and off the bike.
The result is within my goal. Wearing kit suited to moderate weather conditions and a full load of water, my pack weighs in at just under 8kg! Sure this will creep up as I discover new essential items!
Monday, 11 June 2007
I dreamt that armed with a tiny piece of paper that was supposed to be a map, save that it was completely blank, I was trying to find my way along the route. All around me fellow competitors were riding around completely bewildered. For hours we just headed off in all directions always ending up back where we started! Hope this in not a premonition of what is to come.
Of the 2200km route (assuming you don’t add to it significantly by getting too lost) there is just over 328km of what is described as “Double or Single track and Portages” Portages are those bits you can’t ride, no matter who you are! This is where the scratchy bits come into play. This reminds me that I still need to design and fit a map board to my bike.
I see that Andre has just posted a picture of me out training – Ha Ha
Sunday, 10 June 2007
This all started for me when late last year a work colleague mentioned he had read about an extreme MTB race in the Getaway magazine. He couldn’t remember the details but fixed that with a quick phone call. Within the hour I had put in my application to join the next race.
A month later I received notification of my successful application and then nothing for a few months while we all waited for the race site to come alive. (See the Freedom Challenge link on the side of the page to access the Freedom Challenge site)
The last few months have been characterised by restless nights, countless visits to the web site and pouring over the route details and maps.
Not sure all that has helped but I am as ready as I’ll ever be. Probably not the best race condition I have been in – currently weighing in 5kg more than my ABSA Cape Epic starting weight, but, given the task that lays ahead a little extra weight won’t go amiss.
Where a little extra weight will be a problem is in my back pack. We have to carry all our clothes and spares with us as well as nutrition between check points. Check points will provide meals and a bed ranging from luxury to rudimentary. We have sent 2 litre ice cream boxes ahead to the designated check points with refills of energy bars, chocolates, bike spares and anything else we think we might need. I have decided that I will be taking a small gas stove along and have sent extra gas canisters ahead. The other competitors have latched onto my plan to take a stove and have had endless digs about my skottel as they call it! Even as I was typing the last sentence I received an SMS from a fellow competitor (who shall remain anonymous except that his name begins with Kevin and ends with Davie) mentioning my skottel!
My backpack contents have undergone a few revisions and currently sits at 8kg which includes 3 litres of hydration. Will work on it during the week and see what changes are possible and/or necessary. I have added a few accessories in the way of bags and pouches to my bike to take a bit of weight off my back.