Monday, 25 July 2016

RASA 2016 - Could I have gone faster?

Before the race started I was asked how long I thought it would take me to complete the race. My answer, 13.5 days. My actual finishing time was 13.56 days. I'd say that was mission accomplished. But there is more to the story than just those numbers. At one stage it looked likely that I would be able to wrap it up at least one day faster - then the wheels fell off.

The first few days went to plan when I arrived in Rhodes in under 3 days. The next objective was to get beyond Slaapkranz on day 4. A series of thunderstorms put paid to that plan and I had an enjoyable evening in Slaapkranz. The next day just beyond Moodenaarspoort I started wheezing and coughing. A quick call had it diagnosed as a viral lung infection. I asked a simple question and received a "No" in response. The question - "Will this kill me?" While it seemed unlikely to kill me the coughing fits that erupted the moment I lay down made sleeping almost impossible.

My progress slowed to a stagger on the way to Grootdam (which is the halfway point of the race) where the Race Director caught up with me and delivered a bag of prescribed medication. This helped. What didn't help was Theo getting an injury that required the same medication. Freedom riders being selfless souls are quick to share. I might have fared better further down the trail if I had managed to keep the meds to myself but I counted myself fortunate to get any meds in the middle of nowhere and Theo's chance of getting some in the next 500km's was just short of zero.

After leaving Grootdam the focus was on making the cutoff at Cambria. We had to get there between 6am and 2pm if we didn't want to stay over at Kudu Kaya in Cambria. As it turned out we made the cutoff with only 15 minutes to spare. Unfortunately it came at a price.

Once through the gate I had chance to take stock. The focus over the last few days was getting to the gate. Now through the gate I realised that I was in terrible shape. I was running a fever and my chest felt a little tight. Unfortunately we still had to get through the Baviaanskloof reserve before there was any chance of slacking off. Once we had cleared the reserve I hit a serious flat spot. Tim and Theo pushed on ahead of me and got to Damsedrif well ahead of my arrival. The last kilometre to Damsedrif felt impossible. I stopped and looked behind me and could see the police station. It looked close enough to touch. I knew it was 2 kilometres away. I told myself that I only had to cover half that distance. It seemed easy enough, but it took me a couple of minutes to build up the energy to roll the final kilometre.

I sat at the dinning-room table and ate what I could. I asked Hestelle how far the rooms were. She said the cottages were about 200 metres away. Right behind my chair there was a couch. After eyeing the couch for a few seconds while contemplating the challenge of walking 200 metres I asked Hestelle if I could just curl up right there. She waved her magic wand and before I knew it a bed was made up on the couch.

I'm not sure how much sleep I got but I guess it wasn't much - minutes rather than hours. Hestelle commented that I coughed the whole while. She knew because her room was just up the passage.

The trip from Damsedrif to Willowmore, then through to Prince Albert and all the way through to Die Hell was scruffy. It took forever. I lost count of the number of times I lay down next to the road and fell asleep. I effectively lost a day. As mentioned previously, from Die Hell I got my rhythm back and continued my race at a decent pace.

While staggering along I yielded a full day to my competitors and saw a potential 12.5 day 3rd place finish dissolve into a 13.5 6th place finish.

So, if I didn't get sick could I have gone faster? For sure. Can I go back next year and do it faster? I'm not so sure about that!

The weather this year was good, very good. We had one day of rain, mud for and hour and no head winds of any significance. That wasn't everyone's experience but certainly was mine and the experience of those that rode around me.

I'm happy with my ride and happy with my time. Would I have liked to have ridden it without getting sick? Of course. But I don't regret the experience one bit. All the while I enjoyed good health the riding was fairly easy. In some ways, even monotonous.

If the race were to be represented by a drawing, the middle bits where I struggled would be in bright colours while the beginning and end, in the most part, would simply be shaded with a pencil. The bits where I struggled were the times where I had to really think about my race. They were the times when I questioned why I was doing the race at all. They were the times when I had to figure out how to get to the next support station. They weren't days filled with 200 or 300 kilometre riding plans. They were difficult hours spent figuring out how the make the next few kilometres. They were certainly tough but they were every bit a part of the narrative of my 2016 race as were the good days. The tough bits gave the race character. They were the essential texture of the race. We don't do this race because it's easy, we do it because it's hard. I had easy and I certainly had hard. I had a proper Freedom Challenge experience.

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