Saturday, 30 May 2015
Why we ride the Freedom Trail
A few years back the FC promoted the race with the following sentence, "Discover South Africa, discover yourself."
The first half of that is very true, particularly for city dweller sorts like me. I had never ventured into the area known as the Transkei before and had no idea what inland Eastern Cape had to offer or truly understood the vastness of the Karoo. Back in 2007 the paucity of information around the event and conveyed experiences of previous participants made it a big unknown. Geographically speaking the event was spectacular. That initial sense of awe cannot be replicated in subsequent trips along the trail. The majesty of it however remains.
The second component of the rallying call that refers to discovering yourself is an ongoing process. It is easy to remain composed in familiar surroundings facing the normal day to day grind of life. On the trail your ability to control your day is limited. You are often forced into reactive mode. There are days when the weather is on your side and your navigation is flawless. Then the weather intervenes and holing up until it blows over is not an option. It takes a lot of grit to leave a warm bed and head out into bad weather. It is in those moments that you start to discover what you are made of. You also find out what those around you are made of. I have had many surprises over the years as I have witnessed riders under pressure lose their veneer of politeness to reveal a person who is negative or intolerant. Even some who became abusive. Not all people react this way. Some withdraw deep into themselves and disconnect from the riders around them. We all cope in different ways. And I venture to suggest that we are capable of growing in our ability to handle tough situations.
In my first race I just hung in everyday not daring to think beyond the next support station. Over the years I have allowed the "what if's" of my post race rumination to slip into my plans. I have watched riders do amazing things and wondered what it would be like to achieve those goals. Their achievements became my goals and those goals became my achievements. Each year I have amazed myself at my own ability to do the things of "giants".
But why do we keep going back?
There is no simple answer. When I ask other stalwarts of the Freedom Challenge I get a wry smile or a shrug. We are inextricably drawn back to the trail but are unable to articulate the reason. Why doesn't the Epic have the same draw? There are people who do the Epic every year but I doubt the attraction of that race is as visceral as the Freedom Challenge.
I suspect it has something to do with the format of the Freedom Challenge. At times it seems a bit deurmekaar with what appears to be hands off management of the event. It is nothing like other formal stage races. There is no daily finishing line or formal daily routine. It's a line on a map and you are at liberty to go as fast or as slow as you like. There are certain out of bounds routes and a whole pile of optional bits and pieces.
I suspect that the loose order is the attraction. In our daily lives we constantly conform to the various paradigms that direct our lives whether socially or familial. That is not to say these norms are wrong. However, when you are out on the trail you are stripped of the necessity to operate within the boundaries of these rules. There are few rules and no one is looking over your shoulder or directing your every move. You are on your own and the precepts that make us functional social human beings are for the main part put on hold. If you want to wake up at 2 in the morning and jump on your bike and ride off into the night you can. There is no one to stop you. By the same token you may choose to stop for the day after only riding for a few hours. If you fancy a 30 minute siesta under the shade of a tree halfway through the morning you can do just that. And there is no one judging you for it. The world and the events unfolding in it get put on hold. Your existence becomes the here and now. Dare I say it? You become selfish! Your whole world centres around yourself. Choices are made with only your own comfort and safety in mind.
It's glorious. It's liberating. For a short while you get to do something just for yourself. Communication with the outside world is generally limited to a few minutes on the phone to loved ones and the occasional text message. As you stand on a mountain ridge overlooking a valley below, your life, your very existence is in front of you. And it looks like a single track heading off to the horizon. In that moment life is good, uncomplicated and completely satisfying.