A looong time ago, when I was young, my grandmother had a domestic lady by the name of Rachel. I was not at school yet, when she used to kiss me on my mouth, which she knew I hated. I would immediately wipe my lips “clean” and hurl all sorts of words back at her. She used to laugh and laugh and proceed to kiss me again. As much as I “hated” it back then, I so yearn to be able to see Rachel again, (obviously long gone), and that I could kiss her on the mouth. I loved Rachel and I know she shared the same affection for me. Being from the Eastern Cape as I was, and the Transkei as she was, we typically had nicknames or affectionate names given to us. The names she gave me were Gumpi and Maandu, names I still refer to myself at times.
As much as I “hated” the kisses at the time, it leads me to the relevance of the above paragraph. It is most often those things that give us bad memories or experiences at the time, that become the same things we look back on with extremely good etchings into our memories.
The timing of this piece is more or less when a lot of the riders will be around the third/fourth section of RASA. It is also the section of the trail when I was really battling to find reasons to carry on with my RASA ambitions. After all, I was told that after Race to Rhodes, 'it becomes progressively better on the trail', 'you will have settled into trail life,' 'you will have ridden yourself fitter,' 'Race to Rhodes is the toughest section', and 'you will start enjoying yourself.' What nobody drove home to me enough was the compounded fatigue.
The riders out there will possibly be “enjoying” themselves, but whether they are racing or touring, fatigue will be big by now. The fatigue from physical effort they have endured, the fatigue of long days and very little sleep for some. The mental strain of dealing with the cold and other weather conditions talk strongly to the head, but it is their ability to deal with this voice that makes them succeed. Unless you have ridden a section or the entire Freedom Challenge, (other extreme adventures excluded), you just don’t understand what the riders are going through.
It was around this section that I awarded myself the Stone Saddle Award. I started RASA with a highly suspect knee, which was reminding me of my age with every pedal stroke. After only the first few days of RASA, I had developed a massive haematoma in the lower regions, which made sitting on my saddle like sitting on a golf ball with razor blades on it at times. Like most, I assume, I dealt with it by riding rather skew on my seat. This was one of many painful but lasting memories I endured along the way. Many riders may be going through similar or worse issues, but most will overcome this as the pains increasingly move to other areas of their bodies. (By the way, I have convinced myself that I didn’t get the Stone Saddle Award, as nobody could find a stone hard enough befitting of the stone under my saddle that year – not even a diamond).
Down the trail, the wind was significantly better than what we had dealth with in the early stages of the ride, but there was enough of a breeze for my fellow riders to be out of ear shot that I could swear at them. I cried, not figuratively, but literally on the bike. (Yes, real men do cry, as do cowboys poo in their pants every so often.) I am also fortunate enough to be a snorer, so if there was a spare room available, I would automatically be allocated the room. There too I cried, as I read the evening’s note which my family had taken turns to insert into my overnight boxes. (I have kept them all). One of these notes said “You have got this, the blanket is yours, go and get your blanket”. How could I let my family down after that? How could I return home without a blanket?
I am not implying those folk who have had to abandon their rides for obvious reasons or reasons only known to themselves are failures. Because by simply lining up at the start of RASA or one of the sections, we are all heroes already, either to our family, our friends or at very worst, to ourselves. Those were tough days, but some of the best days of my RASA, and indeed, my sporting life.
Another treasured overnight box note, particularly relevant to the Freedom Challenge
I sincerely hope there is no need to cry like I did, but be assured, there are times when every rider will be digging very deep during their ride.
We had left after a good meal, some coffee, and a few cokes with Jorrie at Pearston Hotel. We were on a long stretch of dirt road which had it’s normal “Roly Polys” as they were referred to. I was told it was all downhill for some distance from there. Being in a bad mental space, anything that resembled a slight uphill forced me to swear more at my riding partners under my breath. At one stage, I voiced my opinion quite vociferously about an incline and I was immediately told that it was only a 3-4 degree incline, which was technically a down hill. Because my head was so confused, it took me another 30 seconds to tell him exactly what I thought of his logic. We laugh at this regularly today.
Going back a few days, the same person told me on our way to Brosterlea over the corrugations and head winds of 60-80km/hr, that he didn’t really have an issue with wind. We all battled the wind around that section, but he tried to convince me it was merely in my head. If that same person could tell me which specific baked bean from the tin is responsible for giving flatulence, I may just believe him in next time.
Cycling from Prince Albert to Die Hel brings back more memories. Don’t go into this section believing it is mainly down hill to Die Hel. After the Swartberg Pass climb there are significant climbs before you drop into Die Hel. I was told not to worry, because once we had ascended the significant portage of Die Leer, there would be some respite on our way to the always welcome waffles at Rouxpos. Eventually after conquering Die Leer, there is quite a gnarly ride to the dirt road en route to Rouxpos.
Getting closer to this road, we all had to put on our heavy rain kit as a storm was moving in fast and we would be right in the thick of it. Long story short, the respite we were supposed to have was an arduous downhill grind in granny gear as the wind and rain was so strong in our faces. When I suggested we take some shelter in a nearby farm outbuilding until the storm subsided a touch, I was told it was not within the rules of RASA. Having not read the rules thoroughly, as I was with experienced FC riders, I didn’t put up an argument. To that person, you remain a con artist, but I’m glad we continued. (The next day the riders were doing 50km+ on the same down hills we struggled on the night before, with no wind and the road settled so well after the rain).
Of course, I can carry on and on about this section of the trail, but it would be remiss of me not to go back a bit on the trail again and mention our ride from Willowmore to Prince Albert. I will not even mention Osseberg, (Mordor), with its Katjiestert, which everyone who has been on this section of the trail knows intimately.
(The dreaded Katjiestert of the Osseberg)
Leaving Willowmore early, as one does most mornings, it was particularly cold. To place things into perspective, our bikes and kit spent a warm night indoors. Not long into the ride one of the riders wanted a sip of fluid. First, he tried his Osprey tube leading from his backpack, however that was frozen solid. Next, he tried his water bottle, but that too was frozen. This was the particularly cold year of 2021. It was rumoured that riders on the earlier sections of the trail had recorded -17oC, (I think around the Rhodes area?) We didn’t have our own temperature gauge, and whether it was really -17C or not doesn’t matter. The reality was it was the coldest morning of our entire ride.
We had stopped in the middle of nowhere trying to confirm our position and orientation on the map. The orange hue of sunrise was starting to turn to a more intense burnt orange when a local farmer stopped next to us in his Land Cruiser. Rolling his window down I could immediately feel the warm air bursting out from inside his vehicle. The air conditioner must have been on the hottest setting available. I think it was a little Jack Russell or beagle next to him, when he enquired, “alles reg manne?” (All okay guys?). I couldn’t answer as I would have chipped my teeth I was shivering so much. One or two of the others confirmed we were all okay, and before he rolled up his window to leave, he said, “ry veilig, dis n bietjie krisp né!” (Ride safely, it’s a bit crisp hey?). If ever there was a memorable statement, this was it, but needless to say, a lasting memory.
These are a few memories of the section around Willowmore and Prince Albert amongst the many I have of RASA 2021. However it is also a lasting tribute to Rachel, my Xhosa mother. I thought of her on this ride, yes I did!
As dot watchers and followers of this year’s Freedom Challenge and RASA events, it is our collective desire that all the riders, whether finishers or not, leave with lasting memories that they will hold dear for a long time to come.